There’s no doubt that hip-hop has been a dominant cultural force in recent years. While a genre celebrated for decades around the world, its assertive presence on the public airwaves has been a fairly recent phenomenon in Singapore.
For the formative years of Yung Raja, somewhere in the late-2000s, hip-hop opened up new worlds for him. And he was compelled to dig deeper on his own.
Now an emerging face in Singaporean rap, skillfully mixing club-ready hooks with an ear for low frequencies, Yung Raja is cultivating his own path owed to years of studying the greats.
While music geeks would spend hours on music blogs unearthing obscurities, Yung Raja dug into the then-popular sounds that populated the iTunes hip-hop charts, which allowed him insight into the cultural power the genre held in the rest of the world.
Fast forward to 2021 and he’s promoting his newest single ‘MAMI’, his first under US label Alamo Records. Yung Raja spent time talking with us about the 10 tracks that have shaped him.
He begins the list enthusing about the formative songs that clinched his love for the genre, but down the line, his love for the greats take different forms — from their work ethic, to their choice of producers, to the powerful moves they make culturally.
The full episode of 10 Tracks provides greater insight into Yung Raja’s own personal journey, but read the list below for a glimpse into the hip-hop blueprint that has guided the rapper all these years.
I was 13 at the time and my dad got me my first iPod. I didn’t know who Lil Wayne was and Tha Carter III had just come out. ‘A Milli’ was on the Top 10 iTunes chart so I bought it. When the bass hit, a part of my soul just left — like, “What was that?”
It was a song I looped on my way to school and back home. I listened to it about a thousand times. It was one of the first few times I fell in love with the “sound” — the drums, the subs, the 808s. Lil Wayne was, at the time, somebody who showed me what the world had to offer in 2009.
The first song by him I discovered was ‘Whatever You Like’. It was everywhere, it was even the number one video on YouTube at the time. I got hooked on that song.
I dug a little deeper, and I found he had a song with Lil Wayne. I listened to ‘Swagga Like Us’ and that was the first time I knew what sampling was — with the M.I.A. sample (‘Paper Planes’).
It was just, like, “Wow, this is so cool!” This became the next song I kept looping on my way to school. That was the beginning of me understanding the other huge figures in the game at the young stage in my life.
My parents have always been obsessed with A.R. Rahman. The South Indian entertainment space has had many greats, A.R. being one of them — especially as a musical prodigy. There isn’t another A.R. Rahman. He’s made so many evergreen songs since the 1990s.
In my household, one of the biggest South Indian influences for me was A.R. Rahman. At a much later stage in my life, I realized I’m now at a place where I can connect with other musicians. I connected with Sri Sriram, who’s also another trailblazer in the South Indian music space, and he’s worked with A.R. Rahman.
I went to India and met Sriram and he told me to come through to the studio. Once our schedules were aligned, and we were kicking it, he played the original demo of ‘Thalli Pogathey’, the original demo that A.R. Rahman sent him to work with. I was just blown to smithereens. It was so crazy.
A.R. Rahman basically freestyled the entire song — every chord and vocal melody, not one part of it was changed from the demo sent to Sriram. I was already a fan of the song, but to now understand the backstory of it, there’s not a song I would rank above it. I got to take a sneak peek into how it was made, so it’s cemented as one of my favourite songs.
My brother-in-law gifted me a $50 Amazon gift card, which I bought a bunch of CDs with. Curtis was one of them. I saw the music video for ‘Ayo Technology’ and it had a sound that I was not previously exposed to. This was when I had a liking to heavy production.
I wasn’t able to verbalize these thoughts then but I was attracted to the production side of things. The word is kilat, bro. 50 Cent’s sound was so kilat, and I fell in love with it. From that moment in time, I wasn’t just looking for the artist, but I was looking at Timbaland and what he was putting out.
I bought Nelly Furtado’s album [2006’s Loose] because he produced it. That kind of direction only came for me after listening to a production-heavy song like ‘Ayo’. I’m pretty sure that was the tipping point for me.
By the time I was 16 or 17, I had thought to myself “I know everything about rap there is.” Someone told me about Biggie and Tupac and I asked “Who’s that?” That person said “How could you be a fan of hip-hop without knowing these guys?”
I went home and did my research. I went pretty in-depth when it came to Biggie and Pac and all the other artists who were around them at the time. That trickled down into learning more about that music period in the 1990s, so it includes Michael Jackson, Prince, and whoever was making the dopest music at the time.
At a later stage, I went deep into Biggie’s music, and I was drawn way more to Biggie’s music than Pac. I was trying to understand it over the years, but now I finally get it — he had a sauce and a groove that nobody else could copy. He had a way to flow over beats that was very inimitable.
It was a style he had that took the world by storm. Biggie could claim a spot next to Pac as the king of New York. He claimed his lane like no one else did, and I was very inspired by that.
It wasn’t the most pleasant time for me in secondary school. I was constantly trying to fit in, and it wasn’t pretty, man. Hip-hop was instrumental in making me feel empowered and dope inside.
It was something that I constantly had as a pillar of strength. It was that one thing that made me feel strong, so I relied on hip-hop for that strength. I’ve never come across a personality in the hip-hop space that was so bold as Kanye.
‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ was the record I heard from Kanye that made such a big impression — that boldness was a source of strength for me at that time.
I would say that Drake is the GOAT because of what he’s achieved with his day ones over the last 10 years. It’s not even debatable at this point. It’s just a consistent display of greatness. That’s just how I view it.
He’s someone who reps his hometown, his team, celebrates his life, his people, and the different parts of life he goes through in each album. The way he tells stories is what I’m working towards.
Tha Blue Carpet Treatment was one of the other albums I bought with that Amazon gift card. ‘Vato’ is a very funny song, because if you listen to it, he uses the hook as somebody else talking to him, while he’s sharing a story from a Spanish dude he calls Vato.
The hook is what Vato is telling Snoop Dogg. Conceptually, it’s mad, and the song is a banger. Snoop Dogg’s sauciness is inspiring. ‘Vato’ is a song that is hard, and it has a creative storytelling element to it. It has his stamp, his sound on it.
Yung Raja’s ‘MAMI’ is now available to stream on digital platforms. Thank you to Universal Music Singapore for arranging this interview.
Imaginary Regions is a series of mixes made by Ricks Ang, head honcho of KITCHEN. LABEL. These mixes comprise of new age, ambient, environmental, and relaxation records, compact discs, and cassette tapes.
This episode, Fourth World SBC, features music channelled and shazamed from BGM used in shows by the now-defunct Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which was active in the 1980s and early-1990s.
Most record finds were unearthed from the vaults of the legendary Red Point Records who had previously acquired the albums in job lots from defunct radio libraries in Singapore.
Here, Ricks Ang pens a piece about the music that defined this era — how new age and ambient tracks helped soundtrack stories of a reimagined and fantastical Singapore, and how he found these records at a local record warehouse.
Ricks Ang, pictured.
Listen to “Fourth World SBC”, the first Imaginary Regions mix:
How do we go beyond the “fourth world” musical ideas of pioneers like Eno and Jon Hassell?
Defined by Hassell as a kind of folk music from “unknown and imaginary regions”, the method behind making “fourth world” music was to disengage and create some other world while blurring our very own.
Subliminally, in television, fantasy/sci-fi/horror and melancholic drama series in the 1980s, produced by the then-SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now Mediacorp) such as Mystery (迷离夜) and Romance of the Season (恋曲 1991) — to name a few — are fine examples of what happens when you dive into this world.
Stills captured from existing footage of Romance of the Season.
The directors responsible for these works, hailing from Hong Kong, decisively chose to disengage from everyday Singapore life to draw a new myth of where we live.
From perfectly-dubbed Chinese dialogues, proto-vaporwave graphics, 80s interiors, and fashion, dreamy pastoral landscapes, to unrealistic story plots of a world reimagined, there was also a curious mix of music that straddled the line of pop, smooth jazz, new age, ambient music, and pure synthesizer noodling.
Before the advent of Netflix, reruns of these shows would air after midnight during weekdays. With the use of song identifiers such as Shazam, it has helped to find matches to musical accents and deep cuts, which unleashed a whole new music discovery level. There are some saxophones and a lot of crystalline synths, and that is a different kind of obsession I cannot escape from.
Aside from more prominent names like Enya, Kenny G, and Ennio Morricone, there was a treasure of musical delights by artists less-known in the public spotlight but prolific in their work. Keiko Matsui’s ‘Under the Northern Lights’ is found on the drama series The Magnate (叱咤风云), and the track ‘Chakra 4’ by Mannheim Steamroller was captured on an episode of Mystery.
The theme song for Mystery, which is currently available to stream on Netflix.
The first few seconds of the track ‘Belissima’ by Atmosphere (released on krautrock giant Klaus Schulze’s iconic label Innovative Communications) were often used on various scenes of heartbreak and shock throughout the era.
There are cuts from obscure Taiwanese ambient pioneer Chen Shyh Shing — released on Rock Records before the label’s mainstream success — and Toshifumi Hinata.
During this era, the latter was a much sought-after composer for Japanese film and TV, such as Tokyo Love Story, Long Vacation, and Gift, and whose work was recently reappraised by ambient music label Music From Memory with the compilation Broken Belief).
The old broadcasting station also had a streak of using instrumental pieces from labels such as Windham Hill (in particular, George Winston and Will Ackerman), New World Company, and Narada Mystique. For an extended period since then, the artists from their rosters were somewhat detested for being associated with that tag: New Age. Thirty years after, they have somewhat come full circle, regaining contemporary relevance among ambient music connoisseurs.
During this time, I started to put a lot of effort into research, and the experience made me understand what I wanted to reach for with my sound as a music selector. At that point, I began to buy records.
I buy most of my stuff on Discogs or during trips to Japan. In Singapore, I spend the most hours digging at Red Point Record Warehouse.
The owner Mr Ong is a massive collector. He helped me with the records that I wanted, always simplistically streamlining my preference as “the Enya type of music” (not that I mind) before unloading crates of 80s-90s new age LPs and CDs, inherited as job lots from defunct sound and radio libraries in Singapore.
The pile of CDs, vinyl, and cassette tapes used for this mix.
A lot of these have library reference numbers written on labels in marker pens. The album Crystal New Age by Robert Haig Coxon Jr even has a handwritten note to describe each track’s moods, quite likely as a reference to how it can be used as background music for films.
I might have completely missed out on Chen Shyh Shing’s album Emptiness if not for the fact that I vaguely remembered seeing the name on my Shazam list. I scored the LP for $15, and today it is worth US$150 on Discogs(!).
Coincidentally (or not), many of these songs and albums on my Shazam list were rediscovered at the record store. We cannot be entirely sure, but we hope to be optimistic in thinking that some of the rediscovered records at the record store might have been the same original source where the music was sampled for TV in those days.
The lost moods of old SBC drama serials and 80s new age records found at Red Point Record Warehouse have been an immense source I can draw from to create the mix “Fourth World SBC” as part of my new series “Imaginary Regions” on Singapore Community Radio.
I selected songs from tracks found on Shazam and mixed them with music from vinyl records, compact discs, and cassette tapes salvaged there, leading me to this imaginary atmosphere.
These are tracks that everybody could listen to with pleasure — but, at the same time, to be able to dig into strange elements that can be appreciated on a deeper level. It comes to mind a term I often use as “hard easy listening”.
I think you can find something in this mix to reimagine some of the inner scenery around you. And sometimes, these sounds have a way of coloring our memory in ways that we’ve yet to imagine.
Energy is everything to deførmed, the main project of Abdul Hakiim.
A talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right — best displayed in his absurdly fun covers of songs from anime and Animal Crossing on his Instagram page — deførmed’s latest EP, LATE TO THE LOUDNESS WAR (all caps), is a jolt of frenzied breakbeats and engaging sonic detours that leaves an indelible mark just as it ends at 15 minutes.
Although this EP is not wholly representative of the music he makes under this project, it kicks off an ongoing exploration of fury and mayhem that draws from hardcore, gabber, hip-hop, and anything else that vibes with him.
His latest release — a two-track single release with the lead song ‘my crush should confess to me instead’, dropped just in time for Valentine’s Day via Syndicate — is a pleasant and offbeat side-step into heart-swelling indie rock, so there’s no guessing where else he might turn to.
Hakim’s ten tracks run a fascinating gamut from Indonesian jazz fusion to Aphex Twin and sprightly video game music, so listen to our conversation and read through his picks below.
Raw energy. This is my favourite track at the moment — the displaced rhythms, strong driving vocals, and unusual electronic timbres just activate my hormone glands.
Love the quirkiness of this track and this fictional band. It also fits perfectly with the wacky setting of (video game) Splatoon 2.
This is the song from K-On!, my favourite anime. This is the song I’d always play when I pick up my guitar.
I love the organicness and tightness of the band. It screams raw energy and chemistry which I absolutely love.
This one really transports me into an intermediate of another dimension and the current dimension. They blend tradition and modernity really well.
It’s from the soundtrack of the game Xenoblade Chronicles X. I love how Sawano is able to blend acoustic and digital sounds so naturally. It really paints the danger and atmosphere of the area in-game through the music.
The lack of a tonal center — yet still using pitches from the 12 tone equal temperament we are all conditioned to — makes it all the more ambiguous yet danceable with its four-on-the-floor beat.
Reizoko Cj is the mashcore/breakcore guy. Honestly, any of Reizoko’s tracks would do — all of them bang hard.
Another track from Xenoblade Chronicles, my favourite game. The reason I like it is nothing more than it being a calm and melancholic song.
This is the song that got me into the heavy bass style of music and sound design synthesis.
If you’ve followed along the musical path of Isa Ong, the music of Claude Glass might come off as a startling left-field turn.
The songs of Isekai are rich and unfettered, with only a twinkle of his skillful guitarwork peeking out amidst the startling electronic production that defines this new project.
Ong is best known for bringing his instrumental chops to several Singaporean bands, on and off the stage — in the revered technicality of Amateur Takes Control, the theatrical experimentation of sub:shaman, and the infectious pop of Pleasantry.
Claude Glass is his outlet for pure studio work. These songs were only made with solitary listening in mind, although he has not ruled out pulling off a live show in the near future.
Glitched-out passages, assertive breaks, and melodic vocal lines glide over everything so smoothly, and it’s only the start. Claude Glass joined us to talk about the forward-thinking music that helped nudge some inspiration his way.
Listen to our conversation with him below and read through his picks.
Since hearing this for the first time in my teens (probably 10 years after it came out), I’ve been consistently obsessed with its drum arrangement.
It’s just so human, and yet it isn’t, which was mind-blowing to me at the time — there was so much human-ness in the programming and yet it still had that drum machine quality to it.
It’s brutally simple in its instrumentation too, and it’s exactly that combination of drums, synths, and those sweet, sincere pianos that makes it so unique. A timeless classic.
The first time I heard this track, I was amazed by his use of sounds — especially because he was sampling stuff that I would think to be seemingly unusable (or just difficult!) to form the base of a track.
In this one, he made an entire track out of “eh’s” and “ah’s”. How cool is that? And it works so well with his vocal performance and style to form this chaotic, f*ck-all energy that’s so infectious.
They’re probably my favourite band for the past two years or so. Their music hits so many spots — technical, emotional, and wondrous.
What astounds me is how each member has such a unique style and sonic characteristic that’s so distinct (from their own solo projects), and yet, in a band setting, it all comes together perfectly to form something so new — all the while still allowing each of their individual characteristics to shine.
It’s so masterful in production, arrangement, songwriting, and importantly — on navigating individuality in those aspects.
I’m cheating a little bit here with the medley. I was floored when I first heard this on COLORS — there was so much freedom in his performance, and what really struck me was how he seemed to defy any need to have a set musical style or genre. He just did whatever he wanted, and that was so freeing and inspiring to me.
This is one of my grandfather’s favourite songs. It always takes me back to a very special moment when we both sat down in silence listening to this on vinyl at my parent’s old place in Tampines.
I have a soft spot for schmaltzy love songs, especially from this era — it’s that sincerity and those idealistic musings in the lyrics and melody.
Probably only came across this track by sheer luck while surfing through Bandcamp. I particularly love the way they used drums and percussions — that main drum section seems to be composed almost as a riff, and it had such a peculiar yet groovy rhythmic pattern to it.
It also had this melodic quality to it, through using different parts of the drum kit. It had an almost lyrical sense to it too.
This is a re-imagining of a Brian Eno track. I fell in love with how tactile the entire track is, and its use of glitch in such a controlled, warm, and melodic way.
Working so closely with the piano chords, the stutter-y glitches throughout the track never once felt intrusive or annoying. Instead, it elevated the emotion in those chords, with the perfect amount of restrained tension.
Heard about this band when sub:shaman was playing a few shows around Japan in 2017. We were working with a Japanese-based live sound engineer, So-san (who also did sound for The Observatory, and also for Boris!), who played some of their songs during a long van ride.
This band’s sense of rhythm is so insane — they create these badass, yet quirky and alien-like grooves that I’ve never heard or thought were possible before. It’s like dub on speed. It really has made me rethink what “groove” is and what it could potentially be.
Mun Sing’s one half of Giant Swan. In this track, he created such an immersive world out of just drums and percussions. I fell in love with the track’s texture, chaos, and drive, and especially at how intense and hard it got while still preserving intricacy and groove.
His re-pitching of percussive elements was also really cool — using that gave so much interest without hammering down a clearcut, on-the-nose melodic hook.
I was so enamoured by this track that I had to listen to it several times a day, every day for a few weeks. It captured some of that old school sweetness, while keeping things fresh and unique with its arrangement and choice of instrumentation — from those lilting violins to the vocal treatment and drums.
There’s so much good taste behind the songwriting and production of this track I actually teared when I heard it — half from its beauty and half from jealousy. (laughs)
For many, exploring music is fulfilling and deeply personable — and sometimes the best songs arrive by happenstance. For JAWN, it happened in school.
If not for a chance encounter with a classmate putting on Kings of Convenience, he might still be hanging onto Contemporary Christian Music and Symphony 92.4.
Since then, he’s latched onto that feeling and turned it into a body of open-hearted work that evolves as he grows. While known for sparse acoustic arrangements, his latest single ‘Feel Too Much’ is pure joy, with an upbeat arrangement recorded with friends that still retains a personal touch.
“I actually recorded most of the guitars and violins in my room,” he explains. “It was an interesting experience because I thought, “You need to be in a treated room” but I was like, “F*ck it, I’m gonna record it in my closet and see what’s what”, and it turned out okay!”
To JAWN, the process is just as important, and many artists have helped him understand how that process does not need a large studio or a cavalcade of professionals to get things done.
In this 10 Tracks, he talks about the artists that have opened his eyes to music, and the ones that showed him how making it your own way is crucial — and also why Damien Rice isn’t an artist he wants to go back to anymore.
I was doing my art project in school because I had an art module in Junior College when I was 17. Someone put that on and I really liked it.
From there, I jumped into a lot of things, but here it was when I realized there were whole worlds of music that are apart from Delirious? or Planetshakers or Hillsongs.
There was this artist called Jon Chan I found while on Google just because his name was the same as mine. Turns out, he was the frontman of Plainsunset.
I discovered his album Pencil Tracings, which was among his first material. I wanna give a shoutout to his track ‘Security’ because that was the first local track I listened to that I liked. Thank you, Jon!
Listen to the track on Bandcamp here.
Naturally, I had the transition from church acoustic music to inhabiting that realm of rationalizing your faith and who you are. Sufjan Stevens, very big shoutout to him!
He had his own struggles and rationalizations of sexuality, faith, and violence. One of the first tracks I heard from him was ‘Seven Swans’. It’s a beautiful track. It was the first time I heard a banjo in a track that sounded nice.
For me, For Emma, Forever Ago broke down my preconceived notions of how a track can sound. You don’t need to have polished vocals — he recorded it all on super shitty mics. I also really like his way of song construction, because he would do vocalizations that fit that particular phrase and will find a word for it after.
He had really interesting ideas that I initially rejected — I listened out of hatred for a while, but it started to grow on me.
The Valtari album was interesting for me — it was one of the first times I experienced an album through film and music. The great thing about Sigur Ros is that there is no barrier to appreciation.
You may never understand their language (aside from Icelandic, a good amount of Sigur Ros’ music is sung in Hopelandic, the band’s form of wordless vocals) and that’s fine.
You don’t need to in order to access whatever he’s trying to build or paint or say with these word images and music. It’s a whole moodboard that encompasses you in this world of soft voices and feelings.
I can’t go through a list without talking about one John Mayer track. He’s been one of the most formative influences in my guitar playing and how I approach “band” music. he’s one of the rare modern guitarists who can make a guitar sing like a human voice.
It has inflection and imperfections. It plays into how he’s talking through his guitar, and I really like that. That was something I tried to bring into my own practice. He has really cheesy but effective lyrical imagery.
I like the way they construct their lyrics, it’s basically biblical poetry. There’s a certain gravitas to whatever comes off the page from them.
It helps that they come from the UK — there’s the whole experience of church and state that informs their life experiences.
They have so many effortless metaphors about the practice of religion while noticing the shortcomings of life and happiness. They’re not a Christian band but they have a natural affinity for Christian imagery and metaphors.
This track is here just for his voice. If there was any voice I could have in the world, I would kope his.
It was something I found recently, and I didn’t even know he was still active in music. I was listening to it thinking, “I can get why I was into his music but that’s not a mental space I want to inhabit today.” Still, I wish him the best!
He modernizes gospel music and there’s this element of joy I seldom get from other music nowadays. There’s a celebratory aspect to his music-making.
I just enjoy his energy. you can find it in Chance the Rapper’s stuff too — the references to family and religion, adding it all up to figure out what makes life good for them.
The New York-based, Singapore-bred Slodown is adept at conjuring resolute moods that are now familiar territory in modern R&B.
His latest single ‘Ample Fruit’, released on Dec 18, is powered by warped sounds and twinkly synth-pads courtesy of producer WY Huang (who recently turned in an astounding Guest Mix for SGCR.)
‘Ample Fruit’ capped off a slew of singles from the artist, who has kept himself busy despite a year like 2020. It arrives at the kind of hushed intimacy that harks back to older soul records, and it’s no surprise that Slodown himself is a seasoned student of the classics.
But instead of handing in a laundry list of the usual suspects for this 10 Tracks, Slodown highlights a handful of lesser-known delights, while schooling us on the up-and-comers he believes will come to define the genre in the years (or even months) to come.
Of course, there’s also D’Angelo. No discussion of R&B and soul can omit that name.
Pore through his picks below and listen in to our conversation with the singer during his brief return to Singapore last month.
I know very little about this guy. It’s something Spotify algorithms fed to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of movie scores recently just because I love films as well. There’s always something about how movie scores can conduct and play with your emotions without needing words or lyrics.
At the core of it, that’s something I try to do with my music — to conjure certain emotions. So for me, I feel like movie scores are a really good place to get inspired by.
This guy has only two songs out right now, both similar in vibes, but I was immediately drawn to this guy because he wears his identity on his sleeves.
He’s not shy to have symbolism and references [from his Muslim faith] in his work and he uses that. He just speaks his truth. The nature of the content is familiar — it’s still street tales that we may be more familiar with, almost doing this folk/R&B thing while drawing so much from his heritage.
That’s my favourite D’Angelo song, and probably my favourite song of all time. That’s my most-played song ever.
I’m always in the mood to listen to this song. It’s the kind of vibe that inspired me to make music the most. The feeling that I got from this song was something I wanted to create with my music.
I found Xavier Omar on Soundcloud, never even knew how he looked like. No photos up. But that song ‘Blind Man’, I was like “Shit!” I think now he’s finally gotten bigger – I wouldn’t say he’s mainstream but he has at least come out of that. There’s a phase to his music now.
I found out about her from Xavier Omar, she was featured in one of his singles. She’s a new LA artist and her shit is all upbeat and dancey, and somehow it feels really fresh. I wouldn’t be sure to call it R&B but it’s fresh to me.
I’m a bit bored – to me, the sound of R&B has become so mainstream that PARTYNEXTDOOR almost sounds like it could be on the same playlist as an Ariana Grande playlist now. There’s still the new Ty Dollar Sign album, it’s still done very well, but I’m always more excited by fresher takes on R&B that retains the genre’s soulfulness.
Lucky Daye’s blowing up, and he’s probably going to be mainstream soon. He’s blowing up in the States, and he’s also super talented. His sound is fresh and different from the regular landscape of R&B right now.
Love when Shelley gets on his soulful shit, especially when it’s in that old-school vein like that.
Been really enjoying this Benny the Butcher album — gives me the same feeling classic rap albums like The Infamous and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… used to give me.
It just puts you in a good mood. Every time summer hits New York, that’s the song I go back to. It’s another vibe I’m trying to recreate with my more summery songs.
There’s a certain thing about it — I don’t know if it’s the “old” quality of the music, or the vocals — but it’s just so warm and soulful. It’s a blanket statement lah but a lot of new music nowadays is made to be played in the clubs or parties.
A lot of old music was meant to be played outdoors, like at a picnic. This is one of those songs that puts you in that mood.
This is the shit I pour whiskey and chain-smoke cigarettes to during the winter. It gets me to an emo place, but not a bad kind of emo.
As a kid, I’d always wanted to move to New York, even before I had ever seen the city myself. This song felt like New York to me. When I hear this song, I think of movies like Taxi Driver, like old New York. It’s a special song for me.
‘Ample Fruit’ and other Slodown singles are available on streaming platforms.
Chances are you won’t find a bigger advocate for Taiwanese indie music in Singapore than Tiffany Ho.
The effusive fangirl helms High Tide 開台, our monthly show on all things Taiwan indie — from its consistent output of accomplished albums to its staple music festivals.
The last episode of the show saw Ho and her guests relieve their memories spent at Wake Up Festival last year, an event billed as “the biggest summer music festival in Taiwan”. For these music junkies, recording the episode was simply filling in the void of the lack of travel this year.
But the conversational elements and laid-back nature that tie the show together, along with Ho’s extensive knowledge, is what makes High Tide 開台 a fun peek into its scene. Less music history, more music conversations that would last till 3am (if not for our programming restrictions).
Bands such as Sunset Rollercoaster, Elephant Gym, and No Party for Cao Dong are some of the successful crossover examples from the country, each gaining fanbases around the world. But ask Ho, and she’ll immediately dig out at least ten more acts worth a listen.
“I could count on one hand the number of people I know who listen to Taiwanese indie and I really, really want to be proven wrong,” she says, “that there‘s actually a lot more people who like the music than I’m personally aware of. I just haven’t met them yet.”
Read on to find out more about the host of High Tide 開台 on her fascination with Taiwan (and feel free to reach out if you’re part of the people Ho doesn’t know yet!)
When did your love for Taiwan and its music start?
Since it’s US election season this week, we can trace everything back to Trump.
As Singaporeans, our media diet is dominated by the West. Back in 2017, when Donald Trump was newly elected as president, the entire western world was going through a collective mental breakdown — every headline was a reaction to what Trump did and it got really overwhelming overtime.
I was looking for an alternative to this madness and that’s when I stumbled into the Taiwanese indie renaissance.
It started on a drowsy weekday afternoon — Spotify was blocked on my office computer and I was secretly looking for music on YouTube.
God knows how YouTube algorithms work, but Sunset Rollercoaster’s ‘My Jinji’ started playing in the background and that brought me down the rabbit hole of Taiwanese indie gold.
My love for Taiwan kicked into full gear during one particular trip to Taipei in 2018.
It was a short three nights, but my friends and I were so well taken care of by our friends from a local production company.
One of them couldn’t make it for dinner because he had to get some drinks going with some triad bosses to convince them to make an investment in a film they’re producing.
It felt like a plot straight out of the movies, but it was nothing more than a regular, even common business practice in Taiwan. I was so intrigued — like I found a secret basement into the mechanics of how Taiwan functions.
After reading more into Taiwan’s history, it made me realize that there’s a whole different layer to Taiwan that I didn’t know about. I never knew that Taiwan is actually an extremely young democracy — that it was ruled under martial law for a period of 30 years and it’s first presidential election was held only in 1996.
Since then, Taiwan has been the main exporter of cultural soft power until China’s recent emergence. What was the catalyst for Taiwan’s vibrant cultural landscape? Could Singapore do the same?
We’ve barely scratched beneath the surface of Jay Chou, bubble tea and the old-dated variety shows that we grew up watching. The cultural anthropologist in me has been hooked ever since.
How do you usually look for new music?
I think about this question a lot. With social media, YouTube and Spotify, the discovery process is a lot more convenient — but I do miss how deliberate looking for music used to be.
Online, Streetvoice is probably one the best platforms to discover new music from Taiwan — think Bandcamp but Taiwanese.
There is a recent trend of shows online that are more music-centric — my favourite is Shot Gun, a weekly 90-minute programme on YouTube hosted by the lead guitarists of Wayne’s So Sad and Bisiugroup.
[The video below contains content in Mandarin with no English subtitles.]
The show is filled with industry gossip and insider jokes about the indie scene. They have a dedicated segment where they make recommendations of the latest releases — often from bands who are their friends.
The set-up might seem overly casual and nonchalant but you’ll be surprised by how informative it can be. I learnt so much about the music industry business just by watching that show.
Offline, nothing beats walking into a record store and keeping your ears peeled to whatever playing in the background.
Plus, music festivals will always be the best way to be exposed to new bands. Can’t go for one? Here’s a cheat code: look for the line-up and start listening to every band on the list. Works for any kind of music.
Your episodes for High Tide features friends who share your enthusiasm. Did this mutual appreciation grow over the years? Who was responsible for turning the other onto new music?
I have to thank Instagram stories for this.
If a friend is posting about Taiwan/Japan too often, you could probably guess that they might be into Chinese indie, but nothing confirms it until they start sharing a track from one of the bands you know.
It’s almost the equivalent of seeing someone wear a band tee or carrying a gig tote bag — the low key signalling of “I really hope someone out there knows, and if you know, you know.” Knowing how small the circle could be, my friends and I would slide new releases and good tunes into each other’s DMs regularly.
I could count on one hand the number of people I know who listen to Taiwanese indie and I really, really want to be proven wrong — that there‘s actually a lot more people who like the music than I’m personally aware of. I just haven’t met them yet.
I like to think that the ultimate goal of High Tide 開台 is to bring everyone who shares that same enthusiasm together.
High Tide started off with a primer for Taiwanese indie music. For those unaware, explain what has been the most exciting thing about its scene over these past few years.
For one, the generation handover from Mayday to No Party for Caodong, when the new band beat the old guard to the Best Band award at the Golden Melody Awards, the Emmys equivalent of the Mandarin-speaking world. If there was any indication that a new generation has arrived, this had to be it.
Another is the stronger crossover between mediums.
Along with music, we see an entire new generation of filmmakers, content creators, and bands collaborating together.
There are many outstanding pieces of storytelling in music videos – I highly recommend the music video for deca join’s 海浪, the works of 郭佩萱 Pei-Hsuan Guo, Jung-Kuan Chen a.k.a 陳容寬, and Spacebar productions.
You’ve made a playlist for some of your favourites. If you could list five modern Taiwanese indie albums people should check out, what are they?
Selecting these albums was a lot tougher than I thought! There are so many good albums that represent the many different facades of culture.
These five were picked ultimately for being each genre’s best, their rootedness in the Taiwanese culture, the way they‘ve blended influences to create a soundscape unique to them, and their potential in appealing to audiences worldwide.
Shallow Levée – The Village
Sunset Rollercoaster – Cassa Nova
拍謝少年（Sorry Youth) – Brothers Shouldn’t Live Without Dreams
Soft Lipa – Homely Music
Soft Lipa has made Homely Music available for digital purchase only. Preview the album here.
Prairie WWWW – Pán
What can we expect for future episodes?
As a long-time closet listener of hip-hop, I’m really excited to do a proper introduction of Taiwanese-hip hop. That should be happening pretty soon! (fingers crossed)
The next episode ofHigh Tide 開台 is scheduled to air on November 17th.
Community Spotlight is an ongoing editorial series by Singapore Community Radio to feature the creative minds behind some of our shows.
Every month, we have the distinct pleasure of hosting Lim Brothers Travel — not quite a travel agency, but their three-hour odysseys are, to put it succinctly, a trip.
The brainchild of BGourd (who has put out sterling hip-hop EPs under the same name) and Beansprouts, Lim Brothers Travel are a DJ/VJ duo whose unbridled love for music is united with a green screen.
Disorienting visuals are jumbled up with memes, tongue twisters are knotted up with voice messages — all sourced from the various corners of the internet.
It’s a unique take amongst a surge of DJ livestreams since quarantine began, and — like the windfall of content we all now consume from independent creators — it began in their bedroom.
“We wanted to find another way to connect with our friends and what better way to do it than through music and quality laughs,” says BGourd.
The show initially ran through May to June as a weekly special on Twitch, before taking a breather that finally ended with their SGCR debut last September.
Now a monthly pursuit, the show is guided by the masterful selections of Beansprouts — who can switch to hip-hop, metalcore, soul, dance-pop, or house music at any moment — and BGourd, who takes over the mic to engage with viewers, commandeering the green screen madness along the way.
Beginning with the farthest reaches of space in September, last month’s edition was a trip to hell, just in time for Halloween.
Audiences are encouraged to send in memes, voice messages, and anything else BGourd is able to squeeze in, while Beansprouts always leaves room for requests.
Instead of attempting to replicate the club experience online, Lim Brothers Travel push the DJ streaming experience to its limits, and they’ve only just begun.
Get to know the duo before their next departure this month on Singapore Community Radio.
Tell us how Lim Brothers Travel came to be!
BGourd: The idea started during Circuit Breaker. We wanted to find another way to connect with our friends and what better way to do it than through music and quality laughs.
Beansprouts: I was inspired by the DJ/MC setup I saw in various club events, and thought it might be fun to replicate that with BGourd. All the better that he knows how to work visuals as well.
We think anyone who tunes into a Lim Brothers Travel session is taken aback by the unfettered chaos that happens. Was it always this way?
BGourd: Yeah! Chaos is definitely the backbone of every Lim Brothers Travel episode and it’s usually derived from our interactions with the viewers.
Chaos usually arises when they request a funny song or, most recently, when they get me to do a Mandarin tongue twister.
Beansprouts: I actually didn’t expect it to get this crazy. In hindsight, however, I should’ve known the chaos was inevitable.
We try to be as spontaneous as we can when interacting with the audience, on top of the show we’ve pre-planned and curated. But I’m all the happier for the havoc, because it keeps us on our toes.
2020 has kept everyone indoors, and we’ve seen DJ after DJ find ways to intimately engage with audiences. How important is the audience to you?
BGourd: Super important! We’re very new to the DJ game, so I would consider our audience now to be our core-listeners/fans and I think I couldn’t have wished for a better group to tune into every show.
Beansprouts: I personally think our show is as much an interactive radio show as it is a DJ mix — taking requests for tracks we’ve never even heard of, flashing tweets we’ve not seen before, or playing voice messages sent to us live.
We try to play off that spontaneity and uncertainty as much as we can, and we’re thankful that it works as much as it has done so far.
Are there any DJ streams you would recommend?
BGourd: I’d recommend every DJ stream on SGCR!
Beansprouts: I don’t listen to as many streams as I should, but when it comes to mixes I’ve been putting Leon Vynehall’s 2019 DJ-Kicks on repeat. The way it amps up the energy is fascinating. I’m just studying mixes, at this point.
What do you miss most about clubs and the dance floor?
BGourd: Oooo, I really miss Headquarters. It’s was fun to hang around with my friends and, after a night of hydration, sit down by the edge of the Singapore River and admire the Singapore Parliament building.
Beansprouts: There’s many things to miss, but I miss most the visceral, palpable thump of booming club speakers. That’s not something that a pair of headphones can exactly recreate.
Music-wise, you guys aren’t afraid to explore different corners of genres — but have there been tunes or styles you wouldn’t touch? Why?
BGourd: I’m considering putting Vira Talisa’s Walking Back Home on a blacklist. Can we get requests for her other songs, please?
Beansprouts: By principle, we would like to keep exploring new sounds as much as we can. But it’s more a question of personal limitations: I’m not as clued in on the Soundcloud community as much as I should be, so I inevitably won’t be playing as many tracks from that digital realm of music. We’re always down for recommendations however, on-air or off-air!
We’ve been to space. We’ve been to hell. Where else are we going?
BGourd: (no comment)
Beansprouts: We’ve got a couple themes planned already, but we’re always open to requests! Literally everything lies between the planes of space and hell.
Last question: as veteran globetrotters, would you pay $321 to sit in SIA’s business class right now?
BGourd: …unfortunately, no. Maybe if it came with a Lim Brothers live DJ set XD.
Beansprouts: No. But I’m content that they’ve come up with a relatively harmless way to generate cash flow between people who can afford to throw that kind of money at such experiences, and the people whose livelihoods have been severely affected by the pandemic.
The next voyage by Lim Brothers Travel is happening on November 18th on Singapore Community Radio.
Follow Lim Brothers Travel on Instagram.
Ever since their fiery 2016 opus August is the cruellest, The Observatory have gone through an evolution in both sound and line-up.
What remains is their ever-present ethos — pushing past expectations set upon them, resulting in an electrifying body of work that defies the stagnant “art rock” category.
Now comprising of Cheryl Ong on drums, along with Yuen Chee Wai and Dharma on guitars and electronics, the three-piece have since ventured down the path of collaborations — beginning with Norweigian experimentalists MoE, along a split with prolific psych-rock outfit Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O..
The latter featured a recording of a concert where the band, in their last major concert, performed with a chorus of 30 young guitarists, conjuring an effect that they’ve described as “layering tiny tremoloes to create emotional earthquakes”.
It’s not an overstatement to say that their latest document dwarves that statement in sheer volume alone.
Authority is Alive captured the band during a surprise performance last year with avant-garde soothsayer Keiji Haino, whose ferociously prolific and boundary-pushing output has kept his cult-like following on their toes since the 1980s.
Within the first few minutes of the recording, the splintered potency of Haino’s poetry collides swiftly with the band’s improvisational approach. It makes for an intense listen — if otherwise bordering on inaccessible, if you find yourself stepping into this immediately after a propulsive rock album like August is the cruellest.
This edition of 10 Tracks not only captures the present earworms of the three-piece — they also freely exchange thoughts about performing with Haino, unravelling the power of free improv and Mandopop, and their current activities (they are, indeed, working on a new album).
Pore through their picks below and listen in to our conversation with them.
Dharma: There was a period I was listening to just Kate Bush, almost nothing else.
Once during this period, I travelled to KL to play some gigs and visit my grandma. It was a much longer journey than usual due to rain and traffic. When I finally arrived at my grandma’s, she was sleeping on the couch in the living room. I sat on the floor beside her, just watching her, and this song just played in my head, lyrics and all, bringing back much memories spent with her. It truly was comfort just being beside her.
She passed away in July this year. I was not able to pay my last respects.
Dharma: Suddenly in an FKA Twigs mood this week. Can’t say I like all her songs but this song especially stimulates my “Kate Bush receptors”.
Dharma: Initially, it can seem like “anyhow whack” but on closer listens this is an amazing gem. I always wonder how the Captain composed this. I don’t think he plays guitar. Lick My Decals Off, Baby is a very essential album besides Trout Mask Replica.
Chee Wai: Lately, the stuff I am reading has prompted me to revisit an era that played a significant role in forming my views of the world, the mid-90’s to early 2000’s. I am reminded of an era of the neon flush, a kind of decadence, self awareness and of course a lot of cyberpunk material from that time.
But this track — taken from the wonderful and unforgettable opening sequence of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo — served to be a soundtrack for my own interrogation of the city for a long period of time. Soundtracks played quite a big part for me.
Chee Wai: I have been so familiar with this melody for decades. From since I was in my teens, this melody segued in and out as a soundtrack for growing up. But it took me a long time before I actually watched the film.
And I must insist for anyone who has not watched it, to not watch the director’s cut. Ennio Morricone’s melodies have an innate ability to touch one deep inside. The immensely talented Pat Metheny’s playing is sublime in this rendition, to say the least.
Chee Wai: Close friends who know me will probably know that I listen to Mandopop from time to time.
For me, while there is challenging music that I voraciously listen to all the time to open up my mind, there is also music that allows me to seek some kind of simplicity. Mandopop, amongst others, falls into that latter category.
This track was from her 2001 album where she collaborated with Tanya Chua for the first time, which resulted in a Leslie Low-esque folk song on waiting, longing and the etcetera. And with the lyrics of wordsmith 林夕 (Lin Xi), it’s hard to go wrong.
If there is space, I would also recommend Stefanie Sun.
Cheryl: I’ve been listening to these two albums: Nonagon Infinity and Flying Microtonal Banana. They’ve been on repeat for the past week, so it’s been real hard trying to pick one song from the albums!
I love the energy of Nonagon Infinity, microtonal melodies over driving post-punk drum beats. I’m just in awe at the speed of their releases considering the fact that each album has something different to offer. Mad skillz.
Another pick would be the track ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ from the album of the same name.
Cheryl: This is a composition that grows after every listen due to its intricacies. The displacement of the rhythms on the flute with regards to the percussion or vice versa is really amazing.
I have a lot of questions about how he composed this and how it was translated into a score. We are usually so used to listening to songs done based on a Western construct that listening to a piece like that really opens up one’s ears to what other types of music exist out there and what music can be.
Cheryl: I’ve been revisiting this older album of his after listening to his mix for Resident Advisor. If I could choose a mix, it would definitely be that. It’s hard to find a DJ who can seamlessly transcend so many genres in one mix while keeping it danceable.
Truth be told, a friend and I were kind of dissecting this song to try and see how he produces music, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t hacked it yet. Looking forward to hearing his new release on PAN.
The band: We have been listening to this — collectively and individually — quite a bit since it was released last year.
It was said that the piece was not entirely composed and all the musicians met for the first time together when they headed for the studio. What resulted was a piece of rhythmic genius that traverses krautrock, techno and minimalist composition.
Chee Wai would play it in his car occasionally when we drive to places. Silence will immediately descend upon us, as we collectively listen deeply and marvel at the complexities and nuances of the piece.
Authority is Alive is now available via Ujikaji Records.
Now that we’ve shared some personal anecdotes forged at the record store, as told by musicians, we thought to ask some of our cratedigging local DJs about their own.
It’s no secret that DJs have been the ones keeping record stores and vinyl alive all this while — even before a vinyl resurgence of any sort, DJs from underground scenes were the ones still holding fort with piles of 12” singles and new discoveries with every visit.
RAH and MZA, both record store fiends themselves, share their own unforgettable experiences in different record stores — from finding a deeper appreciation for culturally-embedded samples to nabbing a long-elusive record.
Watch RAH, MZA, and Darren Dubwise perform at The Analog Vault’s fifth anniversary here.
Ok first of all, lemme just say that I don’t think there’s a record (yet) that eludes me – I recall really wanting Lata Ramsar’s The Greatest Name That Lives, and that’s still the only thing on my Discogs want list. And still so expensive.
I’m quite the lazy digger and would only really buy stuff when I’m travelling. Visiting record shops is always a trip, and something I always look forward to when travelling.
So two special moments that come to mind — the first was in Rotterdam’s Demonfuzz Records, highly recommended by Dutch friends (“it’s Madlib’s favourite record shop!”).
I really like Rotterdam, and this record shop is amazing — I must’ve spent hours there — picking out stuff, putting them back, chatting to the guys about stuff. Anyway, there’s this one record I got, it’s a Soul Jazz Brazilian comp, called Tropicalia. It’s a double LP and I was like “Ok, dope, am def getting this.”
Fast forward to a week later I was in Berlin and listening to the Tropicalia record and Jorge Ben’s “Take It Easy, My Brother Charles” comes on, and I’m like whaaaaaaat this is the OG sample from Drumagick’s “Easy Boom” — which I also have on vinyl, also a comp “Gilles Peterson WW2”, and how I discovered the track (great Brazilian D&B).
I think just being on a great holiday and listening to a Brazilian record in a hipster Airbnb in Berlin just elevated the experience for me.
The same week, still in Berlin, I went to another record store, a friend Nip who runs Potatoheadz Records (really good label, check it out) brought me there — I forgot what it’s called.
So looking through their 45s and was over the moon when I found Tilahun Gessesse’s Lanchi Biye on Philophon, another great OG sample from K’naan’s America feat Mos Def & Chali 2na. Two OG samples in one trip! I was ecstatic. Nobody could take me down. Invincible.
The record that had eluded me for a while was Alfa Mist’s Antiphon, a modern UK jazz classic, if I have to say.
I was close to picking up the second pressing in 2017 but hesitated somehow — ended up never getting that close again till one day in 2019, midday scrolling through Instagram and I happened upon The Analog Vault’s account posting it as a new arrival.
Immediately, I texted Nick asking to hold it and promptly headed to the store after work to pick it up. Victory in my hands, finally.
Record stores mean the world to me — from being just an emo The Smiths-loving poly student collecting records at Vinylicious Records till eventually working in the store. Eight years on since that fateful first shift as a record store clerk and I’m still in music retail pushing music culture.
There is truly nothing better than opening a new record or seeing a customer enjoy one of your recommendations. It’ll be a sad day if the only “record store” left was Amazon so I urge everyone to support your favourite independent record stores today.