Local Influences In Local Music

By Gideon Lee

Through the last several decades, mainstream pop music has converged upon several standard chart-making structures – three notes, four chords; two verses, three choruses; sing about sex, sing about drugs, sing about dance, sing encouraging ditties about being able to do anything. Yet, alternative music has managed to continue distinguishing itself in increasingly diverse ways by calling upon varied, often regional influences.


Source: From The Pinhole’s Facebook page

While researching for this article, I tried asking members of the public how they might tell local music apart from international music. Music fan Adlina, who I met outside the ArtScience museum, laughed when I put this question to her – of course, it was “the accent”.

This was the most common answer. While the elongated vowels of traditionally “good” singing stand diametrically opposed to the short clipped tones of our local patois, some bands, such as The Pinholes, press on, brandishing Singlish like a parang. In the words their frontman Famie, it is about “deliver[ing] their music like it's their language” so that “it's more real, more us, more Singaporean.” If sounding Jamaican is okay, then so is sounding Singaporean.

A Confluence of East and West

Source: Taken from Today Online’s article “Why Singapore band Cheating Sons Took So Long to Achieve the Sound of Perfection”

Occasionally, you encounter a band that sounds neither here nor there, but everywhere all at once, and you know that you are listening to something special. The Cheating Sons is one such band, drawing influences from both East and West to produce music that is truly remarkable. From rock 'n' roll twists on Chinese-sounding melodies, accompanied by music reminiscent of classic rock bands of half a century ago, to folkish Americana-ish songs that tell stories of the Singaporean heartlands, their music invokes an old and primal familiarity for listeners on either side of the Pacific.

Much of it happens subconsciously. When asked about their influences, the band responded, “Without it being intentional, I'm sure our melodies draw on sights and sounds we've experienced growing up in this country - whether they're chants from a funeral procession at the void deck or a grandmother's favourite song in dialect; and I'm sure our melodies would have equally drawn on the music that inspire us from the West.”

Singapore is perhaps in a singular position for musical influence to meet in such a disruptive way. An English speaking country in largely Malay part of Southeast Asia populated primarily by Chinese people, Singapore is a clash of cultures unique in the present age.

The Men in White

Source: The Esplanade’s Wikipedia page, originally posted on Flickr

A more recent influence that is painfully Singaporean comes from the government stepping up its efforts in supporting the arts. Where it once barred musicians from entry simply for having too-long hair, its artistic ventures today seem to be springing up in every backyard – from the Esplanade's new performance venues to the NAC's system of artistic grants. It seems to be working, especially with the younger generation. According to Louisa Kan, a local singer who competed in the 2013 edition of The Final 1, the Esplanade is her “go-to place whenever [she] needs some sort of motivation.”

She adds: “[It's] because they're constantly opening opportunities to growing musicians and artists to showcase their art.”