FXTRT Tackles Social Issues With a Touch of Whimsy
By Gideon Lee
From left to right: James Lau, 20, drummer, Abdul Kadir, 20, frontman and rhythm guitarist, Chong Aik Ming, 21, lead guitarist, Jack Gan, 20, bassist
Photographer: Nik Voon
Love On Pulau Ubin
How did you guys meet?
Jack: Pulau Ubin when we were sec. two on a camp because we were NPCC bros. We clicked, two of us kept in touch and played in some shitty bands together – I don't even remember their names. Then Ming met Kadir and James in Poly and it was a threesome at first sight.
Ming and Jack have known each other for a long time, but it was when Ming met Kadir and James that they knew they had to make music together. Like all origin stories, the memories take on a special sheen. The foursome met outside the Esplanade where they watched wyd:syd play a gig and they talked about music and their dreams. On the fumes of an inescapable chemistry, FXTRT was formed. This year, playing at Baybeats, they will have come full circle from the hapless lads lounging on the steps to the heroic figures lighting up the stage.
A Genus Away From Harambe
On the songwriting process
So how do your influences meld together to give your pop-ish sound?
FXTRT: We all ask ourselves that. The stuff we listen to are all alternative and heavy, varied stuff. At the end of the day how we write is very different from how we listen. We all pick out certain things like Ming goes “wow this solo is sick”, Jack picks up basslines and lyrics, James picks out drumming stuff. But when we write it's more like “oh check out this riff” and we'll do a whole song from it. It's the kind of nonsensical writing that's not good for the long term but really helps us churn out a lot of music.
In March 2016, FXTRT released a song about a zookeeper who loves an elephant but has to put it down for egregiously unfair reasons. Two months later, a gorilla was shot after a three-year old boy climbed into his enclosure.
Portentous, whimsical and simmering with a bubbly sort of anger, FXTRT's songs are often held together by the tension of, on one hand, having something to say, and on the other, simply being boys who want to make people happy with their music.
There is a grand vision. “It's about the ivory trade,” Jack says of the track Elephants with a straight face and not a trace of irony. Moments later they break into laughter. Their songs are often laced with some sort of social commentary – CCC, also from the Palettes EP, is a sharp take on the obesity epidemic.
These thoughts often emerge through some sort of narrative crafted by Jack, their lyricist-not-vocalist. Settle Kettle started out when the band sat down and wondered what it would be like to be rice farmers whose daughters wanted Prada bags though it eventually evolved into a whole spiel about social mobility. But the band is under no Bob Dylanesque illusions about their music. Of his lyrics, Jack muses, “You can get (the message) but honestly you don't want to, you just want to listen to us singing about drinking tea.”
The sentiment here is not regret. Perhaps it is the idylls of 21st century Singaporean society that the average concertgoer can afford to be socially apathetic, and the band has embraced the reality of such an audience. While FXTRT is definitely a band with something to say, in the words of the ever loquacious Jack, “We don't want it to be that alone, we don't want to be the band you listen to to cry”.
On life and the future
What do you want out of life?
Jack: I want to leave behind something - that's the most important part of my life. I want to be remembered - and that's a very selfish goal.
Ming: Apart from cool gear, I'd like to be remembered too - to make full use of my life - travel, see the world.
James: Give it the best shot and have fun.
Kadir: I want to eat as much as I can and not get fat.
In June 2017, the band will release their second EP – a three-song number called Bento Box Set A. The name is a barefaced allusion to songs as various ingredients that make up an EP, but the music is anything but common, even as it furthers the work of their last EP in dividing measures by prime numbers. Each release they make is meant to be an evolution from the last, and if you enjoyed Palette, it will be worth checking this one out too.
Down the road, FXTRT expects to keep up their serious-not-serious attitude towards music and life.You can listen to what they have to say, or you can choose not to. Either way, if you enjoy the music, then everything is copacetic.
Photographer: Nik Voon
FXTRT will play the Arena stage at the Baybeats Festival, which happens from July 14 to 16 2017 at the Esplanade. You can also check out the Palettes EP on their bandcamp page.