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Christine is a Baybeats Budding Writer who was mentored by Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times.
Do you remember the dread and excitement of the circuit breaker period? All of a sudden, we had nowhere to go, but everything to do. While these energies may have fizzled over these weird, foggy 1.5 years, it has shaped our life patterns, how we entertain ourselves and navigate social connections. While learning to never take another live show for granted, I felt it was also important to go beyond lamenting about what we miss, and to recognise the ways the heart of music in Singapore has continued to beat.
New ways of consuming local music have been carved out with the increased approachability of streamed content on platforms such as radio shows, podcasts, Twitch and Mixcloud. While they obviously cannot replace the live experience, I am interested in the ways they offer something else for artists and audiences: spaces to discover new sounds, talk about music, and listen in more intimate settings—a kind of connective tissue, however intangible and insubstantial, keeping us together.
Shamemi, a branding and marketing executive who is also part of local music event promoters The Gig People SG (TGP), says: “I definitely check out local Spotify playlists and charts more often now, and also look out for new music that comes out on Fridays! I used to discover new artists and songs through live shows and gigs, but I’ve adapted to moving my approach online now since the pandemic.”
Beyond the algorithmic wizardry of Spotify’s recommendations, it seems local music fans still appreciate sounds that are picked by a fellow human. Co-Founder of TGP, Amelia Amari, who listens to Mediacorp’s new online radio platform indiego, finds that with the former, “you pretty much get songs that sound alike”, but song choices on radio are curated to appeal widely, offering listeners a “level of passive discovery that remains unmatched”.
Available on digital audio streaming platform meLISTEN, indiego’s shows run the gamut of music genres, from Adrenaline (heavy rock/metal) and .wavlengths (indie/electronic) to The Flipside (hip hop/alt r&b).
The “brain baby” of Gareth Fernandez (Project Lead), the team also comprises fellow singers and musicians Charlie Lim (Host/Music Director), weish (Host), and Auzaie Zie (Social Media Community Manager).
“We tried our best to feature the underserved and underrated music communities in Singapore. The hosts have almost full autonomy to programme the artists and songs they want. We definitely wanted to include hip-hop, as well as Chinese, Malay and Tamil music,” shares Gareth in an email interview.
As a musician himself, Gareth’s personal journey is closely linked to the birth and identity of indiego. With his own musical comeback halted by lockdowns in 2020, this opportunity at national media network Mediacorp allowed him to conceptualise a new digital audio stream to support young local and regional artists.
He feels that the local music ecosystem has improved a lot since 2013 when he had first started out: “I believe the positive changes are due to a confluence of factors including the major labels investing in local artists, social media mastery amongst young millennials and Gen-Z, as well as National Arts Council’s programmes and grants. This led to better music production quality and stronger social content, which at its best is just as good as the international standard.”
Gareth intends for indiego to build upon this growth, bringing together major labels, national music initiative Hear65, and online music publication NME Asia to help more local and regional artists to gain exposure and market share. “I admired what LUSH 99.5FM did in the past, and so I wanted to pay homage to that effort while charting our own path… in an increasingly digital world, I hope that things become more democratic, and that even artists in our relatively small country get an equal chance at success.”
With LUSH 99.5FM, the only radio station that had a dedicated focus on local music, stopping transmission in 2017, it seems apt for indiego to fill this gap. While not quite the same as having a presence on the airwaves, it is well-positioned to reach more people through digital channels, and is a welcome addition to the growing institutional support for local artists.
A slightly older initiative, Singapore Community Radio (SGCR) shares some similarities in its mission to represent the breadth and diversity of the creative scene. Starting out in 2017, it was inspired by popular trends in international DJ culture then, such as Boiler Room sets, and sought to recreate similar regular livestreamed programming with local DJs. From 2018, these were hosted at White Label Records and Bar, which was intended “as a community space for music lovers to come through, spend some time and even meet other music lovers”, shares Darren Tan, Creative Director of SGCR.
After White Label’s closure in 2020, this communal spirit lived on in the revamped SGCR, which introduced a full suite of shows beyond just music: it included podcasts by collaborators like art platform Object Lessons Space and film organisation Asian Film Archive, alongside original programmes such as 10 Tracks which featured music picks by local artists. On Twitch and Mixcloud, programmes such as Nightcap With DJ Itch and the entertaining, oddball Lim Brothers Travel, a comedy-VJ-DJ set, were livestreamed.
The team wanted to create a social broadcast to engage the local creative community as much and as widely as possible. Darren had felt that the different arts communities tended to cluster in respective Facebook groups or online spaces, all “in different kinds of pockets”.
“We wanted to bring it all under one umbrella where everybody, foreign or local, could have a slightly more complete picture of the arts and creative community in Singapore—a portal where you can find out what the community here is up to,” he reflects.
In ensuring that various “creative pillars” from music to the visual and literary arts were part of SGCR’s programming, the team worked to ease many diverse collaborators into the production process, which was new to a lot of them. “The whole idea of these podcasts was that it wasn't broadcast radio, with more formal language and you know, having to watch your P's and Q's. We had some simple guidelines, and that was it,” says Darren.
This easygoing, conversational quality, coupled with the gathering up of disparate creative communities, made SGCR a compelling, comforting presence during the initial onset of the pandemic when everyone was isolated and “in limbo”, which translated into strong listenership.
With some cultural activities picking up again, some shows have been paused as collaborators become more occupied with their own projects. Stream fatigue has also contributed to fluctuations in listenership. Darren finds it a good time to restructure, to “take a step back and think about what is important for the future of the creative community”, especially when in this in-between period where “we haven't had any live shows for about close to two years now, not ones where everyone can freely express themselves you know, without being restricted at all”.
“I think it's definitely important to still continue to put out content. I'm always on the lookout for collaborators that are available and have an idea that they want to work on within the creative fields, music or even entertainment.”
So what is he looking for? “One of the main things is to have at least a small personality, nothing too dry. Is it unique, or fun enough? I think certain scenes are very serious, they take things seriously. I think it's always good to poke fun or just inject a bit of sarcasm at times.”
While indiego and SGCR are broad and multifaceted, designed to showcase the scene and curate the best, there are others out there with simple concepts, and which are equally inspiring examples of how local artists have persisted.
WeJam is one of the many programmes on electronic music label Darker Than Wax’s slate, including REKOD and shows with international stations like The Lot Radio. Daryl Knows, who DJs and handles some of the visual design for Darker Than Wax, says: “While these various shows revolve around featuring an artist, a sound or to push the label globally, WeJam was created out of necessity in the midst of the pandemic.”
“Kaye and I started WeJam as a way to keep the content and momentum going, and also as an outlet for us to keep practicing our craft, since live gigs are non-existent. Usually, I’ll be DJing and Kaye jams along live on his EWI (electronic wind instrument).” Started in May 2020, they were on show #64 at the time of this interview. They have vowed to keep the weekly stream going until they are able to perform live again.
“The jam sessions are meant to be laidback. It’s not about super clean mixing, or the latest tracks. It’s just a jam sesh! Similar to having a gathering at home, everyone taking turns playing some tunes over conversations. Only now, the home is opened up virtually, and everyone is welcome to tune in and hang with us,” Daryl adds.
The sessions give him “a reason to keep digging for music”, which is something he has always enjoyed doing daily. But with no gigs he, like other DJs, finds it difficult to keep up the enthusiasm. He shares: “Doing this definitely reminded me of why I decided to do what I do and how much the music scene is a part of my life. Music is definitely better shared, and till we can all dance together again, we will have to make do.”
He does have some thoughts on making do though, and for the best experience, recommends that listeners “cast [the sessions] on a TV, plug in some good speakers, gather friends, have a potluck, have a couple of drinks and chat with us!”
Given their ease of access, it seems that music discovery is a big part of these online shows and platforms. Looking on the bright side, Daryl says: “Anyone wanting to stray from the mainstream and dive deeper can do so at a click of a button, in the comfort of their own homes. There’s no need to worry about ticket prices or being around strangers.”
Ultimately, however, we are physically hard-wired for real-life experiences. Amelia does miss “finding new acts from festivals and open mics,” and thinks that “though there are certain playlists and publications that make it easier, nothing can truly replace the joy of discovering a new act live and in person.”
And while we wait for the day where we can relish this feeling again, we should take some time to appreciate, as Shamemi observes, those “who stepped up their game to shine a light on the community”, and be heartened by “everyone rallying support for each other and creating a louder voice that’s reaching more people now”.