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If the 1970s was the decade that saw music-makers here grappling with the impact of cultural policies and social shifts that constrained the development of original homegrown music, then perhaps the 1980s was when things started to change.
That was the decade of the very first National Day songs, and Dick Lee’s breakthrough album, The Mad Chinaman. In this episode hosted by Esplanade programmer Sai Akilesh, find out why Dick thinks his landmark album would not have been possible without those National Day songs.
The 1980s also saw the first stirrings of an indie music ecosystem. BigO, Singapore’s first independent music magazine, launched, and started to release compilations and organise gigs that featured local indie bands. Musician, DJ and writer Chris Ho also inspired many future music icons to create original music.
The momentum for the alternative scene grew steadily, gig by gig, and track by track. By the time the 1990s arrived, complete with a brand new performance venue in the form of The Substation, conditions were ripe for an indie explosion.
Hear musicians Joe Ng and Patrick Chng share more about what it was like to build a community from the ground up during those pre-Internet years, perhaps our last age of innocence. Producer Leonard Soosay and the band members of Electrico also talk about how the 1990s scene influenced them and planted the seeds for their creative output in the 2000s.
This episode also features singer-songwriter Art Fazil, multi-hyphenate Ginette Chittick, and the late Chris Ho. The latter two’s soundbites are from So Happy: 50 Years of Singapore Rock, a 2015 project by creative agency fFurious, and you can check out its full array of interviews here.
Thank you to fFurious for granting permission to use excerpts from their project.
PopLore: Stories of Singapore Pop, produced by Hong Xinyi and Dorothy Ding, is commissioned by Esplanade as part of PopLore: A Year of Singapore Popular Music in celebration of its 20th anniversary in 2022.
Catch Art Fazil live at Esplanade Recital Studio on 27 May 2022.
Watch Dick Lee live in concert with Omnitones at Esplanade Concert Hall on 18 & 19 Jun 2022.
Read more about Dick Lee’s musical journey
Find out more about the 1990s indie scene
Listen to Lion City Rock, a podcast about Singapore pop hosted by Chris Toh and Kevin Mathews.
Learn more about the legacy of Chris Ho through this tribute issue of s/pores journal
Artist: The Oddfellows
Composer and Lyricist: Patrick Chng
Usage of the song is courtesy of The Oddfellows.
Artist: The Padres
Music and Words: Joe Ng
Usage of the song is courtesy of Joe Ng.
Composers: Goh Soon Chuan, William Lim Jr, Daniel Bernard Sassoon, David Tan Teck Jin
Publisher: 19Sixtyfive Pte Ltd (Warner Chappell Music Singapore Pte Ltd)
Usage of the song is courtesy of Warner Chappell Music Singapore Pte Ltd and 19Sixtyfive Pte Ltd.
Akilesh has been a full-time programmer at The Esplanade Co Ltd since 2015. He has been part of the teams that have presented various festivals such as Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts, A Tapestry of Sacred Music, Singapore's largest free alternative music festival Baybeats and series such as All Things New, Songs We Grew Up With and Soundtracks. He also belongs to the Indian programming team and has conceptualised programmes such as the Carnatic composers’ series and the Carnatic mentorship series, both which are aimed towards providing opportunities for local Indian classical musicians. Akilesh was the lead programmer of Baybeats, and was the helm from 2018–2021.
A household name in Singapore, Dick Lee has established himself as a multi-talented performer, composer, director and creative. Dick’s popularity extends overseas to regions such as Hong Kong and Japan, where he has collaborated with and produced music for many well-known artists and guided various projects successfully, including musicals, movies and many more. Dick Lee is a recipient of the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest honour for the arts, and continues to be a great inspiration to many.
A music producer and recording engineer by profession, Leonard Soosay has produced over 600 albums in the last 20 years, along with EPs by chart-topping bands like Electrico, Ronin, The Great Spy Experiment, B-Quartet and Inch Chua. He was also among the first to be a judge for Baybeats Budding Bands auditions, talent-spotting bands like Caracal, The Fire Fight, Giants Must Fall and Allura. Soosay is also the co-founder of Thunder Rock School, an institution that is committed to the preservation and cultivation of Singapore's musical heritage while inspiring and educating the next generation of musicians.
A prolific and versatile composer and sound designer, Joe Ng’s works span multiple musical styles and screen genres. He has worked on over a hundred projects from feature films, shorts, commercials, to art installations, including box office horror hit, The Maid (2005), acclaimed art house film, 7 Letters (2015), and most recently, HBO Asia's Invisible Stories (2020). In 2017, Joe co-won the Top Local Soundtrack Award at the 22nd Compass Music Awards.
Patrick Chng is the singer-guitarist of The Oddfellows, which was formed in early 1988 and became one of the most acclaimed Singapore indie bands in the early 1990s. He was also in the original line-up of The Padres and is currently the guitarist for TypeWriter and cover band The Fast Colors. The Oddfellows had huge radio hits in the '90s such as So Happy and Unity Song. In 2021, they released their third album What's Yours And Mine.
In 1991, Art Fazil founded Rausyanfikir, the folk trio that presented the industry with alternative ethno-folk-rock-pop music combined with socially conscious lyrics. Since then, Art has had an expansive career in music, from writing songs for regional artistes, to recording and performing as a solo artiste himself. Art is currently signed as an artiste to Moro Records (Malaysia) and is also the label’s in-house producer. His most recent album is Good Morning Jogja, released in 2019 as part of a theatre production of the same title, which Art also acted in and produced.
Electrico is a pop rock and indie band originally formed as Electric Company in Singapore in 1996. The band is still active with the present line-up, which includes David Tan, Desmond Goh, and William Lim Jr. Electric Company first got together to entertain for a fun fair at their neighbourhood church. The band initially practised in an abandoned steel cargo container. After three years of heavy gigging in the underground Singapore indie scene, the band developed a quasi-cult status. Since then, the band has gone on to perform live shows in Southeast Asia, including the Baybeats music festival in Singapore and the Pattaya International Music Festival in Thailand, and also opened for The Bravery when the New York-based band came to perform live in Singapore.
Over the years, Electrico has generated hits that made it to the pop charts on Singapore radio, and won several accolades at the COMPASS awards. In 2006, a special remix of Electrico’s Love in New Wave became the latest dance anthem championed by British DJ Pete Tong on his high-profile Essential Mix series on BBC Radio 1 in England. In 2009, Electrico wrote the theme song What Do You See? for the Singapore National Day Parade. In May 2021, they unleashed a surprise EP, B-sides Live at the Power Station, rewiring some of their favourite but rarely-heard tracks. Immediately after, Electrico released their brand new comeback EP, Left of the Century, in celebration of their 25th anniversary as a band.
A seven-episode narrative podcast series about Singapore pop.