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rock in the fine city
'80s-'90s singapore independent music archives
Saturday, December 26, 2009
VARIOUS ARTISTS- The Substation 10 Years & Counting (Rock The Garden) CD
(The Substation Ltd 2000)

The thunderous clouds are always loud, the lightning a mere symbol to behold. The late Kuo Pao Kun is dearly remembered as a pioneering arts activist who brought The Substation, amongst many of his other contributions (more of theatre), into prominence. Founded in 1990 from a disused PUB power station at Armenian street, this community-funded, non-profit arts centre serve as a platform to nurture local artists for workshops, concerts, exhibitions and lectures, and it became the first and only independent contemporary arts centre. After he passed on, The Substation underwent a major revamp and the memorable colourful courtyard covered with shady trees where local bands once jammed their tunes to impressionable audiences seated and standing everywhere is now sadly turned into a commercial ploy known as Timbre frequented by yuppies and pretentious bourgeois bohemians.

This CD that I am reviewing is The Substation's commemorative tribute to the scene, and the bands who haunted the “Rock The Garden” era 10 years and counting, from 1990 to 2000. The liner have special notes from the great Kuo Pao Kun himself as well as our dear X'Ho. Altogether 10 bands are tied into the disc for the 10 years of great rocking, and albeit a seriously screwed up tracklisting on the compilation, any fan of local music can instantly recognise the familiar sounds from our familiar bands on the disc. This compilation is a fairly eclectic mix of new and old bands, and it covers across a wide genre from metal to ska, from indie rock to avantgarde. The CD features the following bands and their songs in the correct order: Fishtank- “Restless” (great laidback ska track with very gelek trumpeting), Nuradee- “I'll Remember” (folksy roots ballad), Humpback Oak- “Normanton Park” (the legends's song with an uncanny semblance to Red House Painters' “Grace Cathedral Park), The Ordinary People- “Big Surprise” (brash, energetic indie rock from another legend), Plainsunset- “Priorities” (indie punk rock), The Edge- “Funk It Up” (brilliant metallic funk rock ala RHCP), Concave Scream- “Fiction” (brilliant fret taps and cool U2 vibe from our local legend), One Man Down- “Forsaken” (grating angsty raw nu-metal), The Oddfellows- “Lost My Head” (cult cult live performance from the godfathers of Singapore indie rock), and last but not least Corporate Coil- “Hokkien Girl Blues” (noise, artistic noise from the legends!).

The current S-rockers and their proponents, groupies and managers can “Rock The Sub” in all its pomposity; for those who remember, the spirit of Singapore music as a creative force of a native, as opposed to national would find meaning in “Rock The Garden” of the '90s, an exciting passionate time of the past where the vital interactions of Singapore music and their audience came alive in a spirited firework that short circuited and started a bonfire. I was this anonymous teenager in flannel shirt seated right at the back of the garden, a distance away from the frenzied crowds doing half-baked moshings and secretly pulling a bodysurf every now and then. I've witnessed showy bands, favourite ones, mediocre ones, hopeless ones, technical faults, crazy antics, crazy groupies, rabid responses, accidents, tauntings, cold treatment, total moshing and illegal stuffs, in the cool airy proximity at the foot of Fort Canning where you can kick back, drink some beer and smoke all you want with a good view, brilliant sound and excellent ambience. What great fond memory. This CD will bring you nostalgia-heads back to the aforementioned.

--sojourner at 9:18 PM
Friday, December 25, 2009
GLOBAL CHAOS- The Art of Listening CD
(Pony Canyon Music (M) Sdn Bhd/Small Budjet Productions 2000)

The title says it all. “The Art of Listening” will demand a certain configuration in your faculty to grasp the sheer unnervingly ecletic array of genre shapeshifting and associated madness. You hear but do you listen? I cannot vividly recall another band that sounds like this, at least not anywhere in Singapore. Mr Adam Md Yusop, the mastermind behind this intricate and convoluted musical shapeshifter is certainly one guy I would hope to meet, despite the fact that we had some form of email communications online few years back when I was doing a metal website. He come across as an intelligent free spirit who would not only think out of the box, but would hurl the box into the dump the minute he chance upon one. I know there was something special about Global Chaos when I first heard their debut demo “And It's All Our Fault”, which seamlessly meld the brutal sounds of death metal, hardcore, grindcore with experimental elements. The demo won positive acclaims from many of the underground presses from the early '90s, and it won me over even though I would consider myself as a rather close-minded metal freak back then.

Now, I cannot help but feel that this debut album from Global Chaos will bewilder your average orthodox metal fan. This CD had leapt a light year even further from their demo days. Adam's palate for Global Chaos here is a strange, insane landscape of the human psyche. “The Art of Listening” began with a mystifying Arabic intro that opened a deceptive gateway into a throbbing industrial hell of “And the Angels Danced” complete with a zone out moog somewhere in the middle that takes you further into electroclash/hardtech tripping. This track was featured elsewhere on a tribute compilation to Malaysia death metal gods Brain Dead. Do not be fooled into thinking that you can keep track on its progressives; you'd be thrown off tangent from the hardcore moshpits into surreal jazz arpagios like on “3 Dimensional Anger” (featured earlier on Menagerie Compilation put out by Mouse Records).

Just as you try to wince away from more metallic abuse, “Baraka” a guitar instrumental piece led your hands mischievously into the rainforests and suddenly your heart will beat with environmental consciousness, before emerging on the other side with “A Piece of a Puzzle”, a live version of the emotive rock song with pop sensibility and heartfelt lyrics, first made famous on the Made In Singapore (MIS) compilation from Mouse Records. “Flames of Srebenica” is a jazz infused progressive death metal instrumental, a full steam ahead loco train into the depths of unpredictability with unusual time changes and twists. “Cyber Neanderthal Man/In Twilight with Myself” is what I would consider as the crazy crazy highlight on the CD. This is witty, perverse, brilliant and fun concoction of reggae, circus music, hardcore, jazz, blues and death metal in one blue pill and it still works under the magic of Global Chaos! Two tracks from the legendary cult demo “And It's All Our Fault” are featured here as bonus tracks, namely “Imagine If U Will” (blues meet death metal and grindcore) and “Dying Inside” (hardcore meets rock, death metal and avantgarde).

This CD is a great vehicle for exercising the human ID via its convoluted musical auto-suggestion. All of this thematic theorizing is of course a bunch of subjective horse feces. The music is just incredible and very recommended for the adventurous music lovers with an expansive open-mindedness and enough intelligence quotient to get hooked. The last weird piece in the Global Chaos puzzle: this CD is for some interesting reason only issued on Malaysia's Pony Canyon/Small Budjet Production (Fadzil's pre Musikbox label from Johore Bahru) despite the very fact that this is a Singapore band, and that most local music collectors will have some trouble finding this item, given its limited quantity and puzzling elusiveness.

--sojourner at 4:54 AM
Thursday, December 24, 2009

The bandname Nunsex is a controversial choice especially in prudish evangelical Singapore, and I am surprised the religious watchdogs didn't get to them. They also had a controversial reputation in some live gigs. The band was into industrial noise and punk rock, a headswim of Sonic Youth, Big Black and Dinosaur Jr, and it was formed by Azmi (vocals, guitars),Salleh (drums) and Randie (bass) in 1989, a trio who regularly patronize Spitfire (a skate-gear shop). Azmi could be considered a veteran as he was originally from the pioneering death thrash metal lineup Nuctemeron (although he was actually sacked). They released one very infamous cassette LP, titled “Beatnik”in 1991, and it features many catchy dark tracks like “Valhalla (Home of the Guts)”, “Ripride (Tons of Black Clouds)” etc., driven by superb fuzzy guitar wah-wah and a brilliant drumming hinting at jazz roots with typically decent Boss studio productions. “Beatnik”, the name culled from the Beats Generation, was one of the most brilliant and original sounding releases from the early '90s yet sadly a lot of crap beat it to fame. A CD reissue of their legendary tape will be a deserving treatment.

--sojourner at 10:47 PM

THE PADRES- BigO Singles Club #1 MCD
(BigO Pte Ltd 1993)

Tucked away deep in the corners of the HDB units, a sweet dream forments for a regular Joe who was in all possibility allured to the Bohemian impulses of the energetic middle-class. It is an alluring option to be creatively expressive, throw in some dissent, and perhaps if one goes far enough, to leave behind a testimony of their adventure. Some hard work actually paid off for this sort of a teenage rebel who decided to form a band by the name of Corporate Toil, making artistic noise that is benignly subversive and painfully amateurish, and which consciously not wanting to sound a part like the next Dick Lee or Eric Moo. Nevermind that Joe Ng and company looked kinda part of the Xinyao movement with his meek early Corporate Toil shots with shades, he stuck to his casiotones, looked away from jeering punks and made some of the most adventurous music to be heard from the HDB arena demo circuits, in the name of the underground. It was a fun period in that part of the '80s, because other equally impressionable wide-eyed kids also saw the merit in making a world of possibilities out of the riffs in their head and a cassette tape. The DIY movement sprouted and soon they grew in congregation. Along the way they got bold enough to be heard saying there's “nothing on the radio”. Self contained with imports, tape-tradings, exquisite tastes and making own music, who cares about Vanilla Ice?

But Joe probably heard Queen's “Radio Gaga” and felt the same way. And he also probably heard it over the radio. In 1991, Joe Ng abandoned the electro-pop of Corporate Toil and formed his first rock band, The Padres, a moniker hastily selected impromptu, based on a US baseball team t-shirt. This band wrote “Radio Station”, which is anthemic for that time, a sartire on how radios would conveniently forget to play their favourite songs, but the funny thing is I actually first heard it on the radio. This song was found on the “BigO Singles Club #1” that comes together with an issue of BigO magazine back in 1993 along with other song like “Angel” (as well as a hidden track which sounds suspiciously like Kevin Matthews effort). The MCD that I am reviewing here is a piece of history for Singapore indie pop/rock music and I would consider it as the epitome of the movement because it is the first media that propagated “Radio Station” before radio gets it. This release of course is now a collector's item that every Singapore music fans talk about. No, BigO does not sell it anymore, so let's just talk about it.

In 1994 it was played on the BBC World Service; and music for the masses take on a twisted meaning.The mad hatter sliding guitars of Ben, the unstably amicable vocals of Joe, the dramatic thudding of Pat and the foreboding plodding of Francis point to the defiance of their Bohemian impulses, a sweet dream come true from a long period of toil in the Singapore music underground. Suddenly you can feel it in the air. We would wave our hands in the air like antennas to the sky, signalling for the great mothership of revolution. The idealists could envision a rock n'roll utopia and psychos prolly see an anarcho bleakness. So many years have passed, so much have happened with local music, and “Radio Station” still resonate the whole spirit, ethos and heart of Singapore indie music circa late '80s/'90s as an anthem of our youth, ideals and revolution. The Joe that made “Radio Station” will die a happy man. The other average Joes can only stand and stare.

--sojourner at 9:26 PM

RADIO ACTIVE- Eyes In The Attic CD
(Pony Canyon Entertainment Pte Ltd 1993)

Dulcie Soh can make wave with Radio Active. Her new band after Do Not Ask (DNA) actively abused the geiger counter for a large part of the '90s radio when the radar zoomed in on the Singaporean ruckus. You sometimes wonder if Dulcie was a Triple Sciences student with her choice of bandnames. But she has just got the right kind of chemistry and formula for this band, a departure from the full of life science rock n' roll of DNA into the thinking man physics of Radio Active. She has forsaken her rock goddess leather jackets for the gothic little black dress, complete with the holy cross dichotomy and a more somber visage. Radio Active consists of her, ex-DNA comrade Jeff “Spookz” Long and Herey Teper, and it was formed one year after DNA went defunct. They released their one and only debut album “Eyes in the Attic” in '93, produced by Martin Tang, and a large part of the songwriting/music creative processes are split between Jeff and Dulcie. Herey Teper may be the bassist, but he is the official Radio Active Marlboro man; he is either seen smoking or holding out a box of Marlboro for endorsement.

On “Eyes in the Attic”, Radio Active continued the tradition of their adult oriented rock, oblivious to the more caustic and simplistic noise that were churning forth from the then “indie” Singapore music scene. “Needles and Pins”, “Eyes in the Attic” are more upbeat rock n'roll numbers amid the newfound Blondie influences in “Don't Take Advantage of my Good Nature” and “Soul Searchin'”. Incidentally, they covered Blondie's “Dreaming” on this album, as well as Bad Finger's “No Matter What”.

This album had a couple of famous hits active on the radio, like “Changes”, a hearfelt tearjerking ode to Dulcie's father laden with its interesting ethnic sound (didgeridoo intro?) and beautiful composition coupled with the worldly, passionate voice of Dulcie, and “To Be With You”, a ballad that seems rightfully at place on a radio roster full of Mr Big and Saigon Kick ballads. I remember quite recently I was driving one morning when I heard the Class 95 Morning Express trios played “Changes” out of the blue and after that Vernetta Lopez went kinda pensive and said in her low smoky voice that she felt good hearing this after a long time. Well, of course that morning some idiot messaged in and said that song is written by Tanya Chua (no offense to Tanya I love her too). Well, I admittedly still listen to the radio, albeit moreso for entertainment than for the music. I'd also have to confess that I first heard Radio Active's songs, and even The Padre's “Radio Station”...ironically on the radio. Maybe it's still pretty much trendy and cool to say that there's “nothing on the radio”. Well, “some thing's were better before, some thing's not the same anymore. Life's full of changes, they say...” You have the free will to change channel but I am not sure you will hear of Radio Active anymore again, on radio..

--sojourner at 7:09 PM

Album Reviews

Anesthesia- Anesthesia CD Astreal- Ouijablush CD AWOL- Midnight In June CD Band of Slaves- 45 MCD Bird Brains- Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich CD The Black Sun- The Black Sun CD The Boredphucks- Revolution 69 MCD The Boredphucks- Banned In Da Singapura CD Chris Ho- Nite Songs In Day-Glo CD Concave Scream- Concave Scream CD Concave Scream- Erratic CD Concave Scream- Three CD Daze- Sexy Little Boy MCD Do Not Ask- Just Play It! CD Edgar's Fault- Edgar's Fault CD Fection Dasche- Eternal Transgression CD Flying Pills- Flying Pills CD Force Vomit- The Furniture Goes Up CD Global Chaos- The Art of Listening CD Humpback Oak- Pain-stained Morning CD Humpback Oak- Ghostfather CD Humpback Oak- SideASideB CD Humpback Oak- Oaksongs Boxset Impiety- Asateerul Awaleen CD Kelvin Tan- The Bluest Silence CD Lilac Saints- Awake CD The Lizard's Convention- Here's a Funny Fish, Hurrah! CD The Mother- A Dark Trip On The Ill Tip CD Mutation- Void of Disharmony EP Neural Vibe- Mantra CD The Oddfellows- Teenage Head CD The Oddfellows- Carnival CD The Ordinary People- It's A Weird Existence CD The Padres- BigO Singles Club #1 MCD The Padres- What's Your Story MCD The Pagans- Stereokineticspiraldreams CD Radio Active- Eyes In The Attic CD Starfish n Coffee- Ghost MCD Stompin' Ground- Measured By The Richter Scale CD Stoned Revivals- Golden Lovesongs From The Evil Island of The Handsome Tropical Cannibals CD Sugarflies- And That's Why CD Watchmen- Democracy CD Watchmen- Love MCD Zircon Gov.Pawn Starz- Follywood CD Zircon Lounge- Regal Vigor LP Various Artists- +65 Indie Underground 3 CDs Set Various Artists- Left of The Dial CD Various Artists- The Substation 10 Years & Counting (Rock The Garden) CD Various Artists- 12 Storeys CD Various Artists- New School Rock MCD
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