My favourite thing about artists making music is their relinquishing a song of its conventional responsibility. Following the punk ethos of learning “how to not play your instrument”, artist-musicians are by no means poorly-skilled; they just do not allow themselves to be caught up with the pursuit of technical prowess. From performance-artist Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Yoko Ono who needs no introduction, to Kathleen Hanna who started Bikini Kill in art school, and artist-turned-DJ Helena Hauff, it is no surprise that many musicians started off as artists – in fact, some still are!
Lots of artists play in their own bands on the side as well, to supplement their creative diet, to vent, to communicate and exchange in ways spoken language cannot. Art-making is one of the ways one channels their creative energies, and some ideas just translate better as music, and this is just as true here in Singapore. Here are just five tracks from five of many Singapore-based artist-musicians to check out!
Take on the Ziggurat from Nuclear Families
Jeremy Sharma. Photo: LASALLE College of the Arts
Jeremy was one of the founders of Tiramisu, a pioneer of its own kind in the local indie rock scene back in the 90s. Previously, he also played in a punk band called Suburban Dammit (whose music I first found on cassettes), formed a experimental theatre group kind of thing with Tiramisu’s members called Kill Your TV (KYTV), and is now releasing new music on Soundcloud as Mangkhut, exploring the digital embodiments of data and sound.
Nuclear Families was his debut solo album as Jeremy Sharma, and personally it is my favourite. 15 years on and it still sounds fresh, anxious and full of promise, apt for a young artist like me in these times. It was hard to choose a favourite song from this album. Take on the Ziggurat features a dialogue between bass and trumpet, mediated by percussive beats that encourages them to go on and on and on.
Shoebox from Tomorrow Is Our Permanent Address by B-Quartet
Bani Haykal. Photo: Bani Haykal's laptop
Last week, Bani Haykal released his new album on bandcamp called almost tomorrow. While listening to it, I was introduced to a phenomenal album he has made with his band (consisting of his siblings and him) back in the earlier 2000s, B-Quartet. Like Jeremy, Bani’s music has evolved as these people have grown and morphed with time, and while I identify more with the music they made when they were my age, I enjoy listening to how their processes adapt to their younger selves’ futures.
I still need a few more listens of B-Quartet’s stuff – but so far, I’ve really liked Shoebox. It’s like an emo child of Kirinji’s “Siren no uta”, that got tipsy on a little bit of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android. Listening to the album, and having the privilege to know Bani, I am inspired by the trust and honesty within the band to be able to play at this intensity.
Yeyoon Avis Ann
Morning Song 4 from Elec.(AR)chival by nerd.ster
Yeyoon Avis Ann in her studio. Photo: Yeyoon Avis Ann
Yeyoon Avis Ann has one of the most peculiar minds. Her artworks, Outdoor Blu and Loop DEEPEST Fly, feature music that she made in conjunction with her video montages. To her, there is an intrinsic relationship between images and sound that blurs the boundaries between those both, even in our image-mediated, sight-centric world. She has created a visual record label called R♾pt to explore this as part of her Hothouse project. Recently, she has directed a whirlwind of a music video for sound artist George Chua’s new track Neo Punggol, which complements the piece perfectly – colourfully illustrating her headspace when it comes to sound, music and art.
Morning Song 4 is featured in the second half of her video-installation work, Outdoor Blu. I would definitely recommend watching the video on laptop or a monitor with headphones on for the best experience.
Lai Yu Tong
i'm saying i'm ok, i'm ok (but in actual fact i'm not i'm not) from Bad Memories by Pessimist Pies
Lai Yu Tong. Photo: Lai Yu Tong's website
Lai Yu Tong has made many albums that I hold dearly. It is very difficult to pick a song out of any album, as they are often made in a single gesture from the start to end of the album. His music is best listened to in one sitting as intended, preferably in a quiet room on a quiet night. There are parts where you can hear traces of activities in his apartment as his guitar plays, and the sound fills the space, unadulterated, as if you are sitting in his studio with him. Many anxious days have been made better because of Yu Tong’s music, which he released under his bandcamp named cosmologists. It is tough to choose, but my favourite album is Difficulty.
Yu Tong and his friend Ryan made Pessimist Pies before Ryan had to leave Singapore. Bad Memories was made in a rush, and samples sounds from a rom-com movie which I forgot the name of. It is a short and endearing album that I like to start my own studio days with, before I get to painting and checking in with my head. Listen to this album if you would like the sonic equivalent to a mug of hot cocoa. They have also just released a new album!
Hot Boy from Midnight Hot by I\D
Ian Woo is a planet on his own. In person, he apparates into sight and disappears before anyone can notice, but he will always show up for you. His paintings are as he describes, “hide and seek”, slipping in and out of consciousness confidently and gently. The bass is a great fit for him - the undercurrent who carries the whole show from the shadows. I\D was a band he played with many moons ago. When I asked him where I can listen to his playing, he directed me to Midnight Hot, which was released in the early 2000s. The cover art is dodgy – but the music is great.
Hot Boy is my favourite track. Again, it is hard to choose. Ian’s bass plays like that of Fugazi’s Turkish Disco but with more danger and maybe beer. I’ve seen Ian dance once: discreetly, twirling his way out of the room – nobody saw him, but it was probably fun. Hot Boy paints a storm of a picture of how you would imagine jamming with Ian would probably feel like.
Beyond her artistic practice and her role as founder of collective @radioriotgrrl, Mengju is also an artist-turned-musician herself. As a member of experimental trio Terrapin with Jeremy Sharma and Lai Yu Tong, they have released two records of free improvisation, including Things We Can and Cannot Do, a live recording of a performance held at Telok Ayer Arts Club.