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Hi Weish and Din! Tell us about yourselves by describing your favourite books.
Din: Probably American modernist fiction and plays? Back in university I actually wrote my thesis on Hemingway. But my favourite authors are Camus and Kafka, because sometimes life in Singapore can get very Kafkaesque. Also, Camus’ brand of absurdism / existentialism reminds me to find my own meaning, in the struggle.
Weish: The “favourite” question is always tough! I think my formative years were most defined by writers like Samuel Beckett, Cyril Wong, Anne Carson, Albert Camus, etc. One of my most recent favourites is Men in the Cities by Chris Goode… a visceral, painful, gorgeous read.
How have particular works of literature, theatre and film inspire your music?
Both: As you can probably tell by now, we both happen to get off on a certain disillusionment, hahaha!
We revel in stories involving arbitrary cruelty or existential despair… characters with delusions of grandeur against a vast backdrop of indifference and nothingness… that sort of thing.
Our soma LP, for example, is named after the government–provided drug in Huxley’s Brave New World –– a means to escape pain, anger and sadness and to enhance feelings of well-being and joy.
In that album there are a couple of songs inspired by literature, too –– “blanche” references the character Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and “godspeed” was a response to the Singaporean film, Eating Air, by Kelvin Tong and Jasmine Ng –– an ode to the character Ah Gu. Our music video featuring a motorcycle ride through the streets of Geylang was a direct homage to the film, as well. Both Blanche and Ah Gu are these self–aggrandising, larger than life characters who tried to rise above a system that ultimately failed them.
Even earlier, in our saudade EP––the song “good night green light” is written in the imagined voice of Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby, stemming from an idealistic hope that she did feel something, for Jay Gatsby.
Our upcoming full length album, Hail Nothing, is named after a line from one of our favourite short stories by Ernest Hemingway, A Clean Well Lighted Place –– “Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.” In this new album we “imagine Sisyphus happy”, as Albert Camus famously wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus. Our new sound is more upbeat; a more aggressive attempt to break free from the melancholy that defined our past work and to take a sort of Beckettian approach to embrace, even celebrate, the great chaos and absurdity of being.
What compels you to electronic music as a medium of expression?
Din: Electronic music is the new punk rock. The whole DIY ethos of punk is there when you talk about electronic music in today's day and age. Almost everyone has a smartphone or computer and there're about a bajillion apps that enable you to make music. There are also so many videos online that teach you how to make music on these apps… You don't need to know how to play an instrument, and you don't need to be classically trained. All you need is to want to express yourself. And I think that's something inherent in all of us. Electronic music is freeing in that way –– a great equaliser, I like to think.
Weish: I’m really drawn to… how boundless the form is. I can start from a sine wave and endlessly manipulate and mangle the tone or texture of any sound beyond recognition. That kind of… power is quite magical to me. And, watching legendary producers like Jason Tan work is mind-blowing. Just watching him programme algorithms or AI systems to create the most wonderful music, based on a set of rules or line of logic that he coded… it’s ridiculous, fantastical, and almost cosmic.
You both travel for music quite a bit, which is generally not the norm in the local music scene. How do you think touring, performing with other international acts, and playing to a non-Singaporean audience shaped your music?
Din: We’ve been very lucky in that respect, to be given the opportunity to travel and discover not just new audiences but amazing artists and diverse music scenes around the world.
We’re not sure that it has shaped our music in any tangible way, though! It’s definitely encouraging to receive the kinds of responses we have in places like Taiwan and the UK. Most of all, it has provided us a lot of affirmation that we’re doing something worthwhile.
What is progressing and hindering local music culture?
Din: The same thing, I guess, that's hindering Singaporeans of all walks of life from pursuing their dream careers –– financial uncertainty, parental and societal support, anxieties about the sufficiency or maturity of consumers of art in Singapore to sustain artists, etc.
I think we are progressing now more than ever, though! We’ve been seeing more and more Singaporeans dare to try and pursue their passions.
Weish: Bodies like the National Arts Council and the Singapore Tourism Board are also doing a lot to help artists out, by giving voice and resources to local art. From our travels we’ve learnt that artists around the world don’t often receive that kind of public support, and for that we’re very grateful.
My biggest worry about local music culture is that we seem to be becoming a slave to trends and marketing. It seems easier to make waves in the scene by being well-dressed and Instagram–savvy rather than to be genuinely thoughtful, unique or creative in one's craft. Of course, marketing yourself is important, but too often nowadays we appreciate musicians with our eyes and not our ears.
Another big threat to our music scene is the lack of physical spaces for us to flourish, collectively. We used to have regular and inclusive gig nights that supported original music in places like Home Club, The Substation, Pink Noise, BluJaz, etc. Every weekend, the whole scene had music homes to return to, to discover new bands across a variety of genres, to find and forge community. These were safe spaces for young musicians to get their start performing, where they could meet their heroes, and be inspired by their peers. We still have great spaces like Decline and Lithe House, and they’re fighting so hard to survive. We need so many more.
What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Weish: We’re working on a commission for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2020 –– a production called Beside Ourselves.
I think I’ve… sort of written my first play, somehow! Festival Director Sean Tobin approached us to develop a music–centric work that engaged with the festival’s theme, as well as involved a meaningful cross–disciplinary collaboration with theatre–makers.
The festival theme is taken from Lee’s iconic poem My Country and My People, which addresses a displacement that began, for Singapore, decades ago –– from history, from culture, from place. We wanted to engage with displacement on a more individual and intimate level, and explore how we have become disconnected not just from our country, our traditions, but also from our relationships, even from our bodies.
We ended up with a collection of real stories from real people––both my own and others––from funny, nonsensical stories to pretty heavy introspective ones. These are a series of vignettes that investigate disembodiment or dysphoria in wildly different ways and from multiple angles… all tied together by unreleased new music!
I’ll also be acting in it, alongside Sharda Harrison and Isabella Chiam... and Din is playing live to the action. It's a pretty huge milestone for us.
Din: We’re also extremely excited to launch our new album, Hail Nothing, soon after we wrap up this production. We’ve never written anything that we’re so proud of, and we can’t wait for the world to hear it.
Finally, if you could write the theme song for a novel, which novel would it be, and why?
Din: Toss up between Camus' The Stranger and Kafka's The Trial, I think.
Weish: Frank Herbert’s Dune, one of my earliest and most beloved science fiction novels that followed me through childhood. I’ve always wanted to write a huge overture for an epic like that!
Photo credit: Elias Soh