Falling in Love with Singapore’s Music

How to discover new local music plus an SG music starter pack playlist for March.

“So what do you do as a musician?”
“How does the band get gigs?”
“How do you release music?”
And most commonly, “What do you do at your job?”

These are some of the many questions I get from my friends, being someone actively involved in the “elusive music scene”. Yet, I’m usually hesitant to reply. For one, I question my own credibility in a paper/accolade-chasing society – playing in a band myself and working in a music company barely qualifies me as an expert in the field. Secondly, music is a still burgeoning industry with new talent emerging everyday, and it’s almost impossible to keep track of.

Our history in contemporary English music is young — even if we trace it back to the 60s (to the time of The Crescendos, The Thunderbirds, and Naomi & The Boys to name a few of the many lost acts), these several decades mean we’re only still learning to walk. For the baby teeth to fall out, there’s a growing need for support systems such as managers, producers, label infrastructure, content creation, and of course, funding. While Mandopop artistes found relative success in the region, there was always a particular self-consciousness in making and exporting English music.

“…the only thing I knew about Singapore’s music was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Idol, and that one Electrico EP.”

Like most other people, I grew up on radio music (which basically means imported from either the US or the UK, and whatever my parents listened to — The Eagles, The Beatles, Earth Wind and Fire, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel). Being a 90s kid meant free-to-air television was my main source of local culture, and the only thing I knew about Singapore’s music was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Idol, and that one Electrico EP. I wasn’t even one of the cool kids moshing at underground gigs in the thriving hardcore rock and metal scene that has been going strong since the 90s.

For the most part, making music in my teenage years was but a hobby to me, like any other. Going to Paradiz Centre (now POMO) to jam with a couple of friends after school was the closest I got to experience what it was like to be a “musician”. It was more of a past-time than anything else, like what karaoke is to many people, except I had the luxury of being able to learn an instrument. 

“In 2012, I was introduced by a dear friend to Charlie Lim’s “Pedestal”. That was the moment I thought, “Wow, I fuck with this.””

Then, in 2012, I was introduced by a dear friend to Charlie Lim’s “Pedestal”. That was the moment I thought, “Wow, I fuck with this.” It got me curious about the music being made here in our own backyard. By 2013, three new names had been making waves across my social circles and my army bunk — Gentle Bones, Linying, and The Sam Willows. At this point I was into the likes of Ed Sheeran, Phoenix, James Bay, Hozier, Bon Iver… so naturally, these familiar sounds of folk-rock and indie-pop stuck for me. Coincidentally, I was also just trying to write some music in my free time during National Service.

Check out Russell’s playlist for the month on Observatory’s Spotify

More importantly, however, it was the first time I had seen English music acts from Singapore generating so much interest among my peers, and even catching the attention of our neighbours in the region. I also began to notice something previously unheard of – fandom. Teenagers and youths are living in a new era where our very own artistes are their pop culture icons – the way sounds of international artistes defined the soundtrack to my own formative years. For me, witnessing this was strangely profound, and indicative of two things: that music here is just as good as anywhere else, and given the right environment (and support), our homegrown acts could become a part of something bigger than they ever dreamed of.  A part of this country that I, and hopefully others as well, could naturally fall in love with, instead of being told to love it.

So where the heck do I find more of our music? Honestly, the act of discovery is made so easy through music streaming services, the internet, YouTube, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, even social media. For the streamers at least, every platform has some rendition of a playlist that features acts from Singapore. If you prefer a more in-the-flesh experience, arts strongholds like Esplanade and Aliwal Arts Centre have been running music programmes for years. Unfortunately, all live performances and events have moved online since the pandemic, which just isn’t the same. Something about live music holds certain energy that cannot be replicated – anyone who has gone to a concert can attest to this. For now, the recorded versions will have to do.

Credit: Cassandra Sim
  • A Day At A Time by Gentle Bones & Clara Benin
  • Lover’s Dream by Saints Among Sinners
  • Dari Sini by Fariz Jabba
  • 0520 by Chloe Ho
  • Kinda Need Your Company by KODELLE, Chelsea Cara
  • Won’t You Come Around by Charlie Lim & Aisyah Aziz
  • love u by Shye
  • Green Light by Absence!
  • Cabin Fever by Subsonic Eye
  • Small Talk by Causeway Youth

…”the artistes and the talent have always been right here – we just need to listen.”

Personally, I think I’ve proudly gotten to a point where listening to music made here is as natural to me as listening to any other type of music I hear from around the world. It is one of my many hopes for Singapore that such a habit eventually becomes the norm here. We’re living in a time of “new norms” or whatever,  so maybe this can be one of them. I truly believe that there is at least one artists’ music that every Singaporean can fall in love with, and hopefully, this column will grow to a place where you can discover that. Singapore’s a small, but very diverse place (as we’re always told), so perhaps this playlist can give you an idea of the sheer amount of musical creativity our little island harbours.

To quote a beloved band of mine, M1LDL1FE, the artistes and the talent have always been right here – we just need to listen.