Share on:

Indie English music bands are on the rise in Singapore

While Singaporean singers catering to the Chinese market have attained superstar status, the indie English bands are just now heralding a new age in the city’s popular music.

The turning point for The Steve McQueens was in March 2014, three months after the release of their debut album, Einstein Moments, when they performed at The Singapore Jazz Festival. The band had already been through four years of member changes. Then consisting of lead vocalist Eugenia “Ginny” Yip, saxophonist Fabian Lim, keyboardist Joshua Wan, bassist Jase Sng and drummer Aaron James Lee – the band only recently welcomed their sixth member, guitarist Andrew Lim – their unique contemporary jazz sound caught the attention of veteran guitarist and producer Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, founder and leader of British acid jazz band Incognito.

Indie bands in Singapore: (From left) Aaron James Lee, Jase Sng, Fabian Lim and Eugenia Yip of The Steve McQueens.

(From left) Aaron James Lee, Jase Sng, Fabian Lim and Eugenia Yip of The Steve McQueens. PHOTOGRAPHY Zaphs Zhang

Not only did Bluey invite them to London to record their second album Sea Monster, he also got the band to open for Incognito at London’s legendary Indigo at The O2 in May 2015. They have since performed in Australia, South Korea and Japan, and will be touring with the launch of their third album mid-this year.

(RELATED: 4 young Singapore classical music stars on the rise.)

ENTERING THE GLOBAL AGE

Several other local musicians also have had their sounds heard globally. Singer-songwriter Jaime Wong, whose music straddles folk and pop, was at regional music festival Music Matters 2015 shortly after the debut of her sold-out namesake EP with Snakeweed Studios in May that same year. Yet, Wong says her music isn’t commercial enough.

Jaime Wong

“I thought of writing electronic-based music for the sake of it, but the best feeling I get is someone letting me know how my songs make them feel,” admits Wong.

Her approach reflects the evolution of the music scene. More home-grown musicians are opting to create their own sound.

Gilded Edge, an alternative-rock indie band formed in 2015, is another example. “We let our personalities shine through the music,” says Alan Francis, lead singer and guitarist. The four-piece band, who will be releasing their debut EP independently in the first half of the year, was a prize winner at the 2016 Global Battle of the Bands in Berlin, an international music competition requiring bands to play original material live.

Gilded Edge members Melvin Lim, Julian Stewart, Alan Francis and Afiq Yusof.

THE FUTURE IS LOOKING UP

According to Yip, the local music scene is going through a revival. “You see more people turning up for gigs,” she says.

The prevalence of Youtube, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify and Deezer means it’s now easier than ever to reach listeners. And, the corporate support is certainly not lacking, either. “The National Arts Council, the Esplanade and radio station Lush 99.5 FM have stepped up in terms of funding, quality performance venues and airplay,” says Yip.

In June 2015, local record label House of Riot held its inaugural three-hour concert at Esplanade Concert Hall, featuring The Great Spy Experiment, Inch Chua and Charlie Lim – the latter is signed to Universal Music Singapore and will be launching his second album some time this year.

(RELATED: We spoke to Charlie Lim, who has the makings of a global star.)

That there are approximately two or three new local songs every month on major digital music platforms like iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp means something new is happening within the industry – in other words, it’s growing.

“We got lucky, and now the challenge is to retain or change that attention into something that will last,” says Benjamin Kheng, one fourth of arguably Singapore’s leading band of the moment, The Sam Willows.

NOT UNDER RAPS

A number of Singapore’s rappers have been not-so-quietly making a mark on the hip-hop scene. Rappers TheLionCityBoy, real name Kevin Lester, and Akeem Jahat tell us more.

  • CROSS-STRAIT FAME

    WHO AKEEM JAHAT, 28

    Echoing TheLionCityBoy’s sentiments on making rap music “home-relatable”, Akeem Jahat weaves Malay into his English rap numbers, which has garnered him a growing fan base in not just Singapore, but also Malaysia. “I think everyone is doing what they can within their own capabilities to make rap music here more approachable over the past few years,” says Akeem, famed for being an unapologetically brash lyricist.

    “Because the content is made more relevant, we have listeners who aren’t fans of the genre actually showing great interest lately.” Another way for hip-hop artistes to get their music out is through the mixtape movement. Apart from releasing even more mixtapes this year, Akeem will also be launching his debut studio album, SUA, with Greendoor Studios.