By Jocelle Koh
Entering the music industry at the young age of 16, Asian American singer-songwriter Karencici aka 林愷倫 was unsure what the road ahead had in store for her. Yet she packed her life into a suitcase, and came to Taipei. Initially gaining some visibility on reality show The Voice of China as a mentee under David Tao, four years later the singer-songwriter has released her debut album ‘SHA YAN’ with a completely different vibe and aesthetic. Rather than the dark rock chick we saw on our screens four years prior; Karencici’s current vibe is refreshingly fashion-forward, progressively urban, and unapologetically feminine.
“When I was on the competition I was only 18, so you know at that time I didn’t really know who I was, I was just following whatever directors told me. ‘Oh we feel you should go for this ... dark, rock girl type of vibe’, so I was like, ‘okay whatever, as long as I can get on the show’. It was after the competition I got to know myself more, know music more and I realised…I like R&B and hip hop, so I just started doing my own thing.”
With a raspy, yet crisp vocal line, and adventurous pursuance of the R&B, EDM, Dancehall and Hip-Hop genres, the young creator has effectively remade the rules for how Mandarin pop artists and musicians approach urban and electronic styles. Rather than copying and attempting to master the techniques of the Kendrick Lamars and J. Coles, Karencici reaches beyond to create something far more transformative and representative of her cultural background.
“The concept of this album is basically - cos it’s my first album ever, I wanted to create something that could represent me, Karencici as an artist, as a 20 year old creator. So I wanted to include as much genre and style as possible. So there is R&B, there is EDM, Dancehall and Hip hop, which is all the stuff I love. I love making beats, I love writing songs, so I just wanted to show everyone what I like and who I am.”
Behind the tasteful, fresh looks and attitudes that come through in her music, chatting to the young creative in person revealed the youthful 21 year-old’s girlishness in ways that added more to her charm. No attitude or prickly sass, her outlook explains the honesty and underlying positivity that comes through in her latest album; from songs that encourage fellow ladies to stand up for themselves to bops that document her experiences as a 20 year-old.
“My favourite track would have to be a song called 20, because I feel like that song out of my album is the most raw, me song. It’s about my struggles in this period of time as a 20 year old . I feel lost sometimes, I don’t know what I’m doing and I just wanted to write a song to tell myself I’m not that bad, I’m doing pretty okay for a 20 year old…so you know don’t give up, keep going…”
Coming from a single mother family, the progressive feminine perspectives and attitudes that come through in SHA YAN are striking and a hallmark of the down-to-earth singer’s style. Although she probably doesn’t see it that way, we see this album as a poignant contemporary feminist manifesto that aptly documents new definitions and iterations of what it means to be a woman in this day and age especially for the younger generations. Of course, we had to get Karen’s thoughts on what she thinks it means to be a woman in today’s politically charged atmosphere.
“I think it means freedom. Cos like we have more freedom now…and I think everyone views women and men the same nowadays, slowly. For us it’s great, we can be whatever we want, we can do whatever we want, we can try to inspire other women to speak up for what you believe in.”
A rich plethora of experiences also play a part in the creation of Karen’s album; after all, gems (musical or otherwise) are formed through times of pressure and duress. Whilst not going into too much detail, Karen spoke about her initial move to Taipei at 16.
“When I was 14 in LA I joined a competition with my mom actually, but my mom didn’t get in and I got in. And one of the judges, he was a producer in my current company (Bing Wang)… I decided to drop everything and move to Taipei when I was 16. At first it was fun, because you know like ‘oh yay no school, nobody’s gonna stop me from doing anything’, but then the reality hit me, like ‘oh what am I doing?’ (laughs). But I think it was great that I started early because I got to see how the industry really is and I got to really just learn and have to make myself grow in a very short period of time which I think it was very helpful for me to experience as a musician and artist.”
Despite being only 21, the artist has already written on tracks for the likes of Jolin Tsai and wormed her way into the bedrock of the Mandarin music industry. Yet with opportunities abound and time still a luxury, the young artist often wonders about what could be. However, her answer nevertheless continues to gravitate towards a lifelong flair for creativity.
“I actually think about that all the time, I feel like if I wasn’t an artist I would still be interested in the arts, maybe like fashion design, graphic design, that kind of stuff.”
Already having made moves in South Korea prior to her debut with EP ‘Blow Up’ where she produced for the first time and collaborated with local rapper Junoflo, Karen’s trajectory as an artist is far from cookie cutter expectations. With Taiwan and South Korea within her grasp, the world is truly her oyster for this young artist who internalises the universal potential of music in her works.
“Cos I feel like (with) music, there’s no line. Music is music. When it’s good its good, doesn’t matter what language it’s in. I would be down to go to different cities or states to perform, or just connect with the audience.”
And connect she did on her first trip to Singapore where she recently played at the Skechers Sundown Festival. Quietly determined and with a stage persona that is all her own, Karencici turned heads and took names; even garnering herself a shout out from local singer-songwriter Charlie Lim during his showcase. With music that dares to break down boundaries; both technically and thematically while propelling very real and intimate perspectives, Karencici is the one to watch. In her tracks we catch glimpses of a world not incrementally different from the one we currently live in; but the best snapshot of it as seen through the eyes of this incredibly unique female artist.
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
My first encounter with Eurasian singer-songwriter James Yang’s music was back in 2014. At that point in time, he was signed with H.I.M, and released a debut cover album titled “Stay”. Enamoured after chancing upon a clip of him performing an acoustic version of Eason Chan’s ‘好久不見 Long Time No See’, I pounced onto the album, only to find that it wasn’t as chock-full of his self-penned works as I had hoped. Yet, a single demo track at the end of the record simply titled ‘Clarity’ caught my ear; revealing a glimmer of undiscovered brilliance. That thought; and the lasting impression the Englishman’s gruff, soulful vocals had left on me remained embedded in my memory, lost but not forgotten until the announcement of a second bilingual album four years later.
Titled “Lost and Found”, the album’s name has multiple facets of meaning for the brooding artist, which is understandable given how meaningful this long-awaited release is to James. Not only was the title derived from outro lyrics on “Hold On”; a track written by James for his grandfather; the name just seems fitting given the artist’s past experiences.
“There are many themes in the album, many of which overlap and interlink: the sea, the colour red, moving forward despite adversity, and understanding that our past helps to define our present and future, but one major concept is the idea of being oneself – Lost & Found is the first time I’ve been able to be myself on an album – the amount of creative input I’ve been given is quite surprising, not solely in terms of music, but also album design, track listings, personal styling, and the album title. Prior to signing with my current company, Cros Music, I had been pushed in directions I was not comfortable with, and that felt like a period of being lost. Creating Lost & Found with Cros feels like getting back on track: being myself, showing my own songs and personality.”
Writer: Jocelle Koh
Design: Allison Sun
One of the pioneers of Singapore’s local music scene, singer-songwriter and all-round creative iNCH Chua has never been one to be set in her ways. From constantly putting out ground-breaking work to investing time and effort into various creative exploits that have buoyed the local scene today*, her passion to many seems endless, and her work tireless.
Her latest project, a binaural anti-musical titled ‘Til The End Of The World, We’ll Meet In No Man’s Land’ piqued our interest once again; and we decided to do a deep-dive with the freewheeling artist about everything and anything to do with the project. From discussions about the environment, to the intersections of technology and art, Chua shows us how with a little out-of-the-box thinking, we truly can achieve anything.
*Inch is also the co-founder of Invasion Singapore.
Q: We’re big fans of your stuff and are so excited about your new project "Til The End Of The World, We’ll Meet In No Man’s Land”, which is titled a ‘binaural, anti-musical’. Could you break down what that means for us?
A: As much as I love musicals, I think most people have a narrow definition of a musical. This new work is staged in a theatre and has music that does the storytelling but I feel uncomfortable classifying it as “musical”. It’s a binaural experience which means everyone in the audience will be in headphones for the show. With a few other sensory elements. Basically, you can’t just watch this show on YouTube, you got to show up and sense it.
Q: What take-home message do you hope people can bring away from the experience?
A: Music is vital to our being. And in order to tackle any impending problem, we can’t skip the step of understanding our own condition.
Q: We hear that you were also one of 80 people who gained access to the seventh continent of the world in 2018, and much of these experiences are included in your upcoming project. Can you tell us a little about your experience visiting, and why you decided to incorporate these elements into this project?
A: Haha without giving away too much from the show. I discovered some very profound things about myself while I was in Antarctica. Wisdom that I might have cerebrally heard of before, but only understood it in my heart while I was there. Nature is the most ancient of logics and being in a land with the least amount of human impact, can really make you feel things you’ve never felt before.
Q: The entire experience or anti-musical is a way to showcase works from your latest album. Could you share a little about these upcoming works?
A: All the music from the musical is the new album. Think of it as a concept album.
Q: We’ve noticed that unlike other artists who are always trying to keep up with the times and create ‘fast art’, you treat every release with painstaking care; your latest track ‘Sun & Moon ☉+◑’ being a great example of this. Why do you think it’s important to take time when putting together creative pieces of work rather than following the trend?
A: The artist I look up to, David Bowie, Damon Albarn, Björk, David Grohl are all people who were unapologetically themselves. I intend to keep to that philosophy too.
Q: ‘Sun & Moon ☉+◑’ is also an interesting sonic take on how our environment changes constantly; sometimes too fast for us to even notice. Can you tell us a little about the story behind this song, and what you hope audiences can get from it?
A: I think you put it more succinctly than I ever can. Change is constant. And most of the time we don’t notice how complicit we are with the problems. Everyone’s responsible. So no one’s responsible. Organised irresponsibility. I feel helpless most of the time when confronting big global problems, and maybe the first step of change is recognising that. And accepting that grief.
Q: As a folktronica artist who is now focusing on themes of nature within her works, how do you think the electronic nature of the genre you work in complements these themes of environmental awareness?
A: The tension between technology and nature interests me. I find we very much live between these two tensions these days. Any truth that I’ve discovered about life tends to usually be oxymoronic. I’m not sure about complementing the themes I talk about. But rather the genre is a reflection or a social commentary of the environment.
Q: More widely, do you have any thoughts on how technologies such as algorithms may impact on the music industry’s outputs in the coming months and years?
A: Knowledge and information is power. And technology is made in man’s image. And algorithms are an automation of man’s will. The real question to answer is... Who does the music industry serve? I’m not even sure these days.
Q: Given the rise in awareness of making environmentally conscious efforts, what do you do in your daily life to contribute to saving the environment? Any easily implemented tips for people just getting started?
A: Calculation guide carbon footprint can be a very sobering exercise, it might inform you about things you’d like to change in your own lifestyle.
As far as blanket advise. Stopping the use of single-use plastics is the easiest lifestyle addiction to break up with. And switching your electricity provider to a company that’s environmentally conscious.
If you’re financially strong, you should consider purchasing carbon offset credits. Or speak to your bank about making more sustainably conscious investments.
Q: You won the ‘Singapore Youth Award’ in 2018 (a very well-deserved achievement)! On your journey as a pioneer for the creative arts in Singapore, can you share why you think cultural industries and creative industries are important contributors to the society we live in?
A: I will quote Chuck Palanuik. "The first step — especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money — the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art."
Strong-willed yet caring; passionate but with an eye for detail; Inch is an artist skilled in striking that rare balance between various spectrums. But no matter her personality traits or what she expresses through her art, one thing is clear: Chua is not one for self-doubt or thinking small. When she reaches, the artist reaches not for the stars; but instead for the sun and the moon; striving always to delve deeper into the human condition, and to find a solution to universal problems that we face. And that endless ambition and advocacy is what inspires awe and breaks down barriers with every step on Inch’s artistic journey.
Released on 1 February 2019, “Sun & Moon ☉+◑” is iNCH’s first major release in over two years and introduces her upcoming album that will debut in an experiential binaural show titled No Man’s Land. Commissioned by TheatreWorks, the show will run from April 24 – May 4 at TheatreWorks 72-13 and will feature sounds recorded during iNCH’s 2018 expedition to Antarctica. Tickets are available at www.sistic.com.sg/events/cland0519.