Author: Jocelle Koh
Feature done in collaboration with KKBOX SG
The first time I interviewed Kumachan it was when he was still widely known as Poetek, back in 2016. He had just been nominated for the Golden Melody Awards that year in various categories for his hard-hitting debut album, and we caught up at the festival-affiliated performance he was featured at in Taipei. Rocking up in cornrows and a white t-shirt, his passion for music and storytelling as well as his quiet confidence left quite an impression on me.
Fast forward three years, Kumachan, formerly known as Poetek has just released his second album, climbing to new heights of creative aptitude with each new release. Having by now embarked on many notable collaborations with the likes of Julia Peng, Machi Didi, Nine Chen and Crown Du, I was intrigued to see how my second encounter with the current golden boy of rap would go.
Unsurprisingly, Kumachan was more or less the same as I’d remembered; a guy of few words except when it came to his music; yet with the uncanny ability to match his burgeoning creative ambitions with impeccable execution.
Yet when it comes to these discussions of heightened popularity; society guides us to read between the lines, to question if public figures such as Kumachan have ‘sold out’ after ‘making it’, or if they’ve ‘stayed real’.
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.
By Jocelle Koh
Thumbnail Design by Allison Sun
Special Thanks to KKBOX SG
Although you may know her from her internet-breaking covers of ‘Stranger In The North 漂向北方’ and ‘Meeting You 剛好遇見你’, Singaporean Mandopop singer Boon Hui Lu 文慧如 is much more than just a cover singer.
Having proved her clout as a vocalist and influencer through these works, AND her creative talents through songs penned for Hebe Tien and Joanne Tseng, the 25 year-old has recently come into her own with her first original album “Honestly Me親愛的你_怎樣的我”; representing an eclectic mix of works highlighting different sides to her personality.
When we caught up with her on her last trip to Singapore, the gracious and playful artist showed that strength truly comes from within, chatting with us about the trials and tribulations of making the leap to becoming a singer-songwriter, and birthing her debut original album.
In particular, she spoke about the decision to take her old YouTube covers offline temporarily, in an effort to start with a clean slate and have audiences get to know her all over again:
“Of course everyone wants to keep listening to my covers, but I didn’t want to put the focus on covers, what if I release new works and they are still listening to my old stuff on YouTube? So I think it was quite a daring move, to temporarily take all my old works offline, so that everyone can know that I am putting out new works. During this of course I was conflicted, because I was worried everyone would be unhappy.”
Although taking down the covers to make room for new growth seems like a relatively logical and easy decision on her part; Hui Lu’s millions of views on these cover videos (46 million and counting on her cover of ‘Stranger in the North漂向北方’) and the hundreds of thousands of subscribers she’s amassed as a result tell a different story; highlighting her driven nature as an artist.
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
Special thanks to SCAPE INVASION Youth Music Awards
In one of my favourite tracks ‘Least of You’ from Singaporean-Australian crooner Charlie Lim’s latest album ‘CHECK HOOK’, the sensitive musician shared an interesting phrase previously used to describe the track.
“It’s kinda poppy but also has its own weird quirks to it. I got to play a little fuzz guitar solo at the end but it’s also part of this weird half-time section which I really love. Simon (Lam, from Melbourne duo Kllo…) said it felt like you were taking a long contemplative drive at night, but in an electric smart car. (laughs)”
Although technically the phrase wasn’t coined by Lim himself, the notion of taking a long contemplative drive at night in an electric smart car strangely appeals to me as a perfect way of describing the muso’s recent electropop works.
While a mishmash of R&B, Funk, Soul, Folk, Blues and Jazz have been used to describe his music in the past, the winner of ‘Fresh Vibe of the Year’ at the 2019 Youth Music Awards’ recent deep dive into the electronic genre has added an extra zing to his creation, making them thought-provoking yet slightly unhinging.
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
Forming in 2014, Elephant Gym is one of Taiwan’s only Math-Rock bands. Yet from this place of isolation the trio has grown like a rose amongst the thorns; adapting with grace and fluidity to become one of Taiwan’s most successful musical exports. The band’s musical offerings have been highly acclaimed since the very beginning; from scoring opportunities to work with Yoga Lin to now embarking on an ambitious worldwide tour with their second full album ‘Underwater’, but in fact very little of their trajectory was left to chance.
Instead, the trio seem to have forged a rare balance between logic and creativity, an element which has eluded the best of us. Despite the absolute freeing feeling of whimsy and abandon one receives from their math/post-rock tunes, I found out over afternoon tea that the band is surprisingly grounded. A completely independent team, Tell, KT and Tu are not just the musicians and performers behind Elephant Gym; they are everything from the admins who reply on social media to the accountants who crunch the numbers.
“KT: Our team is just the three of us. We all have two roles, taking on identities as both the admin and the band. Oh and we deal with promotion, and… everything else (laughs). We don’t have an assistant or a management company in Taiwan. So we are always having meetings and have clear roles for each of us. To me I think Tell will put together the big idea, and then Chiachin will execute and contact the relevant parties... So once everyone has secured the deal, then I will start to tell everyone that this thing is happening.”
By Matt Taylor
When it comes to defining who is the Queen of Mandopop or Queen of Cantopop, debates can be heated as fans fight for their favourite to wear the prestigious crown. There are very few who have credible claim to these revered titles, and one of that small handful is Sandy Lam林憶蓮. Since her debut Cantonese album in 1985, Sandy has gone on to be a defining figure in Chinese-language music. What has always set her apart from her peers is not just her incredible commercial success; but her ability to transform, and willingness to step outside of the frameworks of the genre and industries in which she operates.
With the news that Sandy plans to bow out of the music world, now seems the appropriate time for us to take a look back at her astonishing career, and at how she’s shaped and influenced the worlds of Cantonese & Mandarin music. How did a teenage part-time DJ become one of the most prolific Chinese-language artists of the 20th and 21st centuries?
By Jocelle Koh
Design by Allison Sun
Upon interviewing her, we found that Yoyo Sham’s personality is just like her music; mellow, comfortable, and always thoughtful. Although the end of 2018 saw her just releasing her second album, the Jazz/Folk/Pop artist has already made her mark on the Mandarin music industry in more ways than one; boasting a lengthy track record as a professional backing vocalist for the likes of Khalil Fong and Eason Chan, and showing her apparent flair for blending genres and languages into her easy songwriting style.
“I tend to look for comfort in music. I also look for stimulation and inspiration, of course... But I seldom use music to…I wanted to say I seldom use music to express anger or frustration, but I’m learning to as well… I think I tend to like music that makes me comfortable … it’s just natural for me, it’s not something I try very hard to achieve, it’s just how I am.”
Yet her latest album ‘Nothing is Under Control’ sees an evolution of Sham’s uniquely chilled sound; sometimes into more lively, cheeky, territory; whilst reprising and improving on her relaxing jazz/folk offerings. Riding the highs and lows of life, Sham takes us on a journey of the unexpected-no matter how we perceive the latter.
“Nothing is under control is something I find true in many, many circumstances (laughs) ... And I actually took this out of one of the lyrics in the song ‘Ride’. So the whole line was ‘freedom is simply seeing, nothing is under control, gotta learn to let go’… it’s like … something for everyone to reflect on. So when you see the title ’Nothing is under control’ , how do you react? I wanna throw that out there for people to react and reflect on themselves…it’s a neutral concept for me…I like throwing out things to provoke reflections (laughs).”
‘Ride’; as one of the core songs on Yoyo’s album has a bohemian feel à la Corinne Bailey Rae, and skilfully penned lyrics that delicately capture the vivid beauty of letting the chips fall where they may.
“I’m really happy to have a song like that, I’ve always wanted to have a song like ride that kind of…is kind of comforting, and it’s like a reminder for me, the things that’s said and its positive, I like the vibe of the song, its earthy, keeps going.”
By Jocelle Koh
Thumbnail Design by Allison Sun
Photos Courtesy of Esplanade - Theatres By The Bay
When asked what it is that inspires him to create; Mandopop dark horse Khalil Fong’s answer was succinct, but universally meaningful.
“There are various reasons but I guess primarily a sense of responsibility to the art itself.”
Khalil's position in the Mandarin music industry has always been unique. Whilst the likes of Jay Chou and Wang Leehom are crowned Mandarin pop royalty, the title sounds a little off when applied to Fong, who just seems to be legendary in his own way. In fact, his thoughts on responsibility seem to echo in the path of a certain arachnid superhero.
Indeed, the 35 year-old musical mastermind has fought an uphill battle ever since his debut almost a decade and a half ago; first pioneering the incorporation of R&B, Soul, Funk and Blues into Mandarin pop music. But even now, Fong continues to incorporate an attitude of diligence and social responsibility into his ever-growing body of work.
“I’ve always considered myself a world citizen and my musical tastes are quite eclectic. I think I’m always working my way towards the blending of ideas and cultures whether consciously or subconsciously.”