Interview with The ‘Pineapple 菠蘿’ Team: Not Your Average Teen Web-Series (Ft. Jane Chow, Peter Rafe, Tav Bartlett)
On a sticky, humid morning in sunny Singapore, I sat down to a skype call with the big thinkers behind the East-meet-West webseries ‘Pineapple’, Peter Rafe and Jane Chow as well as their composer Tav Bartlett. A comedy webseries set in Hong Kong; the themes within the series skilfully and uniquely expand past the jurisdictions of the little island within the compounds of a local international school.
Recently screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, the brainchild of co-creators Peter and Jane was borne from a lifetime of experiences as part of the Asian diasporic community, something which I myself am more than familiar with. Between the four of us at the skype interview, myself, Peter, Jane and Tav shared experiences and heritages that spanned the world over. Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, America, Botswana, Britain, Thailand, Australia…the list goes on.
Just from the sharing of each of our backgrounds, it became clear that for many members of the Asian diasporic population, our identities are not defined solely by the places in which we were born or raised. It is defined by an almost immiscible mishmash of our experiences, the cultural practices of our parents or surrounding communities, and everything else in between.
By Jocelle Koh
Young, vivacious and ready to take on the world, 18 year-old Jannine Weigel’s already-long list of accomplishments makes us feel old just by listing them. Not only does the Thai-German artist sing, dance and act; the fact that she transitions smoothly between performing in her familial tongues as well as English puts us very much to shame. Not to mention the fact that she’s acted in various television series’ and commercials since she was in her tweens. It’s clear that for Weigel, performance is in her blood.
Amassing a mind-boggling online following through her YouTube covers before moving swiftly on to releasing original, multilingual content that speaks to her heritage and experiences, Jannine’s ascent to visibility is buoyed by her evident passion and enthusiasm for performing and learning. From videos of her guessing the names of Vietnamese artists; to singing covers of American and German artists; to her own multilingual original works, it is clear that this young go-getter is living in a global, tech-friendly society, and very adept to this environment too. We dug deep to find out more about how the bubbly artist’s multicultural background and experiences have influenced her budding philosophy and musical works.
1. You’ve accomplished so much for your young years! Do you have a particular milestone that you’re really proud of?
Thanks! Something that I'm really proud of until now, I think, is getting signed with Universal Music, because I've always wanted to work with Universal Music. And they just contacted me last year. So we kind of just started working together. And it was kind of still, like, … a surprise to me that they contacted me because I feel like Universal Music is such a big company, and that they decided to contact me and wanted to work with me is, like, a really great honor to me. So yeah.
Author: Jocelle Koh
This interview was done in collaboration with KKBOX SG
Many familiar with the K-pop or indie Korean scenes will have heard of Korean-American band Royal Pirates, whose English language tracks bridged many borders over the years with their unique musical stylings. Followers would also have heard about their talented bassist James JH Lee, whose passion for music allowed him to play as a bassist professionally for 13 years over a variety of genres including metal, indie rock and K-pop. In 2015, a debilitating and unfortunate accident severed James’ hand, putting an abrupt end to his career as a bassist, and forcing the musician to re-evaluate his life’s purpose and intention.
However, through all the ups and downs his journey to recovery took him on, there was only one constant in James’ life – his love for music. It was songwriting which helped him through; with songs from that dark period cumulating in the release of his latest work ‘The Light’. Borne from a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, we spoke to the now-artist about his uniquely empowering journey, and his transition from bassist to artist:
“So when you're playing the bass, you're supporting the band. You're kind of part of the foundation of the group…But … I have to do all of that now. And the singer has a lot of responsibility that I was not prepared for. So I eventually got to a point where I just let go. And I'm finally able to just be myself on stage. I just have fun with it. But when I was a bassist, I think I was trying to fit a role so hard that it's like trying to fit a square into a circle, kind of? It doesn't really make sense, especially with the type of music I was doing before. So now I just do whatever I want (laughs). And it's kind of liberating.”
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’.
Interview, Mandarin Feature and Graphics by Grace Chen
Translation by Jocelle Koh
Video Editing by Peiling Ngan
BTS Photos by Derek Hao
What is Mandarin hip hop? The term seems self-explanatory; hip hop music performed in Mandarin. Yet there are differences abound between the Mandarin and Western hip hop genres. One such difference is the meaning behind Mandarin hip hop tracks. The meanings behind these songs tend to be more nuanced and deeper; unlike the straightforward nature of Western hip hop songs. As opposed to Western hip hop, Mandarin hip hop has its subtleties and elegance, but also has certain language restrictions due to the rhythmic tendencies of the genre being one word to each beat. Yet such limitations have not hindered the advancements of the scene; but forced mandarin and Asian hip hop artists to be creative and adapt; powering forth at breakneck speed in recent years. From the prominence of 88rising to the push for hip hop’s mainstream surfacing in 2017, there is much to unpack when it comes to Mandarin hip hop in 2019. To start off the discussion, what better place to begin than with an interview with three members of Taiwanese rap label Kungfu Entertainment?
About Kungfu Entertainment
The name Kungfu Entertainment comes from the meaning that everyone has a martial art that they can hone. In the Mandarin rap world, there’s a saying that different hip hop labels specialise in different styles. As for Kungfu Entertainment, through the theme of Kungfu, every person on this earth can create something new. Rapper from Taiwan Dwagie 大支 as the founder of Kungfu Entertainment has taken two of his mentees to America to participate in the inaugural SXSW festival. On top of this, they’ve held three free events while they’re here to interact more intimately with their audiences. As a seminal figure in the Mandarin hip hop scene, Dwagie’s work has taken him across all kinds of societal topics including political commentary and stray animals. In his eventful career he has also worked with global rap greats such as the Dalai Lama, Nas, and Wutang’s Raekwon.
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.