Awakening: Finding Identity & Community Through Music

Originally Printed in: JUICE Magazine Singapore
Date: June 2014.

During his TED Talk The Transformative Power of Classical Music, American conductor Benjamin Zander said his job “…is to awaken possibilities in other people”. A single piece of music has the ability to be timeless and to connect and inspire us during different periods of our lives. From the first moment we hear a song, we start on a reactive journey over time — or, in some cases, a lifetime.

My love for music started when I rifled through my parents’ record collection. Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Jackson’s “Thriller”, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” were some of the records that sparked a life-long love of music — a journey that I’m two decades into and one that has spanned continents and friendships.

At 13, I wanted to understand the identity and the heart of the Singaporean music scene. Seattle had grunge and Britain had Brit-pop — each with unique attributes, and attitudes that had grown organically. Did we have the same in Singapore?

My principal music diet consisted of pop-punk and emo/rock bands such as Plainsunset, A Vacant Affair, West Grand Boulevard, My Squared Circle, and Electrico, amongst others. Record stores became weekly retreats in search of the best bands your friends hadn’t heard of yet. I remember spending afternoons at shows in industrial warehouses and singing along at Elements in ANA Hotel or Home Club through the night. From the band members to show promoters, from the sound guys to the label owners, it felt like we were building something together.

There was an undercurrent of acceptance in everything that we did; bonding over music, we became a community.

During these years, the highlight was always the Baybeats Festival. My first Baybeats was in December 2002. Brandtson (US), and Sommerset (New Zealand) headlined alongside 30 other local and regional acts. You could feel the excitement in the air during those days. And with each passing year, the sense of ownership, of belonging, grew with both the artistes and fans. Or, as Zander might say, our eyes became open to endless possibilities.

Singapore’s landscape may be constantly changing but our favourite music and the relationships we have developed through it will always give us comfort and a sense of familiarity. While it may not be as globally renowned or as lucrative, the music scene in Singapore has the same ability to inspire. Had I never seen Plainsunset’s The Gift launch show in 2003, met members of Vertical Rush, stumbled upon a Pug Jelly show, and constantly annoyed the likes of Gordon Khoo, John Chiong, Jon Chan, Sam Cooper, Masashi Kimura, Daniel Sassoon and Esmond Wee, I may never have had the courage to pursue my journey.

Today, a new generation of talent has emerged, with the likes of Monster Cat, Gentle Bones, The Sam Willows and Charlie Lim leading the way. And as we watch them strive to make their mark, I hope that they, intentionally or not, inspire others to dream in their own way.

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite songs right now by Gentle Bones —

“Darling we will sing until we die / We’ll never waste these tears on fears and cries / And now the world is ours to take / And every single move is ours to make”.