The entertainment industry is rotted clean through with half-baked, ill-conceived, bubble-gum poppycock that forces little, if any, self-provoked thought, leaving the “underground” of the movement to lead the charge with innovative expression. But in Singapore, it would seem that a counter-cultural U-turn is afoot, disguising alternative art as the new “flavour-of-the-month”.
While the cliched SPG-hunting expat banker stereotype has been waning, our trusty international English-language bookstores only serve to further distract us from a healthy legacy of regional literary contributions. In-Style and Harry Potter squat in the front racks, while Kirpal Singh and Shirley Geok-lin Lim are buried round back.
Our town’s festering grand dame broadsheet doesn’t do much to condone any unique expression either. The lifeless, PC format is geared towards keeping the masses blind and the occasional tourist amused. Their seasoned demographics professionals have silenced opinion with banal, listless reportage and offensive corporate ideology.
Real in-depth opinion, the likes you’ll find in the Herald Tribune or even the Bangkok Post, have been unceremoniously dropped in favour of yet more “Special Sections”. While its not humane to hit someone while they’re so lame, the Straits Times’ pseudo-journalistic fodder is unrivaled.
All this goes to show that misses generally outnumber hits when artists misstep; creating art for art’s sake, and neglecting to leave any discernable message behind. Art that affects me requires a substantive emotional or intellectual reaction. Ego and vanity projects also tarnish the waters for those more committed.
This counter-culture recoil has surreptitiously branded even hipster types with “vintage” T-shirts, greasy haircuts and $200 Levi’s. We are being sold alternative/indie propaganda by the very powers that we choose to condemn. Only the minute few struggle to disseminate what very little is left of uncharted experimental waters.
Straits Records at 22 Bali Lane and Flux Us at 1 Coleman Street #04-17 in The Adelphi (www.flux-us.com.sg) are both waving quality independent colours high. Both shops offer an expansive array of otherwise unavailable releases that are pushing our fledgling recording scene onto the world stage. Special orders and top-notch service are a given.
Counter-clubs like Homeclub, Redbar and Hideout offer innovators a real outlet to refine or test boundary breaking. Where else can you hear some wicked Bossa-breaks before some grind-core thrash followed by Retro-Dub till 5 a.m.? Pretension gets left in the sidewalk gutter as genuine contagious smiles ripple through the venue and hallmark performances are born.
Singapore’s pervasively apathetic climate appears to dampen innovative output while other capital cities thrive on open forums of discussion and debate. Why is ours such a challenging atmosphere for forward-thinking non-native artisans? Foreign investment dwarfs that of the locals, so why don’t foreign artists and musicians seem to make a more lasting impression? While our surroundings do suggest a rich historical context, Singapore would appear fertile ground for inroads of insight.
Instead, tourism and capitalism have successfully eclipsed the arts by driving Big Mac’s and cell phones down our hungry gullets. I’m cynical, yet hopeful, that the drives to ‘artify” Singapore will help to support some new voices in art and music. All burgeoning creative climates require feedback to grow and improve, so where’s your five cents? Singapore’s ever-widening population should conceivably add a unique and spicy melange to our city’s creative output.
As the slowest and least productive season rolls around, sucker-punch your “same-ol” into vitality and focus with your “Shit-On-Fire!” No excuses, no half measures, no watered-down version will cut it. Lend credence to your motivations with activity and discourse.
Listen to others around you, then hone and master your craft until its clarity and resonance are unmistakable and true. Your contribution and critical appraisal of those artists and musicians that move you is the only reasonable road to improving our cultural climate. Be inspired. Dance, screw, laugh or cry, just remember when you’re drinking from the mainstream.