Chin Hui Wen speaks with Djohan Johari, who does guitar work, effects and keys for instrumental collective, I Am David Sparkle. He shares the band’s influences, outlook on the local scene and why they see practice sessions as hang out time and tours as holidays.

Who has influenced your music?
Personally, I like Gustavo Santaolalla. The Verve and Doves have also been driving influences. We played a show with Knellt and seeing them live has definitely shaped how we write our material.

How has the local music scene changed since you first started?
There are more YouTube artists now.

Do you think there’s enough support for young musicians starting out?
There’s definitely growing support. But I also think musicians should empower themselves by creating their own platforms to perform and showcase their music.

How has your music changed since you first started out?
We will always have a soft spot for sweet melodies but at the same time, we're also trying to quench our thirst for a heavier regime.

What was the best gig you’ve ever played?
ZoukOut had the best sound check. For actual gigs themselves, the turnout for our launch show at the Esplanade was fantastic.

Have you ever had any embarrassing moments on stage?
We’ve had shows where everything didn't work for us—sound, equipment and other technical difficulties. Fortunately, that hasn’t affected us too negatively. It just makes us want to do better.

Being in a band can be tiring, what keeps you going?
The band is our escape from the daily grind. It's a time when we meet and have a good laugh, a nice supper and just bask in each other's company. I see our practice sessions as hang out time and tours as holidays. It's nice to share new experiences with your loved ones.

What’s next for you?
We're hitting the studio soon to record new releases—either split releases with friends, or just on our own. We’re going for a heavier sound and will be adding more substance to our material.



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What's up at the city's hippest hill?

Two years ago, it was best known for its girly bars. A year ago, for its new foodie arrivals. Now, Duxton Hill has come into its own with an eclectic mix not just of restaurants, but bars, bookstores, art spaces and retail outlets.

*NEW* 1. Le Petit Cancale
The focus here is firmly on crustaceans and bivalves. Try their signature Le Petit Cancale ($90), a platter of freshly shucked Fine de Claire n° 3 and Normandes n° 4 molluscs from Cancale, Brittany crab, clams, whelks, winkles, langoustines and shrimp, or spring for the even more epic Le Grand Cancale ($195). 

2. Latteria Mozzarella Bar
Don’t miss fresh cheeses such as stracciatella sprinkled with bottarga ($20) and nodini with proscuitto ($22) at this mozzarella bar owned by the il Lido group. Mains like melt-of-the-bone lamb shanks ($35) round out the menu.

3. Wok & Barrel
Chef-owner Shen Tan’s modern Singaporean eatery offers nasi lemak sets (from $7.90) and specialties like beef rendang pizza ($13.90).

4. Buyan Russian Haute Cuisine & Caviar Bar
Throw back a selection of over 50 vodkas (from $13/shot) at their downstairs bar. They go great with bites like khachapuri ($10), Georgian goat cheese flatbread.

5. Praelum Wine Bistro
This modest space serves a rotating variety of wines—dispensed by two Enomatic machines—in three different sizes: 25ml, 75ml or 150ml. On tap are choices like the house red, a 2008 Château La Croix Figeac (from $2.50/25ml).

6. Flor Pâtisserie
Stop at this Japanese bakery/café for maple, blueberry and caramel cheese tarts ($3.20), as well as the yummy chestnut marron pie ($4.20).

7. Broadway Cafe
Chow down on wedges and onion rings (both $6.90) while enjoying a private movie screening (they have a large projection screen and have themed movie nights every so often) at this homely spot.

8. Littered with Books
This book store repositions its furniture weekly, so customers get a fresh browsing experience each time. Pick a corner—our favorite nook is among the travel and food tomes upstairs—and read away the afternoon.

9. Greens on Screens
This café-bar-indoor golfing center features a simulator with advanced technology and interactive graphics. It’s currently closed for renovation but is set to reopen in late June.

10. The Pigeonhole
Pick up preloved books (from $3) at this indie alcove. The multifaceted establishment also serves Highlander coffee (from $3.50), displays local art and hosts budding music acts.

11. La Maison Fatien
Dishing out traditional fare is this atmospheric brasserie decorated with French paraphernalia. Dig into pan-seared foie gras with caramelized apple-raisin glaze ($18) and duck confit ($28). Served alongside are vinos from their famed namesake winery Maison Fatien (from $80/bottle).

12. En Motion Dance School
Specializing in Latin dance lessons—think salsa, tango and bachata—this studio is a haven for happy-footed couples. Trial classes go for $10. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the house also hosts hot and heavy social dance parties called Latin Nitez ($3-5).

13. Richard Koh Fine Art
Focused on contemporary Southeast Asian art, this gallery is currently displaying work by Filipino abstract artist Jay Ticar (from $8,000). They also represent local art collective Vertical Submarine (from $1,200) and art installation specialist Yeo Chee Kiong.

14. AV Galleria
At this audio visual equipment store, pick up high-end pieces such as Audio-Technica headsets (from $38) and iPod docks by brands such as a JBL and Harman Kardon (from $100). For a more immersive experience, they’ll even build you a custom home theater system (from $3,000).


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This play, first staged in 1997, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear done in the style of Japanese Noh drama. Chin Hui Wen talks to director Ong Keng Sen about his motivations for bringing the show back 15 years after its debut and his hopes for the local theater scene.

Why did you choose this particular piece for restaging?
As I grow older, I am more sympathetic to Lear and curious about his character. He’s such a negative authoritarian figure but also capable of love. The piece digs into the deep reservoir of what it means to be from this country. Like Lear, our government constantly asks, “Do you love me? And if you love me, do this.” It’s also intercultural like Singapore.

The performance was first staged in Japan. How different are Japanese and local audiences?
The Japanese are used to going to the theatre. But the audience here is still very young. We’re just trying it out. I’m always comparing us to Japan, the first Asian country to be cosmopolitan and modernized. One day, I want Singapore to be like Tokyo.

What is the biggest challenge melding the Eastern and Western aspects of the piece?
With Western storytelling, there’s a beginning, middle and end. But the Asian way is done through memory. It’s abstract. Though more imaginative, it is less realistic. Audiences are not used to it.

What would you like audiences to take away from the performance?
I would like them to be open, enjoy the music and not to worry if they understand. Singaporeans are always in examination mode. They worry if they have the correct answers. But this is not a test of whether they are artistic. Just enjoy the theater downhill all the way.

Lear Dreaming is on May 31-June 1 at School of the Arts (SOTA).


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Canta~Latt is a local farm that produces organic milk using traditional Italian methods. Founder Cesare Cantarella talks about artisanal food education, how he likes his milk and naming his cows.

What inspired you to set up Canta~Latt?
The lack of artisan craft products in Singapore, but some hard working and determined people are changing that. Check out farms associated with the Kranji Farmers Association.

How do you ensure that your cows stay in good health?
A balanced diet is essential to ensure quality milk production and optimal health. It’s also important to establish a good relationship with the animals. In fact, I actually name my cows Suzy, Lara and Gio; it helps me bond with them. And a happy cow gives you happy milk!

Does the size of the herd affect product quality?
Size isn’t an issue so long as the entire process of feeding, milking and working the milk is consistent and you don’t cut corners. At the moment, we have more than 100 cows and process 300-400 liters of milk a week. If we’re able to garner enough support from the public and then get approval from the authorities, the plan is to grow the herd to at least 400 cows.

How important is craft farming education to you?
I receive at least four or five letters a week from school teachers and parents wanting to visit us for educational tours. There’s a huge push globally to revive craft food culture, and I wanted to bring the movement to Singapore. I believe my farm can provide lots of learning opportunities.

What’s your favorite way to consume milk?
I like it in any form. But I especially love adding milk to my spaghetti, using a recipe I learnt from my granny.


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This New Zealand rock band—comprising vocalists Jeremy Redmore and Simon Oscroft, keyboardist and rhythmic guitarist Nick Campbell, bassist Matt Warman and drummer Aidan Bartlett—talks to Chin Hui Wen about their influences, the evolution of their sound and the reality of digital downloads.

Are you all close?
We've all been best friends for a long time and have even lived together the past two years. So maybe we're a little too close!

How has being from New Zealand influenced your sound?
I think New Zealand breeds a lot of musicians who aren't afraid to experiment and to be 100 percent themselves. That's definitely the case for us.

What bands do you listen to?
We listen to a huge range of music but recently we've been influenced a lot by the nineties sounds of The Verve, Stone Roses, Pearl Jam, Jane's Addiction and Oasis.

Has your music changed since recording the first album, The Brave Don’t Run?
Our music has become what we are as a live band—heavier and more “rocky”.

Which artists would you most like to go on tour with?
Pearl Jam, Jane's Addiction, The Killers, Kasabian and Bruce Springsteen.

Best gig you've ever played?
The biggest festival in New Zealand is called Big Day Out and we were lucky enough to play on the main stage to 20,000 people (all singing our songs back to us). It was incredible.

Have you had any embarrassing moments onstage?
Yes, having a complete mind-blank on the lyrics of our biggest song.

How do you feel about digital downloads and music piracy?
Most of us see illegal downloading as the new way people discover music. It's a reality of the music industry now. It doesn't look like it will go away, so we may as well view it positively and work out ways to exploit that exposure.

How do you feel about performing in Singapore?
We're really excited. It'll be our first show here and only our second visit to Asia. We've had a taste and can't wait to be back for more.

What’s next for you?
Our plans basically revolve around touring and recording as much music as possible, to become a successful international act.

Midnight Youth will play at Music Matters Live! 2012 on May 24-26 at Clarke Quay.



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What makes Singapore's four newest malls worth the trip.

Opened: December | Size: 282,000 sq. ft. | Number of stores: 150
112 Katong bids goodbye to the cobwebs of the old Katong Mall; trading it in for six levels of retail and lifestyle shops, including a lush landscaped garden on the roof. The heritage of the area is preserved in the architectural details of the mall: subtle Peranakan-inspired designs inscribed on its features and glass exterior.

What’s hot: First timers in the East include Max Brenner Chocolate Bar (#01-05) and Da Paolo Gastronomia (#B1-21), giving East-siders a new place to go gourmet; not forgetting Din Tai Fung’s (#01-04/#02-05) signature steamed dumplings at their first duplex store in Singapore. But that’s not all. Joining them with extended dining hours (till 3am on weekends!) are Baci Italian Café (#01-07), Toast Box (#01-03), Nando’s (#01-04) and T.G.I. Friday’s (#01-13).

What’s not: With the exception of Springfield (#01-30) and Charles & Keith (#01-22/23), fashionistas will be greatly disappointed at the lack of options.

How to get there: Free shuttle services from Paya Lebar MRT.


Opened: April | Size: 207,000 sq. ft. | Number of stores: 122
Located right next to Expo MRT station (yes, it really is that far away), this family-oriented mall features a landscaped rooftop garden, interactive art installations, outdoor amphitheater, playground and a tree-house trail for children. The mall is also home to VSA (Very Special Arts Singapore).

What’s hot: Fans of Esprit (#02-43/44), Lacoste (#02-38/39), Timberland (#02-46/47) and Nike (#02-31/34) rejoice. Their discount stores carrying past season collections are located here, typically offering 30-50 percent off. You can also get quality meats from upmarket butcher Mmmm (Meats, Marinates & Much More; #B1-23) and all-day breakfast at Eggs & Berries (#01-37/38).

What’s not: The only form of entertainment here is Timezone (#02-22/23), which targets kids.

How to get there: MRT to Expo.


Opened: April | Size: 204,000 sq. ft. | Number of stores: 110
Taking over from Jurong Entertainment Centre is JCube. Boasting the only IMAX theater out of the city, an Olympic-size ice skating rink (#03-11) cleverly named The Rink, and a cool exterior of six façade walls resembling an ice cube, this is by far the biggest mall out West.

What’s hot: Keep an eye out for Francfranc (#02-27), Japan’s renowned premium home furnishing brand, set to open its doors this month (the flagship opens at VivoCity in June). Also new to the city is Eat at Taipei (#03-03/18), which specializes in (yep) Taiwanese delights. And late night dining (till midnight) is available at desserts joint Pique Nique (#01-08) and Watami Japanese Casual Restaurant (#01-17).

What’s not: Clearly, fashion isn’t their strong suit; with none of the high street labels or even indie boutiques available here.

How to get there: MRT to Jurong East.


Opened: February | Size: 99,997 sq. ft. | Number of stores: 30
This is no hokey suburban mall. A fresh white space in lush green surrounds, everything from the colorful rubbish bins (designed by Italian firm Metalco) and wall hangings by Lasalle students to the integration of a black and white bungalow (housing Starbucks and Italian restaurant, Pasta al Salvatore) has been tastefully done.

What’s hot: Already bustling is Pies & Coffee (#01-02), with some 18 savory and sweet pies—including duck confit, savory ricotta and peach. East Coast dessert institution Obolo Galeria (#01-08) is here, too. To work off the treats, try Celebrity Fitness (#02-01/07). The first Singapore branch of the international gym chain, which looks not unlike a Beverly Hills nightclub, features unusual classes like Floating Yoga, done using a hammock.

What’s not: Hard to grumble really, though all the tenants are pretty upmarket. A little more variety would be nice.

How to get there: MRT to Buona Vista.



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Chin Hui Wen chats with Jasper Donat, CEO of Branded Ltd. and President of Digital and Music Matters. He shares his motivation for starting the music conference, this year’s highlights and his hopes for the event’s future.

What was the impetus to start Music Matters back in 2006?
Music Matters was introduced to liven and enrich the music industry in Asia. It was important to bring the music made in Asia to the rest of the world and to provide opportunities for up-and-coming bands to learn from people who have made it in the industry.

Have you planned any special programs to help musicians who are just starting out?
Branded Ltd. has contributed US$50,000 (S$61,886) worth of passes to enable local musicians to meet with and learn from those attending Music Matters 2012. Our mentoring sessions will provide attending musicians the opportunity to learn from experienced artist managers, producers, publishers and professionals to gain first hand creative advice for their careers.

Is there a particular speaker you are most looking forward to hear from?
Troy Carter, the man behind the Gaga phenomenon. He’s speaking at Music Matters for the very first time in Asia. Troy has been instrumental in Lady Gaga's success; he has illustrated how taking advantage of radical new marketing techniques can give an artist an additional boost. Can't wait to hear how they did it.

How has the Asian music market changed since 2006?
With technology, the music world has transformed into a global village. The Asian music market has evolved radically having amalgamated other music cultures with its own. Recently, consumers have been catching on the Hall-yu (Korean wave). It is the perfect example of how technology has contributed to the transformation of traditional music. Today, Korean music is heavily infused with western pop influences like rap, rhythm and English lyrics.

What are your future plans for the event?
We hope the event will continue in its growth and relevance to both Asian and international markets. We want it to become a platform for aspiring artists to be discovered by and learn from the industry's very best.

Music Matters 2012 runs May 22-26 at The Ritz Carlton.



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Prima ballerina Robert Carter is the most senior member of cross-dressing dance group Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, aka The Trocks. He talks to Chin Hui Wen about being part of the award-winning team, the preparation that goes into each show and the need for ibuprofen.

When did you start dancing?
I started at age seven-and-a-half at the Robert Ivey Ballet School in Charleston, South Carolina. I attended pointe classes (usually only done by female dancers) three times a week in addition to my regular sessions. The Trocks were always an ambition.

How different is it dancing male and female parts?
With the male role, there is a looser freer movement and the ease and comfort of being in a flat slipper. But I like the challenge and silent strength required for female movements, especially when combined with my masculine strength.

Humor is a big part of the show. Do you have a background in comedy?
I don’t but I have a great sense of humor and was always considered the class clown.

What’s it like getting into those tutus?
Putting on a tutu is a lifting experience, literally. Ours are made to accommodate our male figures but they do the same as they would for women.

Have you ever had any kind of wardrobe malfunction?
I’ve had experience with my strap breaking or skirt snagging but my most memorable (and embarrassing) moments have been the few times I lost my wig.

How do you deal with injury, pain and strain?
Eight hours of sleep every night, a good diet, lots of ice, heat and sometimes ibuprofen.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is on through May 5 at the Esplanade Theatre.


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Baayork Lee choreographed and cast the Australian company of A Chorus Line, set to perform at Marina Bay Sands. She also acted as Connie in the Tony award-winning 1975 original, under mastermind, Michael Bennett. Chin Hui Wen learns how she and the show have evolved through the years.

When did your passion for choreography begin?
It began with Michael Bennett. He would walk into the rehearsal room, throw off his coat, tell the drummer to play a rhythm, and start to dance. Choreography poured out of him. It was so much fun. The other assistants and I would pick up steps, as he wouldn't always remember what he did. I could learn it and write it down faster than anyone else.

How does the Australian cast compare with the original?
The original company, for many of us, was playing our lives. We went through a year of development with Michael Bennett. That experience was priceless. In order to get the same incredible moments 36 years later, we have to examine each actor thoroughly. Hopefully, I have done my job well and the cast is very close to the original. I think the Australian group is spot on.

How has the show changed since its inception?
The show has gone round the world and sometimes the actors speak different languages like German or Japanese. But Michael Bennett wanted an audience anywhere to experience what was seen in New York. So the elements (sets, costumes, lights) remain the same. We haven't changed the show. We want you to see it as it was. It’s a period piece.

How important is it that your performers be a triple threat, and be able to sing, dance and act?
Very. If they start out with one element that is not as strong as the other two, we work on that at the A Chorus Line boot camp.

The role of Connie must feel so personal. How do you pick a Connie?
They usually pick themselves with their talent and personality. After all these years, I have learnt to treat Connie as one of the characters and not me.

What is your favorite song in the show?
“What I Did For Love”. It tells us why we do what we do. We have no regrets because it makes us feel whole as a human being.

How do you feel about the Singapore audience?
I am excited for them to experience the show. I hope they go beneath the surface and see what artists and performers go through. This is dedicated to anyone who ever had to march in step. To anyone who ever had to go for a job interview.

A Chorus Line runs May 4-27, 7:30pm; 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, 1:30pm at the Sands Theater.


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This outdoor performance features 35 women interacting with 35 water-filled urns. Chin Hui Wen talks to the creators, Marion D'Cruz and Anne James, about the meaning and symbolism of the piece.

Dream Country was based on your 1988 work, the Urn Piece. How has it evolved since then?
Marion D'Cruz: The original was for three performers. This is for 35. We started with the idea of 100 but this was not possible logistically and financially. We came down to 50 and then now 35, which is significant because this is the 35th year of the Singapore Arts Festival.

What’s the symbolism of the urn in this piece?
Anne James: The urn is ubiquitous in South East Asia. It is part of our past and present. It brings to mind images of life, birth, death and much more, both commonplace and profound.

How did you find and recruit the cast of female performers?
AJ: We engaged four directors who are working with eight to nine performers each. Some people were invited by the directors; others were selected at an open call. It was an unusual audition process. Participants were asked to bring swimwear, be ready to get wet and to bring towels. They were literally asked to plunge into the urns. Then, the directors chose whom they wanted to work with. All of the performers had to agree to get thoroughly wet, wear sack-cloth and get dirty!

Does working in an open air space affect the performance?
MD: The piece can work anywhere. I have done it indoors and with good lighting it was quite magical. But outdoors, there is an organic relationship among the urns, water, sacks, earth, sky, sun, moon, stars and trees. There is a greater sense of expanse.

What are your personal hopes and dreams for the show?
AJ: I hope the performers have a blast just playing with water, urns, sacks and the ground. I hope the viewer feels the desire to jump into the urns and play too—be a child again—and create their own stories and journeys.

Dream Country runs May 31-Jun 1, 8pm at the Esplanade Park.


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