Rock the Mic, Right: Live Music, Comedy Nights, Slam Sessions and Creative Presentations in Singapore
Forget the festivals, stop obsessing over big-name international acts. Our home-grown live scene has never been more vibrant.
The evolution of Singapore’s live scene over the last year or two has been pretty remarkable. And we’re not just talking about music, which is in ruder health than it’s been for a long time. Open mic sessions and comedy nights have become increasingly popular, with Home Club and Blu Jaz holding regular nights for aspiring stand-ups. Meanwhile, budding poets, artists and entrepreneurs get to show off at diverse events like SPORE Art Salon and PechaKucha, which open their doors to anyone with an idea and a Powerpoint slide. And a few enterprising start-ups are looking to make it easier than ever to organize, and discover, cool live events.
Of course, some of the old gripes remain: more hype (and money) for high-profile international names, punitively high rent costs and tricky licensing issues (for a particularly salutary story, see our interview with George Grover of the now defunct Broadcast HQ), and a grumbling, widespread refusal to accept that there’s local talent to be proud of.
So, to show otherwise and to celebrate all that’s great about what’s going on right now, we spoke to a bunch of people behind the scenes to find out what makes the whole thing tick.
When it comes to live music, there’s certainly a lot out there: From daily offerings at Timbre, to Blu Jaz’s weekly showcase of lesser know jazz and world music talents, and Hard Rock Cafe’s weekly offerings. We spoke to up-and-coming Gareth Fernandez, who performs regularly at Timbre and Blu Jaz, about the scene.
There seem to be more gigs now than ever.
The music scene here is definitely growing. I’ve performed at and been to so many events in the past few months, including the SGMUSO House Party and MAAD Sounds. There are tons of live shows with great acts going on and more opportunities for performers to strut their stuff.
What do audiences look for at a live gig?
It’s about having a good time out with your friends. I recently went to see Charlie Lim and the Mothership’s gig at Blu Jaz, where he had completely packed the place out. It was a ticketed event too, which shows people are willing to pay good money, even on a Thursday evening, to go out and appreciate music.
Your thoughts on our live music venues?
The live venues here are great. I’m grateful for places like Esplanade, Hood Bar and Café, Blu Jaz and Timbre, that regularly feature original music. They understand that new artists need a platform for expression to truly pursue their wildest dreams. I do hope that more establishments will spring up in future, like more jazz or soul bars.
Fernandez performs next at Singapore Originals: The Auditory Effect. Nov 27, 7:30pm, Timbre @ The Substation.
Greg Lyon’s Monster Trio
Saxophonist Grey Lyons, organist Chok Kerong and drummer Darren Moore perform a heady jazz set. Nov 8, 9:30pm. Blu Jaz. First drink charge.
Shirlyn and The UnXpected
The brilliant Shirlyn Tan’s undeniably rocking set is still popular after all these years. Every Fri, 10pm. Hard Rock Café. First drink charge.
Blues Jam featuring Raw Earth/Chicken Shack Revival
Smashing blues and rock tunes by two outstanding bands.
Every Sat, 9pm. Barbershop. Free.
For budding artists and poets, the monthly SPORE Art Salon is one platform to showcase their work. New cafe Lowercase also holds a new night featuring a multi-disciplinary set of new talents. Salon’s founder Olivia Kwok tells us why it’s one of the most experimental nights in town.
What happens at the Salon?
The three-hour event usually starts with a 20-minute session of life drawing, which continues between the stage performances that follow. There could be poetry, music, dance, theater, film or visual art. No two editions are the same. There seems to be a big “refresh rate” in audience for each edition, which widens our reach. There are about 80 people on each night.
How has the Salon grown over the years?
We moved from a little cafe in Chinatown, to a one time stint at the now defunct Pigeonhole, then had a good year or two at Blu Jaz. We turn three in November so will be having an extended line up of 10 featured artists comprising of various performance artists and poets.
The next SPORE Art Salon is on Nov 26, 7:30pm. Artistry. $10.
This new night at hip new café Lowercase feature poets, artists and writers. “These sessions are created for artists with a stronger and more creative bent, usually those who are a bit more leftfield,” says events coordinator Josh Q.
Nov 8, 15, 18, 8pm. Lowercase. Free.
For laugh-out-loud comedy, Jonathan Atherton’s weekly (and perpetually jam-packed) Talk Cock Comedy nights are a must, alongside Kumar’s fortnightly stint at Home Club and the weekly open mic Comedy Masala, if you’re keen to discover budding stand-ups.
What never fails to make Singaporeans laugh?
Making fun of Malaysia is a sure fire way to get a rise out of Singaporeans—almost as much as making fun of Singapore in Malaysia.
Why shouldn’t we just go to a club or the movies?
For an intelligent person live comedy is the ultimate form of entertainment. It demands more in terms of thought process and forces you to confront your ideology. It also spurs post-show conversation, as many serious issues are dealt with in a comedic context.
What would you like to see more of in the scene?
I’d like to see more promoters who actually care about comedy, who try to foster the art rather than focus solely on the business. At a grass roots level the Singapore scene is very encouraging. The promoters come from comedy backgrounds and we work together in a complimentary way. We feel a responsibility for nurturing the new wave of local talent, for building an indigenous comedy culture.
Atherton appears at Talk Cock Comedy. Every Wed, 8:30pm. Blu Jaz. $10.
One Mic Stand
The irrepressible Kumar unleashes his acid-tongued jokes on a riotous crowd.
Second and fourth Thu of the month, 8pm. Home Club. $15 one drink included.
Hosted by Umar Rana, this weekly comedy night is a must to discover new comedic talents.
Every Tue, 9pm. Home Club. $15 one drink included.
The Comedy Guide to Singapore
A one-man standup comedy show featuring new talents.
Every Wed, Fri, 8pm. Mulligan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant. $20.
Poetry and story slamming sessions can be quite a hoot, with budding as well as established talents like Poetry Slam organizer Deborah Emmanuel, braving the stage to share their creative work (and beat one another in the process). Emmanuel tells us about this riotous scene.
How is the vibe?
It’s quite casual, with a host to show you that poetry doesn’t have to be stiff. The gigs are held at places like Blu Jaz, Home Club, or Aliwal Arts Centre. Poetry Slams and open mics draw people who are there to be turned on intellectually or emotionally. They are respectful but want to have fun, so there’s laughter, audience reaction and silence when it matters.
How have the numbers grown?
The Poetry Slam competitions this year have drawn 40-50 people per event, with highs of 100. We get participating audiences, but most of the time we keep it among the four or five of us on stage.
What about our talent pool?
It’s great. There’s a nice amount of diversity which grows as we are exposed to writers from other cultures and new ways of writing and performing.
What do you want to see more of?
Fearlessness! Open mouths, arms and hearts.
This is Awkward
A story slamming competition featuring talents from NYU Tisch Asia. Three audience members will be invited to share their stories on stage.
Nov 11, 8pm. Home Club. $8 one drink included.
And for everything else, there are creative presentations like PechaKucha Night and Lean Startup Circle, where photographers, entrepreneurs, journalists, writers, philanthropists and everyone else get to see and present works in casual, fun settings. At PechaKucha, each participant gets to present works in a “20 x 20” format (20 slides for 20 seconds each). Founder Jon Siegel tells us what to expect at these networking nights.
How’s the vibe at PechaKucha?
PechaKucha is a casual affair, no suits or ties, and there’s easy access to drinks. We have an energetic crowd and speakers, all of which create great vibes. PechaKucha Night is similar to TED in terms of curating speakers from different backgrounds for innovative idea creation. If a person is motivated and passionate about sharing unique ideas, we are open to having them speak.
What are the no-nos here?
One thing we are making sure of is that all of the speeches are not sales talks. At an earlier event, some speakers attempted a sales talk and it completely turned off the audience. We learned a lesson from this, and we now pay more attention to presentation contents beforehand.
How’s the response so far?
We’ve hosted six events with 60 speakers. The audience seems to have stabilized around 200-250 people for each event but we’ve had some events where numbers blew past 400. We love it when everyone leaves with a smile and a look of determination from being deeply inspired.
The next PechaKucha Night is in January, 2014. If you’d like to participate or simply attend, log onto PechaKucha Singapore's website.
A social gathering featuring a cross section of artists, academics, designers and entrepreneurs to share little-heard, cool ideas.
Nov 20, 7:30pm. Blu Jaz. Pay as you wish.
Meet business owners and entrepreneurs who are eager to share stories and rant about the start-up industry.
Nov 26, 7:30pm. Blu Jaz. $25 two drinks included.
The upcoming TED session will focus on the latest global inventions, with inventors and designers from the US and Korea.
Dec 7, 10am. Venue to be confirmed. Register at TEDXSingapore's website.