This Lunar New Year, you’re in for aural treats of a particularly dashing experimental shade as homegrown electronic label Syndicate locks arms with Japanese fashion retail titan Uniqlo to produce and curate in-store music for the latter’s Orchard Central flagship store. Label honcho Kiat tells us that the Syndicate was founded so as to “provide alternative options” that would hopefully spur the musical discovery of the larger public. And with this new compilation, he enlists fellow local heavyweights such as The Analog Girl and Max Lane, and presents an incredibly fascinating take on his label’s founding tenet. This is one Chinese New Year soundtrack that will surely outlast the year of the rooster. Here, the three artists hold a red lantern up their methods and memories.
A very happy Chinese New Year to you all. What does the holiday mean to you?
Max Lane and Kiat: It’s time for another break to catch up with family and friends.
The Analog Girl: For me, it’s always been about catching up with family and friends – the heartwarming feeling that you get when even though you may not see each other often enough, and the knowledge that the kinship is forever there. And not forgetting the nostalgia when savouring my auntie’s home-cooked food.
Does typical CNY music, the ‘soundtracks’ played in malls and NTUCs around the country, hold any meaning for you?
K: Having grown up here, it brings to mind gatherings of extended families and friends with lots of food in between. With this project, we’re happy to contribute our own take to these ‘soundtracks’.
TAG: I used to feel nostalgic about the good old days whenever I heard the typical CNY music being played in malls, and I actually am ok with it. In recent years though, I realise that it’s probably the ones that my mum used to play at home that I miss the most.
ML: It means the change of the season, for me. Basically, they serve as an accidental sonic signifier in public spaces reminding me that the end-of-year festive period is over and that we are into a new year and that CNY is coming.
What inspired your approach to your respective tracks on the Syndicate x Uniqlo compilation?
TAG: I tapped into the exoticism and spirit of the Lunar New Year when getting inspired for the making of the track “Celestial’”. It’s meant to take you into another dimension, to some faraway land.
ML: Coincidentally, I’ve been buying and listening to old Chinese records recently. So, I had a chance to study at a glance, the rhythms and patterns of Chinese music before agreeing to do this track. The project presented a perfect chance for me to try things out. And the selected track is actually a second piece I did, as the first one did not sound too festive.
K: We wanted our track to be less predictable and more left field and something that we could listen to outside of CNY.
The Analog Girl
Your tracks are all drum/percussion-heavy. Could you please explain the significance of drums/percussion to your own musical ethos?
K: Drums and percussion have always been key components of my productions. I grew up fascinated with all sorts of drums, especially the Malay kompang and I’d mimic the patterns around the house, much to my parents’ annoyance.
ML: Every culture has its own unique drumming or rhythm patterns. Using this as a base allows more room for me to add my own instrumentations and flavour.
TAG: Percussion seems to be a key element in traditional Chinese music, so I was naturally drawn to create a solid beat that drives the festive vibe of the piece. Also, I love a good beat myself!
The Syndicate x Uniqlo compilation is a great example of Asian and Western worlds coming together in the name of art. What are some such projects that you’d recommend to anyone reading this?
ML: I sample a lot of old Malay and Southeast Asian records in this other project that I’m in, called NADA. It’s a reminder and celebration of the haunting golden era of music that we used to have here in Singapore.
Another good act to check is Sa Trio. They are made up of musicians who are highly trained in traditional Chinese instruments but adopt a free jazz ethos to create magical chaos.
TAG: Doctor Strange comes to mind. And the entire Star Wars universe.
K: NADA and Sa Trio.
Syndicate has long been an ambassador of cutting-edge electronic music in Singapore and its partnership with a global brand like Uniqlo is truly a good sign. Do you think, that any point in the future, non-EDM dance music will be embraced by the mainstream here?
ML: To be cutting-edge means you need to be pushing boundaries. And to push boundaries you will inevitably be at the fringes. It is kind of impossible to maintain the ethos and be in the mainstream. And on whether non-EDM dance music will be embraced by the mainstream here; the answer is actually in the '80s.
K: I think it’s already happening with pop music from underground cultures such as trap and collaborations between artists like Hudson Mohawke and Kanye West.
TAG: Absolutely! If EDM did it, so can all other sub-genres of dance music!
What’s your favourite CNY memory?
ML: The annual extended family picnic where it’s all fun, games and laughter.
TAG: Bingeing on Hong Kong movies with Chinese New Year goodies - that never gets old.
K: I was 13 or 14 when I saved up two years of ang pow money to buy one Technics turntable as an upgrade from my plastic belt-driven one I bought from a scrap seller. I had to hide it from my parents!
Lastly, what are your hopes and wishes this Chinese New Year?
AG: I hope for peace and smiles the world over.
K: I wish everyone great health and good vibes in these changing times. Also, I hope the temperature drops to 25 degrees Celcius all year round and for even more good music to come out of Singapore.
ML: Let’s hope it will be another great year.
The Uniqlo In-Store Music: Chinese New Year compilation is available for free download at syndicate.sg.
Text: Indran P
Images: Afiq Omar, Julius Landau & Kiat