While we stay in the hustle and grind of our own local scene, we often forget that music has no boundaries and that it spreads across the world and the beats we all enjoy and dance to are very much the same. In our first series of ‘Global Insight’ we feature Brendon Perera, a 25+ year veteran DJ born and raised in the bustling country of Singapore where in recent years has seen a major uprise on the growing trend of electronic music. We recently caught up with Brendon to discuss his insight.
How did you first get involved with Electronic Music and who were some of your earlier influences?
I supposed that happened when I heard Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn” in 1975. I was listening to a lot of Rock then and had just discovered, and was getting into a lot of jazz, funk and soul too. the radio here was horrid as they played mostly ballads and country music. I also didn’t get a huge allowance as a kid so I’d look through the sales shelves at record shops and buy stuff that was going for 3 to 5 bucks and just save up for the more costly new ones that I wanted badly. And there were 2 copies of “Autobahn” which was going for two bucks each, in the sales bin, so I decided that, hey, it wouldn’t hurt to just try it out, and I was pleasantly surprised. Of course I found it strange at first, and my parents must have found me even ‘stranger’ too, but, it kind of felt like a very different form of jazz to me, then, in many ways. Eventually, it all grew from there to buying more imports and 12 inch singles as better record shops, and a bigger allowance, eventually came to be. It all came to a point at the start of the 80’s when British and European synthpop artists and bands like Thomas Dolby, Gorgio Moroder, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Heaven 17, The Human League, Soft Cell, Visage, Yello and Alphaville came into play and made people take more notice of bands with no guitars. As time marched on, learning to DJ was the next step, and after my little holiday in New York in 1984, it was a nobrainer for me, after all that clubbing and watching dj’s working those dancefloors, that THIS was what I really wanted to do. Dancing (and going nuts) to Quando Quango’s ‘Love Tempo’ at Dancetaria pretty much made up my mind for me actually.
What was it like growing up in Singapore at a time when electronic music was not so widely accepted? Where did you find outlet to allow you and your fellow peers to push forward?
The really good stuff still isn’t to a large extent. And growing up here, liking electronic music, in those days meant you were pretty much ostracized by many people, employers and dj’s alike, who were still stuck playing records that were close to a decade, or two decades old, and not mixing them up with the new stuff. Club managers would reprimand us and tell us to just stick to the ‘hits’, so I can understand if some of the DJ’s who had families to feed just buckled down and lived with it or gave up entirely. I actually got tired of it and left DJ’ing at the end of 1991 to become a flight attendant, which I did for for 5 years, just so I could travel the world, hit the clubs and see if my perception of where electronic music was going, was correct. And buy heaps of records that the shops here weren’t bringing in too. Eventually, some of us likeminded folk, found a few leftfield places to play more forward thinking music out, parttime. Neo Pharaoh’s in 1996, a little like the Sound Factory bar in New York, was a good place then. In 1997, when left the airline to return to DJ’ing, NOX was probably one of the best clubs I’ve ever had the pleasure of working at. Zouk helped the scene, and other DJ’s like myself a lot actually, as their forward thinking policy and approach then, coupled with the fact that they had the financial capability to bring the more underground DJ’s like Sasha, Tenaglia, Francois K, Laurent Garnier, LTJ Bukem Adam Freeland etc, all playing different styles of electronica, all went a long way to create a greater awareness for the music here. Being a resident there for 9 years was also one of the high points of my career/ life too.
What are your current involvements with the local Singapore electronic music industry?
These days I’m content with working as a free lance DJ. Although I do have my set resident nights ay Kyo and Ku de Ta and my various monthly other nights, like BUZZ or some of the work that I do with the Midnight Shift, and my own little collective called DOOMPH which comprises of myself, Stephen Day, JeanBaptiste and Ashe Narayan, I’m really quite content and happy to work at different places, including festivals that maintain a quality and forward thinking identity and approach. I enjoy the variety, and learn quite a fair bit about a great many things.
Singapore is quickly emerging as a global destination for top artists to show case their talents and sound; what do you think attributes to the growth of electronic music for Singapore despite the country’s strict laws and regulations?
The common misconception that Law enforcement has always had with ‘electronic music’ or music per se, is that it and the drug scene go hand in hand. Drug use or abuse, is an individual and social problem and a battle, best fought in the schools or other institutions of higher learning (including the home). I’ve read reports of people who come from totally unrelated fields who have gone into addiction and eventually, rehabilitation. So it’s not altogether right to attach it’s ills to one particular thing. As for the growth of electronic music, I honestly think that a great part of it has to do with the awareness that Zouk and its popularity created circa 1998 to present day. Zoukout as well, over the course of the last decade or so, has seen a rise in the amount of people attending, not Just from Singapore but different parts of Asia as well. There are people who actually knew that Zouk was in Singapore, but never really quite knew where Singapore was geographically. Unless they’d been here. Singapore’s also a very ‘International’ city now and the increasing population, and demand for both the commercial and underground artists prompts more clubs and promoters to take the risk in bringing them over, and although there have been some nights and parties that weren’t so well attended, most of them fair rather well. I just DJ’ed in the smaller ‘Sideshow FREQ’s’ room at the FREQENDER festival over the recent Halloween weekend and was happy to see it that well attended. I was also pleasantly surprised at the reaction in the main room to artists like Doorly and Hot Chip. To me that was an indication that the balance is slowly shifting. There’s also a lot to be said for the fact that these concerts and festivals bring in heaps of tourist dollars too. Every time there’s a big festival on, or an event like the Formula One Night Race, and the heaps of concerts and events going on during that weekend alone. There’s a small other factor of the less progressive Asian cities, where people are actually starved of the exposure and experience and flock to Singapore to get it. There’s literally a guest DJ here at the clubs just about every weekend.
There seems to be a nice balance of Undeground and Upfront electronic music happening in Singapore based on the latest ZoukOut line up along with various clubs promoting both types of sound. Is there currently a divide in the local scene between the two dynamics? or are local and foreign clubbers generally more accepting to both? What is your stance between commercial music and underground?
Yes, I do like the balance in the Zoukout line up this year, I might even go, if I’m not DJ’ing on that day. I like having fun whether I’m DJ’ing or going out to party. But, I actually have to be honest here, I have a Zero tolerance policy when it comes to bad music. For me, it’s really simple, good music is good music, it doesn’t necessarily have to be radically ‘underground’. I remember Sasha playing the C&C Music Factory remix of Gloria Estafan’s “Live For Loving You” as his encore way back on one of his first few nights here at Zouk one time; can’t remember the exact year, but it was early in the 90’s. But I remember thinking to myself that this was a great remix and a great record. The divide, however, that exists anywhere in the world depends on the individuals themselves, those who yearn to learn, eventually grow out of the whole EDM/POP thing, and start appreciating better music, and, hopefully, becoming better people. I remember seeing a group of them move from Beyonce to Osunlade over the course of my Zouk/Velvet residency, and after that there was no stopping them from moving on to more quality based music. Some of them still come to my gigs these days, and thank me for it, but they did it all on their own really, my part to play was really very small. Most people, in general, who aren’t as clued up, probably really don’t care. They’re there because it’s cool, and the main objective is really to get totally trashed or laid. The one’s who come out to dance, don’t usually let anything stand in their way. Things are changing though, I know of a few EDM based clubs here that are trying to play better music or have more credible collectives host more quality nights within their respective venues. But it’ll take a while before Asia catches up with Europe as it’s still very influenced by what goes on in America. So the minute that starts to change, then we’ll see. There is a cultural divide that I’d love to see eclipsed and that is a greater balance of locals and foreigners enjoying themselves together, and not having to hold discriminate disdain to a venue because it’s got a greater population of foreigners that frequent it or vice versa. Don’t get me started on the KPop thing though……
Singapore has been getting a lot of attention on a global scale with IMS (International Music Summit) making its debut next month followed by the annual ZoukOUT festival; what do you think the impact will have on the overall scene in Asia and do you think more attention will be drawn towards this side of the region in the coming years?
International Summits and events like Zoukout etc do create job opportunities for many, and in all respects, thats a good thing as the economy here still isn’t as thriving as many may think. But that impact thus far, is transient. The festival comes and goes, as does the summit. If I may digress a tad, I hope that the government departments, both here and across Asia, will take an active part in the summits, and support it’s growth and, also take the impetus and be less strict in giving applying good bars and restaurants the required legal paperwork to have DJ’s or bands playing in them, that will create more long term job opportunities for more artists. It’s been really irritating to lose out on a gig at a great bar simply because, a raid by the relevant authorities reveal that they don’t have the right paperwork to allow DJ’s in their establishment and even more frustrating to watch these good places eventually close as a result of that. And watch everyone lose their jobs too. Any city with a thriving economy, has a thriving club/bar/festival scene. As for the ‘scene’ in Asia, the longer these cooler venues stay open, the greater impact will speak for itself. That having been said, this attention and awareness, is already starting to happen quite quickly.
What was it like being the resident at Zouk for 9 years? What were some of the highlights during your tenure at the legendary venue?
It was phenomenal, to say the most. I used to go dancing there since it first opened in 1991 and to be have been offered that residency was, needless to say, a great feeling at the time. Plus everyone knew each other so it made working there a joy. I spent most of my residency there in the Velvet Underground room which was more or less the ‘Body and Soul’ room. The people who came night after night really knew their stuff so, they kept you on your toes. There’s probably too many highlights over the course of my years there, but I’ll put it down to just meeting lots of great people, most of whom I’m still friends with today, dancers and DJ’s alike. Oh, and curating and mixing the Velvet edition of the Rhythm 2 CD compilation I once went to visit a friend in Kuching in Malaysia, just after it came out, and they were playing it in the cafe that we were in, and my friend Joni, looked at me with this coy little smile, and said, “should I tell them?” and we just laughed and enjoyed our coffee. Going to the Miami Winter Music Conference for Zouk in 2003, and playing at the Zouk/Pacha party at Opium Gardens was very memorable too. And all those Zoukout’s, as well.
When outsiders talk about SIngapore’s underground artists, the name Xhin usually comes to mind. What other local artists would you consider a talent that deserves more recognition?
Ha ha, yes, Xhin’s actually a good friend and he’s pretty damn good at what he does too. I’d like to see Eddie Niguel get some more props, he’s a really good producer and DJ. And I’ve just discovered this new DJ and producer named Aman who’s pretty damn good too. I’d like to see his stuff get on an international label at some point next year.
As we approach the end of 2014, what are some of the projects you’re currently working on and what can we expect from you and the clubs you’re involved with in the coming year?
It’ll be back to the studio for sure to work on some new ideas and finish a few unfinished things that have been sitting around saved on Cuebase. I do have a list of musicians I’d love to work with so it’s not going to be totally electronic. More DJ’ing of course as I’m very happy working with the team at Ku De Ta, really tight bunch there, and they’re moving on to bigger and better things in the new year, so that’s good to hear. They’ve just also won the best local nightspot award despite the stiff competition from kyo and Zouk, which was no easy feat considering Zouk’s won it heaps of times before, and kyo, given such a short time, has consistently proven to be well more than worthy in every respect. I do also hope to travel a bit next year as well. Hopefully to South America, as I’ve never been out there I hear the crowds there are mental.