Behind the Scenes with Other Sounds: Changing the way we experience music in Singapore

Other Sounds is no stranger to providing live music to local audiences that are quite an other sound to what we’d typically hear on the radio. In the past year alone, their numerous indie gigs with the likes of Canadian lo-fi band Dirty Beaches, post-hardcore group La Dispute, electronic music duo Blue Hawaii, and more recently, Copenhagen-based DJ, producer and remixer, Taragana Pyjarama, are testament to their commitment to being a platform for the experimental and alternative.

Peatix had a chat with Melissa Yong, the founder of this exciting collective, to find out more about how she curates her gigs, her journey with Other Sounds and her ideal concert space.

Founder of Other Sounds Asia, Melissa Yong

Just curious, but Other Sounds (OS) started off as an online music publication and now, you guys are actually bringing in international indie acts for locals to experience them live instead of simply reading about them. How did the change come about?

I wanted OS to be the kind of publication that put on shows and parties as well, but I guess as a one man show I was way in over my head and couldn’t manage it all – eventually, I just had to choose between running the website and putting on shows.

There is just so much interest in Asia as a touring market right now and there were so many opportunities coming up, I just couldn’t pass up all the offers I was being presented with!

How do you decide which acts to bring in and do you mind sharing with us what the process is like?

I personally want to continue working with (relatively speaking) smaller bands – talented and exciting acts that easily slip under the radar but whose live shows are right up there with the big guys.

Especially as music is becoming more accessible to everyone, I think what we’re doing is important in challenging young music fans and concert-goers, and hopefully developing a more discerning audience.

Obviously, also something to consider is an act’s profile in Singapore: whether it’s a band that can sell itself, a band whose hype online we can exploit in promo efforts, or a totally unknown band who’s just willing to tour on breakeven – all things to be considered!

Ultimately though, it’s down to financial viability – whether the act is already touring the region or if we can catch them on their way through to Australia or Japan, etc., how many are travelling, their production and hospitality needs, etc.

What is the most heartwarming experience you have had since embarking on this journey?

I love when fans go crazy when they find out that someone is coming – there is definitely a thrill (and at the same time, anxiety…) that comes at every announcement.
Also of course, the whole experience on show day: excited fans, excited band, so much love.

Why music and not any other art form?

Live music – it’s such a beautiful experience, to be able to share right there in person, the artist’s music with them.

You seem to hold gigs at unconventional and intimate spaces such as The Substation, Life Is Beautiful as well as Pink Noize here in Singapore. Why those choices and not other popular venues such as Canvas, Blu Jaz or Hood Bar and Café?

That’s all very subjective… for example, I would say that The Substation is as conventional a space that BluJaz is for a show; Canvas isn’t a live music venue; I probably wouldn’t consider Hood because of all of its tables and chairs which I associate with cover bands.

I guess first and foremost, the venue has to suit the music and the vibe you want on the night: sweaty punk shows at Pink Noize, electronic music at Life Is Beautiful, etc.

Second to that, and much like the choice in bands we bring in, a lot of it really comes down to costs. Venues here are pretty uncooperative and hands-off in that respect, in that they’d rather have their space sit empty than reduce their fees ever so marginally to accommodate organizers’ external shows once or twice a week.

That’s another thing: I’ve never understood is why venues here don’t book (original) bands in-house? I would kill to have a space fully equipped with a stage and backline that a lot of these venues have, and I can’t believe they just leave them sitting there all week either empty or with cover bands playing. What a shame!

If you are able to create your own concert space – seats, aesthetics and stage – how would you do it up and why?

Oh man, I love this question. It is in the ten year plan to open a venue!

No flair or pretense: black walls (maybe a half yearly-updated mural on one side), stage at the end of the room, full backline, quality PA system, simple lighting rig, working air-con, concrete floors, simple bar, small backstage area, always-clean toilets, a couple of couches lining the walls, accessible with public transport, 200 cap standing.

That is all I ask for and really, coupled with solid weekly programming, all we need right now in Singapore!

Three words to describe the local music scene.

Generally speaking: self-conscious, sycophantic… defensive.

Lastly, what can we look forward to from Other Sounds in the near future?

A lot more shows in hopefully more interesting spaces. In ten years: a venue?

The possibility of an exciting stripped down venue focused on upping the music ante in Singapore sounds very appealing! While we await that, how about head down to an Other Sounds gig and discover new sounds in music? This November, American singer-songwriter Bill Callahan will be in Southeast Asia for his first and only pitstop. This gig will be sure to excite all fans of lo-fi underground rock and charm the curious – get tickets here!

Written by: Dawn Teo
Edited by: Claire Ding

Community, Global, Singapore. permalink.
Claire Ding
Claire Ding is the Community Manager at ticketing platform Peatix in Singapore. She runs a community event for organisers, Backstage Pass , where organisers connect with others and learn tips on event management. Quite the thrill-seeker, Claire's gone skydiving, bungee jumping, and enjoys anything that puts her on edge (quite literally), it's no wonder she's in the business of events with never a dull moment!