Culture — June 28, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Sub:shaman Grace the Baybeats Stage This Weekend


Roiling groove is the shamanistic vision of this striding post-rock outfit. In the sub:shaman universe, savagely enigmatic guitars clasp hands with a hailstorm of drums and dance atop a groove that is unforgivably biting and punchy. Making kinetic sounds to animate kinetic spheres, the shamans – featuring Wei Shan (vocals and keyboards), Isa Ong (guitar and vocals), Hanis (bass), Syahadi (drums) and Isa Foong (soundscapist) – traffic in a distinct blend of engagement and enthrallment. See them in all their brutally groovy splendor at Baybeats 2013 this weekend.

How did the band come together?

Isa Foong: Isa, Hanis, Shan and myself met at school. We got to know each other and when Shan had a gig coming up, which she didn’t want to do solo, we got on board and formed a band around it. We started enjoying what we were doing and we wanted to make it permanent. That’s when Isa roped Syahadi in, in July last year.

You used to perform as ‘Cold Shoulder’. Why the name change?

Isa Foong: We wanted to reflect the line-up change and when Syahadi came on board and we started writing new material our sound shifted quite significantly. We wanted a name that reflected a new identity but a new sound as well. We felt that sub:shaman was a lot more reflective of what we were doing.

Hanis: Yes, sound wise we’re different now. We’re a bit more aggressive and a bit more in-your-face now.

It’s great that you brought that up. Your songs are groovy but there is a hard edge to them too. How did this arrangement come about?

Isa Foong: For us, it has always been about finding the middle ground in all the things we’re making. We’ve always thought of ourselves as sound-makers as opposed to musicians. Groove is the utmost importance to this. It also gives Isa a lot of space to explore what he wants to do with the guitar, which is typically hard and in-your-face (laughs). That’s how it came about.

Isa Ong: For me, it’s about the small things that have an impact on the way we write. It’s the little things like overdrive and using a delay pedal. For the gritty tone I make it a point for the guitar lines to really stick out, since I am the only guitarist.

Hanis and Syahadi, as the rhythmic backbone of the band, what do you look for in your sound to further the band’s groovy agenda?

Syahadi: I guess my sound comes from listening to every aspect of different kinds of music especially gospel music and hip-hop. I take a lot of inspiration from The Roots, Ne-Yo and Justin Timberlake. I also like reggae, too. As long as the grooves make everyone dance (laughs).

Hanis: I prefer writing in repetitive patterns known as ‘pockets’. This style anchors everything together and it allows the rest the space to go crazy! (laughs) I also change it up by adding effects and messing up the tone. Like what Isa said, it’s not so much about the notes that we play but the sounds that we create. I’d say I’m influenced by Latin and African music.

How does it feel to be able to play at Baybeats?

Isa Foong: Awesome! We were happy with just writing music in the studio but we wanted to do something with the music. And, in Singapore, Baybeats is the biggest and widest-reaching platform for local music. The auditions were a little trying and expectations were high. We worked on the feedback given to us and we became tighter and emerged more serious as an entity. It’s been great, really. Every year, thousands of people from all walks of life come by and you’ll never know who your music will reach out to. That’s a great a thing.

Do you feel that featuring bands from the region on the line-up limits coverage for local bands?

Hanis: Not really. The last few years has shown us that everybody’s on par. And variety is always good. Variety in music, variety of stories in the music, all these are necessary. Everybody plays the same stages and that’s a good thing.

Isa Foong: Yes, that way the community grows. It’s a platform in so many ways and a great opportunity for bands to network.

What would you like to see more of, in the way of infrastructure, for local bands/musicians?

Isa Ong: More venues, definitely. We need a live house, a venue specifically designated for holding live performances. In Japan and Australia, there are many live houses and these don’t have amps and drum sets. So, the bands’ve had to learn about their own sound. That has definitely helped their music. Yeah, more venues, they’re really important.

What’s next for the band after Baybeats?

Isa Foong: We definitely want to get into the studio and start writing. We want to be able to curate something we can be proud of and we want to put our music in the hands of people.

Isa Ong: We’ll definitely play more shows.

Hanis: We’ll take our time to sharpen our sound and see how much we can experiment.