Culture — March 12, 2012 at 6:11 pm

The Boards Are Taking Over


Keyboards, sound boards, laptops, synthesizers and CDJs have long played second fiddle to conventional instruments—guitars, drums and bass—in the popular imagination. Confined to the underground, the “boards” were wielded by a different species of musicians; those unconcerned with playing to and for the gallery, those unconcerned with scoring a Top 40 spot for their material. Then there were listeners. Not many – definitely not as many as there were grooving to commercial tunes. But, they were there. On weekend nights, club dance floors became spaces of communion and solidarity where musically like-minded individuals looked up at the dj console like devotees gazing up at deities, waiting for the hallowed pleasure that comes with deliverance from the here and now. The “dark” sound, the “hip” sound, the “cool” sound—the street name for the music that swelled in the underground, electronic and niche. Until now.

Today, electronic music, like all other products of culture, has been gripped by the wave of democratization fomented by globalization and the Internet. It no longer resides in the subterranean recesses of culture. In other words, electronic music has left the underground, evicted by changing times, the broadening of listener palates and the global democratization of music as a whole. I’ll explain.

Singapore is a young nation very rapidly discovering, imbibing, replicating and reworking trends and phenomena issuing from the West – particularly: America, Britain and Europe, all of which may arguably be called joint cultural capitals of the world. Factoring all debates on ideology and colonialism aside, it is obvious that Singapore’s burgeoning club culture is influenced by developments in the West. Along with club culture come all the connotations attendant to an after-hours lifestyle—“dark”, “hip”, “cool”—which renders clubbing “exclusive”, at the same time makes clubbing more of a mainstream activity since more and more people got to clubs, swayed by the “cool” factor. The social aspect of club culture feeds directly into the musical aspect. Club attendance spurs interest in electronic music. Of that, there is no doubt. Singaporeans are more aware of the works of Armin Van Buuren (Dutch trance DJ) than the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian writer). The Internet is responsible for this. Indeed, “the information superhighway” dispenses information for free on everything to do with electronic music, from musicians, to gear, to events and festivals all over the world. In the age of the Internet, it is not starry-eyed idealism to claim that listeners of particular genres of music form a “community”, no matter where in the world they reside. The same goes for the place of electronic music in the cultural/entertainment sphere in Singapore. With the Internet, more and more Singaporeans are becoming aware of other genres besides the mainstays of pop/rock, and, are in their own ways educating themselves. The purists may hiss at the easy availability of what was once kept secret, but, with the Internet, there are no secrets. The Internet is the apotheosis of the mainstream.

Lastly, we come to the cumbrous term, “democratization of music”. I find that this is the best way to describe the demolition of the walls of genre and categorization that made one type of aural product distinct from another. Remixes have changed that. Today, we have dubstep remixes of Beatles songs. Marry the jangle pop of the Beatles with the cavernous bass sounds typified by dubstep and a musical hybrid is born. Some might deplore this “incestuous” approach to music but what can’t be denied is that it exposes people to a different a sound and gives listeners a different perspective about something they have always known. “The original or the remix?” is not some moral issue that has a clearly defined righteous side. Rather, with Singapore in mind, the fusing and melding together of different musics, electronically, has been instrumental in bringing about a wider, more visible popularity and appreciation for electronic music.

Electronic music has been outed from Singapore’s underground. The synthesizer and the laptop are now as prominent as the guitar and drum set on local stages. What is left in the bowels, down below? Only time will tell.

—Indran Paramasivam
Indran is a freelance writer especially interested in culture and the arts. In this age of speed and connectivity, the relationship between art and society and between art and culture is complex and dynamic. Situated in Singapore, Indran is actively involved in exploring how art, particularly, music, is produced and received amidst a backdrop of ever-evolving trends and influences.