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The simmering sadness and radical eclecticsm of Singapore’s rave underground

Scenes And Sounds

“It’s like we are figuring out what we want to say.”

By michellelhooq


In December, I stepped off a crowded elevator and into the darkened lobby of a movie theater of a mall in Singapore, where a queer rave called Intervention was just heating up. Partygoers with disco balls on their heads were gyrating amid the popcorn stands to an unhinged mix by resident DJ Daniel Hui, who was gleefully blending hardstyle, guaracha, and dembow with Vietnamese rap, Indonesian koplo, and Mandarin techno over a backdrop of K-pop stars sourced from TikTok.

Suddenly, a live band called St John Brigade, which included a drag queen on trombone, exploded into the riotous drumming of Chinese lion dance music, typically performed during lunar new year. Someone hoisted a papier-mâché watermelon into the air, mimicking the moves of a lion dancer, and the crowd roared in laughter. The moment felt joyous, cheekily self-referential, and quintessentially Singapore. 

Later, I sat at the bar with Sara and Guo Ming of Tzechar, an artist duo who made the K-pop-inspired live visuals for the party. They told me that the last Intervention had caused a minor political furor after local media used it as the basis of an inflammatory article about a supposed proliferation of drag shows in public spaces. In November 2022, in a move that was widely lauded as a milestone for LGBTQ rights in the country, Singapore’s Parliament had finally repealed Section 377a, a colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex. The government quickly amended the Constitution to ensure that the legal definition of marriage remained restricted to heterosexual couples, showing that the country clearly still had a long way to go when it came to LGBTQ equality. The scandal surrounding Intervention was yet another reminder of this, but it also felt like a sign that Singapore’s queer party scene was more vibrant than ever. 


Dancers at Intervention | photo: Looi Wan Ping

Sara, Guo Ming, and I had all returned home to Singapore in recent months. After spending many years living abroad, we shared a sense of surprise at how the country’s underground nightlife had been thriving since the pandemic. While Singapore has always had a small indie club-music scene, a proliferation of new collectives like Strange Weather, North East Social Club, 0rbit, and Bussy Temple, as well as DIY venues like Wild Pearl, has totally rejuvenated the country’s subcultural landscape. Instead of relying on DJs from America or Europe to fill a room, these crews tend to pull on homegrown talent and to collaborate with other sonically adventurous collectives from throughout Southeast Asia. By drawing creative inspiration from the surrounding region, rather than mimicking foreign nightlife institutions, the new generation of party kids sees these localized networks as a means of pushing against the cultural hangover of colonialism. As Sara put it, “It’s like we are figuring out what we want to say.” 

So if Singapore’s underground music scene is coming into itself, what is the “Singapore sound”? It’s a question that local scholars and music heads have been debating for years, due in part to the fact that in a country as young and diverse as Singapore, a multi-ethnic state with a diverse population of Asian and European migrants, discussions of identity have often come with an underlying sense of crisis. “The desire to identify and reify the ‘roots’ is strong in national narratives,” write Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray and Chee-Hoo Lum in Semionauts of Tradition: Music, Culture, and Identity in Contemporary Singapore. Nonetheless, they observed, “today’s young musicians” were “shifting the focus away from a preoccupation with representing a tale of national origin, to the embracing of contemporary diversity in all its complexities.” 

This idea of Singapore’s sound reflecting its cultural hybridity kept surfacing as I chatted with more local musicians over the following weeks. One afternoon, I visited the studio of Mervin Wong, an electronic music producer and classical viola player who co-runs Endless Return, a music label and party series that he founded with the butoh dancer Xue. Mervin’s studio window looked out at the treetops of Punggol, a neighborhood that used to be known for its pig farms but is now populated by rows of public housing apartments. I’d first seen Mervin perform a live set at a rave in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which Endless Return threw in collaboration with a local crew called Clique at Abandon Radio, a small station with a bar, dancefloor, and panoramic rooftop. At the climax of his set, he’d pulled out a small recorder—a plastic flute that Singaporean kids are taught how to play in primary school—eliciting nostalgic giggles from the room as he played a few low notes over a bed of ambient sounds. 

“Singapore is a transitory hub, and its sound is a reflection of our place amongst the colorful chaos of Southeast Asia,” said Mervin, playing a few tracks for me off a hyperpop soundtrack he’d made for a play based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “We’re not known for Indonesian dangdut, Vietnamese Vina-house, or Thai disco music,” he continued. “But we’re a melting pot of all these flavors, and the pot is still boiling.” 

Mervin Wong - Movement Landscapes
Mervin Wong - Movement LandscapesMervin Wong

  • 1Chase the Horizon
  • 2Playful
  • 3Warm Thoughts
  • 4Speculations
  • 5Dreams of the Moon
  • 6Embers Dance
  • 7Devotion (ft. rEmPiT g0dDe$$)
  • 8Peeling Layers
  • 9Wings of the Butterfly (ft. rEmPiT g0dDe$$)
  • 10Awakening
  • 11Flow of the Everyday
  • 12Heartstring Waltz
  • 13In Between Worlds
  • 14For RAGA (ft. Rudi Osman)
  • 15Gentle but Generative(ft. Chloe Foo)
  • 16Walking into Enchanted Fires
  • 17Points
  • 18Ripples
  • 19Shadowbloom

And yet, as I criss-crossed the island after dark, a certain scathing quality in the music I’d hear on Singapore’s dancefloors kept clawing at me. I’m not talking about the hands-in-the-air EDM I’d hear at bottle-service clubs like Zouk or Marquee, which form the most commercial (and widely publicized) tier of Singapore nightlife, or even more tasteful spots like Offtrack or Headquarters, where DJs serve carefully curated cuts of house and techno. I’m talking about the raves I’ve discovered in empty malls, dilapidated bank buildings, former army barracks, and even a Bitcoin server farm over the past few years—the sort of parties you couldn’t find through Google or the mainstream media. They feel like portals into a side of Singapore you seldom get to see—like peeling back the island’s sterile, steel-and-concrete skin to expose something radical and bizarre. 

To my ears, as someone who grew up here, it sounded as if these musicians were attempting to disrupt the ordered efficiency of a country tightly controlled by its government with abrasive sonics—fusing the melancholy gongs of Indonesian gamelan with sharp-fanged stabs of synths, for example, or pitch-bending their own screaming wails to evoke a demonic futurism. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the sounds of Singapore’s underground reflect what it really feels like to survive in a country where political protest is literally illegal, tapping into both the choking suppression and the quiet beauty stashed in its crevices. 

To crib the liner notes of producer Vangoth666’s debut album, Parodyse City, they’re songs that sound like broken requiems, “evoking a deep sense of urban disorientation” and exposing the “malignant yet tender underbelly of Singapore.” Below is a selection of tracks from the scene that encapsulate the simmering sadness and pagan radicalism of Singapore’s rave underground. 

Baben - “Blooooom3”


Baben’s songs are like underwater séances for deep sea creatures, with distorted vocals murmuring hymns for the dead over swampy trap beats. “Life breaks down into episodal grief” is just one of many wisps of poetry that emerge from the bassy muck, delivered with the anguished yowl of someone who knows too much. 

Mervin Wong - “Shadowbloom” 

Strings blossom into a lush, immersive soundscape in this stirring exploration of modern classical music by one of Singapore’s most promising producers. 

The Observatory - “Imprisoned Mind”

Post-colonial industrial techno from the OGs of Singapore’s indie scene, with an excerpt from a speech by President Sukamo at the opening of the Afro-Asian conference in 1955 building into muscular drum kicks and demonic whispers of revolution. 

Vangoth666 - Parodyse 

Vangoth666 - PARODYSE CITY
Vangoth666 - PARODYSE CITYEndless Return

  • 1part 1
  • 2time is a flat circle
  • 3swamp lilith
  • 4Parodyse

Vangoth666’s subversive take on the “Singapore sound” is delivered with an ironic grin. Deconstructed shards of noise pierce through samples of cringey Canto-pop, evoking a sense of delightful disorientation. 

Tzechar - Singapura 

Released on Singapore’s National Day as a parody of government-commissioned nationalist anthems, Sara sings “Singapura” in the sentimental vocal style of old Teochew songs. Over bombastic EDM drops and a snippet of a speech from founding father Lee Kwan Yew, the song’s tender lyrics gesture towards Singaporeans’’ perpetual quest for a cohesive cultural identity.

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