The Local Alternative: a singapore music documentary (1996)

This is a 1996 documentary on Singapore’s indie alternative music scene. It’s the full monty, from rock ballads, punk / metal to experimental music.

Still relevant today, the film serves to highlight the dilemma of local talent being massively understated by their local population, in favor of foreign commercial acts.

Recognized anyone in the video?

This video is sadly low in quality and out of sync, because the S-VHS tape was badly preserved (e.g. fungus on tape), quickly digitized to VCD in early 2000, then uploaded online just moments ago. I was contemplating on sharing this, but figured it could be worth something to someone.

Ah those were the days… I remember when we stood in the rain at Substation, shooting The Padres performance with our big-ass video camera. Keeping the shot steady while getting electrocuted slowly was quite a way to go. The production team consisted of Rachel, Greg, Isaiah and me, and it was produced under our Mass Communication program at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

If you want a blast from the past, check out our early web site about the Singapore alternative music scene at substitute.com. No updates since 1997, maintained as a digital artifact for all to see.

Question: Would these relatively well-known local bands, The Padres, Oddfellow and Humpback Oak, have been better off if social networking sites (e.g. MySpace, SOFT) were around in the 90s?

Update: This video is now available on Google Video as well.

  • OP

    I remember the scene, which started from the late 80s actually.

    I will say that there is no lack of support from the grassroots level. Local indie has always been quite a niche thing, so don’t expect it to break into the mainstream or mass commercial culture. That would be naive. There was also no lack of media coverage and to some extent hype. I think it would have survived if the musicians involved kept at it. Not everyone has the persistence to stay the course, and they should not starve while doing that. People grow up too. So it was good while it lasted.

  • http://ramblinglibrarian.blogspot.com Ivan Chew

    Hmm… “better off” might also be relative. I guess social networking sites might have made it easier for them to be found, but then they might also be lost in the resultant “noise” from the many sites that proliferate. But there might be a better archive though, i.e. digital. Imagine, if you didn’t have the VHS and made a copy, how many would have known about this documentary? I certainly wouldn’t.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Ordinary People: It is the naivety which makes it enduring. Niche enough that it was non-commercial; a beautiful but temporary in existence because it was trying to sustain. It was a pure moment.

    Ivan: The quantity vs. quality debate. I’ve always wondered about online pollution, but I tend to stand with “something as better than nothing” (1 vs. 0)

  • http://vantan.org/ vantan

    Kevin, thank you for promoting local music. I consider it a public service, especially in the ’90s when most Singaporeans were probably only aware of international acts.

    I visited Substitute.com and recognised 8 of the bands listed. I still remember some of their music and even knew one of the lead singers personally (she was my junior in JC). So it brings back good memories.

    I didn’t know of the website then, but I sometimes read Big O magazine. And if bands used social networks then, it wouldn’t have made much impact on me. I wasn’t allowed to access the Internet in the mid 90′s. House rules ;-)

    One last thing – I was working on a documentary for defunct SPH newspaper Project Eyeball, on local music. We didn’t complete it as the newspaper closed down soon after. However I did design a local music portal which we called GIGz, and we streamed music and video interviews of local bands. Looking back, it was probably one of the most engaging projects I’ve worked on.

    I’ve found an archive of one of our web pages featuring local band Astreal.

  • http://www.rocklah.com David Chua

    Hey Kelvin, thanks for the video.

    Right now, a couple of friends and I are starting a new portal that hopefully can introduce the newer generation and the amazing new genres of indie-rock.

    We hope you can take a look at our site (its on my url) and maybe tell us what else can we improve? We’re hoping to build up a comprehensive band guide, directory listing of businesses in the music industry as well as provide a place where people can find out what’s happening, where.

    Its still in its infant stage and any criticisms and comments is appreciated.

  • http://harmlessbananas.blogspot.com brian

    Kevin! this is gold -) i’m only 10mins into it, and i wanna ask why Leslie Low was ‘censored’ by the fungus.. haha

    the interview with the Padres is a god-send! NIgel’s with MTV now i think? Joe Ng, the granddaddy spins at Home on friday nights with George Chua and Ginette Chittick.. Dean’s playing with Concave Scream! (mega yeah!!) hahaha.. its really quite amazing to see how much has changed in more than 10 years

    to answer your question, i don’t know if social networking would have made much of a difference. im inclined to think that it wouldn’t. the record industry is pretty much the same state as it was then and now (discounting the Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead) in the way they choose to promote bands. so i think Social Media is just an extension of the WOM that was already going on in the local scene then.

    ie to say, certain kids found it cool, certain kids hated it, there was no use of social media to make more kids like it more..? dunno if it makes sense, but im veering towards personal taste than social media causing a mindset shift toward local music.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    brain: Hard to find fellow friends enthuse by our music scene (if any). Thanks for filling in the blanks after all these years. Glad they are still doing something they like, even though they’re apart. I’m in favor that whether social networking were around, it still boils down to talent. Singapore is small, word gets around fast. ;)

  • http://godwin.ralert.net godwin

    ahh relevant indeed, especially about the makeup of the scene(s) in existence today and the prevalence of cover or derivative bands.

    i think the internet just makes the passing of information around easier and quicker, definitely also exposing bands to more people (+accessibility in the form of relatively cheap mass media), obviously also those outside of the country included, and not to mention, the medium allows supporters to interact and communicate directly with a band. but the interest, that really falls on so many disparaging factors, one still has to like it to get into this (or any kind of alternative/indie subculture) in singapore, which is a good thing because that is kinda the point anyway. i don’t think commercial success should be what bands are aiming for, but rather appreciation (though they’re not mutually exclusive), which in my opinion actually exists a lot more now 10 years down.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Good point Godwin. Some do it for the passion, so it’s cool simply to be appreciated. If money comes along their way, all the better.

  • http://www.nvrlrn.com Dean

    I just finished watching “The decline of western civilization” and feeling nostalgic, I randomly typed in google, “Singapore music documentary” and guess where that brought me?

    Seeing the familiar faces in the crowd while listening to Verbindinen Snot’s, “This song is not for you…” almost brought a tear to my eye.

    Thank you for documenting the early years of the local music scene, capturing “The Garden” with all the skankin’, moshing and the years of my childhood…

  • connietay

    Thanks for posting the video! Brought back great memories. Whether or not local music has reach another level, anyone and everyone of us who has experienced it will never forget it and will always have a love for it..something we call our own and we are proud of it.

    • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin Lim

      Connie of Rock Records?

      • connietay

        hee. yes..

        • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin Lim

          Nice. I'm still in touch with Greg and Isaiah from our Substitute.com days. We should have a little get together when I return to Singapore… which is real soon.