Between the years 1999-2012, I formed a one-man band.
At that time, such concept is practically unheard of in the Singapore local music scene. And the few bands from the state that I was able to draw inspirations from are far and a few.
But how did I even come up with such a thing? And why a one-man band? I can easily answer both these questions in one sentence.
I was (and still am) an introvert who loves music.
Introvert and Musically Inclined
I had been dabbling with sound editing and manipulation ever since my poly days. I was a student of Ngee Ann’s Mass Communication, and among the subjects that I took was Radio Production. That was the time that I started using sound editing and sound layering softwares like Soundforge and Sessions. It was really fun for me to manipulate sounds, and soon I got the idea of using silence and repetitions of sounds to create loops of beats and instruments, and layering it all together into short quasi-musical clips.
The Ubermensch Years
But it wasn’t until 2001 that I actually composed and produced an entire song; two in fact. It happened out of the desperate need to replace two songs for an indie Singapore film called e’Tzaintes. The songs originally used were popular songs that the producers of the film do not have the copyrights to, nor could they afford to pay for those rights.
I remembered telling Tzang Merwyn Tong, the director/producer of the film: “Dude, let me create something”. He was, of course, apprehensive. He is aware of quasi-musical creations, but to compose and record an entire song with no band and on a shoe-string budget was literally unheard off in 2001.
Here’s my challenge: I had to follow the vibe, tempo and character two highly recognisable metal songs: Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams, and Rage Against the Machine’s Bullet in Your Head. The footage in which these songs appeared have already been editted, and the producers have lost the original tapes, hence reeditting over a new song with a different vibe was not possible.
“Streaks” and “Catastrophe”
Three months later, I finished composing “Streaks” and “Catastrophe”. All done on a basic consumer, not-so-powerful PC, a cheap karaoke mic and free softwares I downloaded over a 56k modem.
Little did I realise how big an influence those two songs have on my life over the next nine years.
From those two tracks, I started churning more, and more and more. I started to mash up multiple influences: Prodigy, Portishead, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Pink Floyd… the list goes on. And every single track I wrote, the response to it can be summed up this way: Most people can’t believe it was created over a crappy pc and cheap karaoke mic, or that it is actually done by a Singaporean.
For a while, I was comfortable with doing things on my own. My introvert self do not know how to seek out individuals who could have taken me to another level. Hence, I rely on the internet to reach out to listeners. I have fans as far as the States. But being a one-man operative with no band and no money meant that I had lived in a pseudo-world where I was just a voice and text. Noone has ever seen me perform my songs live.
It was a struggle to be recognised for what I did. Then one day my PC crashed. I didn’t have a backup for my music. And I lost most of the music I created.
Six months later I had a brand new PC with upgraded specs, a brand new cheap mic, and a new desire: I wish to perform my songs, with or without a band.
Even then I knew noone in the local music scene. I didn’t know where to start. I was a one-man rock/metal band that had a PC and a cheap karaoke mic. But along with a new PC, I had a new band name: The House of Anonymous. Also, I started working on a new song; a rebel anthem called “The Anti Flag”.
What happens next in 2006 was something that I can never fully get over.
A friend’s friend came over to my place. I let him listen to the track without the vocals recorded in (I did the vocals live and messed up). However, he told me that he’ll be entering a rap competition, and that the auditions was going to be the next day!
The introvert in me was screaming. A rap competition? The only rap song I did was “Catastrophe” and even then it wasn’t that great. And I was never a hiphop person; I have been a fan of rock and metal for years. It would be so awkward.
But deeper inside I was telling myself: A one-man metal band in hiphop competition? Fail or succeed, I would definitely stand out. People are going to take notice.
So I went for the auditions, which turned out to be hugely successful. Despite myself feeling slightly awkward being alone on stage and rapping live for the first time, people actually like my performance. In fact, I was invited to perform again by the same organisers, because they felt that the participants need to get a preview of “the kind of level you have to beat”. Yes, HUGE compliment to someone so new to the scene.
I eventually turned out to be one of the Top 5 winners of that competition and more importantly, became one of the biggest newcomers in the local hiphop scene.
The House of Anonymous Years
From then on I was pretty much unstoppable. I refined my song composition skills and became known not only for being refreshingly different, but also one of the best song composers in the underground scene. I entered another hiphop competition, which I came on top. I also produced and oversaw the wildly successful Sirens, an all-female rap performance project (the first in the local scene). I also auditioned my way and finally formed a band, and got in the top 5 of Yamaha Singapore’s Asian Beat competition.
Along the way I created Mime Unit, a music recording and production studio that helps bands with low budget produce demo tracks for their band. Over time I got to meet up and connect with plenty of bands.
It was a solid three years in pursuing my passion in music. Unfortunately, the money did not come together with the passion. Hence in 2013, I decided to pull the plug on my music career, but never once regretting the accomplishment I have done.
Looking back at the years today I learned a couple of things:
- Self-belief or self-disbelief is purely a measure of your own perceived self–worth. When you understand that your value to the world could be extremely high, you will want to tell people about it, no matter how introverted you are.
- I create best when I do things alone. That’s the mark of an introvert. But what I create will not last long if I am the only one nurturing it. There will be times when one would forget to water the seeds, or couldn’t find the resources or time to do it. Like it or not, we have to rely on others to help us get further ahead.
- To be successfully recognised does not mean you are successfully making money from your craft. To make money, an introvert has no choice but to make connections. That is probably the biggest thing I wished I knew in those days.
- Be friends with everyone, even your haters. They can secretly be in awe with you and just want to see how you take a little disruption.
- Introverts can connect at a deeper level and understand what people really want. So leverage on that. The Singapore hiphop scene has been around for years but not once did a successful female collaboration ever came out of it. It only took me one year in the scene to actually create a successful musical project that the women in the scene can be proud of and the men in the scene envy. And that’s because I took the time to understand deeply the frustrations of the scene.
- Above all enjoy what you do. And always remember to go back into your own self retreat.
Would I ever go back to music again? I do miss it. Perhaps though my stint was more as a point to prove to myself of my self-worth. Noone could take that experience from me. I had etched myself in the history of a small community of people who are together for a special interest, and I can say I did do that.
I came, I saw and I conquered. Then I left.
That’s already pretty awesome if you ask me!