A pictorial guide to the raw energy of Singapore's underground hardcore punk scene in the 1990s

A pictorial guide to the raw energy of Singapore's underground hardcore punk scene in the 1990s

For decades now, Singapore's hardcore punk underground has always been one of the local music community's most vibrant scenes. From its burgeoning roots in gritty DIY venues like Area 22 and Core Club to authentic fan-made zines, the subculture was (and still is) bursting with raw energy and raucous spirit. 

And even today, mid-90s bands like 5ocial 1ntegration, 4 Sides, The Jabs and Obstacle Upsurge (alongside many more) have become revered names thanks to their uproarious shows and unrestrained intensity. Indeed, the pre-Internet era of Singapore's hardcore punk community in the 1990s was something truly something special, and its impact is still vividly remembered by its rebellious protagonists.

Red Kedge, May 1999, Area 22


Obstacle Upsurge, 1997

Sadly though, documentation of that era is pretty scarce, which is why it's extremely exciting to stumble upon this treasure trove of dynamic pictures taken by Andy Leong. Better known by his drum & bass DJ moniker Andy Vortex (check out his Bandwagon Mix here), Leong wasn't just a key player in Singapore's early junglist movement - he was also a veteran of the hardcore gig circuit back in the day.

In fact, his famed Vortex alias actually used to be the title of a hardcore punk fanzine he published.

4 Sides, 1995/96, Core Club

The Jabs, Core Club

Recently, Leong has also begun digging up scores of vintage photographs he snapped during his moshing youth and started cataloging them online through his social media platforms. Although the vibrant look through memory lane was mostly uploaded for the punks of yesteryear to reminisce, we thought that his gallery of Singaporean hardcore's golden era definitely deserved to be seen by a wider audience.

We caught up with Andy Vortex to learn a little bit more about the story behind these potent photos.

Red Kedge, 1999, Area 22

5ocial 1ntegration, 1997

Hey Andy! How and when did you get into the hardcore and punk scene?

I got into the local hardcore punk scene probably around 1995. Before that, I was just generally into a lot of different genres of music already. I was just simply curious, reading liner notes of albums and magazines, and discovering lots of bands from it and it simply snowballed from there. Roxy Records definitely played a huge part in my discovery of the local scene, definitely Tower Records too, seeing all these flyers and posters there helped and listening to the latest releases at the record store. I can't remember what was the first ever local show I went for, but I never stopped going since I discovered the first one and eventually got to know the community surrounding it.

Minus, 1999

Jhai Alai, 1997

For those who too young to experience it, or were simply out of the loop - describe what the 90s scene was like for us?

I would say the 90's scene was definitely very underground bursting with raw energy and spirit.

Releases like the Rage Generation compilation album, The Jabs, Social Integration, all got me more interested each time I went to a show and came home with a new tape or CD. The DIY spirit in the community was very strong, and it felt like a one big family!

I went for the Kota Singa Hardcore fest at the Substation in August and I saw a great mix of generations at the show, and a lot of my friends still playing a strong part in the scene which is really great to see! That is the raw energy which brings people together which I also saw 20 years ago!

Anaconda, 1996/97, Core Club


Who were your favourite bands back then?

I loved a lot of the bands during that time, 4 Sides, Retribution, The Jabs, Anaconda, Kindread... and definitely Social Integration! I remember seeing tons of great bands at venues like Core Club (the same place where the Guerrilla nights were held at, Insomnia Cafe), The Substation, various school halls and Area 22, which also had drum & bass nights!

Obstacle Upsurge, 1997, JB, Dewan Wadihana

People mostly know you as drum & bass DJ Andy Vortex now - but tell us where the name Vortex initially came from…

The name Vortex actually came from a hardcore punk fanzine I used to do, it became my Internet nickname at some point and I thought it made sense to use it as my DJ name since it's part of my musical journey. The name came about because I was generally into a wide range of music already, and the name was about bringing different music genres that I love together.

Damage Digital, 1999, Area 22 

What do you miss the most from that era of hardcore punk?

I would say the raw energy from the bands and the DIY community spirit, which I'm certain exists today from what I saw! I relate it to what our drum & bass scene has also gone through the last 20 years too, all the different ups and downs. We all have to keep the fight! One love.

More photos below:

Kindread, 1999, Area 22 


Damage Digital, 1999, Area 22

The Jabs, Nanyang Polytechnic

Stonecast, Core Club

Voiceout, Core Club

Voiceout, Core Club

JB, Dewan Wadihana

Anaconda, Sri Krishna Mandir Building

Anaconda, Sri Krishna Mandir Building

3 Nights After Winter, Area 22

4 Sides, Core Club

Anaconda, Core Club

Area 22

Swan, Area 22

Area 22

Please follow Andy Vortex on Instagram as he continues to upload more Lion City Hardcore photos from the 1990s.