"Be more circular than insular": Mr. Has speaks on the Telok Ayer Arts Club and the importance of cultural integrity

"Be more circular than insular": Mr. Has speaks on the Telok Ayer Arts Club and the importance of cultural integrity

Social media has reconfigured “tastemaker” into a dirty word – but when you’re the real deal, that doesn’t matter. Hasnor Sidik or Mr. Has, as he’s known by in the nightlife realm, is a Singaporean tastemaker par excellence. As the former Music Director for lifestyle hospitality brands The Lo & Behold Group and W Hotels (Asia-Pacific), he’s had a hand in the timeless endeavour of keeping Singapore cool.

Now, he steps out in his new role as the Music Director of the Telok Ayer Arts Club, which is a modular arts-forward space conceived with the intention of being an updated version of the community centre, that is, a fount of social and cultural rejuvenation. Not many spaces allow for you to eat, drink, be merry and engage with cutting-edge artistic statements but we are now blessed with one such oasis right in one of the most relentlessly buzzing sectors of the country.

Bandwagon sits down with Has for an impassioned discussion on what he envisions the role of the Telok Ayer Arts Club in Singaporean culture, specifically, music, to be.

How did the idea for the Telok Ayer Arts Club come about?

Well, everything you see here came together in the last three months. Sue-Shan, the founder, had the place from before. SPRMRKT had been here for five years and when it moved, this space became available. That was what got us brainstorming on what it could be. But the inspiration behind it derived from the area itself. This is such a vibrant part of the country and we wanted to highlight the art and music and aspect of it with a space that was built on both those things. For example, the name of the space is an homage to the Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre. 

Is there a music policy pinned to Telok Ayer Arts Club?

I have a night called ‘Kelab Malam’, where I turn the space into a night club. It’s our take on what a club night should be. I wanted to give it a speakeasy feel but throwback to 1960s Singapore. The first one will be very local-centric. Celebrating what’s interesting about local culture is the foundation of our philosophy. We don’t police genre – all sounds are welcome. Even when there are international acts, our approach is different: We aim to feature debuting artists only. We want to be the site of their first show in Singapore. That's also been my own personal motto: I want to introduce new flavours into the landscape here. And it’s not limited to DJs only; we’ll be more than happy to have bands as well.

How can interested bands/DJs reach out to you?

Easy: Just hit me up at has@telokayerartsclub.sg and send me some links to your music.

Despite being situated in a cosmopolitan area, it’s interesting and admirable that your programming aims to affirm local culture.

Absolutely. As a Singaporean, it’s very important to me that I keep shouting out our culture. I’ve been traveling for so long but I’ve always kept an eye on what’s happening here. I want to use my experience and expertise to build something great here. I’m proudly Singaporean so I have a stake in how the city is perceived. That’s why I believe so strongly in celebrating our different scenes, whether music, art or f&b. These things feed directly into our cultural DNA, which is why they’re so important. 

Besides that, I feel like the energy and ambition level of the staff is great, here. I feel like there’s so much room to do great things. We have a good vision and I’d love for the different communities here to participate in it.

Lastly, from your unique vantage point, what’s one way artists can maintain that local integrity without being preachy?

Creatives often feel too passionately for what they do. What I mean by that is, don’t feel that things have to be mutually exclusive all the time. You can rep your culture without compromising your art or scene. Be more circular than insular. I started out insular and learnt how being more open-minded and collaborative works so much better. Build a community and let it be a two-way thing. Also, don’t neglect the business aspect of things. That’s part of the journey, too.

The Telok Ayer Arts Club is located at 2 McCallum Street and is open daily from 11am-11pm. Call 6221 0712 for enquiries.