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Club Malam: Reimagining classic Malay dance music & 1950s Singapore nightlife through a modern lens

Club Malam: Reimagining classic Malay dance music & 1950s Singapore nightlife through a modern lens

Most of us are probably too young to remember, but forgotten venues such as Gay World (formerly known as Happy World in the 1930s) used to be the premiere hotbed for music, culture and nightlife in Singapore. Offering a remarkable array of Eastern and Western entertainment such as cabaret, cinema, sporting spectacles, circus shows, and yes, their ever-brimming dance halls, the sprawling amusement complex was a popular (and affordable) destination for the young and old alike.

Especially bustling in post-war Singapore during the 1950s through to the late 1960s, clubs there often offered Malay ronggeng and joget around a bandstand (where men could find a dance partner at one dollar for three dances) while cabaret girls, also known as taxi dancers, (some local, some from China, Thailand or the Philippines) roamed around. Though the area lost its prominence in the 1970s and has since been entirely demolished in 2001, the memories of those lively nights still remain.


The crowds and cabaret girls of the 1950s.


Inspired by those memories, Noorlinah Mohamed, Director of The O.P.E.N. (a pre-festival of ideas of the Singapore International Festival of Arts) is planning to transform the iconic Old Kallang Airport into an immersive rave, where tangible modern art forms meets the ghosts of yesteryear's sounds (Bunga Tanjong at New World Park, Gay World’s ronggeng bandstands and Tropicana’s keronchong), in a space unbound by time. Combining music, digital media, installation and performance, Club Malam is more than just a throwback, its a cultural experience that recontextualizes lost eras through a modern lens.

Drawing upon the work of eight artists from Singapore, Jogjakarta and Germany including Speak Cryptic, music duo NADA, media artists Brandon Tay and Eugene Soh, avant-garde contemporary rock duo Senyawa and artists Marc BrandenburgMark Formanek and Julius von Bismarck, alongside 100 ‘public’ artists - Singapore’s very first commercial international airport will be re-imagined into a vibrant, multi-disciplinary celebration on 7 July.

To learn more about Club Malam, we talked to the event's director, performers, artists and musicians about their golden age inspirations and the process behind their ambitious collaboration.


NADA

"We are definitely thrilled to re-imagine the location's glorious past with our present day use of digital media and cross collaborative approach to create this unique experience of Club Malam."


"NADA is a visual arts and sound project that specialises in conjuring up lost eras through music, particularly the golden period of Malay and Southeast Asian traditional and popular music from the 1960s to the 1980s. Deconstructing popular Malay songs from the past and putting them together again with a present-day twist,NADA fuses fiction with reality, vintage allure with refreshing modernity. Since 2014,NADA’s brand of music has gone beyond Singapore to Paris, Beijing, London and New York."

What excites you the most about participating in this project?

One of the most exciting factor for Club Malam to us is the venue. The Old Kallang Airport sets the context for us to reference the rich history of the place and its stellar location opposite Gay/Happy World Amusement Park, which was known for its nightclubs and dance halls from way back to the 1930s.

With the amusement park gone and the old airport abandoned, we are definitely thrilled to re-imagine the location's glorious past with our present day use of digital media and cross collaborative approach to create this unique experience of Club Malam. Raw, edgy and unadulterated, the usually forgotten and ghostly compound of Old Kallang Airport will be immersed in a barrage of sights and sounds.


Listen NADA's Bandwagon Mix


How are you planning to translate your particular art form to this multidisciplinary endeavour, and what challenges do you face?

We are creating new compositions to create an aural landscape for Speak Cryptic's The Tribe, where a group of public artists becomes a physical manifestation of the artist's drawings. So we have to expand NADA's imaginary realm  (in which we are a long-forgotten music duo) to include the Tribe as NADA fanatics. The main challenge for us is to go beyond our usual #donthatejustjoget mantra and to create a soundtrack for Club Malam that aurally binds the experience for all the artists involved.

Speak Cryptic

"This is the first time anyone would see The Tribe existing outside of it's original 2D world and I'm just thrilled to know that it's finally taking shape."


"Speak Cryptic’s The Tribe is a performance created in celebration of that ethos – dialogue, diversity and personal ownership – created in collaboration with KayKay Nizam, Henrik Cheng, Sonia Kwek, Kimberly Chan, Syaiful Ariffin, Norisham Osman, Khalid Supandi and 100 public artists. Together they breathe life to 100 newly-drawn characters in a series of pop-up interactive ‘happenings’: installations of a mobile listening booth equipped with listening devices, an instant social media wall update, electrifying dances to Senyawa and NADA, an augmented reality treatment of Speak Cryptic’s original artworks by Eugene Soh, and much more."

What excites you the most about participating in this project?

I'm actually just super excited to see it all come together. This is the first time anyone would see The Tribe existing outside of it's original 2D world and I'm just thrilled to know that it's finally taking shape.

How are you planning to adapt your particular art form to adapt to this multi-disciplinary endeavor, and what challenges do you face?

Since this is the first time that my characters are literally coming to life, the main challenge was to conceptualise the Tribe's physical vocabulary. I had to constantly check back with myself in regards to whether if the way they move, the way they are and how they are just being is what was expected from these characters. That's why I'm so grateful to receive help in that department from my collaborators, who are all talented, amazing people and well versed in theatre. With their assistance, I am better able to translate what ever it is that is going on in my head and to project that onto the physical space. It took some time and a lot of hard work, but it's finally getting there.

Senyawa

"We are looking forward to see some spontaneous jam session happening in the space. A bunch of artists – see what happens, good to just feel the vibe and create."


"Punk. Jazz. Rock. Heavy metal. Tribal. Leave all stereotypes of world music at the door, because the Jogjakarta two-man band, Senyawa, are about to shatter preconceptions and redefine the boundaries of the experimental with their performance, Sound & Fury.

Be blown away by instrumentalist Wukir Suryadi’s self-made instruments – skilfully repurposed from bamboo, animal skins, wire, fishing lines and even a farmer’s plough. His famous ‘bamboo wukir’, a stringed bamboo ‘spear’ hooked up to an amplifier, can evoke the sounds of a tabla, a sitar and an electric guitar or produce percussive beats through plucking. Add to that the sampling and garage guitar distortion through an electronic hook-up, and the all-enveloping effect is that of a full band onstage. Singer Rully Shabara is no less accomplished as a vocalist – his range has been described as freakishly wide, from shrieks to guttural chants to a surprisingly delicate falsetto."

What excites you the most about participating in this project?

It is interesting to play in Singapore, a closest neighbor but we have only played there once five years ago. So its good to have this opportunity again.

How are you planning to adapt your particular art form to adapt to this multi-disciplinary endeavor, and what challenges do you face?

I think this may open so many new possibilities in the future, because interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the things Senyawa is aiming for at the moment. And we were informed that there are 7 other artists and one of them is a music duo NADA. We are looking forward to see some spontaneous jam session happening in the space. A bunch of artists – see what happens, good to just feel the vibe and create.

Eugene Soh aka Dude

"I'm planning to be going wild with this one, you should expect some pretty intense/crazy projections."


"This dude from Singapore, Eugene Soh, is a multimedia artist. He uses his knowledge of technology to bend and shape various forms of digital art to his will. One rarely finds him delving into the same media over long periods of time for he is constantly aspiring towards new ways to transmit his art. In his persistent exploration of things ‘fresh’ — he has mastered the tools of art manipulation in 4 forms — photos, videos, games & web — and has since created many works in those forms or using a mix of those forms.

As a photographer of people, he constantly seeks to capture his subjects in a natural state because a genuine smile is always more pleasant to the eye. Being original and different from what might be considered mainstream is also a huge part of Eugene’s art work. He understands however that there is no such thing as being completely original, because somehow we have all been influenced by something one way or another as we journey through life."

What excites you the most about participating in this project?

Because it is something new for me! I'm doing video projections!

How are you planning to adapt your particular art form to adapt to this multi-disciplinary endeavor, and what challenges do you face?

I'm planning to be going wild with this one, you should expect some pretty intense/crazy projections. It will have that unique Eugene-ness to it. 

Noorlinah Mohamed, Director of The O.P.E.N.

"To consider a site of great historical significance and transform it into a world of my memory of Malay songs, particularly joget, ronggeng and pop yeye music. Where the whole atmosphere is filled with the sounds of the past, but renewed, reinvented, and re-viewed."


"Pint-sized Noorlinah Mohamed, works closely with Festival Director Ong Keng Sen, to programme The O.P.E.N. She manages the administration and production of The O.P.E.N. and heads the Ways of Wandering artistic team. Unwinds by cuddling her cats."

How did you conceive of Club Malam? 

It started with a memory. A memory of when I was a 4 or 5 year-old listening to my aunt and uncles of their experiences at Gay World. They were avid music listeners. They brought back vinyl and we had a turn-table. And I remember cleaning the records with a kind of duster. They let me handle their precious records and by 6, I was allowed to place their records on the turn-table and operate it. Then some time in the mid 70s everything changed. They no longer went to Gay World or talked about it. But the memories of those times surrounded by music stayed with me.

I never thought much about working on a scene like Club Malam until I heard NADA and Senyawa. You could say these two bands inspired me and fueled me to consider the possibility of responding to my memory. Not to bring back nostalgia but to consider a site of great historical significance and transform it into a world of my memory of Malay songs, particularly joget, ronggeng and pop yeye music. Where the whole atmosphere is filled with the sounds of the past, but renewed, reinvented, and re-viewed.



Space and time coalesce, meld, twist and turn. Club Malam is also about time but not static and specific. It is exploratory time, imaginary time and what better way to visit such a time then with Speak Cryptic’s iconic images brought alive. His works are reanimated by close to 100 public artists, moving, responding to Old Kallang Airport and to Speak Cryptic’s inventions. Your see, the airport was once the site of transition where folks took flights to different places. Here, in Club Malam, The Tribe gathers to take a flight of a different kind – a flight imagination and dreams.

Once you had the premise in your head, how did you decide which artists were ideas for its execution?

Every year, as Director of The O.P.E.N. I create an engagement work. I also help Keng Sen identify bands to present at The O.P.E.N. or programmes that may fit the curatorial theme. For each of the engagement work I created for The O.P.E.N., there is always a fascination with memory and a site which is a reservoir of memories for the people of Singapore.

In 2014, I chose to present the engagement work at Tiong Bahru Park and MacRitchie Reservoir (two sites built in early 70s). Then in 2015, I worked with Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and augmented reality. By end June 2015, I started planning my work around yet another site of such ilk – historic site – and I chose Old Kallang Airport.

Everyone said don’t use it. It has a bad rep of being too hot, no ventilation. Yes, that’s all true. But I wasn’t daunted. I felt, folks today are far more adventurous and would be open to enjoy a space with some discomfort (but yes we have ventilation system provided nonetheless). I think we are far more open to accepting this edgy feel. Well I have that faith in us (laughs).



By this time, I had already experienced NADA in Singapore: Inside Out (SGIO) in March 2015 and I liked what I saw and heard. I connected the idea of involving NADA in my chosen site. But still I wasn’t sure what. Site and sound – checked – but what is it all about? In October I chanced upon a YouTube video of Senyawa and I did research on them and I visited Jogjakarta in November to check them out. I love them.

Their sound is so – how should I say it – not now, but so #throwforward. Wukir transforms traditional sounds by using instruments which he created into electrifying rock/tribal/metallic magic. Then Rully with his voice – the kinds of sound he can make with his vocal instrument – is truly amazing.

And then it clicked – a Club Malam! With 'Club' alluding to all the universally attuned global culture of sounds and music, and 'Malam' with its attending reference to the Malay ‘feel’ of my memory. The melding of past and present and the potentialities of creating something new. The Tribes are an eclectic bunch of people from different walks of life and many are not Malay speaking. But they are working with these Malay lyrics. And they are immersing themselves in it. Very cool.    

It is all about bouncing off ideas, being inspired with what I saw, experience or heard. With Club Malam seeing NADA and Senyawa was pivotal in my decision. Coupled with the good fortune of meeting Speak Cryptic also at SGIO. It is kismet they say. Purely sweet kismet.

What can attendees expect from the Club Malam experience?

I think they should just be open – be welcoming to coming into Old Kallang Airport. On top of NADA, Senyawa and Speak Cryptic’s The Tribe, we have Brandon Tay and Eugene Soh’s digital media wizadry. Then on the grounds of Old Kallang Airport we have Clockwork and Standard Time – two installation artworks by Berlin artists Julius von Bismarck and Mark Formanek respectively.


Clockwork by Julius von Bismarck & Julian Charriere




Standard Time by Mark Formanek


And we also have Marc Brandenburg with his Temporary Tattoo. He brings with him hundreds of his artworks which are designed as temporary tattoos inked on skin – consider them wearable art. And we have models – these ordinary folks – adorned with his tattoos and inviting audiences to wear them too. For those 3 nights, eight artists play and simply have fun and inviting the audiences to do the same. There is this poem that one of the public artists, Al Hafiz Sanusi, wrote and I’ll share some lines from it – very apt:

Lupakan zaman (Forget your time)

Lupakan masa (Forget the time)

Jangan tenung (Don't ponder)

Jangan renung (Don't reflect)

Lupakan yang lepas (Forget what is past)

Lupakan yang akan (Forget what will pass)

Malam akan tiba, jadi (The night will arrive, and when it does)

jangan lupa joget (Don't forget to dance)


Find out more about The O.P.E.N., which will be held at various venues from the 22nd of June to the 9th of July, and download the full program schedule here. Tickets for can be purchased via SISTIC.

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