Long live Singaporean metal: an interview with the organisers of Metal United World Wide Singapore

Long live Singaporean metal: an interview with the organisers of Metal United World Wide Singapore

Metal United World Wide is a community project by and for metal music lovers — a series of shows planned to take place all over the world on the same day, May 5 2018, to showcase the solidarity of the global metal music scene. This year, there will be a total of 41 shows worldwide, with countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Russia, Singapore, Philippines, South Africa, Turkey and many more taking part. 

The Singaporean show is organised by Vent Box Productions and will feature 12 local metal bands. The bands slated to play at Metal United World Wide Singapore are Wormrot, Rudra, Rituael, Asilent, Assault, Balberith, Bastardized, Deus Ex Machina, Ilemauzar, Krusnix, Meltgsnow, and Truth Be Known. This show notably marks the highly anticipated return of Meltgsnow, a gothic metal band formed in 1999, and Bastardized, a doom-death metal band that emerged in 1993.

With the historic show scheduled to take place next week, Bandwagon figured it'd be fitting to talk to the trio behind Singapore's leg of Metal United World Wide. Vent Box Productions is run by Winnie Tan, Mikael Loh (also of the band Ilemauzar) and Henri Castellano, who spoke to us about their involvement in the movement, their thoughts on the local metal scene and more. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

In an earlier interview you did with Heavy Metal Tribune, you said you were initially skeptical of MUWW. Why?

Mikael: Yeah, because for me there is no free lunch in the world. And they just told me, "Oh you just have to put our name, use MUWW, and just put the bands that you want and do whatever you want." So it was like: I don't think it's that easy, right? It ended up that the main organiser sent me a PM... He wanted to explain to me how the thing works. So I told him okay, and I went to read up on the website and it's exactly what he said.

Of course, Assault vocalist Clarence actually came to me before that, to talk to me. I was like, "You sure? There's no such thing. I don't believe in such thing." Because this show is really heavily supported by big organizations like Wacken Open Air and a lot of big labels around the world. So to me, it doesn't happen easily. That's why I was skeptical at first but I thought, why not jump in once and see how it works...

I think if we are talking about a full 100% local kind of line-up of metal bands, I think the last one was like back in '99 to early 2000s. It's because after that, most of the shows, they start to bring in bands from overseas, even neighbouring countries. So the reason why we got 100% into local because it's like a global event and we have actually decided like more or less, why not? Since we want to promote, we have to promote our own home-grown acts first, rather than getting overseas bands in. Because I know some of the shows around the region, they have bands from some other countries rather than their own.

What's it like to be driving the movement in Singapore?

Winnie: We're pretty lucky over here because the bands are helping us promote the show as well. They're being very cooperative. A few bands actually came up to us and were like "Why don't you pass me some of the tickets, I can do some promotions for you." That is something which is very precious to us as a very underground promoting agency; it helps us in a lot of ways... It's almost like the whole scene comes together and I think that's what matters most because that was our objective in the first place.

Mikael: They're very pro-active this time round probably because they find a pride in doing this as representing Singapore for this event. For Southeast Asia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, are doing it. There's no Philippines... even Malaysia doesn't have this. There are a lot of bands that came up to us from overseas asking like, "Can we play the show?" and we're like, "Sorry man, we want to keep it local, 100%. Probably you can talk to your organiser over there to make one over there." 

Does the excitement about this event also come from how metal fans are a little bit more scattered, which means it's nice to have an event like this to gather?

Mikael: Everybody's getting so excited about it, because we're actually bringing back a lot of old bands that have not been on the stage like for the past 15 to 20 years. And a lot of them actually came up to me like "How did you do it man?" I'm like "Uh... They're my friends." We know each other since the 90s so that's how people get excited about it.

Which bands in particular?

Mikael: Bastardized, Meltgsnow. Meltgsnow actually went on a hiatus for like quite a long time and recently they just surfaced again in Thailand. Apparently, three of the members migrated to Thailand, but the vocalist is still here. So what happened is they're coming back home just for the show.

For Bastardized, they released their album in 2015 and that was like 20 years after their first release. We have been asking them for a few shows but the problem is, their bassist is a pilot for Emirates so he stays in Dubai. So when we came up with this idea, I was actually having a hard time talking to him. The vocalist actually was like, "You have to come back." Because this is something that every one of us is working on together. I don't call it just Vent Box doing this, it's more of like a team effort with all the local bands. Everybody standing together and try to get this work together.

Why is now the right time for MUWW here? Why is it so important for Singapore to be involved in this event and really have this now?

Winnie: I think recently, we've seen a lot of like international metal acts coming in and it's really good but at the same time, what happened to our local bands? So it'll be a good chance for us to focus more on the local scene... It gives us a chance to do something for the scene, which is why we started Vent Box in the first place.

Mikael: The main focus of Vent Box is actually the local bands first, rather than bands from overseas. In the last few years, I actually drifted away a bit because there was too much booking on overseas bands, so this year I started to shift back again. So when late last year they contacted us about this, I was like, "It's good, we will take it." And from there I just started getting all the bands in. I think we got the band line-up in 2 weeks.

When we saw the line-up, it was a great range of metal sub-genres. So was that deliberate on your end or did it all just happen?

Winnie: It actually wasn't deliberate, so when the bands approached us, eh, voila, we have something different.

Henri: They can't be doing just the same sub-genre, like thrash metal all the way. Because you have to cater to the metal scene here. Although we call ourselves metalheads, we still have a lot of preferences.

Mikael: If you look at it right, a lot of shows, especially the international bands when they came in, you can see that the bands that are put on that show is of the same genre. Normally what Vent Box does is that we try not to put bands of the same genre together. Sometimes we have a black metal band opening for a death metal band and we have like a grindcore band playing and the headliner is probably a death metal band. I think variety brings forth more people.

With larger names like Wormrot, Rudra and Meltgsnow, there's a strong presence of classic metal bands from Singapore. Did you actively campaign to get them or did it just sort of happen? Was there any band that you really wanted in the line-up?

Mikael: I guess the one that we campaigned a lot for is Bastardized. They are good musicians, they used to be very well-known in Singapore and Malaysia as well but after a long hiatus, they’ve sort of been forgotten. We’ve been trying to get them to come back for different shows and they’ve always rejected us due to work commitments, especially for the bassist.

So for this show, with its importance and the rest of the bands more or less confirmed, I knew how big of a deal it would be to have them, so I approached them one more time and I said “Come on, just do this for me, just once. Do it for yourselves too because I believe you guys want to play live again. You’ll always want to play again.” The vocalist really wanted to do it so he said he would talk to the band. We talked almost everyday and I would bug them everyday. At some point, I said “Okay, since the bassist can’t take his leave yet, let’s just confirm the show first.”

Henri: It was basically a shotgun situation! [laughs]

Mikael: So yeah, we told him we would go ahead with it and in the event that the bassist couldn’t make it, the band still has two guitarists, a keyboardist, a drummer, they can make it work. Or get a session bassist for one day. About a month ago, they said that he still couldn’t apply for leave but he could bid for his off days. The band has recently become very proactive, they’ve started posting about the show and all that, so I guess that’s a good sign. I think we all want to see the original line-up so fingers crossed that he managed to get his bid.

Who do you hope, within the local metal community, comes to the show?

Winnie: Personally, I hope we attract the younger crowd. We cannot always depend on the older fans. We need the new breed, the teenagers. They may not have that personal touch with the bands like we used to so it’ll be good for them to listen to the bands that came before them and show them the history of the local metal community.

Hopefully they talk to us and mingle around because it’s not only about the music. It’s also about the relationships forged and making friends in the community and hopefully they come out and support us the next time we arrange a local show. We know the younger crowd will most likely want to go for international shows but it’s important for them to come out and support the local bands if we want to see the local scene expand and progress.

Henri: I’d like to see more Filipinos come out. [laughs]

Mikael: Actually he’s right. We have a small but strong community of Filipinos who attend a lot of the international shows

Henri: Yeah, I would like for those groups to expand their horizons and step out of their comfort zones and try something with a bit of a local flavour instead of always just attending the larger international shows. This won’t exactly be an intimate show but it’s a lot more intimate than the shows that they’re used to.

Mikael: At the same time we would like for people who don’t understand metal to come in and experience it for themselves. I think metal is still very wrongly conceived in Singapore where a lot of people think it’s just noise and the fans are worshippers of the devil. There are those who think we’re all very angry and fierce and that couldn’t be further from the truth... Hopefully we have some overseas guests, people who’re just here for holiday but then they find out about the show and want to attend. That happened at our previous shows at Hood Bar before but Decline is a bit out of the way so that might be a bit tough. So in that sense we don’t really get a lot of walk-ins over there, but we’re hopeful.

Lastly, I would agree with them when they say that they want to see the younger generation. I think there’s a bit of a generation gap in terms of the music itself. The younger generation now listens to more Djent and metalcore whereas all of the bands that we’re bringing out for the show are more old-school and they might not like what the bands are playing, but hopefully they come in with an open mind.

Metal United World Wide 2018 takes place on 5 May from 2 to 11pm at Sled Productions x Decline (Yu Li Industrial Building 37 Lorong 23 Geylang #02-40). Tickets for the show are still available at S$25.99 for pre-sale tickets (while stocks last) and S$30.99 for standard tickets. Tickets are available here.