Ming Arcade’s crucial role in Singapore’s rock music history explained

Ming Arcade’s crucial role in Singapore’s rock music history explained

For most of us below the age of 40, it's unlikely you've ever stepped foot into Ming Arcade.

You might have never even heard of the unassuming building located along Orchard Road just across from swank Forum Mall and the hard to miss Hard Rock Café. You might have walked past it, seen its dated exterior, dismissed it as just another dingy mall with less than desirable interiors, and proceeded to blot it from your memory.

Even if this might be partly true (now that Ming Arcade plays host to a couple of... escort services), in his tender exposé on this historical hotbed of Singapore's 80's music scene, Ryan Ong gives readers a fresh new perspective on this tired establishment, which it seems may still hold some life within it's walls just yet.

"Ming Arcade is not just a nostalgic symbol of defeat; it’s also a monument of defiance."

As the final installment of The Middle Ground's "eight-part series on well-loved old malls in Singapore", there's more than a tinge of romanticized nostalgia in Ong's look at the historical significance behind Ming Arcade's presence in the 70's and 80's music scene.

Throwing in the much harped upon struggle between "The Man" and the honest independents (who just want to make the world a better place with their art) may lead one to discredit some of what is written. But this entire piece is no doubt well researched and serves as highly compelling food-for-thought.

Providing the poignant case study of famed music venue The Rainbow Lounge, which was set up by Dr. Goh Poh Seng (the same man who brought David Bowie to Singapore back in 1983 during his Serious Moonlight tour), Ong offers a glimpse at the stringent, borderline unreasonable standards imposed by the government back in the days of Singapore's budding scene.

The once hip and happening concert venue that saw local favorites as The Quests and Tokyo Square performing live, now sees a different crowd. Spoiler alert: The Rainbow Lounge has since been converted into a family Karaoke box.

I wonder whether Ong's condescending tone with regard to today's prominent musicians is warranted, and whether some of what he writes is overly exaggerated for dramatic weight, but there is no doubt that something in his piece rings true to a country's stifled creativity.

Ending off with a line that may possibly be construed as hopeful, Ong encourages contemporary artists to "Learn to bang out more than weak covers," and "maybe that will bring the music back."

Read Ryan Ong's full article "[Old Malls] Ming Arcade: A remnant of a defiant past" here.

"It was very happening at that time from 1965. My classmate asked me to join him one Sunday afternoon to see some of these ‘underground’ bands that were performing there. At that time, the word ‘underground’ was magical. All these people there; they were wearing frill jackets and denim jeans.”

Read more: The expert behind the 60s Singapore scene (and what he has to say about ours)