Eatmepoptart talk about their evolution as Singapore's indie music party masterminds

Eatmepoptart talk about their evolution as Singapore's indie music party masterminds

In Singapore's club scene, rarely any party night has been such a mainstay and a growing hit as Eatmepoptart  — a name usually stylized as EATMEPOPTART, but known to most people as simply Poptart.

They've been an eternal misfit in the local nightlife landscape, filling up dancefloors with buoyant indie rock anthems and 80s synth-pop favourites, focusing less on beat transitions than they do on finding the right chorus that would inspire the kind of energy and volume that has made Poptart the irresistable attraction it is now for young partygoers.

But along the way, they've also found their feet as professional DJs, and they intend on establishing Eatmepoptart with a bigger presence than the unassuming figures behind the deck, with an official website featuring bite-sized editorial content and photo journals depicting the people who congregate at their parties.

Before they celebrate their 12th anniversary on Saturday, we spoke with the two current DJs behind every party that has happened from Cherry Discotheque to Laneway Festival — founding member Adrian Wee and partner Robin Chua —about the beginnings of Poptart, their peerless music curation, fighting against typecasting, and whether they think such parties will last.

Take us back to 2005. How was Eatmepoptart first conceived?

Adrian: "I have always had the idea of Eatmepoptart since I started DJing in 1999. I wanted a good night out with music we fell in love with during our teenage years in the 80s & 90s.

One night, I was at a house gathering and some of us took turns controlling the music and we played a selection of indie rock, alternative rock, Britpop, grunge and punk. That sorta became the moment when we thought ‘why can’t we have this playlist at a club?’. So three of us — Aida, Zaidi and me — got together after that and planned our first party."

What was the DJ scene like at the time? 

Adrian: "In 2004, I was feeling that fatigue whenever I was at the clubs — the music was becoming a bit serious and somewhat trendy. We hardly had a no-frills fun night out anymore. That fatigue was probably the motivation to kickstart Poptart. 

The genre was more like a pub/bar kinda sound but it felt like a great achievement that we could translate that into a club, and we were the only ones doing it then. We were not taking ourselves too seriously and having a lot of crazy fun. There were probably some clubs that tried doing something similar but it didn’t work out for them."

What was your first show like?

Adrian: "Our first show was at Madmonks Bar (later changed their name to Home Club) which turned into a monthly residency that lasted for three years.

Initially, it was like a house party with friends and their friends. The first three events were a little more intimate with probably about 50 people hanging out, playing pool, and having a little dance. 

It wasn’t till the turn of that year that the word got out a bit more, and all of a sudden we were packing out the place with 300-400 pax made up of jaded club kids, members of local bands, randoms and curious folks. Mind you, these people were the nicest, friendliest folks, and wild as hell. The dancefloor was packed and messy and sweaty and people were crowd surfing, stage diving and screaming at the party from start to end. It was wild."

Early in the day, were you already receiving unprovoked requests from the crowds? Which ones were the most ludicrous, and which ones did you actually follow through with?

Adrian: "(laughs) I don’t recall having a bad request at that time. We had requests for obscure and forgotten Britpop bands, death metal, folk, Americana, emo.

We played whatever we could but this was definitely the type of requests that dreams are made of. It was probably the later periods, post-2010 when we've gotten some ridiculous requests."

Poptart came out of my friendship with Adrian and Zaidi (the other founding member of Poptart).

We just wanted to dance to indie rock. Poptart's special to me because it's an amazing feeling when you realise so many other people love the songs that you know and love."

Aida Eliza Abdul Majid, one of the founding members of Eatmepoptart alongside Adrian. She cites her most memorable Poptart party as a stint at Baybeats Festival in 2006, ending off with Underworld's 'Born Slippy' with Kings Of Convenience frontman Erlend Oye in the audience.

Do you think there has been a difference in the kind of people who would frequent EATMEPOPTART nights over the years?

Adrian: "This is a tough one. I have always loved our crowd through the years and maybe things were a bit different then in the pre-social media era — the kids were less conscious about appearances as they’re less likely to have their questionable pics splashed online the next day. We had a stronger connection to the music then as we were buying them in their physical CD & vinyl form with our hard-earned salary.

The music consumption is a little different with the later generations with streaming — they tend to have less of an emotional connection with the music, but the upside is that they explore a lot of different music and genres, which makes it really fun for us when we are able to throw a lot of different stuff in our sets and get a response from that."

Robin: "I think the difference is just that the generations have changed over the years due to how they were brought up. Way back then the people weren’t that socially connected, so I believe a lot of them came to EATMEPOPTART parties to make friends, bonding over the likes of similar bands and music.

Yet over the years, I do think it’s still the same, as in folks come to EATMEPOPTART to have a good time and get lost in music that aren’t the conventional club fare. That hasn’t changed."

If not for glaring phone screens and distracted patrons, what habits did you notice as DJs back then that you feel already were detracting from the partying experience?

Adrian: "(laughs) In those days, people were more inclined to pay attention to the music & actually have an offline conversation with someone geographically near you. I have no qualms with how clubbing was like then — we had little distractions at parties, you could smoke indoors, the selfie wasn’t invented yet, drinks were a lot cheaper, and EDM had yet to expose its ugly head."

Robin: "I do think the smoking ban in clubs has made quite a huge difference in that aspect. Smokers would leave the dancefloor to go take a puff, and, in a sense, that would break a bit of momentum when it comes to partying.

Like I noticed this when we DJ-ed in Kuala Lumpur. The people would stay and that kept a certain vibe going. Of course, there are now health implications when you think about it but that energy is magnetic and unforgettable."

Now, let’s talk about your song selections. Which songs have proven to be the timeless hits since EATMEPOPTART’s beginning? 

Adrian: "You know, my dream was to have Pulp to be the key point at every party. The fantasy was to have ‘Babies’ or ‘Sorted for the E’s and Whizz’ as our climax. Pulp was the definitive band that inspired the attitude, cheekiness and magic of Eatmepoptart. That, however, didn’t really turn out the way we wanted. We had to update our playlist when the newer generations related less and less to the older music.

Mr. Brightside’ was released the same year we started Eatmepoptart but it became an anthem for us only a year later. We were more focused on the older stuff when we started out. But The Killers’s Hot Fuss was pretty much a tribute to the Britpop sound and it fit so well in our playlist — eventually we were playing almost the whole album every night.

Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’ is still such a huge anthem for us today. It was also released in 2004 and became a permanent fixture in our playlist in late-2005. Their sound was basically nothing we had ever heard. ‘Wake Up’ has since caused such a ruckus on the dancefloor even till today- I think that ohhh aaaah sing-a-long chorus is such a "no-horse-run" moment — you just have to do it!

One of my favourite moments at every Eatmepoptart event is the 'Young Folks'/'1901' combo (hit singles by Peter Bjorn And John and Phoenix, respectively). That’s the anthem for the later generations. It gives me goosebumps every time seeing how the dancefloor reacts to that." 

Robin: "I joined EATMEPOPTART only about five years ago so I think, in terms of song selections, there are already some that have been set. Songs from The Killers, Two Door Cinema Club, The Strokes, for example, these have been regular anthems the people would want to dance to.

I’ve tried playing some older material from as far as the 80s', like tunes from The Human League and Blondie, and some of these have taken root to become faves."

It makes me smile so wide every time 'Young Folks' play! I love the classic Poptart anthems like 'Mr Brightside' by The Killers, 'Kids' by MGMT AND WHEN THEY END THE NIGHT WITH 'TRANSATLANTICISM' by Death Cab For Cutie, wOwoWOwowoW that’s my ultimate fave."

Preetipls, local social media icon whose first Poptart party was at Overeasy Orchard. To her, the party night is "a night of throwbacks, nostalgia and most times, it becomes a full-on singalong with a whole bunch of strangers."

Tell us more about how the both of you sit down to select songs: what are some of the factors that result in a sure-fire EATMEPOPTART anthem? Have there been instances where your judgment proved wrong on the dancefloor?

Adrian: "It’s not that complex. We’re pretty flexible with the music. We draw the lines with certain genres but to put it simply: we always plan a good pop and rock mix for the dancefloor. Through the years, we have had a core playlist that we constantly update and add tracks to. It’s like some Szechuan hot soup that has been there for years and you just regularly add additional stock to the cauldron.

It’s become quite natural for us when we hear something new and we can immediately identify it as ‘Poptart’ or ‘Not-tart’ (Oprah, eat your heart out!). Whether it works depends on how the crowd reacts to it! To be honest, it’s been pretty challenging over the past two or three years to break in new tracks. It feels like bands don’t make dancey music anymore! Earlier this year I played Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ once — and then stopped — and I got hate mail. (laughs)"

Robin: "I think Adrian and I have never officially sat down together to select songs. (laughs) Being one who joined the crew at a later period, I would observe more on what Adrian would play and make a mental note to find something else to play. This is so that I can bring something different to the mix, while retaining that happy vibes that EATMEPOPTART is associated with. 

I have played tracks that were deeper and more electronic before, and sometimes it would get lost on people. The introspective stuff usually don’t work as well but I find some are necessary to create a dynamic in the mix. But in general, we usually keep things energetic and cheery as the night progresses."

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about music curation?

Adrian: "We don’t want to be a throwback event, get stuck in an era so deep we can’t get out of, and then die a slow and lonely death. It was some time in 2006 we realised this when the dancefloor had the confused look when we dropped ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It was then we made a conscious effort to move forward and balance out our playlist more with current stuff. 

Also after a few years, we made an effort to actually DJ (ie mix) the tracks rather than just be selectors. That has helped to keep energy flowing at the parties and has evolved us as DJs."

Robin: "I think it’s crucial to know what’s the new music out these days, and what people are listening to. Sure there are probably more duds out now but sometimes there would be a gem or two that would go down well with what we play at EATMEPOPTART. (laughs)

And there are times when no two nights would go down the same. What worked previously might not go down as well now, so that kind of always keeps me on my toes — and I like it because then I try my best to keep it up to offer something slightly different at every event, apart from playing the usual standard anthems."

A playlist curated by the duo, filled with their regular party hits.

Adrian, there was once an incident you mentioned in a prior interview that you've once received threats for not playing David Guetta during your sets. Tell us more about that, and have you had similar incidents since?

Adrian: "LOL. That happened during my previous residency on a regular night (not Eatmepoptart). I have encountered a lot of similar incidents, more so for the regular non-music specific nights. The disappointing thing is that when the customers — especially the ones who spend money on their many bottles of champagne, along with other assorted premium spirits — get abusive, DJs get no protection from the management as they do not want to offend their customers by simply saying ‘no’ to them.

It was also the moment when I realised how the attitudes of the clubbers have evolved (or de-evolved) into. It’s no coincidence that it has happened a lot more frequently since EDM became the staple sound at clubs — which brings with it the ugly party habits of champagne trains, oversized bottles spewing fire, bro culture, hostesses, and female DJs known for what little they wear rather than the music. It’s become a parody of itself.

What happened to the time when we used to go to clubs to let a DJ to take you to unknown places with their sets, rather than to throw you the ‘Best of David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Chainsmokers, or "insert trendy EDM bro’s name here"? So I asked myself if this was the kind of DJ I would want to end up becoming. The answer was obvious.

So I went, "Fuck you!" and distanced myself from any further club residencies. Now I just DJ at Eatmepoptart and events where I know would attract the right crowd and reject any the other events. That has lowered my high blood pressure a lot!"

Would you say that the music selection at every EATMEPOPTART party reflects your music taste? Tell us more.

Adrian: "Yes, but not entirely. We plan a playlist that we consider relevant to the party, the crowd and its suitability for the dancefloor. I enjoy almost everything we play but there's many other stuff I dig that isn't suitable for the night. For instance, we love Cigarettes After Sex but the tracks are not dancefloor material. 

Also I enjoy other genres like techno, electronic, metal & pop which don’t appear at Eatmepoptart."

Robin: "I feel that at this point I still very much enjoy the music I spin at EATMEPOPTART. Even the cheesy pop ones! (laughs)

I mean the music has got to be something I like right? Because if not, then it would be a drag. And I think that’s why both of us play a bit different from each other because we have slight different tastes specifically. At the end, it still embodies that EATMEPOPTART spirit."

Growing up as an indie kid, Poptart was a haven for weirdos like me who wanted to let loose to The Cure, Sonic Youth, and The Stone Roses. Seeing how it’s evolved today — not just as a series but also a champion of local musicians and artists — I’m relieved that Poptart has never lost that feeling. Whether you’re a starry-eyed young’un or a scene dino, Poptart has a place for you."

Kevin Ho, musician behind electro-pop project The Bit Usagi and his techno persona, The Beat Usagi, whose personal favourite tunes at Poptart parties have been Blur's 'The Universal', New Order's 'Regret', Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Date With The Night' and Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

What does the EATMEPOPTART brand mean to you now, as compared to when it first began?

Adrian: "Fun has always been the driving factor! 

Eatmepoptart, to me, represents that freedom and innocence we had as youths and, with that, come the feelings and emotions and everything we’ve gone through in life — from your first kiss to the many heartbreaks — that has shaped us to who we are today. And it is that feeling that makes us human (or dancer). The music or soundtrack that you associate with those feelings makes you alive and vulnerable when you hear it on the dancefloor. Or something like that. 

Over the years, we have evolved from being just some kids doing a party to a sort-of business. My ambitions for the brand have changed. This year, we have successfully grown it beyond just a club night. We’ve guested at a few festivals — the most prominent one being Laneway Singapore 2017, and even organized one of our own (Local Motion with 4Fingers).

I am looking at growing it to become more than just a party, and involve as much local talent as we can — illustrators, musicians, producers, DJs, filmmakers. We would like to play a part in encouraging the younger generation to be creative and bold, and at the same time, find ways to assist them in pursuing their creative ambitions.

We’re looking at how we can achieve this at our events — I’d love to make it more than just a party, more of a learning experience that the audience can take home with them."

Robin: "EATMEPOPTART to me is the celebration of music & youthfulness, despite your age! Although a lot of the subcultures have somewhat become fashionable through the years, it’s that streak of tongue-in-cheek rebellion that still resonates with many of us."

Eatmepoptart, to me, represents that freedom and innocence we had as youths and, with that, come the feelings and emotions and everything we’ve gone through in life — from your first kiss to the many heartbreaks — that has shaped us to who we are today."

— Eatmepoptart's Adrian Wee, on what the party series means to them.

Within the past few years alone, EATMEPOPTART has begun to amass consistent crowds at newer establishments, a far cry from your days at Velvet Underground. Do you think there’s been a growth of attendees, and an increase in diverse patrons? Or do you think this is merely a change of the guard — older partygoers making way for younger ones?

Adrian: "A few weeks ago, a first-timer told me she was at the Eatmepoptart party because her friends told her it was a rite-of-passage. We have become a party parallel to what Mambo Jambo was to my generation in the 90s.

Throughout the years, we have basically witnessed generations after generations of club kids grow up, and this year we are looking at a brand new bunch of kids and the quirks they bring along. Our reach has definitely been a lot wider this year as we were involved in a lot more high-profile larger-scale events and we’ve been a lot noisier with creative and brand collaborations and partnerships."

Robin: "I think beginning from this year, having played at Laneway Festival, we got very active when it came to organizing events. I think 2017 is probably our busiest one so far, and it’s good because we saw ourselves playing to more people, and some of them even hardly club at all. So I do think it’s good.

Of course, there’s also a change of the guard, like how you put it. The previous generation has gotten older, and probably don’t want to club as much anymore. Hence, we are seeing a younger audience now with a newer sense of energy at our shows."

"The best feeling ever is when you're shouting the words to your favorite indie song and everyone's singing along."

— Disco Hue's Zie, also known as Thievves, on what draws him to every Poptart party. The song that got him hooked? Two Door Cinema Club's 'What You Know'.

Let’s move on to your upcoming main event: roping in talents like Sobs and Prettipls is a signifier of your brand’s resonance with a newer crowd, and your willingness to engage them. But has it been difficult connecting with a crowd that’s roughly a generation removed from you?

Adrian: "I’m old enough to father this current bunch! I can’t think of much problems relating to this generation as the people we meet at the parties are pretty much similar to what we were at that age, bar a few exceptions.

The kids are pretty open-minded and it’s really encouraging when they speak about music before their time. My eyes light up whenever they mention older bands like New Order, Blondie, The Beatles, etc.

We have quite a few young folks and students in our team so I learn quite a lot from them — from their strange lingo to the hues they aspire their Instagram grid to have. (laughs)"

The inclusion of Supersect is quite interesting, as their style of music — although humorous and accessible — adds a shade of intensity to the night’s programme. What went behind this decision? And, in your honest opinions, do you think your current partygoers should embrace heavy metal?

Adrian: "I really love what Supersect are doing. They are as much solid entertainers as they are musicians. I wouldn’t go so far to say "shock rock" but they represent what rock n roll should be like — having lots of fun and headbanging — pretty much like our ethos.

I’m quite sure the crowd will love them — some for the music, and some for their antics. It was quite an easy decision to book them, and I think an occasion like the 12th year party would be the perfect event to give them crowd a fresh a somewhat unexpected pleasurable experience."

Robin: "We already have a "subsidiary" night called REBEL YELL, where we play heavier sets that incorporate classic rock, grunge, hair metal or other noisy forms of rock music. And the reception for that has been better than we expected. So yeah, they should. We all need some metal in some points of our lives!"

Where do you think EATMEPOPTART can go from here? Not just about a possible future for the both of you, but what you think the future holds for such parties?

Adrian: "I’d definitely like to see more of these parties over the coming years. Our entertainment has become a homogenous and bland one-trick pony. I love it that other parties like EMONIGHTSG have been getting a lot of traction because I'd rather see the kids going to those parties than getting wasted at a "Best of David Guetta" night.

For that to happen, we need more clubs and venues who are bold and adventurous enough to explore something different. We also need more mid-sized live venues where our local bands can play at regularly. I’d love to run and/or manage a space at some point. Club Eatmepoptart (needs more work on the name). Why not?

The club situation hasn’t been looking good. We have been without a weekend club slot for most of this year, and we don’t know when and if we will get one over the new few months. I’d like to build on what we have achieved this year and grow the party in both directions — big scale events & smaller filtered down genre-specific events like grunge, Britpop or metal nights."

Robin: "I’m not too certain at what the future holds for EATMEPOPTART, but I will be here to play support to Adrian for as far and long as how we wanna grow this."

"I realised then that you can still rave and party in a club to something that's not EDM."

EMONIGHTSG's Edwin Waliman on when Poptart became special to him, adding that "Poptart is a congregation of eclectic people with a common love for indie music."

Do you see yourselves taking Eatmepoptart into the future for many years to come?

Adrian: "I really don’t know. We have a great crowd these days and we are trying to do as much as we can to set the fun level to eleven at all our parties. We only hope we are able to stay relevant to the next generation of Popettes and beyond.

It’s also about time we start looking for the next generation of DJs to replace us as it is taking longer to recover from my post-Poptart hangovers and joint aches."

Robin: "I am ready to sync my pacemaker to the BPM for as long as my body can take it. (laughs)"

Do You Remember The First Time? 12 Years of Eatmepoptart will commemorate their 12th year with a special party at Esplanade Annexe Studio on December 16th, featuring live performances by Supersect and Sobs, along with DJ sets by Poptart and guests Thievves, Tom Shellsuit and Zhan. Tickets available here.