We speak to some of the female drummers in Singapore who are killing it

We speak to some of the female drummers in Singapore who are killing it

We've written at length before about the thankless job of being a drummer in a band — more often than not, they're gravely overlooked, and their role as the rhythmic backbone of a unit can be overshadowed by the presence of guitar wizardry or the antics of vocalists.

It's also not a secret that the profession is male-dominated — our previous feature covered some of the Singaporean men behind the kit at every show, so how about the women? 

We speak to some really talented individuals who've been drumming for years, and they give us their varied perspectives as active drummers in Singapore.

Singapore Drum Fest is now opening registrations for women to compete in their annual Drum Off competition, alongside other categories for all sorts of drummers. Register here.


lennat mak singapore drummer singapore drum fest

I probably sound like a conceited ass saying this, but being overlooked doesn't exist in my lexicon as a drummer."

LENNAT MAK

Lennat serves as the drummer in indie pop band Obedient Wives Club and riot grrl-inspired punk rock band NO PANTZ, along with her managerial role handling TOMGIRL, the "noir rock" project of her OWC bandmate Cherie Ko.

What drew you to the drums initially?

When I saw The White Stripes play 'Fell In Love With A Girl' on David Letterman in 2002. I became an instant fan of the band — never have I seen a two-piece band make the biggest sound on stage.

It was once described that The White Stripes make you want to "eat crack pipes and dance with the voodoo bones of the dead." Meg White's drumming is simple but yet so instinctive and primal. That's the main driving force for me to pick up drums.

What is it about drumming that inspires you? Could you talk a little bit about your passion behind your craft?

The drummer is the heartbeat of the band and a good groove will always make you move. I find drummers to be a very special breed of folks — we are the backbone and take on a more supportive role.

There's always this very nurturing and rooted characteristic that I often find in my peers — we are the ones playing in the shadows so we can let others shine. But yet, our instrument is often the loudest, without the need for any extra implication. That's basically me as a person in a nutshell, ha!

Who were your influences and/or favourite drummers of all time?

Right now, my favourite drummer of all time has to be Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint. She has so much beauty in motion — the fluidity she displays while drumming is intoxicating, both sonically and visually.

Her drums parts are so well thought out, and her 16th notes hi-hat grooves are so uniquely and unmistakably hers. And the way she is constantly exploring new sounds and adding in electronic elements into her grooves. I could watch and listen to her drum forever. Other drummers that inspire are Meg White of The White Stripes for her instinct, Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for his finesse and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney for her power.

What challenges do drummers face that other musicians typically don’t?

Oh, god! Transportation of gear! I love my own gear but if I were to transport the whole setup to every gig, I think I will have another episode of slip disc again.

Drummers are sometimes the overlooked member of a band. Why do you think that is?

In all honesty, I've never felt this way. Only because I am very vocal about things in my bands and I'm usually the one doing the management and administrative side of things. I probably sound like a conceited ass saying this, but being overlooked doesn't exist in my lexicon as a drummer.

Do you feel that female drummers are underestimated or undervalued? If so, what can be done to overcome that perception?

Have you seen Stella Mozgawa on the cover of Modern Drummer in February 2017? When you are really good at what you do, you will get recognized, no matter your gender.

I would like to think everyone can overcome and achieve great things with their skills and attitude. Being a girl doesn't necessary put us in disadvantage. In fact, sometimes, it's probably easier to attract attention when you're a girl.


jennifer ng singapore drummer singapore drum fest

We need more female drummers to be active in the scene and let the action speak for itself."

JENNIFER NG

Jennifer is an established independent musician and drum teacher, having worked with various local and international artists through her lengthy career. "Everyone can play drums! I truly believe that anyone of any age, who is interested in learning how to drum, can do so," she says on her official website.

What drew you to the drums initially?

It was by chance that I got into the school band and was chosen to play percussion and drums. I have not looked back since! 

What is it about drumming that inspires you? Could you talk a little bit about your passion behind your craft?

I'm naturally drawn to rhythms and they can be hypnotic at times. I enjoy the process of music-making with other people, and playing to serve the music. It's a wonderful ride of emotions while trying to bring out the mood of the music/song. I also find drumming therapeutic, as a form of stress release.

Who were your influences and/or favourite drummers of all time?

Some drummers I really like are Steve Jordan, Vinnie Colaiuta, Ralph Humphrey, Jojo Mayer, Clyde Stubblefield, Chad Smith, Thomas Pridgen and more! I enjoy listening to groovy and tasteful drummers.

What challenges do drummers face that other musicians typically don’t?

Drummers usually get the blame for rushing and slowing down, when it could be the singer, or guitarist, or the keyboardist in some cases. 

We may have to follow the singers at times depending on the situation and it may, in turn, make us look bad — so either singer looks bad or the drummer looks bad!

Drums are usually provided at performance venues in Singapore, so we typically do not know what to expect until we reach the venue and assess the drum set on the spot. For example, if the bass drum pedal is not working very well and there is no spare one accessible, we have to make do with it.

Drummers are sometimes the overlooked member of a band. Why do you think that is?

Drums are usually situated at the back of the stage and typically covered by the front singer (unintentionally). Listeners usually pay attention to the melody and lyrics in songs so singers are always in the limelight. So drummers are the silent heroes of the band! 

Do you feel that female drummers are underestimated or undervalued? If so, what can be done to overcome that perception?

Yes, drumming is generally perceived as a masculine activity — but recent years there have been more and more female drummers in the scene, albeit low key or rarely play gigs. We need more female drummers to be active in the scene and let the action speak for itself.


cheryl yew singapore drummer singapore drum fest

We work hard not just to be a better drummer and reach what we want to achieve for ourselves, but even harder to change perspective, fight the sexism, and eventually have the same recognition as a male drummer.​​​​"

CHERYL YEW

Cheryl provides the propulsive foundation for Radigals, a Singaporean hardcore punk band promoting messages of equality and unity. The band recently released their debut EP, Fight To Unite.

What drew you to the drums initially?

I wouldn't say I was drawn to the drums — but more like, it was the only other option! (laughs)

I've always loved music, and I wanted to play an instrument. Watching countless music videos on MTV, I wanted to be just like them. I couldn't play guitar, failed at piano (no matter how many lessons my parents would send me to). Then, I got my hands on a set of drums back in primary school — without any drum lessons, I just started playing. Played for my schools' church CCA band, and that's when it all started.

I played a while in secondary school, joined a band for a talent show and never then after that, never got a chance to play again, until I joined Radigals. Turns out, drums was something I — surprisingly — could play, so I decided to stick with it. 

What is it about drumming that inspires you? Could you talk a little bit about your passion behind your craft?

After finding out it was the instrument for me, I focused more on drummers in a band. My ears would be locked onto the drumming. My eyes were always fixed on a drummer and the way they played. It was the way they could do so many things at a time, to pull the entire song together.

Drumming has inspired me to want to push myself, to try new things and not give up so easily. Don't just say "oh it's too hard" but to give it a go. Can't play the beat, try and try again. It can be tricky and frustrating sometimes but I'm still learning. Drumming also allows me to vent whatever I'm feeling and pour it all out into the music. 

Who were your influences and/or favourite drummers of all time?

I'm afraid the answer might be quite common or bore you, but my influences when I started out was Keith Moon of The Who, and Travis Barker of Blink 182. 

Travis Barker caught my eye back then because of Blink 182. I was from an all-girls school, so news of Travis spread around like wildfire — everyone was listening to Blink. What can I say, I was young and he was hot!

However, as I listened to him more and more, I got inspired by the types of beats he played. His beats were original, very clear, a little groovy, and especially the speed he played. He could play fast without losing technique. He played so much and still did not look tired. 

Then we move on to my favorite drummer of all time. I've felt that Keith played with his heart. He didn't care what others thought of him and he just played. I've seen comments from many who said he was sloppy and not technical enough, but I loved that about him! He could sit there, listen to what the band was playing, and just played what came to him, and it would fit. There was like an energy radiating from him (and whatever drum kit he had in front of him), and I wanted to absorb that. What I loved about him was, he didn't give a shit. 

Both are my personal favorites and who've inspired me. 

What challenges do drummers face that other musicians typically don’t?

I don't really know actually but I guess every musician has their own challenges to face, each tough on them in their own way. However, I do know the challenges of being a female drummer/musician. 

For me, my challenge is to not take the amount of comments and criticism that people give to heart. Just like Keith Moon, I want to not give a shit. I wasn't schooled in the art of drumming either, and I have people who feel like they can approach me and tell me I should play like this, play like that, play more technical. 

As a female drummer, I feel that people critique us more than our male counterparts. I get tons of guys commenting on my looks and criticizing my body — telling me how I should lose weight, etc. (which has nothing to do with my drumming, might I add). Most of the time when they do mention my drumming, I get "next time play more like...", "next time can try this...". It gets rather annoying. 

Drummers are sometimes the overlooked member of a band. Why do you think that is?

Because we just sit there I guess! (laughs) We're at the back!

I feel that maybe the focus is not on us when we perform, and we can't move as much as the rest of our bands. So, they do hear us but that's about it? It has been said that drums are the heartbeat of the band, and to that, I would say that we don't hear our own heartbeat, we don't notice the sound it makes and what it does but, if it stops... you get what I mean? 

Do you feel that female drummers are underestimated or undervalued? If so, what can be done to overcome that perception?

Yes, I do feel that they are. We aren't taken seriously. Many seem to doubt our capabilities. We want to be treated like any other musicians, and not just "aww you're in a band? That's cute." and "oh wow you play drums? but you're a girl.". I feel that we have to work twice as hard as a male drummer and people don't really see that, they aren't aware.

We work hard not just to be a better drummer and reach what we want to achieve for ourselves, but even harder to change perspective, fight the sexism, and eventually have the same recognition as a male drummer. 

Ultimately, man or woman, everyone is the same and people need to be more aware of that. A drummer is a drummer, a musician is a musician. 


puteri nurainn singapore drummer singapore drum fest

At the end of a long day in school, all that pent-up frustration goes away as soon as I get behind the drum kit."

PUTERI NURAINN

Puteri is the youngest member of Obstacle Upsurge, Singapore's first all-female hardcore band. Her passion for the instrument has also led her to join various projects in the past, from screamo band Rangka to the full-band expansion of singer-songwriter Bravepaper.

What drew you to the drums initially?

Back in the primary school days, I had this video game called "Perfect Performer". It's basically a rhythm game that featured songs by Japanese Rock band The Yellow Monkey and you get to choose which instrument you want to play; I remember choosing drums 99% of the time. I guess I've always been interested in the drums ever since I started playing that video game.

I remember telling myself that drums would probably be the best instrument for me because I just couldn't learn how to play the guitar, no matter how much I tried. Also, I have two elder brothers (one of them is Asyraft from progressive rock band ANECHOIS, promo a bit ah) and they both started playing the guitar and bass respectively, so I thought, "Why not I learn how to play drums? Then we could form a band.”

One sunny day in 2007, my brothers and I went to the now-defunct Alvron jamming studio and I got to sit behind a drum kit for the first time in my life. I had zero knowledge of drumming so it took me a while to get to where I am now. It just takes time and a whole lot of practice.

What is it about drumming that inspires you? Could you talk a little bit about your passion behind your craft?

To me, drumming helps in relieving stress. At the end of a long day in school, all that pent-up frustration goes away as soon as I get behind the drum kit. Hitting the skins really helps and I think it's important for me.

I like that drumming is quite a different hobby compared to what girls normally would like. I just really liked the idea of going to school or having a job and then you get to have a mini vacation for the weekend in Malaysia or Indonesia to play a show. It gets you out of that mundane lifestyle.

Who were your influences and/or favourite drummers of all time?

My favourite drummer of all time has to be Mike Portnoy — always has been. In fact, he was one of the main reasons I even decided to start playing drums.

When my brother and I just started listening to Dream Theater over 10 years ago, he would fast-forward to certain parts of their songs to show to me. At the time, all the odd-time signatures they played blew my mind. Mike Portnoy made me want to pick up a pair of drumsticks and play, and he still remains as one of my top influences today.

Other drummers who inspire me are Darren King (Mutemath), Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) and our very own Ridwan Johari (Morning Martians, Aquila Vasica) and Junaidi Kusnong (Amateur Takes Control, T-Rex). There are many more but I'm scared I might not see an end to this list.

What challenges do drummers face that other musicians typically don’t?

Not enough photos of us on stage because we're always hidden in the back! (laughs).

On a more serious note, I think as a drummer, when you make mistakes onstage, it is much more apparent as compared to your band members because we are loud. Also, if you screw up and for God knows what reason, stop playing, everyone else in the band would probably stop too.

One time at Rangka's farewell show at The Substation, I dropped my stick and I did not have extras so I had to get up off my drum throne and walk out to retrieve it. My bandmates stopped playing and everyone was quiet. I felt like a fool until the crowd started applauding and giving me my confidence back, although it's still one of my most embarrassing moments. Lesson learnt: always have extra sticks near you.

Drummers are sometimes the overlooked member of a band. Why do you think that is?

They're rarely ever in the spotlight — both literally and figuratively. However, I feel like drummers don't get it as bad as bassists do.

You know all those jokes about bassists being the least important member of the band? (laughs) I can understand why drummers and bassists might not get as much attention compared to the vocalist or guitarist. We are equally as important though — if not, more important! The drummers and bassists set the rhythm and tempo for the band. If the drummer does not have enough practice and has difficulty keeping time, what makes you think the whole band would even sound good?

Do you feel that female drummers are underestimated or undervalued? If so, what can be done to overcome that perception?

I cannot speak for all the female drummers in the scene, but I personally don't think we are underestimated or undervalued at all. Over these few years of playing at punk rock shows with my bands, all I've ever gotten were positive and encouraging remarks!

At Malaysian shows, I have dudes coming up to me saying they've never gotten the chance to witness a female drummer in their life until they went for my band's show or discovered my band online (that was how I met my boyfriend). It was a refreshing experience for them after seeing male drummers every single time in their mostly male-dominated music scene.

After joining Obstacle Upsurge earlier this year, I find myself taking pride even more as a female musician. The fact that they considered me as their potential drummer was already a huge compliment on its own.

To play for a band that is actually older than you are is pretty amazing. And so, with the revival of Obstacle Upsurge, we hope to inspire other girls to pick up an instrument and form a band too. I think it wouldn't hurt to have more girl musicians in our scene, let alone girl drummers!


This article is presented by Fest Events International.

If you're an aspiring drummer, Singapore Drum Fest is currently rounding up the country's greatest for their annual Drum Off competition. Register here.

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