The Rock, the Roll and the Relationship Between Culture and Identity in the Local Music Scene4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
There’s something about the smell of leftover cigarettes and old air-conditioners in a dusty room, followed by the continual sound of bass beating in your eardrums as you wait in front of a small platform, surrounded by instruments — although most times, only the microphone and drum set are present. Slowly, members from the band you are anticipating show up with their guitar bags, preparing their amps and testing out chords on their guitars.
Tucked away in small areas like Lithe House or studios in industrial buildings, the punk and alternative local music scene is still very much alive. However, they have always been frowned upon by the older generation, mistaking members of these bands to be simply impressionable youths. But beyond these people just ‘acting out’, there is something — felt so empathetically — they’re trying to communicate with their music.
To celebrate 20 years of Baybeats festival, online video channel Not Safe for TV (NSFTV) released a four-part video series, ‘Add to Playlist’, exploring the alternative music scene in Singapore and its impact on culture and individual identity.
Episode 2, Add to Playlist: A Voice directed by Jon Chow, is a documentary feature on K.C Meals, the charismatic former frontman of post-hardcore band Caracal. It details his struggle with alcoholism mid-way through his music career which culminated with his departure from Caracal in 2015.
Before coming on board to direct this episode, Jon had next to no knowledge of the punk and alternative local music scene, citing movie soundtracks and orchestral music as the music he frequented instead. However, through numerous conversations in K.C Meals’ home and Grease Monkey, his barbershop, Jon creates personal spaces to understand K.C’s experiences, as well as deepen his own knowledge of the local alternative music scene.
As K.C shares about his earnest passion for his craft, he doesn’t shy away from the problems that came with the fame as well. While alcohol is a common substance for musicians in the scene, it eventually caused a spiral for K.C, where it would then affect his own performance during live concerts. Beyond music, it has also affected the relationships around him, as explored through the perspectives of his father (Ken Meals) and his wife (Jillian Lim). It has led to a lot of resentment and anger, and it created a disconnect with his music for a period of time.
Yet, as this documentary progresses, one can’t help to imagine a few certain constants — the archival footage that is included extensively throughout, along with the hum of rock music in the background. The culture of the alternative local music scene is one that lives on throughout, and K.C manages to find his own identity, and eventually, his music.
“We know that their lyrics and their outbursts on stage often come from their raw emotions, but to see the extent to which they purge their negative thoughts through their songs and gain catharsis was fascinating”, Jon recalls. There is some sort of polarising reputation within the local music scene, but it’s really a matter of listening and understanding how each person expresses themselves with their music.
Other episodes in the series include A Culture, where several artists share what music means to them. A Person, a coming-of-age short about a fissured friendship between two girls of different backgrounds and finally, A Movement, the final episode of the series which premieres today on 4 November.
While the pandemic has caused a severe handicap to live music in recent times, the alternative local music scene is still very much alive. Baybeats celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, seeing the return of live performances (albeit with social-distancing measures in place), along with international acts that will have their performances streamed online. K.C’s current band, Sun Eater will also be part of this year’s line-up, along with many other celebrated acts.
For more details and ticket reservations, head over to: https://www.esplanade.com/festivals-and-series/baybeats/2021.