Conversation Between Two Cities is a series of three articles that aims to showcase the glimpse of differences and similarities found in Jakarta’s and Singapore’s creative industry, as two noted figures exchange their working experience. Read more for the ceramists and photographers.
Neonomora is an independent artist whose sonorous vocals and style are appraised internationally. Her latest album, Waters, was released in 2018.
KIAT has seen widespread recognition as a DJ in the underground music scene. He’s the founder of independent label Syndicate, a creative audiovisual collective in Singapore.
KIAT (K): Ah, so what does Neonomora mean?
Neonomora (N): I feel like it was a word that came to me. I don’t want to just put up my real name, I needed a stage persona, someone who’s just beyond me, but it doesn’t really have a specific meaning.
K: When I first saw [your name], it reminded me of… I’m not very good at astronomical stuff, but there was a rock from another solar system that fell into ours and came past earth and left, and it was called Oumuamua. Some scientists from Harvard thought it could possibly be a probe from another galaxy. But yeah, the name had a nice, same feeling to yours.
N: Wow that’s deep, I can actually use that as the meaning! Thank you for telling me that.
K: You’re welcome, I can send you the link, no problem.
N: So, did you live in Singapore most of your life?
K: I was actually born here, but my granddad migrated from China to Singapore during WWII. So, I’m 2nd generation Singaporean. I spent a couple years of college in Sydney and Melbourne studying design, but I did spend most of my life here. This is where I call home. What about yourself?
N: I’m a third culture kid–I moved around from one place to another because of my parents’ jobs, basically. I moved back here 5 years ago from Australia. I went to college there too. But I’d like to ask you, Who and what inspired you to pursue your career?
“The whole [hip-hop] movement has been a big motivation as a child in terms of how I try to approach the things I did, try to be an individual, improve myself.” -KIAT
K: I used to get inspired by artistic heroes when I was a kid, someone like Prince. When my dad took me to see Purple Rain movie, the energy in his music really moved me. I was like 7 or 8 but something changed in my head, I could feel that. But I think, a bigger, lifelong inspiration came about when I watched a movie called Wild Style. Wild Style is a movie about hip hop with all the original hip hop artists that created the hip hop scene as we know it today. The whole [hip-hop] movement has been a big motivation as a child in terms of how I try to approach the things I did, try to be an individual, improve myself. Because I was bullied a lot, I got really tired and started to listen to my cassette tapes and draw. I think all of these gave me strength in hindsight. It wasn’t one person, it was the whole movement that kept me inspired, right to this day.
N: Man, that’s inspiring. So what kind of music do you play?
K: I like all sorts. I used to play a lot of hip hop and went through phases with house music back in early 90s, and in the early 2000s I was doing a lot of drum ‘n’ bass. As time went on, I realised that music is music; I don’t like the idea of genres because I don’t feel people should go, “this is old school, this is new school”. I think if it’s interesting and it moves you then why not? It’s kind of like food: it doesn’t have to be street food versus restaurant food. So right now, most of my DJ sets comprise of everything from hip hop, to experimental music, sometimes jazz and sometimes-
N: Really? All of them together?
K: Yeah, in one entire set. It just depends on the moment and what I feel the crowd could react to, but it’s a lot of what inspires me at that point of the day or evening. Because things always change and you can’t really predict what people are feeling in the club–it’s not something you can preplan. It can get stressful in a fun way, like a roller coaster ride. But that’s what keeps it fun for me. How about you? What sort of music do you like?
N: I listen to pretty much everything. I would listen to Blondie Bear but at the same time I love Spice Girls a lot, a mix of genres, basically. But currently, I listen to Florence and the Machine. So, I love folk rock very much and it actually inspired me to do what I do now.
K: But have you ever tried listening to other genres, like say, R&B?
N: I listened to R&B a lot, like a lot. But then when I moved to Perth, my surroundings were introducing me to– you know Perth right? It’s very small and they have these small pubs where people hang out together? There was always new music. I used to just listen to one genre, R&B, but the after Perth my music library just widened.
K: Did you ever perform in Perth?
N: I’ve never, but I really wanted to. So what kind of experience do you want your audience to have and feel when you’re making your music?
K: As in the emotions from my own productions? Or from when I’m DJ-ing or performing?
N: Maybe the whole process of producing?
K: Strangely enough, when I make music it’s usually for myself not in a way it’s for me me, but it’s what I would imagine myself to feel like at that point in time. But I also try very hard to create something that my future self would still listen to 10 years down the road. So that’s the good thing with electronic music, in a way that it takes apart references to time. Back to the question, maybe my audience might be surprised as to what come from me because a lot of music I make is not necessarily what I would play in the clubs but just music I would listen to when I’m driving down the countryside or at home relaxing. Sometimes, but not all the time. I try not to keep it predictable for myself, even. Is it confusing? Because I sound confused…
N: Not at all. And how long have you been doing this?
K: I started playing on turntables when I was 14 years old, then I started playing in clubs when I was 17. But, I started making music really late–just around my mid 20s, only because I never thought I’d be involved in music. It really was a hobby, a passion that kept my mind sane because I was doing design and advertising which drove me insane. It’s meds for the poison, right? Music was my medication which took me out of the whole toxic world of capitalism. It wasn’t a conscious thing where I decided to make music for the rest of my life. But it has been a long time.
What images do you keep in the space where you work? In your studio, do you have any photographs, paintings or poetry, anything in that keeps you inspired?
N: I actually have one poster of Michael Jackson hanging on the wall. The History album.
K: So, do you think he really did it?
N: [laughs] Please don’t go there, he’s my king!
K: I was a big fan of Michael Jackson as a child also. And I don’t believe he did it. I just think he was a victim of the media.
N: I don’t believe it as well. Nope, nope.
“I feel like it’s better for me to be as independent as possible.” -Neonomora
K: Oh yeah, your artwork! For your records covers and releases, are you involved in the artwork? There’s one where it looks like a renaissance painting of people swimming…
N: Yeah, that’s actually the album I released just last year, and I’m very much involved. It was actually done by my good friend, but I actually love painting as well, so I have this community of painters in Jakarta… It’s just a small community. So, when I was about to release my Waters album, I was talking to a friend about making one artwork and I just poured my feelings out, what I want to make in this album, what I want to convey…
K: So, was that a painting?
N: That’s a painting but it’s done digitally afterwards. So after they painted it, they put it on photoshop. So how many albums do you have?
K: I have two full length albums on Spotify and a ton of singles and collaborations and little EPs but mostly on like vinyl for club music. But my own personal music, I got two. Oh three!
N: [Laughs] How can you not remember your own albums?
K: The last one, I did music for an iPhone game called Zen Koi. Some people who really liked the game kept asking the developer where can they buy the music. So I decided to make it into an album, but no one no bought it after that.
N: Do you feel like you’re privileged as a musician, rather than doing what others do? because you know as a musician you have to have like that sense of depth…
K: Or craziness? I think in the current age of technology and being able to access or communicate with people around the world kind of brings the whole idea of breaking borders. We could write songs tomorrow, or we could go to Iceland and record a music video next week. I think the whole idea of being in Singapore or being in Jakarta doesn’t have any hurdles as to say, 15 years or 20 years ago. So things have changed. Of course, maybe having a nicer scenery like Bali or Bandung would be nice. But I guess in Singapore we’ve got nice food. Do you like Singaporean food?
N: I love it. The chicken rice there is legit good. Do you face any challenges being a musician in Singapore?
K: Definitely. I think being a creative in Singapore is challenging. I’m going to correct that. This city is very focused on economic gains and business. And sometimes businesse and art have a bit of a conflict. And me, I’m doing electronic music and I don’t sing, I don’t play guitar, it kind of reduces my chance of surviving long term. Which is why I make electronic music in my bedroom where no one sees there. Singapore is my home, but I don’t see Singapore as a place where I’m super keen to shammy music, to be honest. But I don’t let the challenges of a country get too much to me. Do you perform much in Jakarta?
N: Pretty much, I do everything independently, I’m not under a label. When I just started, I put my music up on my website and let everybody click for free. Then a year later, I got a contract for a label, but I decided to drop it after two years… I feel like it’s better for me to be as independent as possible.
K: So, do you use Bandcamp? You should try it because I think the fact that you’re based in Indonesia where you got your fan base already, Bandcamp might help your fans from YouTube and Instagram buy the music, and the money goes directly to you.
N: So, do you manage your own stuff as well?
K: I wish I could but I’m terrible at managing stuff. That’s why I have 13 people behind me. I mean I have a label it’s called Syndicate. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people that have the same vision that can complement my weaknesses in planning, so I’ve been quite blessed in that way.
N: But it’s good to have people that click with you right? Do you consider your music an independent music?
K: Hmm. Next Question. I think independent music – I would say my music is independent because it’s not from a major label. All the artists we represent are indie in terms of their approach to music and their production, you know. I like it that way, it allows the ideas to be a bit purer, musically. You can take different risks, whereas if you’re on a label you might have different things to consider because you have a partnership with someone else.
N: So is there anything you have or wish to pursue outside your music?
K: Hmm, right now, in the past or in a parallel universe?
N: It could be parallel. [Laughs]
K: Right now, in my life I wish I was a super successful painter and artist that would sell stuff in the galleries for like millions of dollars. That way, I can chill and just write music.