If I Could Call Singapore Home
Vocals, Guitar // Kadir
Guitar // Ming
Vocals, Bass // Jack
Drums // James
A Smile Epidemic
The four members of FXTRT are one big contagious smile. FXTRT are “4 idiots who make mediocre music mainly about the mediocre asian life” or “a 4 piece meth pop band from Singapore who are serious about playing not-so-serious music and have no gf, no grades, no freedom; love good food, cats and most things japan (maybe?).” They summarized that as “uncool kids trying to play cool music but probably not doing it any justice.” I think after hearing them introduce themselves, advertising might actually be their true calling. They are sarcastic and are constantly laughing at each other with comebacks. Without FXTRT, they might never have been close to one another or even talked to each other but this band has created a dynamic group of friends who love playing music that reflects their energy.
Our interview felt like a cozy college party. I’d get invited to FXTRT’s everyday lives with their vivid complaining. I felt all the small details that frustrated them. FXTRT would mutter jargon between themselves and they would all laugh. I’d have to wait for them to explain the joke and the explanation always made light of what was frustrating. Once the laughter started to die, they’d explain to me why it was not so bad after all. They concluded their answers as if we were at a party and they said something really smart, but everyone was too drunk to really think about it; so one last beer was chugged and the night was over.
The mood was festive right off the bat; they kept celebrating because Kadir finally completed his National service in Singapore. All four members eagerly tried to tell me about this accomplishment while talking over each other. “We are free!” they exclaimed. This new FXTRT approved holiday marked the end of National service for all of them. It took a few tries before I understood what demanded this celebration, but even before I followed what was going on I was already starting to show signs of their infectious symptoms. I was grinning from ear to ear.
Celebrating Freedom Day!
Imagine graduating from school and immediately having to participate in the armed forces. That’s exactly what National service is and my kind friends from FXTRT sent me a video snippet of a Basic Military Training Roar. In Singapore, military service is compulsory. “Every single male has to do two years of military service,” FXTRT said by highlighting every word as if they were reciting a lecture they’ve heard repeatedly.. “And it sucks. It ruined our childhood.”
National service put the members of FXTRT on a roller coaster of emotions but only relief showed on their faces now that it was over. “National service showed me the unlikable nature of people. From the morally wrong, shady, and simply petty shit my colleagues did; to the actual crimes and bullshit we had to deal with on cases,” Jack explained. ”Oh, and to be clear, I understand its [National service] necessity, and its cultural significance and how if you conformed to the horrible culture it would be alright.” Well, at least Ming was introduced to Twice [the K pop group] during his service. Whatever positives exist; the fact that it was over meant a lot. “I got posted to Coast Guard; it was fun learning nautical studies and being a seafarer while it lasted. I don’t know man, it just feels great knowing that you’ve completed National service,” Kadir said.
You’d think the four members of FXTRT shared an epic story where they were somehow born as neighbors, bonded in a Singapore street market and defeated a phoenix together or something. The reality is they didn’t really know each before they started the band. “I met Ming at Pulau Ubin during a camp in secondary school,” Jack said. “I played in a few bedroom projects with him that never took off. That changed when I bumped into him at a music festival the year we formed and got sucked into this music thing!” Kadir and James were connections from college. Outside of the band, all of the members don’t really cross each other’s social circle. “To be honest, we don’t share that many interests or activities We connect with each other because of food and music.” With that said it was inevitable, our interview naturally revolved around food and music too.
You Eat What You Play
FXTRT’s love for food sometimes even becomes a composer in their music. Their latest EP, Bento Set A, is a perfect example. The single Maggie on the EP is a reference to the instant noodle brand called Maggi which when I brought up they all grunted in hunger. “That’s what I live on” Ming told me. “I don’t even know how many times I eat that in a week. When you’re broke and young this is what you live on.”
Kaya Toast aunt, who they explained was a chef at their university cafeteria, is thanked in their EPs. “We just had many discussions about music over her Kaya toast,” FXTRT said. “During the recording of Palette, we normally go for a kaya toast break. We really liked her kaya toasts, she prepares them fresh and fast. She even followed up by asking how our recording progress had been.” If you’ve never had kaya toast before, you should try to seek it out. Imagine them warm and homemade after a tiring jam session with your friends. I’ve never met Kaya Toast aunt but listening to them talk made my mouth water..
FXTRT admitted that Palette, their first EP, was more difficult to make then Bento Set A. They had more members then. “We wanted to have keys in Palette so our coursemate helped us,“ FXTRT said. “Schedules were tight during the recording process and we were running behind. We had another friend carry our vocal duties as Kadir and Jack weren’t trained enough at that time to be recorded.” All the members loved different music and Palette was challenged to balance those tastes. They brought in influences ranging from pop-punk to anime songs. Not everyone even listened to math rock initially!
Palette reminds me of their taste in food which is also all over the place. Kadir likes bread, Jack likes soup and Indian food and James likes a good Beef and Egg with Tea. I’m not even entirely sure what Ming likes except that he does not like Chinese food. “Nissin over Maggie, sorry folks” Jack added.They don’t even agree with the same instant noodles! Despite this, they still love eating with one another and still get heated arguing about what tastes good.
That’s the definition of their chemistry. FXTRT absorbs a bunch of different interests and compresses it into one product - their music. They are different people working together and learning who they are in relationship with one another. They feel they are getting better at it too! “Bento Set A was much more ‘us’ as a record,” FXTRT explained. “It's more relaxed and the writing came more naturally for us. At that point of time we shared with each other more music and had more common interests and taste.” The band may be a mix of personalities but has crystallized into something concrete..
The Nagging Challenges
FXTRT’s relationship gives them great practice in facing the challenges a band faces in Singapore. There is a lack of interest from the private sector of society to support music in general. This creates detours. which are rough as people may have different opinions on dealing with them. Luckily, FXTRT is a bunch of different opinions. Besides, each difficulty brings the members closer together as it fuels their banter.
SInce there is a lack of support, the music industry in Singapore heavily relies on government funding. “There is a specific grant that caters to holding one-off shows like an EP launch and for recording EPs and albums,” James said. Unfortunately, the music scene isn’t the only qualified applicant for this grant; the whole arts scene in Singapore can apply for that grant too. Not only does FXTRT have to compete with other musicians to receive this grant; they also have to compete with the whole arts scene in Singapore. That art scene includes performance art, arts education, writing and so on. This small amount of funding might as well be a job at Wall Street.
Space in Singapore is competitive and hard to find too. A cramped Singapore makes it hard to create a DIY show. There’s no room to build an indie community that people can frequently visit. “Our neighborhood is mostly flats and apartments,” Kadir explained. ”The venues are mostly rehearsal spaces, meant for jamming but doubling up as gig venues.” Finding an available show isn’t easy either. Bands usually have to hope show organizers invite them when the band’s name gets out into the scene. FXTRT mentioned Anvea of Lithe Records and Illya of ilyrecords as people who have helped them to integrate into the indie scene in Singapore..
It’s this cramped up space that cooks up the Singapore indie identity. A band can’t be picky with who they end up playing with. Yet the community is there and supports one another. “You pretty much see the same faces every other show,” Jack recalled. ”The music scene in Singapore is pretty small. Most artists know of each other, even across genres. Pop artists are acquainted with tech death bands. I believe Asian culture might play a huge role in this ultra large web of connections. Everyone giving everyone else face and a friendly nod is common. It is a bit tiring but it is important that we do support each other even if we do not see eye to eye on everything.”
The First Highlight is not the Last
If there’s one thing that Singapore musicians can look forward to it’s the Baybeats Music Festival. It spans for three days in August every year; covering mostly South East Asian musicians. “I remember checking my email on public transport and I think that was one of the happiest moments for me when I saw that we were chosen to play as a budding band for Baybeats [Bands who have auditioned and selected to be part of a year’s lineup],” James said. Of course, a Singapore music festival must have compulsory lessons. We all joked about how asians always need to make everything into something that can be quizzed. All Budding Bands have to take several masterclasses before the festival. These classes include marketing and vocal classes and take about six weeks to complete them.
I’d say they successfully passed those classes with flying colors and their Baybests performance proves it. However, FXTRT didn’t make it easy on themselves. “Baybeats was a frickin blast!” Jack exclaimed. “One of the best shows I’ve played. The hype leading up to it was bogged down by the insane stress of releasing our EP, DIY-ing merch, rehearsals, and hyping up the show to our friends. Even on the day itself, we were stressed in our dressing room. Who knew we even got one! We forgot to bring towels, and it smelled like sweat pretty much immediately, but on the stage in front of probably two hundred-ish people, nothing else mattered and the moment was to die for.”
There is one unfortunate setback. Every local tradition has it’s local rumors and Baybeats Festival is no exception with its local curse. “The Baybeats Curse in my opinion applies more on the Baybeats Budding Bands. Once you played Baybeats, the band breaks up shortly after,” Kadir explained. Still, it seems that playing at this festival is worth the risk of being haunted by a break up. Don’t worry though, FXTRT guaranteed they were just busy and were not breaking up.
It’s pretty inspirational to witness how the four members of FXTRT get along with one another. They make me comfortable around them; I even forgot we only met an hour ago. While the journey of FXTRT unifies the four members as they survive challenges together; their shared dreams will likely do the same. “Our current plans is to continue writing our debut full length which we hope to drop sometime in 2019 and perhaps plan a tour? We would love to attempt the touring musician lifestyle of drinking coke, eating fast food, being crammed in a bus for hours and not shower for a few days,” FXTRT beamed. Here’s to hoping they achieve their goals because that sounds awesome.
Last Updated December 16, 2018