There’s been some talk online about Dick Lee and the selection of acts playing at the Singapop concert on Aug 20 and why no indie bands are performing. Some of it is valid, some of it is rude, some of it just doesn’t make sense.
One thing I do know though, is that many, only 10 people were at the press conference when Dick Lee said what he said about indie bands. And in the spirit of being fair – because those who’ve read what’s online and in the papers aren’t getting the full interview – here’s a recap of what Dick actually said to those who were there (I’ve only included the bits where he talks about indie bands and the show)…
Why are there no indie bands in this concert? One of the challenges was the delicate balance of who should appear, because this is a show that we wanted to appeal to a very wide demographic. A lot of the indie bands have not yet found that wide success. They are successful but niche. That has always been a problem. So we really looked at artistes with wide appeal who enjoyed wide popularity. Niche artistes, the genre and the nature of the music may not fit the overall feel of this show.
What about Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin…
Schedule, schedule, schedule and schedule. Believe me, I would say that every single one could have been there. It’s just that a lot of singers couldn’t make it for the Aug 20 date.
(muffled question about bands having to conform for mainstream) Even the most indie of indie bands in other countries have some form of mainstream success and yet they do not conform. Even in my time during the 80s, I was considered as indie and I didn’t conform. It takes a lot of thought and hard work and sacrifice to get people to accept what you do. When I released The Mad Chinaman, it was my 8th album. It wasn’t first time lucky for me. That came out in 1990. I started in 1974. So it took many many years before I could get that kind of success that allowed me to do this full-time and still do. Maybe they haven’t reached that stage. Because the other artistes we have, they have already achieved that.
How do you think indie bands can have more wide appeal then? You need to adapt to what people want. You kind of have to. If you just do what you want, if for some reason everybody can accept that then I think that will be fantastic. But if not, then maybe you should change. I mean, what’s the point of making music if nobody wants to hear it? All performers love an audience, we love to be loved. If you don’t care, then that’s your choice. But if you do care, then what are you going to do about it?
But there are some who say that government and restrictions have killed the local music scene. You just have to revive it yourself. I made music when long hair and rock music was banned and equated with… if you played guitar, you were a drug addict, that was what I grew up with. But you still keep doing it. In my career, I played in libraries in tuck shops in schools, wherever I could play. I think the young musicians are not resilient if the government says something and they all stop. You have to find another way and you have to be smart about it. And you have to be calculative and plan and manoeuvre and scheme.
What’s the setlist going to be like? I’ve asked every artiste to sing their biggest hit. For me, Rasa Sayang, that was the most popular song from Mad Chinaman, although I would rather sing different things. But to be fair…
What will the show be like? We have a big stage, a multi-level and quite a big space. The colour theme is actually the EDB’s colours, actually. The overall feel is using collage artwork. The big screen in the centre, two big screens on each side with live feed. Tiered seating. Black stage with coloured accents. I want to do a show that’s slick and grand and I want to do one for the indie bands too. But I think they should have their own show and bring together all their fans. But for this, (I’m not sure) if it can fit with Lee Weisong’s things, you know? And not everybody is willing to… Well, I’m talking to some people to revamp their work. Rasa Sayang, for example will be done in a hip hop manner with real rappers doing their thing. I can do it, but I don’t know about the rest, like a bhangra version of Kit Chan’s songs? I don’t know if she’ll agree. It will be tasteful, whatever we do. Judee and four guys will recreate The Crescendos, complete with 50s hair and clothes. It won’t have Aaron Kwok’s revolving set. The other kinds of shows we have seen have been pretty basic. But we’ve got dancers and costumes but I hope that it will have international standards.
Marina Promontory hasn’t been good to gigs. Last year, there were some shows where only 50 people turned up. So what are your expectations for this show? That’s true. Maybe 60? The last time, the concerts had a different line-up so hopefully this one. I mean we hope to have Sakura’s fans and A-do fans to come. So I think there will be quite a mix.
What do you hope Singaporeans can come away with for this show? I want them to be proud of what we have achieved. It’s a reflection of our development. When you ask younger generations about some older songs, they’ll recognise it as a song by say, Maggie Teng or Mavis Hee. Some people forget that and this show will remind everyone. And I want people to feel proud about what we have in the music scene, especially because most people say “what music scene?” I’ve been part of this music scene, and I’m still here and I can still do this, don’t say “what music scene?” – we have all these recordings.
Is this the biggest show you’ve done. No, it’s NDP. And you know, NDP is a show that needs to cater to all ages. And my own history of appealing to the masses. I’m ashamedly from the mass market. I do like alternative things and all that, but I do come from that. I’m not film fest, I am Transformers. So I know that audience and that’s the mass audience and I also respect this audience because they have helped artistes like myself to exist to survive. It’s just knowing who you’re playing to. When you say “generations”, there are also generations who are mass market who can appreciate the same thing. And then there’s niche markets. And even for older generations, there’s niche markets too. But when you do something like this, I think you need to draw the line right across the middle, and play to popular taste, this is what this one is all about.
Is the local scene suffocating our musicians? I think the local scene isn’t suffocating to me. I’m not saying that they should do what I do? But I’ve had a great career. I’ve even written Chinese songs too. So… I have gone through all that. I mean, I was indie in my time, I was writing songs and people were laughing at me for it and saying, “Why bother”? And I think it’s the same thing when people look at indie bands. But what can you… I mean, you just have to persevere, right?
There aren’t many platforms that allow bands to play their own thing.Except TAB. But would Force Vomit play at TAB? TAB appeals to 30somethings and PMEBs. And do they want to hear that? That’s why I put that last segment of pub singers in. I could have done the indie ending, but I think the Timbre/TAB market is wider. That audience is huge.
Are the musicians getting paid? Everyone is getting paid. And they’re all getting paid professional fees. No one is doing a favour here. That’s important and everyone has come onboard with the same spirit of doing this. I hope you can convey this. I think it’s a great tribute to make to all these musicians who’ve been around.