Perspectives: Shaiful’s Response

Much has been discussed and many opinions were shared when we first shared Shaiful’s thoughts earlier this week on The Substation’s new artistic direction. A petition created to encourage the government to build an independent performance venue was met with much optimism as well as doubts. And then came Natalie Pixiedub’s response, who explored the issue from another standpoint that deserves some pondering over especially to the lovers of the local music scene.

Shaiful reached out to us a few days ago with his response to the whole issue:

Hi folks,


I find it inspiring, encouraging and amusing that my small little hurriedly written piece on Atmos discussing spaces (and a piece that had a strong romantic leaning towards the Substation) has spawned countless responses and even a petition to the state requesting for the establishment of a full-time music venue.


Firstly thanks to everyone who responded with their thoughts, it warms my heart to know that people give a shit.


However there are some things that I must express.


I have not signed the petition and I’m not sure if I ever will. This is not to dismiss it entirely, kudos to the petition writer for the initiative but reality check, the petition will not go anywhere.


I felt it was under researched and has a bit of a soft underbelly. There were a lot of assertions and it lacked a crucial critical core of argument.


Plus let’s be honest, as much as art and music is crucial, a need for a full-time space may not be crucial enough in the grander scheme of things. It is at the end of the day, a relative social luxury (albeit a crucial one!), and this comes from a person that puts on 1-2 shows a month on average while being broke, in between jobs and in debt. And of these shows, a huge fraction is run on losses, a few breaks even and very rarely profits.


Why do I still do this? Part passion, part obligation (admittedly). I believe it is necessary for the social consciousness that independent music exists, and the process of which it undertakes and the socio-camaraderie it influences, is essential.


Picking up on Nat’s comments it would be correct to encapsulate that the petition had an inkling of a sense of entitlement.


It also incorrectly hinted that AAC was a costly space to run a show. I beg to differ, AAC is very well priced for the physical space that it is, but it remains second choice to me still because it lacks the homely vibe of The Substation and there is no way of negotiation if you over-run your booking time. That’s about it really, and that’s what I hope; via a long tedious process, that the space and the music community can find a common ground to understand the dynamics of running a show.


That’s what I meant by running on “different mechanisms”.


I would disagree with a remark on gentrification isn’t the problem. It is, a very least, part of the problem. Gentrification is part of the narrative of Singapore. Look around you. How many freaking malls and condos are being built? How many mega supermarkets have forced regular provision shops to close? How many food courts have been built using modern payment schemes while the older styled coffeeshops have shut its iron gates? Gentrification is a fact of life, it reshuffles micro-economies and makes things not the same as it used to be. Definitely accurate in a globalized world.


Remember Armenian Street in the 90s and early 2000s where we had Food Plus across the Substation and a dodgy hotel beside it that housed vice, and humble coffeeshops in that same perimeter?


And to The Substation’s left the shophouses were still vacant?


And compare it with the classy eateries now and what is opposite of the Substation lies expensive unoccupied property?


How does this relate to the music scene? Everything. These days they are more willing to fund “local music” but at a huge artistic cost. Look at the huge festivals, why is everything so polished when it is free and astronomically priced when it isn’t?


What happened to letting new bands that sucked take the stage, but then allowed them to keep playing until they actually become significant?


Sponsors and organizations dictate play. And quality.


How is that not a problem? We are after all alternative, not polished mainstream products for the masses to consume.


Alternative music was about being ground up, real and doesn’t demand to be funded. It will exist and should exist and continue to exist as a social right.


People – they are trying to make Armenian Street a false pretentious bourgeois street that reeks of class.


The Substation has stuck out like a sore thumb through the years, and yes it bloody hell should remain this way. It retains the vibe of our crucial 90s when Singapore was still “second world” and still honest.


I am pro all ages shows and I refuse to put on a show in a bar or pub setting where my crowd has to buy a ton of booze just to boost bar sales and revenue, in order for it to be considered a “good gig”.


(Again this is subjective, in some countries ive been to bar and pub shows are the ONLY choice. But let’s stick to this little red dot.)


I want it to be genuine and I want the kids, the new blood to be part of this honest introduction to noisy music. I went to my first show at 12 yrs old at The Substation Garden, scared as fuck by all the crazies around me but blown away so much that I saw honest and good music for a meager $5 ticket. Even the way the show was run, anyone could stand anywhere even on the stage and security was more about breaking up fights than preventing the kids from having fun.


For sure we cannot have those days back, but as it has been proven countless times in the punk scene, with a relative redefinition of what the lowest door price is can be offset against a dwindling “paying gig population”, (ie $5 entry in the past with 400 attendees vs $15 now with 100 attendees coupled with 20 years of inflation) this essential bit of our independent / underground can still be practiced and replicated.


Real alternative music and scenes will always exist, whether or not the state provides a space. I believe the narrative these days is that the scene has gotten a lot more vibrant, shows are more abundant but crowds have thinned. Social expenses have skyrocketed making our ideals of cheap shows more trying and increasingly impossible.


We are at this bottleneck where we have too many shows, too few paying audiences and things around us are too expensive.


What would I suggest then?


  • that we get off our asses and start coming to and paying for shows. You don’t have to come to every single one, you have the right to choose, but I think its fair to say if you support the scene it takes some form of commitment. Please accept that $15 is the minimum anyone can charge for a show these days and that $20 will be the norm very soon. If you disagree please do your own show.
  • Remember at the end of the day plenty of bands pay for free out of passion but we must respect the bands as well for they need money for practice and transport too. Then again nobody forced the bands to form and play shows.
  • The exact same sentiment is the same for show organizers. Nobody forced us to do shows, so we must be willing to undertake a great risk. This includes shouldering all cost when the show doesn’t get enough paying audiences. Imagining shouldering venue and sound costs and band / crew fees if applicable. Rough eh?
  • Respect the crew and the audiences too.
  • Show organizers should communicate amongst themselves to prevent show clashes, and if things are right even consider “combining” efforts. Everyone cuts costs, more factions of the scene turns up, everyone wins.
  • if your costs are too high as an organizer; NEGOTIATE. All sound system companies, bands and venues are open to conversation if you are genuine. I’ve been doing shows since 2004 and I wouldn’t still be doing them 12 years on if I wasn’t able to negotiate. And despite this I don’t consider myself a gig organizer; im still rubbish and I depend on friends and acquaintances and co-organizers and bands themselves to helping me out in more ways than one.
  • And while all this is going on, I believe the flow of money should be constructed in such a way, that working spaces are well and adequately funded in order to create an allowance in budget to be able to give discounts to small time show organizers, be it in music or theater or dance, etc.
  • People who can contribute money and kind and “love music” and are reading this, please do something constructive and don’t talk so much cock.


At the end of the day, my original piece was part romanticism, and part statement of intent on the importance of spaces, and how this community should undertake a stronger responsibility to determine and influence its preservation.


Spaces should be available and worthwhile, we should take care of its well being collectively without needing to even form a collective. A collective creates parameters and borders, a non-collective is a consciousness and is more inclusive, fluid and valid.


An understanding of the scene and how it works and runs can be fostered but nobody said it will be easy.


The Substation shouldn’t die out from what it always was, and we as “scenesters” or “noisy people” should never be afraid from being part of dialogue.


Dialogue, discourse and discussion are very important.


Back to the petition, would I like to see an independent space open and run by the right people? Yes of course.


But this takes time and this takes process. Maybe the community should be consulted first before we prepare a next step?


Remember our strength as an independent music community is that we have always gotten things done on a consensus. That to me is very potent and very crucial in a representation of a functioning society.


Thank you.



PS: Gong Xi Fa Cai!

We are surprised ourselves with the reaction to the piece on The Substation but we genuinely feel that any forms of discourse is a great sign for our growing scene. The Substation is not only home to the music lovers but other forms of the arts, such as theatre and film, do also regards The Substation as their home. A discussion group with the artistic director is expected to be organised, more details will be announced soon.

To conclude, we hope to see more discourse on the state of our creative scene in the future as we believe that dialogue has the potential to begin change.

Perspectives pieces are opinion pieces on the local or regional creative scene. Views expressed by contributing writers are solely theirs.

You can reach out to Shaiful Risan at [email protected].


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