Spotlight: Singapore Community Radio
Issue 7 | Imagining New Worlds
Singapore Community Radio was founded in 2017. Three years later and it’s taken on an entirely new life. Once solely devoted to showcasing the underground DJs playing eclectic subgenres that Singapore’s larger culture was blissfully unaware of, SGCR expanded their platform and their programming in September 2020. The aim of this pivot was to include more of the different, stratified creative communities across the small nation-state.
The team, made up of creative director Darren Tan, managing editor Daniel Peters and producer Hwee En Tan, have all been embedded fixtures in Singapore’s underground in different ways. Darren Tan has twenty plus years under his belt working at local record stores, running a house music club, working at an independent label, A&R, marketing, distribution—he’s done it all. Peters is one of the founding members of Bandwagon, a leading independent music media company in Southeast Asia. Hwee En Tan has always been an avid consumer and supporter of the scene, going to shows and openings and actively engaged in the community.
They stream radio shows and podcasts and showcase local zines, running the gamut from visual arts to film to pop culture. The music encompasses everything from vinyl, contemporary experimental, UK bass, house, hip hop, Japanese jazz and more. One of their podcasts, Cosmic Children, is helmed by Planet HUH collaborators Tell Your Children.
On January 29, they have a radio show planned to mark the launch of the Lagos x Singapore Planet HUH collaboration.
In their own words, Hwee En and Darren share their thoughts of Singapore’s relationship with creative industries, their goals for SGCR, what they hope to create for the community and more.
What was your impetus for starting Singapore Community Radio and what void did you feel you needed to fill?
Darren Tan: Singapore is kind of a commercial city and the electronic music or dance music that most people are exposed to here is just big room EDM. We believe that the community was really underrepresented and whatever media coverage they received, it was very fleeting. We wanted to create a platform that had more lasting conversations with these artists.
Hwee En Tan: Singapore’s creative and arts communities are very siloed and almost seen as quite niche. So, your mainstream media or mainstream consumer aren’t actually very aware of what’s going on in Singapore. It’s a very strange habit, but Singaporeans tend to favour international acts over local acts. I think that’s why we saw that disconnect.
Darren: It’s a very fast paced city, things come and go very quickly. Most people are like a mouse in a wheel. They’re constantly running, trying to catch up. People don’t really have the time to build communities. We also have a lack of physical community spaces so we felt the importance of having at least a digital one.
How has feedback been for the new iteration of SGCR? From listeners, hosts and DJs?
Hwee En: We’ve been very heartened by the reception so far. The name SGCR was something people were familiar with, if you were in the electronic music scene but, outside of that, I don’t think anyone had heard about it. When we launched the new platform in September, we started hearing people in the design scene talk about us, people from the theater scene. That was a moment where we felt like we really sort of infiltrated the other scenes, and that’s really something that we wanted to do. People were coming to us, saying that they were very on board with the vision we had. All of this reception has been quite reassuring that we’re not just doing this as a vanity project. But it’s really something that the community as a whole unanimously felt was missing within the scene itself.
Growing up I thought radio was just what you listened to in the car but as I get older, I’m discovering all these really cool international community radio stations. I find that radio has the power to really push new ideas, and to create collaboratively and in a way that is really tangible.
Hwee En: Yeah, I think that’s very true. Because it feels like it’s such a malleable format where there’s a lot of space for people to really just play with. People can just come in and try out ideas and it can just venture in any sort of way.
I find Singapore has a very interesting hive mind. When I was living there, I found it incredibly beautiful and utopic. But then I was like, it’s kind of too utopic.
Darren: It’s kind of lacking in character.
Hwee En: It’s very sterile.
Darren: Apart from food and shopping, there seems to be no other cultural identity.
Hween En: There’s no curiosity, that’s how I see it. I think it’s the way our educational system grounds us, right, because we’ve been taught to not think critically for ourselves and to just follow the rules, which is what a lot of Singaporeans are very good at. People seem happy with the narrative that there is no talent in Singapore, there is nothing interesting happening in Singapore besides food, besides shopping, It’s just very ironic, because anything that you try to do that is slightly more creative is seen as very leftfield. The very big perennial problem in Singapore has always been, what is our culture? And I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that, because it’s just a very big gap in our identity that we have never been able to answer.
Darren: I guess, that is what we hope to try and solve a little bit with SGCR.
I see SGCR as filling a void in that sense, but also potentially creating space for more people to do projects like yours. And then hopefully, that keeps growing.
Darren: Singapore’s creative communities can be very competitive. When we came out we didn’t really see anybody else as competition. In fact, I have a vision of everybody working together so we can do bigger things, rather than trying to cannibalize each other.
Is there anything crucial that you want people who are hearing of your platform for the first time to know?
Hwee En: We always say that SGCR is not a complete picture of the scene here, but rather, it’s almost like a taster plate of what we have to offer. The partners we bring in represent a small part of their own communities and they are educating Singaporeans and anyone reading and listening about what’s happening locally. We’re just happy if someone learns something more about Singapore.
Written by Kelsey Adams
Lead Photo Illustration by Marta Ryczko
Photos courtesy of Singapore Community Radio