Wanna be the next big thing in art and design, music and photography? Noise Singapore may be the answer to your dreams.
TEXT BY JO TAN
Published on 15 September 2015
TEXT BY JO TAN
Where have these people been hiding? Every year, the talents we see at Noise get better,” exclaims Sara Wee, lead singer of Singapore band 53A and mentor at Noise Singapore, a platform to discover and develop talents under 35 in art, design, music and photography.
“I think people used to be too shy and thought they weren’t good enough to show their stuff outside their own rooms. But as Noise grows into its 10th year and more people see others their age joining, putting out good work and making a name for themselves, they realise this is something they can be part of and that they stand a chance in this industry.”
For the past decade, Noise Singapore, an initiative by the National Arts Council, has provided showcases for, and grants to, budding talents. For the past few years, it has also offered successful applicants mentorship opportunities with established artists in the form of The Apprenticeship Programme (TAP) for visual artists, and The Music Mentorship (TMM) for musicians creating original work. Standout mentees in each programme win a $5,000 grant each to fund their dream artistic project.
With so much to gain, it’s no surprise Noise has become the first stop for fresh talents looking to take their dreams to the next level. Fresh art-school graduate Ong Lijie, 22, is one of the new TAP mentees and incidentally, this issue’s cover girl. “I have seniors who participated in Noise and said they were doing things they had never done before.They were also able to obtain professional advice about improving their art practice,” she shares.
Her fellow cover model, 17 year-old Nathaniel Soh from this year’s TMM, has also hopped on the Noise train. “I wanted to perform, so I sent out an advertisement on a music forum website asking for others to jam with me. We jammed two or three times and were wondering about our next step, which turned out to be Noise,” he says of his band The Neptune Waves, formed barely a month before Noise applications opened.
Even experienced performers feel Noise has something to offer. Ethel Yap, an actress who has played major roles in movies like Our Sister Mambo and rave-reviewed plays like Pangdemonium’s Tribes, is also a new TMM mentee.
“As a 27 year-old among many mentees still in their teens, I’m practically the auntie on the block,” she laughs. “I started writing songs years ago, while attending university in England, but acting took over 90 per cent of my life. This year, I finally decided to apply for Noise.
“All this time, I felt I was writing in a vacuum; I didn’t know if my work was good and how I could improve. I really needed guidance from someone in the industry who knows what’s needed and how to present myself. While I’ve performed onstage for theatre shows, it feels vastly different performing my own music because it’s really just Ethel. I’m not taking on another role, there’s nothing to hide behind.”
The mentorship is often informal and friendly. Says Wee, “I usually get my mentees to play whatever songs they have and we’ll discuss how the song works, or critique their playing and singing. But I try not to interfere in their creative process. At the end of the day, it’s their song, their show. We talk about any questions they have about the industry or the one thing almost all of them have asked so far: what the hell do you say onstage?”
Speak Cryptic, an internationally- acclaimed visual artist and TAP mentor for the third time, adds, “It’s not as heavy or as intense as one might think. I regard my mentees as friends — we discuss their work, but also have sessions where we just talk about art or where they see themselves in the industry.”
And the talents are definitely seeing results. Says Ong, “My mentor, Justin Loke from [art collective] Vertical Submarine, showed me how it’s important not just to create visually-exciting pictures, but to think through your inspirations and how your image comes about.”
Elaborates Soh, “Saiful Idris has been giving us really useful feedback on where we can improve in our songs, and Eddino Abdul Hadi gave us advice on life in the music industry in general. One very practical piece of advice: even if this band doesn’t work out, don’t worry, it’s your first one. Work on your skills and you can still do music.” Saiful, a singer, guitarist and songwriter for The Great Spy Experiment, and music journalist Eddino are both regular Noise mentors.
While not all alumni move on to megastardom, they find the Noise experience benefits them one way or another. Says alumnus Ben Yap (right), “I’m not currently a full-time practising artist; I’m employed with visual arts centre Objectifs, where I handle the photography and youth outreach programmes. But I loved being part of Noise. Sometimes when fine arts students graduate, they quickly get caught up with bread-and-butter issues and lose touch with the art world. I was happy to learn and create work with other artists for my Noise apprenticeship exhibition, and I’ll be doing more work for the Noise alumni exhibition later this year. Also, Noise looks really good on your CV!”
Actress/musician Yap adds, “I am worried about how I’m going to juggle acting and songwriting. But I’m going to do my utmost, not least because I’m very grateful to my mentor Randolf Arriola for pointing out how to bring my songs to the next level, his advice on a music career, and lending me a really cool pedal to create voice and guitar effects — the very first time we met!”
The mentors, likewise, treasure the experience with their mentees. “I’m proud of all of them. They’ve all gone on to make a name for themselves,” beams Wee. “Jaime Wong has just released her album; Tok Xueyi too. People think the scene is quite competitive and don’t understand why we train future competition. But the music industry is bigger than us. I want the Singapore scene to grow and have good, solid musicians.”
Agrees Speak Cryptic, “This mentorship experience is something special to me. Artists have our moments when we get quite lonely so it’s nice to have people to talk to about what we do. My mentees from a few years back just had dinner with me last month, and we talked about art and life. The mentorship doesn’t end. The conversation is ongoing.”
Each year, a few young artists are distinguished with the Noise Singapore Award and a $5,000 grant. We check in with three past winners.
She launched an EP of well-reviewed original tunes in May and has performed several solo gigs on top of appearing at music festivals, so it’s hard to imagine she was almost a complete newbie at the Noise auditions. “It was pretty much the first time I’d performed my original songs outside my own room. It was nerve-wracking,” she confesses. “Luckily, I had Sara [Wee] as my mentor. She gave me a lot of help, especially with confidence and performance etiquette, like not looking at my guitar so much. I love the Noise family. It isn’t competitive or malicious, everybody looks out for each other. My co-mentees The Hubba Bubbas even sang at my launch and collaborated with me on a track.”
This trio of musicians take their inspiration from their shared Chinese roots and incorporate traditional Chinese instruments into their compositions, but in such a way that it’s uniquely their own. With a sound that is modern, technological and influenced by its performance surroundings, it’s no wonder these inimitable three have collaborated with various artists in cross-disciplinary projects, opened for festivals and international stars like Karsh Kale, and have toured their melodies as far as Beijing and Paris.
Robert Zhao Ren Hui
Zhao is a proper art superstar. Besides winning the Noise Singapore Award in 2010, Zhao was a recipient of the Young Artist Award and clinched a post-graduate scholarship from University of the Arts, London, the same year. He has since collected numerous other accolades from his solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Asia and the United States.
“I submitted my work to Noise because I really wanted to do a project in the Arctic about the North Pole, and I needed a grant to get there,” explains Zhao, who later produced photographs tracing the flight path of birds on their migration to the Arctic, using tiny pinhole cameras tied to their legs.
While Zhao’s Noise experience was prior to the advent of The Apprenticeship Programme, he is familiar with Noise mentorship — after all, he has been a part of it for the past three years. “When I started I didn’t have anybody to talk to or guide me, so when I see young artists, I’m more than happy to answer their queries and offer encouragement. Sometimes that’s all they need.”
Highlights of this year’s Noise Singapore Festival.
Noise Singapore 2015 Festival Exhibition
16 September-11 October, B4 ION Station (Event Hall), ION Orchard
Even as the Noise mentees are singled out for their artistic skills, there are still plenty of talents out there, aged 35 and below, who can’t commit to mentorship. In its Open Categories, Noise gives the best of them an airing at this showcase of submissions in the form of art, design, photography and music. This year, expect hundreds of creative artworks, simple crafts and merchandise by local artists, plus live music on the weekends.
The Apprenticeship Programme Exhibition: “c. 2015 –”
19 September-11 October, DECK (120A Prinsep Street) & Chapel Gallery, Objectifs — Centre for Photography & Film (155 Middle Road)
Thirty-four gifted apprentices present the product of four months of mentorship at this exhibition, which for the first time, will be spread over two arty venues.
The Music Mentorship Concerts
2-4 October, Esplanade Outdoor Theatre & Concourse
Months of mentorship culminate in this concert where 18 bands and singer-songwriters perform self-penned compositions.
Noise Alumni Exhibition: “Becoming of Age”
24 October-8 November, Galeris Nila & Utama @ The Foothills (opposite Liang Court)
See how a clutch of Noise participants from the past 10 years, and indeed, the Singapore arts scene in general, have grown into their own at this exhibition featuring the works of 20 Noise alumni.
Noise Alumni Concerts & Arts Markets
30-31 October, Lawn @ The Foothills (opposite Liang Court)
Noise alumni musicians take centrestage over two gorgeous evenings where the likes of Inch Chua, Shigga Shay and Take Two serenade you while you enjoy food and a spot of shopping at an arts market put together by The Local People.