Profile: Syndicate

Published on 29 February 2016

Electronica, dysfunctional visuals and performance art are all part of audiovisual collective Syndicate, says founding member, Kiat.

BY jo tan

Jonathan Kiat’s life has been a clear-cut dichotomy of sight and sound: by day, he has, for the most part, been an award-winning art director at various ad agencies/design houses; by night he’s a headliner deejay/electronic musician at premier clubs like Zouk. Today, he fuses both passions as a founding member of audiovisual cooperative Syndicate — an eclectic collective which counts visual artists, performance artists, diverse musicians and even poets among its members.

Says the lanky artist (better known as Kiat), “In 2010, a bunch of friends and I were  chatting about how things had changed in the electronic scene: people attended to take photos of themselves rather than enjoy the experience. It had become so different from what we liked about the culture, which for me was to create good experiences and push the boundaries of music. We decided to get together for six months and try something we had never done before. Something not result-oriented, but satisfied our own creativity and made us happy.”

Six years on, Syndicate is 21 artists strong, with musicians like Cherry Chan, Nada (a spin-off project of Max Lane), Vandetta and .gif in its fold. They play major events, like the recent Laneway Festival, and represent Singapore in the US and Europe at both intimate clubs and international music festivals to rave reviews, thanks to their trademark brand of improvised electronica accompanied by crazy live projections or frenetic movement artists. “When we started, almost no one got it. But the good thing about the group was this common attitude of, ‘I don’t care what you think, let’s do what feels right.’ Then friends and fellow artists came to chitchat, and from that, new things spawned.

“Then people started getting curious: why are there projectors, what is this music you can’t dance to, why is he using a console but not exactly deejaying? It was art many didn’t understand, but which they came to experience and at some point, it just got big. But our gigs are still in the same spirit of electronic improv today: any artists who have material they want to share can step up and decide, often on the day itself, what they are going to do by feeding off each other’s images or sound. I think people appreciate the rawness.”

He adds, “We just keep experimenting, never mind if the experiment succeeds or fails. Singaporeans are risk-averse, but there’s a liberty in not caring if you fail. You could stumble upon something brand new. What Syndicate has is difficult to define: some people get swept up in the beautiful dysfunctional visuals, some think we’re part of the club scene, some consider us performance art. If I had to describe what we do, I’d say we wanted to create a space with a good vibe where people could just join in and have fun, and it turned into a community.”

For more on Syndicate, visit www.syndicate.sg.

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