Steady Beat

Published on 28 January 2018

Homegrown drummers tell us what it means to pursue drumming professionally in Singapore.

By Melanie Lee

When a band performs, the spotlight is rarely on the drummer. After all, the percussionist is usually seated at the back of the stage and partially concealed behind a drum set. And yet, a drummer is indispensable, providing the rhythmic foundation of any piece of music. We chat with some of Singapore’s top drummers and let them bang on about their craft.

AARON LEE

This 22-year-old is the drummer of The Steve McQueens and The Aaron James Lee Trio. A composer and instructor, he has been playing drums professionally since 2008, after he won the Singapore DrumFest Drum Challenge Asia (under-12 category).

My parents are musicians so there has always been music around the house. My dad [Jimmy Lee, see next page] plays the drums and I also became interested in this instrument. There used to be  a jazz club called B28 and there was just something about that space — my gigs there were always joyful. In Singapore, there aren’t enough venues to play music and there’s also a lack of an audience. However, I feel that my biggest personal challenge is myself. Good drumming invites people to move to the beat and makes the music sound good. It’s something I’m still trying to achieve. Over time, I hope that my love for music deepens and my mind opens so that I can move more people with my music.

JIMMY LEE

Considered one of the most established drummers in Singapore, Jimmy Lee has played for many famous singers, including Teresa Teng, Aaron Kwok, Stefanie Sun and Lobo. Lee is also a drum instructor, directs music ensembles and arranges drum concerts.

Since I was a young child, I would create rhythm with my palm and fingers while listening to radio tunes. When my Secondary 2 classmates wanted to form a class band and asked if I could drum, I said yes. For the first time, I played on a drum set and my passion just grew. I really enjoy putting music to my rhythm and getting to work with different musicians. A good drummer is one who is able to provide a strong beat and steady tempo that leads the entire band. At the same time, an experienced drummer should be able to control his or her volume suitable for the set and venue. To drum well is a result of nature and nurture. Before a drummer wants to develop a unique ‘feel’, he or she needs to commit to learn the rudiments and dedicate hours to mastering the instrument.

BRANDON KHOO

Best known as the drummer for popular local rock band Shirlyn & The UnXpected, Brandon Khoo is considered one of the top rock drummers in Southeast Asia. In 2014, he was also the first drummer mentor for youth arts platform, Noise Singapore.

When I first saw drummer Tommy Lee from the band Mötley Crüe perform, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for a living. As free and artistic as musical expression is, I believe that good drumming must serve a music genre without clashing with the vocals and the other instruments. I constantly get asked what my ‘day job’ is even after saying that playing drums is what I do. Many think you can’t make a decent living from playing drums. But I don’t believe in having a safety net. You have to throw yourself in it to make it work. Back in 2007, a dream came true when I got to be the drummer for current Megadeth guitarist, Kiko Loureiro, when he was in Singapore to do a guitar clinic for Davis Guitar. I hope to continue growing as a drummer, a musician and a producer, to better serve other artists and music genres around the world for as long as I can.

JUNAIDI KUSNONG

Well-known in the local music circuit for his powerful and multi-textural playing style, this former drummer of bands such as Amateur Takes Control, T-REX, and Temple of Horses is also a music lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts. He runs music studio, Plugged.

My brother introduced me to music and brought home a drum set one day when I was nine years old. As soon as I picked up a pair of drumsticks, I knew that drums were my instruments of choice. To be honest, drumming is an easy instrument to pick up. Get yourself a good drum teacher and you might be able to play Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ in a week. However, to master drums, you have to be in a different territory. You need discipline and you need to invest a lot of time practising. In my opinion, ‘good’ drumming is more than just playing blazingly fast chops and super-tight grooves. It also means being humble, punctual and having a positive attitude. My favourite gig was in 2016, when I played with my ex-band T-REX for Baybeats at the Esplanade. We could feel the sheer energy bouncing back between the audience and the band.

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