Published on 14 June 2017

Hip-hop helped DJ KoFlow turn his life around. Now, he hopes his story will help troubled youth as well.

By Melanie Lee

As a teenager in the ‘90s, Wayne Liu got into a lot of trouble. He took part in gang fights in his neighbourhood and Orchard Road, and sometimes, he would bring a knife to school for protection. It was the only life he had known – his divorced parents were also gangsters who gambled, and he describes his childhood as “full of adversity”.

The 36-year-old’s evolution to becoming DJ KoFlow, one of Singapore’s most celebrated electronic musicians, began when he discovered skateboarding at 15. At that time, he had just left his gang after the police caught him during a fight and he was placed under probation.

“Skateboarding is really my first love and it helped me to stay away from gangs and drugs. I would watch videos of professional skateboarders and this was my first concept in understanding that it was possible to pursue my passion and turn it into a profession,” he recalls.

The skating videos that he watched played hip-hop music, which in turn piqued his interest in hip-hop culture. While other hip-hop fans around him were dabbling in b-boying (breakdancing) or rapping, he was drawn to DJing. His neighbor had a turntable and when he first heard music being scratched, he “felt a light being turned on”.  At that time, he was also part-timing on Sundays at his mum’s nightclub – Datoh Rajah in Gay World – where he would “play cha-cha CDs to aunties and uncles”. For the next few years, he began saving money to support this DJing hobby.

Since then, he has won a variety of accolades, including Singapore DMC Champion and World DMC Finalist in 2003, as well as Best DJ by Juice Magazine. DJ KoFlow has also performed with international artists such as Kayne West, Mariah Carey and Wu-Tang Clan.

Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

“At a basic level, I became a professional DJ because I stopped school after ‘O’ Levels and this was the only thing I really knew and did well in. But at a deeper level, DJing also helps me reach out to those who have been through similar struggles. The hip hop movement has always been about helping to keep youth-at-risk off the streets and it really worked for me. Sometimes, even parents come up to tell me that I have been a positive influence on their kids,” he says.

As such, DJ KoFlow remains deeply involved in Singapore’s hip hop scene, working with b-boy groups, rappers and graffiti artists, running DJing and music production workshops, as well as co-organising Zouk’s bi-monthly hip hop party Solid Gold. He has also collaborated with musicians from other genres – he recently did a concert with Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – because he wants to showcase the turntable as a legitimate music instrument.

DJ KoFlow’s upcoming solo show at the Esplanade, ‘FLOW – The Story of KoFlow’, is a multimedia cumulation of his life experiences, 17 years of work, and different facets of hip hop that he wants to introduce to Singaporeans.

“The main message I want to send through FLOW is this: if a someone like me can do it, you can do it as well. But I also hope to reach out to parents and persuade them to be more encouraging. I’ve seen so many kids’ artistic dreams destroyed by their parents. But you know what? You can make them do something else and they might just face the same problems anyway. You might as well let someone do something they love.”

Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

FLOW – A DJ’s Story of Ko will be on Fri 30 June 2017 at the Esplanade. It will also feature rapper Shigga Shay, b-boy crew Radikal Forze and musician Vandetta.  Click here for more information.

Check out one of his tracks, ‘Arab Street’, from the upcoming FLOW EP:

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