Editorial: The pOp cUltURe Is-U

Lim Cheng Tju

This is s/pores’ 6th year and 11th issue. We started slow with only 1 issue each for our first 2 years. Things stepped up in 2009 and 2010 when we managed 3 issues for both years. Last year had 2 issues and this looks like the only issue for 2012. Back to 1 issue a year. We actually had 2 other issues lined up but due to various reasons, they were not delivered.

But we are not in the business of making excuses, so this is our pop culture issue. We will leave the distinction between popular culture and pop culture to Chua Beng Huat in his overview. Actually this issue’s theme should not come as a surprise. We have touched on pop culture since our early days. #2 had a review of Invisible City and we spoke to Boo Junfeng about Sandcastle in #10. We had our first CD review in #3 when Joseph Tham reviewed 100 Greatest: Singapore 60s and our first comics review (Gone Case) in #9.

If you notice this issue to be different from our usual ‘academic’ style, it is intentional. We have taken a fanzine format for this issue (reviews, interview, comics, free ‘CD’, photo essay). We are slowly moving away from being stuck in the 1950s (to quote the editorial in #3) and 1960s history since #5, moving more into arts, culture and society. No wait, #7, the MIW issue, was about the 1950s and 1960s history too…

But really, it’s because I started writing with BigO magazine.

A few weeks ago, I was asked by Joseph Pereira to speak at the launch of his new book on Singapore 60s rock, Apache Over Singapore, at Select Books. Both of us wrote for BigO and for me, I cut my teeth there writing about music, movies and comics. I was in my teens then and it’s true what they say: rock n roll can save your life. A rock/pop magazine made all the difference to us who grew up reading and writing for BigO. That pop and politics do go together and culture, high or low, matters.

At the book launch, I talked about how we have come a long way since Led Zepellin was denied entry into Singapore and long haired undesirables were made to go to back of the queue at government offices. Now the state has embraced pop culture as a way to present us to the rest of world. Or rather, nation building has become more sophisticated. By all counts, Apache Over Singapore is an indie effort, published by Select Books. But the book is also funded by MICA’s Heritage Industry Incentive Programme (HI2P).

I am reminded by Clarissa Oon’s article on the TV school debates of the 1970s and 1980s that this is nothing new: the co-option of pop culture by the state. To quote: “the (TV) school debates were part of a conscious attempt by the establishment to create controlled platforms that could stimulate bright students and breed a future political, intellectual and cultural elite.” The use of the mass media to achieve this should not escape us.

But to quote Patti Smith: “We created it, let’s take it over.” We celebrate the underground and the alternative in pop culture. As Beng Huat correctly pointed out: “the practitioners of entertainment also assume the role of the critique of the mainstream society, culture and politics. The same applies to their audience/consumers. Not surprisingly, the ‘alternatives’ rather than the mainstream are generally more attractive to critical writing.”

One cannot get further away from the mainstream when we look at the music journey of Leslie Low. From Twang Bar Kings to Humpback Oak to The Observatory and his other side and solo projects, Leslie has been that spirit of independence. Listen to that alternative take of A Stone’s Throw Away that he offers us: “All alone may I stay/A stone’s throw away/From the sun?” An outlier to remind us of the dangers of staying too near the sun and get blinded by the gods.

It is fitting that we have X’Ho, the godfather of punk rock in Singapore, to review the new Observatory album. I have been wanting to get X to write for us because we owe a debt to his Pop Life column in The Straits Times, his 8 Miles High programme on Rediffusion and the column of the same name in BigO. I am glad he is in this issue. It would not be the same without X talking about the passion.

Another indie soul living out his passion to create something different is Shaun Sankaran who has chosen an unconventional path to showcase his music in Singapore through home gigs. We want to document that here because you won’t be seeing a review of it anytime soon in the mainstream press.

The Who sang “hope I die before I get old” in My Generation, which is the inspiration for BigO. We all get old eventually. So that division between indie and mainstream is artificial in any case as we move from being liberal to being conservative, from the left to the right. Perhaps it is to learn from the past, to prepare for the future while we live our present. I offer this clip from Legends of the Impacts, a short film about 60s rock that I was involved in, as a parting shot. Produced by independent film house M’GO Films, written by Ben Slater and directed by Jeevan Nathan, it featured a current indie favourite, The Pinholes playing their original music and a song by Mike & Herb and the Silver Strings, a 60s band, with an eye on what’s to come. This short film was co-funded by MDA, but to quote last issue, so what?

Rock on!


Introduction: Pop Culture in Singapore
Chua Beng Huat

An Interview with Sonny Liew
Lim Cheng Tju

“Model student” TV: The Inter-school Debates and the Politics of Education
Clarissa Oon

Review of Catacombs

Review of Sun Worshipper
Joseph Tham

A Stone’s Throw Away
Leslie Low

The Early Comics of Eric Khoo
Lim Cheng Tju

ART: An Interview with Cheo Chai Hiang
Yvonne Low

Shaun’s Home Parties: A Photo Essay
Introduction by Lim Cheng Tju

Review of Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise
Choy Kam Leong Larry

The Making of Ten Sticks and One Rice
Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng