Mark Koh on the perils of the dark alternative in Singapore…
Commonsense dictates that leather and 32 degree temperatures do not mix. PVC and 98 percent humidity are not remotely equitable, and neither do skintight corsets or copious-sunlight absorbing black agree well with the general weather of suffocating Singapore. Add to the brew a rather conservative and uptight population, a rigid authoritarian regime dedicated to conformity, social homogeneity and a success-obsessed, materialistic society, and the resulting concoction would be an environment less than ideal to pursue an alternative lifestyle within. But then again, it’s difficult to be a homosexual anywhere… in the world.
Consequently, the same applies to the adherents of the dark alternative lifestyle here. Yes, Singapore is hardly a gothic paradise, what with all that sun and sweat. There is hardly enough population for a substantial number of deviants to emerge and form a thriving, much less self-sustaining scene, as in other larger countries, and even then, scenes with enough interested members often suffer from an utter lack of support and apathy on the part of the participants who, in part due to their mindset, or partly due to their financial situation, scoff at the possibility and or credibility of the local scene and show no support, or take part without any real commitment and simply suckle off the results of the efforts and pains of others – such as the recent Interlace concert (www.designforanewbreed.com) held at Home Club (The Riverwalk B1-01/06, 20 Upper Circular Road) as a joint presentation by Rockstar Collective, Singapore Goth Covenant (goth.meetup.com) and Outbreed (www.outbreed.org) which only netted a modest turnout despite the vast following for the Swedish industrial trio.
Another notable Dark-Alternative thrust in the dark was Divine 9’s (www.divine9.net) December tour in Singapore, spanning Home Club, I.J Studios and concluding with Gashaus which certainly had the right amount of people, but all the wrong ones that clapped politely… in fear… while the Australian live industrial outfit thundered a cover of Prodigy’s “Breathe”.
Still, within the gothic scene several hardliners remain, diligently holding their fading black candle against the encroaching daylight.
One such revolutionary would be the highly regarded Sand Chai of Lost Soul fame, who ran the only specialist Goth Fashion store in Singapore from the mid-90s to sometime at the beginning of this millennium – shifting from the original Beach Road Military market site to the Golden Mile Tower Complex before disappearing into a truly couture-only agency. Being part of the original Far East Plaza ‘crew’ (which constituted long days on the stone tables outside the building in gear with my contemporaries), we have held our dear Sand as a veteran and an ?ber-goth with matronly regard.
A ccording to her: The Singaporean Gothics of yesterday were highly integrated with the live music scene (and still are) – joining peers in jamming sessions across the island. The Goths are “Very individualistic” and dressed in “cybergoth (industrial) and Victorian flavours, getting their clothing through a mix of local outlets or DIY”.
Sand cited the former Madmix, now known as Mad Factory (260 Orchard Road, #05-17 The Heeren), a collection of T-shirt centric shops in Peninsula Plaza and Lips Enterprise (14 Scotts Road #03-08 Far East Plaza) as resources for the shopping Goth, particularly for accessory items. One has to note that the outlets named do primarily cater to a metal market.
Collectives S.G.C., under leadership of Chris Choi, and Outbreed persist in bringing forth yet more ‘haven’ and hybrid Japanese rock events. As a whole, the greater part of the Singapore gothic population appears to be hiding, or worse yet, mutating into the niches of more popular subcultures such as the massive Cosplay and Japanese Rock scene and the ascendancy of the Drum and Bass scene – whose tunes have the same appeal as higher bpm Industrial and EBM sounds.
“Why, oh why, Mr. Anderson, do they persist?” Some don’t have a choice. Born to the goth, raised in black, they don’t know any other way of life. Others hold normal society in such disdain, that to even don the mortal trappings of conventional fashion would be heresy and personal failing of the highest order. Some see it as a way of life so familiar and comfortable they deign to change their wardrobe or sleeping hours out of sheer sloth, Sand related to me.
Whatever the cause, these brave, dark souls still live till dawn, shun the sun and don the black, temperature and government, society and parental objections be damned.
So the show goes on. It’s difficult, no doubt, but not impossible; other places come to mind where it would require nearly self-destructive commitment to pursue this lifestyle, like neo-conservative Iran, the Sahara desert, the steamy jungles of Borneo, the far flung wastes of Northern Siberia, for example, or Little Rock, Arkansas, tropical islands in the Caribbean, or maybe the Bronx. Singapore has sufficient night time transportation, opening hours, minimal social persecution, Internet access, urban havens, and an ostensible lack of religious police to suit even the most social and discerning goth, though excessive perspiration must be endured.
Perhaps it’s a compliment to the urban and social development of Singapore, that we have progressed to the point economically, politically, and culturally where we have, or can afford to, spawn a subculture so self-indulgent, so non-productive in the Marxist sense and so useless to society from a practical standpoint. That the social and economic infrastructure can support such a superfluous class of people stands as an achievement that we are approaching the standards set by western societies for the support of dependents and detritus who subsist on the efforts of those who work. But that’s not to say we contribute nothing, possibly only nothing physical; the contributions of the Gothic scene to Singaporean society are mostly intangible and metaphysical.
While the fringe benefits of goths being more cultured, educated and intellectual and therefore better inclined towards professional, white-collar jobs and hence the intellectual and cultural capital of the nation, are admissible, the main contribution I see is that of diversity, which is something this city needs desperately like a cookie monster starving after a week of cookie cold- turkey. Of course, the benefits of diversity are arguable but by and large, we liven up the social landscape, let people escape the drudgery of conventional fashion with our bizarre uniform and give colour, black of course, to an otherwise on-the-verge of being homogenised-to-death city.
Likewise, our cousins in the punk scene – those fair faces gracing the eternal moshpit that is I.J studios (#06-18, Gordon Industrial Building), Prohibited Projects and Lion City DIY events do the same, albeit in a more destructive, anti-establishment way, and so does the ska scene, the artistic Noise/electro scene centred around Flux us (www.flux-us.com.sg), the skater scene, the glitterati and celebrity set – nationalistic X’Ho (www.xhosux.com), and so do the b-boys and girls, the transvestites outside Orchard Towers, Kumar with his jet-setting Gold Dust (1 Claymore Drive, #02-11 Orchard Towers) population, and certain kinds of gay men.
So be kind to the next Goth you see in Singapore, and perhaps offer him a tissue to wipe his perspiration, otherwise one day, when you can find no colour in the store to wear to a funeral, and you forget that your mortality is but a heartbeat away, the system kills the last vestige of the dark aesthetic and everyday you go out to face the identically attired, cookie cutter crowds of indistinguishable robot Singaporeans, you’ll stop to wonder where all the shadows went but you’ll never remember. Because you’d have nyctalopia by then, and you can’t see the dark for the day.