Follow Singapore-bred and Berlin-based electronic music label Midnight Shift deep into the moving soundscapes of the night.
In the mental maps and imaginations of many clubgoers and artists around the world, and within the global music industry in general, Singapore is no more than a little red dot with the sale of gum notoriously prohibited and drugs heavily criminalized. The pandemic, which has silenced the island’s once vibrant nightlife and live music scenes for two years, has further threatened the previously high (and even credible) aspirations of many in the local scene to make Singapore known for its nightlife and music.
On the eve of what seems to be a promising reopening of nightlife in Singapore, we caught up with Singapore-bred and Berlin-based label Midnight Shift to learn more about their work and experience at the crux of a very unlikely yet remarkable axis between the two cities. Beginning in 2009 as a series of house and techno parties where the headliners were announced hours to the event, Midnight Shift was formed in response to the commercialization and EDM-ification of nightlife on the island, with the goal of keeping the underground scene alive, dancing, and also connected to a global community. Since moving to Berlin in 2016, co-founders/conspirators and power-couple Kavan Spruyt and Debbie Chia continue to work with their largely Singapore-based team, not only making waves on the island but also around the world with their global roster of artists. Driven by a love for music and their community, Midnight Shift stays true to their name, developing to explore new projects, sounds, and experiences, while never losing touch with where they come from or what they stand for.
The Midnight Shift Crew
How has Midnight Shift evolved over the years?
Kavan: During our formative years, we were looking out for both established and up-and-coming talent globally. Now, as we grow, we are looking more inwards and doing interesting projects with people we love and know personally. As you will see from our upcoming projects, we are starting to release more albums than before, as we (think we) found the meaning to storytelling.
You moved to Berlin from Singapore in 2016. From your perspective, how has the music and club scene in Berlin changed over the years?
Kavan: In certain ways the scene has not changed, and sometimes consistency is great. But almost everyone I know in Berlin is taking the extra effort to encourage diversity (in every meaning of the word) in work spaces and line up bookings. I also see more women in positions of power too, which is such a welcoming change.
What do you think is in store for the future of Berlin’s club and electronic music scene?
Kavan: We need to assimilate ourselves further before we can say (I do not want to comment as I am not fluent in German yet!). But people are much more open-minded to different formats and styles of music, as compared to pre-Covid times, and I think we will continue on this trend.
“Singapore taught us discipline and hard work whilst Berlin has taught us to release the mental restrictions we have been personally bound to.”
Unlike nightlife in Berlin, nightlife in Singapore takes the back burner, and the pandemic restrictions have been intense. What do you think is in store for the future of the island’s nightlife and music scene?
Clifford: I think the downtime from the pandemic has allowed many clubgoers to sit back and listen to the music for the music itself, and for DJs to play music for what it is rather than to get people to dance. With live streams being the norm now, we are seeing more DJs break away from four-to-the-floor dance rhythms and instead explore sounds made for deep listening. I also see people starting to appreciate electronic music on a more intimate level, which is interesting. I am excited to see how these eclectic styles will surface when the clubs finally reopen.
“I am excited to see how these eclectic styles will surface when the clubs finally reopen.”
How is nightlife important in Singapore, and how can awareness around its significance be raised?
Naomi: Most importantly, the pandemic has threatened the livelihoods of those who have dedicated themselves to music. Folks are unable to showcase their craft and earn a living. The restrictions over the last two years have also quashed the novelty of forming new encounters on the dancefloor and finding a spiritual experience through music, which do not fit within traditionally “approved” boxes but are nonetheless important.
I am not looking for an excuse to “party wildly”—some people might categorize it as so. What I mean is that nightlife venues are probably the only spaces where one can listen to certain types of music. The clubs are a catalyst, an introduction, to the world of alternative electronic music genres that one might not have heard of before—or at least it was for me.
Moving forward, I think it is important that we expand what is considered culture to include many genres. All music belongs to culture and fosters meaning to the human experience. No one should dictate what kind of culture is approved or vetoed. Listening to acid and techno in a concrete basement is as valid and “cultural” as listening to a Chopin mazurka in a concert hall. Once we have the stereotypes out of the way, then awareness would not be much of an issue.
“We are very resilient. When one door closes, either another one opens or we open the window.”
Even though the clubs have been closed for two years, the music never dies. What Singapore-based artists should we be on the lookout for?
Naomi: We are very resilient. When one door closes, either another one opens or we open the window. So we seek out new ways of experiencing music that is not restricted to only the dancefloor.
There are loads of homegrown artists that have come before my generation that I respect, but it is a shame that I have only recently discovered most of them. I revere the sonic artistry of Zul Mahmod, one of Singapore’s leading sound artists. I encountered his work in a Singapore Art Week show titled Proposals for Novel Ways of Being: Strange Forms of Life. I am fascinated by the science of sound and how it is perceived individually, and Mahmod’s work allowed me to exercise both my brain and emotions and interpret things in my own way.
I also recommend the experimental duo PUPA, founded by my friends Wu Jun Han and Zeekos Perakos. They opened my mind to the possibilities of everyday sound recordings and finding the beauty in what we perceive as typical and mundane (people speaking, birds chirping, etc.). Art imitates life, and life is all about perspective. And all perspectives can be valid.
Clifford: Planeswalker is one of the upcoming artists that I am most excited about. He has been constantly pushing the boundaries of ambient music, breaking away from environments where rhythmless and sound-scaping music can be appreciated, which is amazing to see. Given everything going on in the world, his musical compositions have been somewhat emotional and intimate in storytelling.
What projects is the label working on now?
We are releasing albums from a collaboration with an established Singaporean experimental band, and revisiting some of our previous artists such as Brenecki, Nico, Kirk Degiorgio, Prequel Tapes, and Rivet. There are also some new additions to the family: Appleblim, Adam Wedge, Cocktail Party Effect, Christoph De Babalon, CTRLS, Julianna, Lag, Kamikaze Space Programme, Katatonic Silentio, Kiat and more.
“Listening to acid and techno in a concrete basement is as valid and ‘cultural’ as listening to a Chopin mazurka in a concert hall.”– Naomi Xiao
What are your hopes for the future of the label?
Naomi: I hope that we continue to perpetuate an ethos of showcasing the beauty of music, in all its forms, to everyone who happens and wants to listen. Even if it touches the heart of one person, that is enough for me to know that what we are doing is providing someone with a new way of feeling and sensing.
Finally, how did you select the tracks for this mixtape?
Kavan: We collected the top few favorite tracks from each crew member. I listened to the tracks and decided to do a mix with no restrictions in timing or consideration for anything else, took one take and here it is. I tried to represent our spirit as a team in the mix, with no holds barred and zero prejudice. Just shy of 40 minutes, I hope people will enjoy the changes throughout.
Midnight Shift is a Singapore-bred and Berlin-based electronic music label and events entity. With an artist roster that spans the globe, Midnight Shift is constantly evolving and making waves in their two home cities and abroad. To stay up to date with releases and upcoming projects, follow Midnight Shift on Instagram, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud.
This piece is part of our growing Mixtape Features, where we invite creatives from around the world to select tracks for the community and share more about their story. For more sound selections from the Singapore nightlife scene, check out Mixtape #128 and #161 by friend, DJ, and interior designer Dean Chew (aka Funk Bast*rd).
Text: Anastasiya Varenytsya
Photography: Matin Latif