BY PHIL HOOD
Singapore is one of the world’s smallest nations, a sovereign city-state, but also one of the richest. And, lucky for us, it’s got a thriving drum scene. We spoke with Benny Lim of Singapore Drum Shop about it.
Benny is an enthusiastic supporter of drumming in Southeast Asia, and of music in Singapore. And, he’s proud of his drum shop. In 2013 he was the top Asia Pacific Pork Pie Dealer and the top CRX cymbals distributor. We spoke with Benny and some of his friends including drummers Brandon Khoo, Alfe Kim, and Tony Zee.
DRUM! Why did you open Singapore Drum Shop?
Benny Singapore Drum Shop started after I returned home from a visit to the largest DW dealer in the US,Cymbalfusion, after an internship in 2013. Upon my return, I realized that there weren’t any drum stores in Singapore that operated the same way that these US stores operate. I decided to start Singapore Drum Shop in an attempt to bring the drumming community something that they deserved.
DRUM! Do you plan to hold events in the store?
Benny I plan to hold a few events in my store, and in fact I have just hosted one recently. I invited Shakira’s Drummer Brendan Buckley, who was in town with Singaporean Artist JJ Lin, to my shop for a meet-and-greet session. We used the studio in my store to do a drum jam with several local drummers.
We have plans to do a drum clinic with either Brendan Buckley or Aaron Spears as well as a clinic with Daughtry’ s wonderful drummer Robin Diaz, who is a Pork Pie endorser. Clinics like these are rarely found in Singapore. I feel that as much as I can make money from selling gear, I have to give back to the community and do something educational and meaningful for them.
DRUM! What brands do you carry?
Benny I carry Kat percussion, TRX and CRX cymbals, Pork Pie Drums, Crush, Premier and a lot of accessories, including, Ahead, Cymbag, Cympad, Black Widow Drum Webs, Groove Juice, Regal Tip, Aquarian and others. We also have DG cajons, Paolo Degregorio lives, breathes, and sleeps Cajon and his is a great Cajonero as well as craftsman. We also carry Audio-Technica Microphones and other products.
DRUM!How active is the overall drum scene in Singapore?
Tony It is generally good with lots of drum students and drum teachers due to the fact that Singapore is really promoting the arts. A good number of musicians are starting to pick up musical instruments due to influences from churches and schools. Churches are actively promoting bands. Some drum teachers in Singapore have 40-50 students which is a positive sign.
Brandon Very active, there are lots of amazing drummers in Singapore. We’ve got many up and coming drummers that I’m very excited to witness their growth.
DRUM! Where do people go to learn in Singapore?
Tony Academy Of Rock, Trinity Music College, La Salle, schools with international teachers.
Alfe For a start, there’s Yamaha Music School, a place with great history and tradition of having some of the pioneer Singapore professional drummers. The teachers who have taught at this school include Anthony Fong, Hensen Beng, James Chan and Lim Wee Guan (drummer for The Quests, Singapore’s most popular band in the 1960s). Also, I should mention the Academy Of Rock, My Drum School, The Music Lab, The Music Academy, and the Music Clef as some of the popular schools for learning drums right now.
Thunder Rock School, inspired by the late Wayne Thunder (drummer for popular rock band The Suns) has a refreshing take on the approach to music education in Singapore.
DRUM! Who do you consider the top local drummers?
Alfe Singapore has had a very vibrant and active drumming scene for many years and top drummers of Singapore’s past and present include Tony Zee, Jimmy Lee, Tama Goh and Brandon Khoo. Singapore jazz pioneer Louis Soliano was considered at one time in the 1980’s the best drummer in Asia, and had accompanied jazz legends Bette Davis, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughn and Shirley Bassey in the 1960s.
Tony Zee has had an enduring, productive career, and he continues to perform actively after over 40 years on the drum throne. Jimmy Lee is one of Asia’s top drummers and is often first-call sessionist for Taiwanese megastars such as A-mei.Tama Goh, the man behind the drumkit for Cultural Medallion winner Jeremy Monteiro’s jazz band, has been a teacher and mentor to generations of Singapore drummers. Notably, in recent years, Brandon Khoo as well. Brandon has been very active in the regional scene especially in promoting drum education.
DRUM! What clubs do musicians play?
Tony Hotel clubs, in the ’70s and ’80s, the hotels just came out, Hotel Malaysia, The Hilton, Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental, They had discos, lounges and live bands. Clubs like Neptune, Hard Rock Café, they had three to four bands every night.
In the ’90s the scene changed. The clubs cut down a lot of bands and used music-minus-one tracks and also used smaller bands. There were less discos around in general.
Alfe More recently places like China Jump, Wala Wala Cafe Bar, Bala Clava and the Crazy Elephant became popularly associated with live bands. Today we are seeing a renaissance of live band music in Singapore. They are many places where one can find live bands and drummers, this list is hardly exhaustive but what I can think off the top of my head are: Blu Jaz, which is a place where all the jazz, funk, soul, R&B musos gather, Wala Wala is as popular as ever, Hard Rock Cafe is alive and kicking, the Crazy Elephant which has become an establishment for the blues faithful, Timbre Music outlets such as the Substation, The Arts House, Switch, Gillman. Also Hood Music Bar, Bala Clava (which has relocated to Orchard Ion), Shuffle Bistro Bar, Beer Market, Fern & Kiwi, Madmen, CMP-B, China One, The Bungy Bar, Le Noir, Kuro Bar which is newly opened. The list goes on and on… and that is a good thing!
DRUM! Is there a recording scene in Singapore?
Tony In the ’70s and ’80s every week drummers would record two albums on average. There was no internet and the recording scene was very good. A lot of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysian recordings were made, but not so many with Singaporean artists.
Alfe From the late ’90s there was an explosion of recordings from the independent music scene. This carried over and what we see now is an active recording scene with many studios and producers around and options for local musicians to record their music. Notable mentions go to the following studios and their owner/producers:
- Myx Music Studios. Jerry Chua who not only engineers and produces, is himself a prolific and acclaimed drummer in his own right. His production & drum work on Arun Shenoy’s Rumbadoodle earned a nomination at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
- Snakeweed Studios. Leonard Soosay, is arguably one of Singapore’s most famous & well-known independent music producers and sound engineers, has produced and recorded over 500 local artists since 1997, such as Electrico, Ronin, and Parking Lot Pimp.
- TNT Music Studios. Ah Boy, a stalwart and an enduring supporter of local indie music for almost 25 years whose production credits mirror the history of local indy music pioneers.
- Sync Studios. Roland Lim, who is quickly becoming a very in-demand producer to work with, both locally and regionally.
- Last but not least, Inversion Studios. Cedric MV is assisted by a strong team and their work is popular with the local metal fraternity.
DRUM! What is the state of music education in Singapore?
Tony Classical music education is doing very well the music education, with many teachers and opportunities.
Brandon It is actually generally pretty good. There are many music instructors in Singapore but seeing how music education normally brings out the best in a student, we need to bring out quality rather than quantity.
DRUM! Which international drummers are influential in Singapore?
Brandon It has always been the big 3, Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl for the longest time but through the years the progressive genre giants such as Mike Portnoy, Virgil Donati, Mike Mangini, Matt Halpern and Gavin Harrison has moved up the popularity scale, then in this recent years it has been the gospel guys, such as Chris Dave, Aaron Spears, Teddy Campbell, Gerald Hayward…etc. So many, i could go on and on.
[Editor’s Note: Since the article appeared we’ve heard from several Singaporean drummers who were glad to see the spotlight shown on their country. Drummer Valerie Tang wrote to add information about the Singapore Drum Fest, an important event in the history of Singaporean drumming. “I clearly recall attending Singapore Drum Fest in 2007. It was the first major drum festival in Singapore, with 11 great drummers including Tony Royster Jr and Jojo Mayer. There was a drum competition for aspiring drummers in conjunction with the Drum Festival. That’s just one of the few drum clinics that was organized by the Singapore Drum Fest Team. Others include Will Kennedy and Benny Greb.” The last Singapore Drum Fest was in 2010.]