The “Pioneer” Generation
“[The punk scene] started to be active here around the late ’80s and I joined it around 1992 or 1993. I consider [the scene that I was a part of as] the second wave of Singapore’s underground scene with the first wave comprising of people like Chris Ho and [bands like] Corporate Toil, Opposition Party and The Oddfellows. The hardcore and punk scene became more active later on, with bands such as Stompin’ Ground and The Pagans though there were different factions – for example, Stompin’ Ground was more hardcore while The Pagans was more indie. There were also sub-genres such as shoegaze and jangle pop.
We would all congregate for gigs at The Substation, which was the main place for gigs at the time. If you managed to play one there, it would be considered a really big deal. These gigs would last almost the entire day with bands from different genres playing. We [also] used to hang out on the steps of Forum The Shopping Mall – all the punks with their leather jackets and studs and mohawks; the skinheads – we’d hang out there and it was evident that I was part of the minority being one of the few girls and Chinese.”
“At that point in time, the government had banned ‘slam-dancing’, which was basically moshing, even though the perception that it was violent was unfounded. It wasn’t about fighting or anything like that, though sometimes fights did happen because of egos and a lot of testosterone.
A lot of people were also active in making zines. I made my own called CherryBomb Press, a riot grrrl and feminist zine. There were also straight-edge zines – done by people who professed to be vegans or abstained from sex – and even anarcho zines. We put out zines because we couldn’t find publications that really spoke to us then.
[Local music zine-format publication] BigO was great, but it didn’t cover things like anarchism or riot grrrl culture. It was not tailored specifically for the punk audience and could be a little too artistic for people to grasp. It’s funny thinking about it now because we were content creators in our own way, putting down our thoughts on typewriters and cutting and pasting everything by hand.”
Hello, Psycho Sonique
“Psycho Sonique [started in 1992] was about melodic punk rock. We all used to hang out at this legendary jamming studio called TNT (at Parklane Shopping Mall) that’s still around now. We set out to be an all-girl band with credit going to the group’s founder Lynn Nawee. She was tired of not being heard, which I too felt in my previous band, from which I could have been kicked out any time and replaced by someone else. And all we did were covers of songs that the guys wanted to cover.
[Named after Psychosonic Cindy, a song by the ’80s British alt-rock band Transvision Vamp], we wanted to normalise the scene for other girls. In my time, females didn’t have representation in the scene locally, and Psycho Sonique was the first [all-female punk band], influenced by punk bands such as X-Ray Spex (the British band fronted by female punk pioneer Poly Styrene).”
We’re With Her
“Girls were novelties in the scene then – mostly girlfriends of band members. The mosh pits could get very rowdy and girls would sit at the back, holding their boyfriends’ bags and were generally not active participants. A lot of us felt very sidelined and it was intimidating for us to go into The Substation because there was a sense of uncertainty. Every time we joined the mosh pit, we’d get molested.
The first time Psycho Sonique got to play at The Substation, a lot of boys turned up because the idea of an all-girl punk band was so exotic and too much for them to take. At many gigs, we got catcalled or booed with the likes of ‘Get off the stage. You girls can’t play.’ Things like that won’t happen now because there’s a level of respect for the performer, whether you like the music or not, but it was not like that back then. We had people coming on stage while we were playing; taking rude photos of us and just generally invading our personal space, which by the way, didn’t exist as a concept then.
Later on, Psycho Sonique got more popular, especially in Malaysia. Singapore and Malaysia at the time were like brother scenes with zines from here and Kuala Lumpur interviewing one another and bands finding popularity in both places. Still, we got asked all sorts of absurd questions. There was a journalist from a local tabloid who asked us, ‘So what do your boyfriends think of you playing in a band?’ We were like, ‘If you don’t ask male musicians this, why should it be any different with us girls?’ With my punk music, it was always about trying to change the power structures of the scene, which was and continues to be male-dominated. Our band; the bands that followed; and the girls who are playing today have all helped to normalise the experience of women being punk and playing underground music.”
This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of FEMALE.