Diplo's label signs on self-taught Singaporean EDM producer

Musician Manfred Lim, 20, was approached after Diplo heard his work online

Manfred Lim (above) performs as Myrne.
Manfred Lim (above) performs as Myrne. ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Big-name American music producer Diplo's label has signed a 20-year-old Singaporean who taught himself how to programme dance beats on a computer at home.

On Oct 20, the popular record label Mad Decent released Manfred Lim's five-track EP titled Softsins. He is now billed as an indie- electronic producer on Mad Decent's roster, responsible for future bass tracks with a touch of R&B and soul.

The track that drew its interest is Lim's remix of To U, a single by Jack U, the duo comprising Diplo and Skrillex who are behind Justin Bieber's comeback single Where Are U Now.

"I listened to To U and thought, I have to put my own spin on it," says Lim, who uploaded the track To U (Myrne Redux) to popular online music platform Soundcloud seven months ago.

Mad Decent's creative director Paul Devro heard it on a mixtape on Soundcloud and contacted him in April.

He says in an e-mail reply to Life: "I hear a certain seriousness and emotion in Lim's music that really stands out. It still is very upbeat."

He asked Lim if he had any more tracks to show. So, over the next two months, Lim crafted Softsins.

The Singaporean musician, who is currently a national serviceman and performs as Myrne, admits that he was "pretty starstruck" when Diplo's right-hand man approached him. He was worried he would not be up to the mark.

But he went for it, thinking, "Even if the deal with Mad Decent fails, I'm going to put out five solid tracks anyway."

The EP underwent some tweaks, with Mr Devro replacing the original vocalists - Lim's girlfriend, who wants to be known as JJ, and local indie singer Linying - on two tracks with those from Mad Decent's roster, including LIZ and Elkka. JJ still features on two other tracks.

Diplo, one of the producers on Madonna's Rebel Heart album released earlier this year, heard Softsins before agreeing to sign Lim, according to Mr Devro. "Diplo was stoked about the music and was really excited that Lim was from Singapore."

Download figures are not available, but the lead track Brand New has received more than 89,000 plays in the two weeks since it was released.

Lim admits that when he first shopped his music to Singapore- based label Darker Than Wax, who turned him down, he "wasn't ready".

Two months before Mad Decent came knocking on his door, he had found himself a manager in the form of Belgium-based music label Philosophy Recordings, which had discovered him through Soundcloud.

With a manager, securing contracts, paperwork and all the "dirty work", as he puts it, were a breeze when Mr Devro made contact.

Lim, a classically trained pianist who has a Grade 8 certificate, started tinkering with his basic set-up out of his bedroom in a three-room apartment from the age of 17, while he was still studying at St Andrew's Junior College.

He says: "Electronic dance music was new to me. I used to listen to four-piece bands, indie rock and pop. When I chanced upon this genre, I was hooked."

Armed with audio software, a keyboard and a basic set-up of his Windows laptop, instead of the MacBooks that most DJs favour, and monitor speakers, he found his style after learning from YouTube tutorials and some experimenting.

He created what he describes as "shabby beats and really short one- minute loops", relying on the feedback of his friends and Soundcloud comments to improve himself. Subsequently, he saved $400 to buy a basic set of plugins - which are building blocks used to make or modify sounds - to produce remixes of popular songs that he would upload on his Soundcloud account, which he named Myrne because he was inspired by the book How Music Works by David Byrne of influential American new wave band Talking Heads.

Last month, he secured a regular Friday night DJ set at South Beach Quarter club, Vanity. He was approached by lifestyle group Massive Collective, who had heard his material.

"DJ-ing is a hobby, but producing will always be my passion," he says. He hopes to incorporate live instrumentation such as keyboards and drums in his set.

With less than a year to go before he starts his social sciences course at the Singapore Management University, he hopes he can fit in some touring. His management is in talks with booking agents in Europe.

Lim has already chalked up some live experience, opening for American rapper Lil Jon and playing alongside Asian-American DJ Atran after being approached by organisers.

They played to a crowd of 5,000 revellers at the Prisma Night Run in Ho Chi Minh City last November.

"It was eye-opening seeing everyone raving together," he recalls.

His mother, Madam Connie Looi, 49, is supportive of her elder child's interest in a career in electronic dance music, but understands the demands of the fickle-minded scene.

She says: "We'd like him to balance his education and music career, but we don't want him to lose the chance to do music either."

She and Lim's 52-year-old father own a real estate company. Lim has a younger sister, aged 14, who is studying at the School of Arts, Singapore.

Lim says he is in music for the long haul. "I would rather have top quality releases every time than one big hit. Hopefully, once placements are more regular and I do a bit more touring with DJ-ing, I'll be able to make an honest career out of it."

Looking beyond record labels

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline Diplo's label signs on self-taught Singaporean EDM producer. Subscribe