When the British set up their military base on what local residents called Forbidden Hill in the 19th century, little did they know that one day, rock stars would invade it.
The Old Married Soldiers’ Quarters at Fort Canning Hill – once known as Bukit Larangan, Malay for the prohibited hill – is these days a sought-after space for concerts by indie and international bands.
The indoor location has seen acts such as hardcore bands Touche Amore from the United States and 50 Lions from Australia perform to crowds of more than 100.
Tattoo artist Andray Kwoh, 25, says of the conservation venue in the middle of green Fort Canning Park: “It’s quite a nice place to hang out at while waiting for the next band to set up.” He attended the 50 Lions gig in October last year.
Intimate, unusual venues such as these are becoming the choice du jour for music fans, as they crave getting up close to their idols in interesting, even rougharound- the-edges, settings.
Gigs are being held at venues as surreptitious as Pink Noize, a recording studio in North Bridge Road, and as versatile as gallery-cafe Artistry in Jalan Pinang, in the Bugis area.
Last week, American black metal band Deafheaven played to about 200 music fans at Beep Studios, a concert space in Bukit Merah Central, which opened in August last year and became a gig venue in January. It can hold a crowd of 400.
Beep’s owner, Mr Kevin Foo, 36, says his recording studio and gig space, housed in the former Spring Singapore building, was inspired by London’s Abbey Road studios, where Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles recorded their albums and also the site of secret shows. “This building has been around for decades and has a history to it,” he says of his studio.
Attendees say they like the intimacy and edgy vibe of these smaller-sized venues, which often accommodate fewer than 100 people, compared to the polished confines of, say, the Esplanade’s 1,600- seat concert hall or larger clubs such as Zouk, which can house several hundred.
Ms Nurin Rosli, who has been organising shows under the Crooz SG name for the past two years, has used Old Married Soldiers’ Quarters and The Substation in Armenian Street. Crooz SG’s smallerscale gigs attract fewer than 100 people.
On Sunday, it will present a line-up of independent hardcore bands from Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, at the multipurpose hall in Aliwal Arts Centre near Arab Street – a venue fast becoming popular for live music.
Says Ms Nurin, 24, who is a full-time nurse: “Most of us who do shows don’t have well-paid jobs, so we have to find affordable and good venues.” The charges at Aliwal Arts Centre can range from $500 to $900. In comparison, rental for the Esplanade’s 245-capacity recital studio can cost $1,200 for four hours. Holding a private event there on weekends or the eve of a public holiday incurs a peak surcharge of $1,200.
Aliwal Arts Centre’s place manager, Mr Evan Hwong, 33, says the centre has seen “a noticeable increase” in demand – he has been getting inquiries on a daily basis not only for gigs, but also for theatre and dance performances – since it held its Aliwal Urban Art Festival, featuring DJs, bands and street artists, in January.
On why Aliwal Arts Centre is a suitable venue for musicians hoping to crank it up to 11pm or so, he says: “There are no residences around, except for a few hotels, so it’s more forgivable to have gigs here.”
Artistry’s co-owner, Mr Prashant Somosundram, says his 800 sq ft gallerycum- cafe now holds gigs, spoken-word and other arts events “every other day”, compared to once a week a year ago.
On Tuesday, it hosted an experimental music night featuring Australian drummer Will Guthrie and home-grown artist and musician Bani Haykal, among others.
“We have bands approaching us, asking us to let them perform in the evenings after we close at 7pm,” says Mr Prashant, 34. “The nights are available for them. Concertgoers can come have a drink and watch the performance.”
He says he often allows bands to perform at his venue for free and sometimes gives them a cut of the bar sales. He rents out his gallery-cafe space for private events at $150 an hour.
Pink Noize, a second-storey shophouse studio space, last month hosted Canadian indie act Dirty Beaches’ gig for around 100 fans. Next week, Swedish dream-pop act Postiljonen will perform there.
Pink Noize owner Danial Rawi Bover says he set up the jamming studio-cumgig venue out of passion. The 23-year-old says: “I used to be in a band and was always looking for a space to jam. So I decided to open a studio and make it a gig space too.”
Pink Noize, which has a standing capacity of 100, has gigs lined up every week for the whole of this month.
Over at Ann Siang Hill, a 180-capacity two-storey shophouse bar called Gem Bar has started to pencil in world-class DJ acts on its entertainment roster. It hosted a gig by DJ Nu-Mark of American hip-hop group Jurassic 5, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy, in February last year.
The event was so successful that it prompted Gem’s owners, The Establishment Group, to continue bringing in wellknown music acts. In December last year, British DJ Sarah Love, dubbed the first lady of UK hip-hop, helmed the decks and rapped live at Gem.
In March, legendary Japanese hip-hop DJ-producer Krush also put on a set there.
Mr Gerald Ang, 36, a digital marketing director who enjoyed DJ Krush’s sold-out performance, says: “As long as it is professionally managed, venues such as Gem give music lovers a different experience.”
Concert promoters say opting for a cosy venue off the beaten gig path depends on the band and the type of gig.
Mr Tim Kek, 22, who has organised indie shows as managing director of entertainment company Symmetry for the past couple of years, is bringing in American post-rock band Tortoise and legendary 1990s British shoegaze band Slowdive. Tortoise plays at Aliwal Arts Centre on Tuesday and Slowdive at *Scape’s 500- capacity ground theatre on July 31.
“Aliwal Arts Centre is a nice venue with a lot of heritage and I felt it suited the calming and intricate music of Tortoise,” says Mr Kek. “For Slowdive, I wanted to recreate and bring back a warehouse kind of show.”
Still, some gig promoters are hoping for more improvement and variety in terms of venues.
Mr Errol Tan, 38, co-founder of indie label and gig promoter KittyWu Records and organiser of the recent Deafheaven show at Beep Studios, says: “I don’t think there are enough proper gig venues available in Singapore – gig venues such as the live houses that you would find in Japan, Taiwan or Europe.
“Most times, stages here are either too small or there is no stage at all. There’s no proper sound system in place and it’s too expensive to rent.”
A year ago, gallery space-cum-cafe Artistry in Jalan Pinang, near Arab Street, was organising arts and music events such as spoken-word readings and local indie music showcases on a weekly basis.
These days, the 800 sq ft space has an event going on every other day, says its co-owner Prashant Somosundram, 34.
The cafe operates till 7pm, after which the space is free to be utilised for gigs and arts-related events.
Artistry usually sponsors the venue for the artists to perform and sometimes offers a cut of the bar sales as payment to the performer.
Word of Artistry’s support for home-grown music talent has spread, says Mr Prashant, and more bands are approaching him to perform at his 60-capacity cafe in the evenings.
Artistry has regular music events such as StageFright, an open-mic night for new, relatively unknown acts; and Originals Sing, showcasing more seasoned artists.
On Tuesday, experimental music series C.H.O.P.P.A, which featured artists such as Australian drummer Will Guthrie and local artist-musician Bani Haykal, took place there.
For private events, such as album launch parties, Mr Prashant rents out the space for $150 an hour.
As gig-venue options increase in number, the challenge is in growing an audience base, he says. “For some of the events, you get an audience of only eight or nine people and it’s always the same faces.
“When you have multiple gigs going on, it’s not sustainable for a venue.”
Where: 17 Jalan Pinang
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm.
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/artistryspace for updates on upcoming music and arts events
OLD MARRIED SOLDIERS' QUARTERS
Located in Fort Canning Park, this conserved military building has been serving as a venue for music fans to head- bang to tunes by their favourite hardcore and punk bands.
Called the Old Married Soldiers' Quarters, the white building, together with the adjacent lawn, has been offered as a venue for hire since 2005. It is popular and often booked for wedding functions, as well as for events such as musical performances, notes Mr Chia Seng Jiang, director of parks, National Parks Board (NParks), which manages Fort Canning Park.
The indoor space can be rented for $600 a day, according to the official website run by NParks. It holds around 60 people indoors and 200 outdoors.
Bands such as Australian hardcore act 50 Lions and American hardcore band Touche Amore are among the international acts which have performed there in the past 11/2 years. Touche Amore played in November 2012, while 50 Lions performed in October last year.
Ms Nurin Rosli, 24, organiser of the two gigs, says: "We've done two shows at the venue and we love it there. We love intimate shows and we're pretty sure a lot of bands do as well."
She says the venue became a viable option after the White Studio, another space at Fort Canning Park run by NParks, became unavailable to rent in 2012.
Where: Fort Canning Park, 70 River Valley Road
Info: No upcoming gigs at the moment
Think of a venue featuring top DJs and, chances are, dance club Zouk in Jiak Kim Street, basement club Kyo in Cecil Street or soon-to-close underground music club Home in Upper Circular Road come to mind.
Now, add a little bar on Ann Siang Hill to that list.
In the past year, Gem Bar has brought in big names such as BBC radio presenter and DJ Sarah Love and Japan’s DJ Krush to perform.
Notable London electronic musician Om Unit and hyperdub DJ Scratch DVA have also played there.
The two-storey shophouse bar sits 60 upstairs and 120 downstairs. With nearby Club Street closed to traffic on weekends, it is common to see patrons spilling over onto the side of the street, each with a drink in hand.
Mr Ken Tan, 33, creative director of The Establishment Group, which owns Gem Bar, says: “We have a crowd that appreciates music heart and soul. So it’s important that the aural experience is discerning yet accessible.”
He says the group is hoping to bring in more iconic international DJs who have not played in Singapore before, such as British house music producer Steve Lawler and British trip-hop act Unkle.
In the meantime, dance music fans can catch some of the best local DJs in town from established music collectives such as Syndicate, Darker Than Wax and Matteblacc, along with DJs such as Darren Dubwise, Kurt and Maurice Simon, as they spin on weekends.
Where: Gem Bar, 10 Ann Siang Hill
Open: Monday to Saturday, noon to 2am
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/gemsingapore