We speak to Cherry Chan, a Red Bull Music Academy alumna, who tells us more about her experience at RBMA and the friendships and gigs that have transpired as a result.
Not everyone makes it to the Red Bull Music Academy, but then again Cherry Chan isn’t just anyone. As both the co-founder of music collective Syndicate and a DJ who has played alongside artists such as Flying Lotus, Four Tet and more, Cherry Chanhas certainly built a name for herself in Singapore’s music scene. We had a chat with Cherry to find out more about what the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) experience entails.
Prior to Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA), how long were you dabbling in music for?
I’ve been collecting and putting together music since I was 12 or so. It was rather normal back then as we didn’t have social networks, fast Internet or mobile phones to play with. I remember taping music videos off the TV using the VCR so that I could have my own video mix-tape, and sitting for hours in front of the radio so that I could record selected songs off it. DJ-ing wise, I started somewhere between 2002 to 2003, when I got my first pair of turntables.
What made you decide to try out for RBMA back in 2010?
Kiat, co-founder of music collective Syndicate, was the one who told me about RBMA and invited me to apply.
What were some of the highlights during your time at RBMA?
Too many to speak of, ranging from the friendships, to the gigs, and the lectures by various musical heroes. I even went to a gig that was set in a rollerskating rink, where Moodymann played whilst everyone else skated around. The experience itself celebrates the spirit of making and sharing music in a very open environment. It’s best to be there physically in the Academy to feel its magic. My favorite lectures include the session where we met Cluster, the German experimental band which has been putting out work since 1970s; another with Dr. Peter Zinovieff from Electronic Music Studios, the studio which made the famous VCS3 synths in the 60s that was used by Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Kraftwerk; and last but not least, Aba Shanti!
Besides improving on your existing techniques/skills at RBMA, did you learn anything that was completely new to you at that time?
You get to jam and make beats with the other participants, picking up some tips along the way. It’s not really a school with super technical workshops. Rather, you get a glimpse into the worlds of all these other artists, sharing what they know in an intimate and creative-rich setting that’s a rarity.
Where did the other participants hail from, and are you still in contact with them?
I have kept in contact with some and also booked them to play in Singapore at Syndicate gigs. They are Kidkanevil (UK), Tokimonsta (USA), B Bravo (USA), Daisuke Tanabe (Japan), Sauce81 (Japan) and Isaac Aesili (New Zealand), whom I met through Debbie Chia, another Singapore RBMA alumni.
Seeing as to how music styles differ from region to region, which country would you like to immerse yourself into, to gain exposure to other forms of music that could put you work on another level?
I don’t usually reference traditional music or musical styles for inspiration. If I have to pick a country, though, for now it would be Iceland or Greenland. I like listening to the sounds of glaciers and the locations’ remoteness.
We’ve read somewhere that you and your husband Kiat, are known as Mr. and Mrs. X in the RBMA world. You guys help Singapore artists in their submission to RBMA. How exactly do you assist the artists?
We’re just friendly local contacts for those who may have questions about RBMA. We help to answer their questions and also organize RBMA info sessions with guest artists (usually alumni of RBMA) so they can have a better understanding of what the academy is about.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians/DJs who want to give RBMA a shot?
Set aside a few days to fill up the application form as it is lengthy. They do want to know you as a person, and it’s not a talent competition, so just be honest and have fun when applying!
How is Singapore’s underground music scene at the moment? Is “the next big thing” set to come from there?
It’s great. We have a lot more beat-makers and musicians now, more independent labels, etc. I’m wary of calling anything or anyone the next big thing, only because it sounds more like a short lived thing. It would be great to have the mainstream audience checking out more of the underground scene in Singapore. They might find their own perceptions altered pleasantly.
Many young people are keen to be DJs and musicians. How can they get started, especially here in Singapore?
There are a ton of places these days which you can learn from, even the Internet is good. But beyond learning the technical skills, it’s really important to build your music sensibility, knowing where you want to be, and putting in the time for it. E-TracX is a good DJ school where you can get started.
Check out Syndicate’s Facebook page to see more of Cherry’s work!
This interview has been edited and condensed.