Midnight Shift – Singaporean Techno Label

Voici une interview (en anglais) du label techno singapourien Midnight Shift que j’ai realisée pour le collectif musical We Dig… The Only Way Is Underground.

Je reproduis ici l’article du site de We Dig… The Only Way Is Underground avec l’aimable autorisation de ses administrateurs, Saâd, Souhail et Fayçal.

Pendant que vous lisez l’article, je vous recommande d’écouter le mix qu’Eddie Niguel, artiste de Midnight Shift, a réalisé pour We Dig… The Only Way Is Underground. Vous trouverez la liste des morceaux qui le composent à la fin de l’article.

When I left France for Singapore five months ago, I left behind a growing French techno music scene and was a bit afraid of what I would find in Singapore. But I knew that Xhin came from here, and that Zouk is often ranked in the top five best clubs of the world, so I had some hope. A few days after I arrived, I went to a new club’s opening, kyo. That night, I understood that I would miss France for farm cheese and “saucisson”, but definitely not for techno and house! Later I met Kavan Spruyt and also a few other artists from the events organisation and label Midnight Shift. So when Saad from We Dig offered me to meet Midnight Shift, I was looking forward to finally discover more about the people behind Singapore’s techno scene.

I met Kavan and Eddie Niguel on a sunny afternoon at The Vault. Kavan is the man who created Midnight Shift a few years back. An introduction to Midnight Shift can best be found from their website: “Singapore – A spirited entity grounded in sound, an electronic music events and label uprising bringing the emerging and established together in production and performance on one global stage.”

Kavan Spruyt

Eddie Niguel is one of the main acts who has been on the label from the very beginning. During our discussion, I discovered two guys that are doing good parties for good reasons. Two men that are nice and humble. Anyway, you will soon see this for yourself through the interview below.

Eddie Niguel

Nicolas: So, first, what is Midnight Shift? Why did you create it? Who is behind? What is the purpose?

Kavan: God! [Laughs] I think maybe I would like to go back to the story where we were seeing a change, especially in Singapore, where we had people like Damian Lazarus, a hugely popular DJ and label owner of Crosstown Rebels playing to just ten people on the dance floor in a huge room. And I was also seeing a trend shift towards stuff like (back then we did not even call it EDM) electro. You know, like Justice or even Steve Aoki, or I think at that time David Guetta was not that big but like Shinichi Osawa, for example. So those things were becoming big and I felt that a part of music, in terms of techno, and not just techno, but house as well, was slowly fading away. So we came up with an idea. I even spoke to Eddie about it and said that maybe let’s try to do an event. Let’s concentrate more about the event itself rather than putting a big name out there and using the name to bring in people. But let’s create a concept that would actually bring people together in a sense by it being free. And if you come to the party and you listen to the music and you like it even more, you will come again. If you don’t like it, fine, you know, there is no stress. We wanted it to be free and we wanted it to be no names being mentioned, especially for the international acts. Lastly, we would make sure that local DJs get a prime time slot before the guests come and not just play to get the right amount of people on the floor before the international act goes on. So that is how Midnight Shift was born.

The first few that we had early on in the first two years had problems because: one, it was a free party. Two, I believe that even for the very first party that we did, nobody believed in us at all. Everybody thought “OK, it is crap, man”, you know, “It is not proven, and what have you got to say that yours will work.” And after we sort of lost about, well personally, my life savings, people just started coming to us and talking to us and soon we were lucky enough to have sponsorships, even clubs that would work together with us. Even for Zouk, we did a good one-and-a-half years over there, almost two. And that is how it was born. After that, during the course of the events, we did not just want the music to reach out locally. The label was actually set up as an engine to promote the music on an international scale, whether it was regional or whether it was to Europe, Germany. It was just sort of a way to say that “Hey, people are doing something here in Singapore too”. And I think it is on an international standard. Even our local guys who are playing or local producers such as Eddie are playing on an international standard as well. That is how the label is born. From then on, when the label was born I also had another idea. We brought in a couple of guests and, because of the relationship we had, it was not just about bringing the international guest in to play and then screw off, you know. It was also about them coming here, doing workshops, getting to know people and after that we became friends and when I sort of pitched to them the idea of a label, they were saying “Yeah, why not. We really like what you are doing and we would really like to be part of it”. One of our first artists is Stuart who is Basic Soul Unit, of course. So Stuart was actually very happy to play out with Eddie. They spoke, they became friends as well. The intention was actually to make sure both artists get noticed. And Eddie is relatively, well he has been around for very long but maybe there was a bit of a low period from his winning the Get Physical remix competition. He won the first prize. After that he was still doing stuff but, as with any other producer, it is always hard to pitch your tracks to huge labels unless you are already acquainted. So when Midnight Shift was born I was picturing the idea of him as well as Stuart. When I asked Stuart “Why don’t we do a party and when we do a release we do like a split release.” So at least it does not go unnoticed and you know people will talk about it. So that is how the label was born, actually. But there are a lot of other stories. But I think that is the main, in a way. [To Eddie] Have you got anything to add?

Eddie: I think Midnight Shift is a collective. I personally feel that it is all about opportunities, especially for someone who is pretty unknown, like me and to have a label that really cares for your music. You work really hard to have the music marketed and reached to new regions. Getting a lot of feedback and support from the press, or even other labels taking notice after my release on Midnight Shift. It really opened up a lot of other doors. People started to “Hey, who is this guy? His music is not bad. Let’s hear some more.” Or I get emails from other labels asking me if I am interested to put out some music for them. But I am really happy with where I am right now with Midnight Shift, you know. I think that whatever they are doing for getting established international producers to conduct workshops here. This is an educational process that not many labels are investing in. It shows, you know, when a label cares about the scene. This is not a label about money and party, it is more than that.

Nicolas: It is about sharing with international acts and trying to do things together and uniting the strengths?

Eddie: Yeah, it is like a community, yeah.

Kavan: Even Mike Huckaby, when he came here, he did a workshop. Kevin Saunderson, Octave One, even Redshape as well. He took off his mask and started talking.

Nicolas: So how did these workshops work, basically? In a few words.

Kavan: Right now the number of workshops has relatively reduced, recently. The reason was that we decided to go when there was a strong concept that I could come up with the producer. And then once that concept was done, and then we would say: “Ok, let’s do the workshop”. I actually have a lot of discussions with them as well. On top of that, other than the fact that some of them are not willing to… or are shy to actually do the workshop, they would do it in other ways, you know. They contribute to the label or talk to the other local producers as well. For example Iron Curtis talks to Dean from Cosa Nostra quite often and sometimes gives them tips, etc. and tells them what to do. So this is the kind of things that we do. We did not want to book big names to just come here and play. It was not about that, you know. When it comes to this kind of music it is about creating a community, creating a strong friendship that will last. Versus I am a big club and I am bringing big names and the only communication you have is on the dance floor with them. But we did not want it that way. We wanted it to be a friendly thing. And I also make it a personal point that, although I am a DJ, I never play for my own parties. I will let the rest of the guys who have been in this industry, or really young  artists who have been working hard in a sense to shout out about this kind of music and let them play, let them have exposure while we take care of the backend, to make sure that everything is well covered.

Nicolas: And so, about the venues you organise your parties at? I think most of them were played in Zouk and kyo recently, more recently of course. And so why those two venues? What are the others you organise parties at? Is the venue so important or?

Kavan: The venue is important and if you see the motto of the website in terms of what the factors are: time, people, space, sound, etc. It really plays an important part to it because the first few events we tried them in clubs that did not provide the proper facilities. What do I mean by proper facilities? It does not necessarily mean a DJ console or the sound. It can be even up to management, it can be even up to the deals that we actually closed. Half way through they can even tell you that: “Hey, we are not giving you the commission for this space” and we lost a full load of money for it. And some even had a licence issue. So when it came to Zouk, when we go there, it was perfect for us, you know. Zouk knew that we were doing this and when I started to pitch to them the idea: “Hey, why don’t we do this?” They were really happy to come to work as partners and I am still grateful to them, even though I don’t think we might be doing any more parties there. With regards to kyo, I don’t think I have to say anything much because that place is doing underground house and techno on weekends, so…

Nicolas: That is the part I love there!

Kavan: [Laughs]

Nicolas: This is why I came here in the first place, yeah. And what about those parties, DMZ, with Darker Than Wax? What was the concept?

Kavan: Ha, ok. So, when we did Midnight Shift the first few years we kept it more towards a more energetic, more “technoish” approach. I would not say pure techno. So when we decided to go and say, even for the label itself, “It is not just about techno, there is house, there is acid house, there is tech house, as well”. We wanted to go on a softer and more soulful approach, so. And also Darker Than Wax, the guys are going to contribute to the label as well, not so soon, but they will. We thought of partnering them as we are friends for years. We said: “Let’s do a softer side and combine it together”. Because Darker Than Wax would need a “beats” thing and they also wanted more forceful stuff. And for us we were doing a more “technoish” stuff and we also wanted to do a softer side as well. Because Singapore is a mixture of different cultures and it is like that when it comes to music as well. We are exposed differently, we are not pure. We are not like Berghain that do the hard kind of techno. Or Panorama Bar that purely does the deep house stuff. It is what we have been exposed to. We have been exposed to trance, we have been exposed to everything, here. And like our racial culture is all like a melting pot and even for the label, although there is like a certain kind of a “deepish” sound to it. I am not sure, people always say that, I don’t know why. But it is many different kinds of music put together just for the label as well. As long as it is good, we will put it out.

Nicolas: So, about the label, how do you choose the artists? What is the idea with it? Do you give them directions or is it like “You will have half of it, you will have the A and you will have the B, just try to find something”. So how does it work?

Kavan: [Laughs] When it came to the label, especially the A & R portion, two things. One: people that we really really love. We really like their music. Second, we have some demos coming through but so far I have accepted only one. Two. And those two were the people that actually sort of heard what kind of sound we were doing. Ok, you are asking whether I ask them to change or do a certain thing. I don’t know, maybe it was luck. For the artists that we chose, even for Eddie or any other artist, when they decided to do for the label they always decided to do something different. Like Iron Curtis, for example. He normally does deep house, etc., but for the label, because he came to the party and played for us, he said, “Guys, I am inspired to do a deep techno track for you and I will actually do a different version of my stuff for you”. The first two or three releases sort of led on to what kind of sound so that when we asked other favourite artists to produce, they sort of geared towards it in a way, or got inspired by it. And yeah, so I don’t ask them to change. I will just say: “Maybe this is not suitable for the label”. “Maybe I like this track”, and they will pass it to me. It is either a no go or go, mainly speaking, at the end of the day. It is not about: “Hey, can you change this?” Because if I ask to really kick the whole arrangement and change everything, it is not…

Eddie: It is not exactly a true representation of the artist himself if you go through too much of the production process. So if it feels right and if it sounds right for the label then you just sign it up. If it does not feel right, does not sound right, then we will just probably say: “Maybe it is not for the label” and then we just move on. But I don’t know, I think…

Kavan: Ok, why don’t I put it another way. When you tell the person: “This is house music “. Do you go by technicalities or do you go by feelings? You go by feelings, right? Or when you tell the person: “This is techno”. But what constitutes techno? The vocals? Well, Inner City has vocals in it, but it was techno. But it is just a feeling, you know. So I go more on feelings and more on discussions with producers that have become our friends.

Nicolas: I saw on your website that you have a lot of interviews, and reviews, and everything. So is this another part like being a bit outside the music and more like the public, or a spectator?

Kavan: Yes. So we have a few local writers, local contributors that do the writing for us. What we felt during the earliest is that this music was not reaching out enough. It was not given enough exposure. The blog was actually created for it. It was not for the Midnight Shift label. It had nothing to do with that. It was meant to promote this good music. Good album reviews, good mixes, good mix compilation, artists. Sometimes of course we use the blog to feature artists or local DJs that play for parties. Help people to understand them better before they come for the party itself. So this is the kind of things we actually do, just to make sure at least, and again I am saying it, it is not just about being on the dance floor. I think they need to understand them better.

Nicolas: Midnight Shift is mainly focused on Singapore with people outside coming in. But do you have an activity outside Singapore? Maybe organising parties in surrounding countries?

Kavan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We did a label showcase in Decibel, Seattle. That was one. And we are going to do one or two more shows next year as well. It should be in Europe. Then the label was also meant as an engine for the artists who actually go out and try and do good label showcases. Because label showcase is not about throwing parties here and that is why the label was created.

Nicolas: So now let’s talk a bit about you two and less about the label. [Laughs] Maybe Kavan first. You are playing music, but are you also producing?

Kavan: No is what I tell people. Right now I am doing the music and marketing for these two venues [The Vault and kyo] and also organising the label and I am part event organiser as well. I think I would rather focus my energy on that because that is where I have my best contribution. But in time, when I am not doing so many things, maybe I will just do a little bit of production, you know, just to play. But this is something I learned: It is best to focus on what you do. Because I have met people who are DJs and they want to become distributors and they want to become this or that, but it never turns out well, you know.

Nicolas: It is too many things at the same time.

Kavan: No, it is not just too many things. For example we have a friend who is a DJ and a label owner as well. But because he is DJing so much he concentrates on his own gigs, he concentrates on his own productions, whereas the label was about other people as well. Almost all are forgotten. It took too long to reach to the stage where they want to be. So for us, for me, I decided to just go on the business level. Because I will not turn it to any sour relationship with people because I know that this is my role and I am supposed to do it and they will know that I am not having an intention to use this label to have a gig outside. You know what I mean. I am not using and I am not going to use the label as an engine. I will just contribute on it.

Nicolas:  And what about your contribution and your work in both The Vault and kyo?

Kavan: I am in charge of marketing and music for these two venues.

Nicolas: So you book the artists, you do everything music wise, let’s say?

Kavan: Yeah, music wise. I also get people’s asses down to the club. [Laughs] That is my job. Just to make sure that the artists have enough exposure. I am in charge of the partial PR as well, sending out stuff to the media, getting things done, etc.

Nicolas: And what do you both think of the techno scene, or let’s say dancing music scene, in Singapore? In terms of public, people, and the whole picture? What are your insights on it?

Kavan: [To Eddie] You answer first! [Laughs]

Eddie: I think there are a few independent promoters, small ones. They are throwing very very good parties, you know. Bringing good DJs and they are obviously helping to contribute to the local scene, in terms of exposure, exposing the public to what it will not generally know. Detroit techno or German techno or whatever. I think it is still growing. Because if you look around Singapore I think it is just like in many parts of the world, also the big clubs or commercial clubs. Then the good parties are always the smaller ones, the warehouses, the basements, you know, I don’t think since the 70s or the 80s that culture has changed so much. They were doing back then in the lofts, basements and today you still find the best parties in such places, right?

Nicolas: So this underground scene exists…

Eddie: Yeah, it still exists. It existed back then. It exists today. I think the only difference is that it is easier to find them today, with the Internet and stuff. I still think it is underground. You still need to make a bit of effort to find the good parties, the right places.

Nicolas: And what about the crowd. I really feel like, since I arrived, most of the people are really open minded, music wise. They would appreciate any good music even if it is not commercial or anything.

Eddie: As long as it is energetic.

Nicolas: Yeah I think that compared to some other countries I have been to, here people just dance, you know, whatever what the music is.

Kavan: How long have you been here?

Nicolas: Five months.

Kavan: Oh, five years ago it would have been a different case! [Laughs] I think what you just said is somehow right in a way. Because over here in Singapore when you talk about… Ok, let’s say I bring an artist that only plays deep house, for example. It is not going to make it there. It is not going to make it here because everybody just drinks. Mainly drinks, yeah. And you don’t see much people off their faces here at all. And it is all about keeping up the energy, to be more energetic in a way. And even when Recondite came, although he is so deep, right? He played so energetic.

Nicolas: Yeah!

Kavan: Yeah! You were there! So it is not just about people being more open minded. It is that people are getting tired of hearing what it is now. I think this is a turn, right now, and we are almost at the turn. Everything comes in a cycle. Back then I still can remember there was a cycle where people like Venga Boys and all that were huge. That is what it is now of your Akon, your Pitbull, your David Guetta and that is just a new cycle. And people get tired of it and they want to hear something else. Then I suppose when you came here about five months ago, and maybe the next two or three years, people are starting to feel that way. Because when I talk to customers at kyo they tell me: “Hey, man, we really love your music, it is something different, it is more refreshing. It is not like what the rest of the guys are playing and hearing everywhere.” Most of the clubs here played it safe for the past few years because they knew that that was the only way to go around. Because they have seen so many clubs that tried to go underground and failed. It was a little bit of two things. One was even in kyo the guestlist is free before 11:30pm. If you just register it is fine. I say it again, we wanted people to come and listen to music. If you did not like it, it is fine. You can just go somewhere else, if you want your commercial or radio music. But so far we are quite lucky. And we have quite a number of foreigners as well. And that actually helps because they are exposed to that kind of music overseas. So it is not just about people being open minded about music. One reason is people get tired. Another one is that we try to make it as free as possible when you come in.

Nicolas: And then it is a more specific question: Where do you dig for records in Singapore? For vinyls and these kinds of things? It seems pretty difficult to find those?

Kavan: It is actually not. Second hand it is easy to find, yeah. But not the new ones. New ones you can find on the Internet. [To Eddie] But you?

Eddie: If you are talking about first hand records it is a bit tough I mean there are only like probably one or two stores that still carry vinyls.

Nicolas: Which ones?

Eddie: I think Ann [from Valentine Records, Singapore] still carries vinyls, right?

Kavan: A little bit but not…

Eddie: Does Edwin carry vinyls?

Kavan: No more.

Eddie: Who else carries vinyls?

Kavan: Roxy.

Eddie: Roxy Music. I maybe have problems coming up with names for you as opposed to ten years ago.

Nicolas: And for the second hands records? Between friends or?

Eddie: Second hands records, there is a lot that you can find at…

Kavan: Kapo Factory, bro. There is a place in Paya Lebar called, this building called Kapo factory. Just google it. And I think it is a Redpoint record store or something like that.

Nicolas: Yeah, I was told about it already.

Kavan: A lot of shit. You have got to dig because there is a lot of rubbish there. But when you find a gem there, you find it, you know. I found my Depeche Mode Behind The Wheel (Shep Pettibone remix) over there. Kapo Factory.

Nicolas: Ok, great. About sound systems, do you have an idea where would be the best sound system?

Kavan: You mean for studios or for clubs?

Nicolas: For clubs.

Kavan: If I want to go to a good sound system… Here [The Vault], we use Eastern Acoustic Works, that is really good. Zouk uses a customized system from Gary Stewart, though he passed away already. Funktion One, as much as people love it, it is a worldwide phenomenon. I don’t know why everybody talks about Funktion One and gets so excited. But it is not available technically in Singapore because of the servicing. There is no vendor I believe in Singapore that can actually service the equipment and maintain it. I know Ku De Ta has Funktion One speakers. But it is very hard to maintain. If you don’t know what Funktion One is all about and the tuning, they have to fly in somebody from the UK just to come and do the tuning.

Nicolas: Complicated. I don’t know what are the projects, personal projects or label projects, for the future, like maybe in 2014 or later?

Kavan: We have an EP with Eddie coming next year, early next January. Other than that I have, we have a few surprises coming up. We have an anonymous artist called Tapirus. He is doing a release in October. And people like Terrence Parker are doing releases for the label as well.

Nicolas: Ok. He will come back? [His recent gig in kyo was cancelled because of flights cancellations because of storms in the region.]

Kavan: I am not too sure. It depends on Terrence. [Laughs] Even I was disappointed.

Nicolas: Of course. And, Eddie?

Eddie: I have a follow up EP that is coming out in January for Midnight Shift. And I have some old single releases actually, releases on other labels in Europe. Apart from that I am just trying to focus more on the music. Releasing music and trying to get more gigs for me abroad, you know. So all this is taking a bit of time because we are far away from the action. So it takes a while but I think Kavan is connecting with people and putting things together so that we can do more parties abroad, I don’t know, in Amsterdam or in Paris or places like that. But nothing is confirmed. But he is working on it.

Nicolas: Ok. And can you tell us a few words about the podcast you will make for We Dig…?

Eddie: I think what I will put together is probably some of my personal favourites of tracks that are released on the Midnight Shift label and some maybe yet to be released, for the end of 2013. I don’t know, I have to ask him [Kavan] for permission. [Laughs] Maybe he is going to give me some advanced promo. I think, to sum it up, I hope it is going to be a good overview of the music that Midnight Shift releases.

Nicolas: Perfect, so I think that we are done. Let me thank you guys in the name of We Di.g I think they were pretty curious about you, actually, and so now they will have a good idea of what you are doing and how is the scene in Singapore. So maybe some day they will come. [Laughs]

Kavan: Is this a collective of DJs?

Nicolas: Actually, basically they are just music listeners, at first. They are just music-heads. But there is at least one of them that is playing music in some clubs, but small venues in a small city in France. Doing some podcasts… There is another one that is producing a lot of things, like always having a new thing out. But just on Soundcloud, just for friends. I think when you are really into music there is one day you are like: “Ok, now I want to play, you know, I want to be an actor”. So first step is to play music and then the next step is maybe to produce. So I think it is just like normal. So they are here, listening a lot, sharing a lot through this Facebook group. They are posting a lot of good things, mostly deep house but not only. And they are about sharing and I think for them it was very interesting to make all their people discover Singapore music scene and your label that is like not very famous over there. To just see how it is elsewhere in the world.

Kavan: How did they hear about the label, do you know?

Nicolas: I have no idea. [Laughs] It is this friend, Saad, that came to me and told me: “Do you know Midnight Shift?” “Yeah.” “Maybe you should try to talk with them”. And I was like: “But how do you know them?” “I don’t know, I was listening to some tracks and it is good so I want to know more.” [Laughs] I guess digging on Resident Advisor, maybe, or I don’t know. No idea.

Eddie (on the track listing below): All tracks are already released on Midnight Shift except for track #4. This single will be released early next year. It is taken off my forthcoming EP for Midnight Shift. Just thought I’d give We Dig… fans a sneak preview. 🙂