Sobbing is the present and future of Singaporean indie pop

Sobbing is the present and future of Singaporean indie pop

By James Gui November 09, 2022

Forty seconds into “Air Guitar” and singer Céline Autumn is already delivering one of those hooks that cling to the brain and won’t let go. Pop is engraved in the Singaporean trio SobsDNA; album cover and tagline (“the sound of Sobs pop music!”) evokes the 90s shibuya-kei chic, while strains of indie pop, jangle, pop punk and synth-pop converge in the record’s sound.

“We love pop,” says Raphael Ong. And on imaginary guitar, each member brings their own manifestations of this love. Autumn’s obsession with 2000s Disney Channel anthems intertwines with his latest hyperpop songwriting as Cayenne“When we started Sobs, Cayenne wasn’t a thing yet,” she says. “After Cayenne, I noticed a different side of me, and now I’m writing more cohesively across both projects trying to draw influences from both sides.” Jared Lim, on the other hand, brings to his productions a mixture of Kero Kero Skipjack, Tears, and “I don’t want to say it, but Weezer.” And Ong is the group’s resident digger, trawling the internet for the rare shibuya-kei ephemeral and exploring the current indie pop scene in Asia for his label Middle class cigars.

Chatting via video call with the easy report of a group whose main mode of work is online, they tell me about the origins of the group on the Internet. “In 2016, I posted on and I just listed a few artists that I liked,” says Autumn. “It’s kind of like a music Craigslist, and the tagline for the place is ‘It’s Music in Singapore.’ Isn’t that a pretty stupid catchphrase?” adds Lim. He reached out, sent some instrumentals, and the two first formed a short-lived project “that sounded like bad electronic music,” explains Autumn.

“Jared and I met at a CHVRCHES concert,” Ong says. “We were huge CHVRCHES fans, we would line up at 5pm for an 8pm show every time they came.” Going online, Ong heard about Lim and Autumn’s indie pop aspirations and wanted to participate. They came out Pet door in 2017, a bedroom pop affair as cozy as its cover would suggest. Full length Warning signs followed the following year, with larger arrangements and live percussion. And then there was a four-year silence.

But they were far from inactive; instead, they were painstakingly assembling and rehearsing the record that would bring them, finally, to the United States. “There’s not much we can do in Singapore,” says Ong. With a lack of mid-sized venues and a smaller domestic market, being a musician in the famously conservative city-state can be tough. With imaginary guitarSobs joined the likes of other Asian bands like Taiwan’s Elephant Gymnasium and that of Japan toe on High-end folders, with an upcoming US tour. “It’s something we all worked hard for collectively,” Lim said.

And while they’re excited to play in the United States, they’re certainly not rookies on the international stage. They are connected to the Southeast Asian indie pop scene in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, having played in Manila, Jakarta and Ipoh, among other cities. “They are also Meccas in their own right,” Ong says. A performance at Mow’s bar in Quezon City particularly stands out for them. “Everyone was singing our songs,” says Ong. “Even unreleased ones!” Lim steps in. With only one EP released, it all “felt real at the time,” says Autumn. “A lot of people from that show have become my friends.”

The group also pays tribute to the “independent uncles who were active in bands in the early 90s who continue to support us”. One of them is Shawn Khiu from monster cat, which helps in drumming. Affectionately dubbed “sushugaze” (a pun on 叔叔, or uncle), the first generation of indie in Singapore includes bands like The Padres and the Oddfellows. “We also owe them a lot, especially when we started,” Ong says. Of course, they are also indebted to their contemporaries in Singapore like cosmic child, whose member Zhang Bo lent his bass chops to the record. But the group also pays for it; Lim is credited with helping produce for his peers in CURB and Forests.

With a healthy regional scene and the support of previous generations behind them, Sobs came into their own on imaginary guitar. “This last album felt like a combination of everything, and we just weren’t afraid to do what we wanted,” he continues. This musical abandon comes into view when “Friday Night” shifts from its sugar-coated hook to a turbocharged drum and bass belt. “For months, the song sat on our computers as a verse and chorus,” Lim explains. Inspired by “Can You Feel the Sunshine” from Sonic R OST, he decided to break out of writer’s block by throwing some of his frantic sounds into the track “like a meme.” The three were pleasantly surprised by the result. And as with all good memes, the pop music sound of Sobs is about to spread around the world.

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