Electronic dance music artist: a term that all too easily evokes anything and sometimes everything from one’s favourite DJ ‘rocking it’ in shutter shades and glittering hoodie to the flailing person up in the little booth whom you paid $50 to be spotted in a club photo taken from his vantage position… but first, you and the other dancers must remember to catch him when he jumps, I mean, ‘crowd-surfs’.
Thankfully, the first artist to be featured on this blog is of a properly different stock from said clubland celebrities. For starters, you’re looking at a modern day producer whose bio states his aim as: ‘to add to the myriad of good music in existence’. You better believe it – Norman Chung, long-serving house and techno personality as well as local boy of global recognition, is as modest as his lifelong appreciation and reciprocation of music is obvious.
Norman’s living and breathing proximity to music began back in the 80s. But beyond the usual radio fare embraced by Singaporean kids, he instead stumbled upon the late John Peel’s show on BBC, an important factor leading to his discovery of more ‘underground’ sounds. At only 12 years of age, Norman soon found himself amassing vinyl nuggets along more diverse and discerning lines of jazz, funk, soul and disco - and picking up the guitar while at it.
The turn of the 90s introduced him to clubbing, and along with the rest of the world, he fell hard for the allure of electronic dance music. With a pair of turntables now his instrument of choice, Norman’s already sizeable 12” collection made extra space for the weird and wonderful sounds of House and Techno.Here are three records identified by Norman himself as especially influential blasts from his past.
James Brown – Super Bad (1970)
Funkadelic – One Nation Under A Groove (1978)
Sinnamon – I Need You Now (1983)
It is a particularly fearless exploration of different sounds through the years; finally settling on that which Norman says ‘speaks to him most’. Indeed, some of House and Techno’s finest – Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Stacey Pullen, Derrick Carter, Kenny Dope, Francois K, Kenny Larkin, Claude Young, Kirk Degiorgio and many more – make up the enduring inspirations for his career that was to follow.
With no more than self-taught skills in mixing and an impressive breadth and depth of musical knowledge, Norman embarked on over a decade’s worth of local DJ residencies during the mid 90s heyday of our clubbing scene. His classy, soul-tinged blend of house and techno also saw him rack up overseas appearances in Jakarta and Melbourne along with international parties hosted by dance music luminaries.
But the turning point came in 1998, with Norman finally deciding to try his hand at writing a song or two. He points to the advent of software-based digital audio workstations then as having opened doors to the developing of his music production skills – and what a move it has been. His inaugural Debut EP – released in 2006 by Technasia’s Sino label, and containing an edit by Deetron – saw two tracks played by Ben Sims in a mix CD; appearances in live sets by Samuel L Session and more; as well as chart support by Ken Ishii, Christian Smith etc. Not bad at all for a first-time effort…
Since then, Norman has gone on to collaborate with the distinguished likes of K-Alexi and Shin Nishimura, and seen his tracks fully endorsed by illustrious company such as Laurent Garnier, Fabrice Lig, Santiago Salazar, Vince Watson, Jerome Sydenham, Orlando Voorn… and the namedropping could just go on, really.
Fellow self-proclaimed house/techno fans, fret not if you’re now feeling equally embarrassed for having missed out on such homegrown talent – we’ll help you atone with this introduction to possibly one of Singapore’s best-kept secrets.
How do you go about producing your tracks?
I do not have a fixed process. Inspiration can come in many ways, just be prepared when it does.
Your breakthrough release on Technasia’s Sino label - how did that happen?
I first met Charles and Amil of Technasia back in 2001, when we played at a gig in Singapore. Years later, having worked on some tracks, and with encouragement from Deetron, I sent it to Sino and it got signed, incidentally with an edit by Deetron.
And the other international labels and artistes you went on to work with – Plus Tokyo/Shin Nishimura, Hypnotic Room/DJ Hi-Shock, Logos Recordings etc.?
I met them through Facebook, apart from Shin whom I met in '01 during the same gig with Technasia. I posted my tracks to Soundcloud and they picked up on it.
Could you tell us more about the ‘5Kings’ collective?
It is an ongoing project that I am involved with, that was started by Chicago's K-Alexi to showcase house music with collaborations from different parts of the world.
Mr. K’Alexi – You Are (Norman Chung Mixedit) (Divine Records, 2010)
What can we expect from Norman Chung in 2011?
I have an upcoming EP, a couple of remixes including an unconfirmed one for K-Alexi as well as a track to be featured in the Midnight Shift Album due November.
What do you think differentiates your brand of house and techno music from the rest?
I try not to bother myself with trends as it might stifle originality, and focus on incorporating my own identity into my music.
Norman Chung – U.F.M. (Forbidden Planet EP, 2010)
Is there any underlying philosophy or concept behind your music?
It is not what you use but how you use it.
What do you think of the state of electronic dance music today?
Today, EDM has a huge number of new music being released daily as a result of digital labels and downloads combined with easy access to means of (music) production, which has its pros and cons. It provides a platform for music that wouldn't have been heard previously, but the overwhelming quantity to choose from also makes it much harder for consumers to find what they are looking for. I also think there’s too much emphasis on genres and sub-genres, which can lead to narrow-mindedness.
Do you think being an Asian dance music producer makes it any tougher to break into a largely Western-dominated scene?
Not that I am aware of. The only real difference is probably geographical. It costs more to fly halfway round the world to play in the West, which makes it harder to justify, especially when you are just breaking into a scene.
Has growing up in Singapore influenced your music in any way?
Yes. I was fortunate enough to meet like-minded people that helped me progress musically, and also to have the opportunity to be part of events that enabled me to meet other artists both local and foreign.
Do you think there is any hope for both Singapore’s musical output and club landscape?
There are local electronic dance music labels such as Darker Than Wax that are pushing in the right direction and I expect there will be more to come. On the clubbing front, events such as Midnight Shift and Syndicate provide an alternative to mainstream clubbing, which is a positive thing. So yes, I would think there is hope.
Do you have any advice for budding Singaporean music producers?
Keep an open mind.
Catch Norman Chung live on June 24th for Midnight Shift 04: Collab
Noze – You Have To Dance (Mathias Kaden’s Mouthacapellapolka Remix)
Stacey Pullen – Get Up (Dub)
Michei De Hey – Whitebird (Original_Mix)
Fausto Messina – Boungaville
Truncate – Contrasts (Santiago Salazar Remix)
Samuel L Sessions – The Organ Track (Wehbba Remix)
Butch – Tease Me
David Alvarado – Klugh (Original Mix)
Brandon De Carlo – Deliberate
Psycatron / Paul Woolford – Cloud 9 (Original Mix)
Norman Chung – Fathom
Aril Brikha – Read Only Memory (Jori Hulkkonen Remix)
Radiohead – Everything In It’s Right Place (Andi Müllers Looong Mix)
Maskio – Human Jungle (Santos Re-Edit)
Mendo – Everybody I Got Him (2009 mix).mp3
K-Hand – These Sounds Lead The Way
K-Alexi – Passion Of We
Inner City – Future (Orlando Voorn Summer Dub)