Oliver Osborne – Singapore's standout lofty, bearded, British DJ with a serious penchant for tech house. Over the last 5 years, he’s been commandeering the city's thriving underground music scene, which is surprising considering its sparkling social status as one of the world’s most luxurious cities. But perhaps what it is most surprising of all is how the subculture plays out – underground music events often sell out and the dance floor is a majority well-heeled bottle-popping bunch. To put it best, Singapore’s electronic dance music community is like serving expensive champagne in a bottle that cost a fortune to produce and was impeccably designed to look gritty. Coming from London and playing clubs like Fabric, it took some adjusting but Oliver rolled with it and fashioned what began as alfresco pool parties atop the stylish SO Sofitel into a full on underground music imprint. Oliver now uses his ETTF Music label as a platform dedicated to pushing and promoting local talent that also curates events with its artists all around Asia. We caught up with Oliver and talked a lot the trials and tribulations of life as an underground music artist in Singapore.
What’s the best thing about Singapore?
There are a LOT of good things about Singapore but if I had to pick one it would be the weather.
It sounds simplistic but it feeds into so much. Growing up in the UK you get about 10 nice days a year and they can happen anytime between late March and mid-October. If anything the summers are harder than the winters. At least during the winter you know the weather is going to be shitty. During the “summer” you constantly live with the hope that it could be nice but your hopes are forever dashed against the rocks in a blur of grim, sunless and rainy days.
Here you can do fun stuff outdoors pretty much all year and there is nothing quite like dancing to great music in the sunshine.
What’s the worst thing about Singapore?
Licensing laws. They can be rather prohibitive at times.
Take us out in Singapore – from dinner, drinks, party to after party?
One of my favourite places to eat is Lucha Loco. It’s a cool Mexican place on Duxton Hill that has great food, great vibe and a superb selection of Tequilas and Mescals. Then for drinks I would head to Skinny’s, a really cool dive/neighborhood bar on Boat Quay. I’m told they make good cocktails but I’m more of a beer drinker these days and they stock Brooklyn Lager, which I’m a big fan of. Plus they have an out-door pool table, which I am also a big fan of, although my skill level ranges from tolerable to appalling, regardless of how much I have had to drink.
If you weren’t a DJ, what else might you be famous for?
Singing sarcastic love songs with a guitar.
“Well I will concede we had a good run with one another,
But now the excitement’s all gone except under the covers.
There are just some things I need to do,
Unfortunately one of them is still you.”
Eyes to the Front began as a series of pool parties. How did this endeavor evolve into a record label?
It actually started as an agency and the parties were meant to provide a stage for our artists while raising awareness of the agency, but as your question demonstrates, the parties garnered a higher profile than the agency and so that’s primarily what we are known for.
As for the record label, it came from me having good long think about where I want my part of the scene to be in 5-10 years. There are some cool Singapore based record labels but none that had the kind of sound or identity that I wanted. So I wanted to create a platform for artists in the area to get their stuff out there.
To be honest, it has been a massive learning curve and among other things I have realised how difficult the A&R process can be. Finding people who are producing the kind of stuff I want to release is difficult.
Where do you want to see happen with the imprint next?
Well this neatly follows on from the last question. I’m going to be releasing some collaborations, the first of which is ready and I am super excited about it. I recently worked with The Beat Usagi (aka Bit Usagi) on a track that was a lot of fun to put together. The process of working with someone else for the first time in about 8 years was a real pleasure. The ideas he brought to the table set things off and really propelled the whole project forward at a high rate. I was playing a version out within a few days.
So basically I am looking to bang out a load of collaborations in 2017. I’m really excited about working with other people and feeding off each other’s creativity.
You’re about release 01001100, which is your fourth release. Tell us about the release and the story behind it?
The soul of that track is about 7 years old. I made a slow melodic vocal tech house track that sounded nothing like 01001100. I felt good about it but never pushed through that last 10% of the process to get it fully finished. Earlier in the year I dug it out, listened to it for the first time in years and decided to remake it again from scratch, albeit with a completely different treatment.
I have been working a lot on my percussion and swing, taking cues from people like Michel Cleis, Stefano Ritteri, Kenny Brian, &me and the like, while trying to pull away from a lot of the house and techno production norms. As such the track is without the standard snare and hi-hat patterns you hear in a lot of house and techno.
Once this was done I ended up doing an edit without the vocal that was super dark. It sounded like the kind of thing you would listen to if you were just about to invade a country.
I loved that version but I didn’t want to release it because I felt like the cathartic appeal of the darkness and minor keys was a bit of a crutch in terms of hooking people in to the track. Whereas I want the sound of the label to reflect the positivity and sunshine of South East Asia.
So I pulled the track apart one more time, found an angle that worked for me, and finally pushed it over the line.