Many artists and labels set themselves on a path searching for ‘the groove.’ This sometimes elusive goal can take an entire career of digging, searching, chasing and refining before getting anywhere near it. The good news is that the Darker Than Wax back catalogue can save us all a lot of time and effort. It’s truly saturated in groove-heavy music, fusing sometimes disparate parts of the musical spectrum, but always finding a common thread of soul, funk and fun.
Originally founded in Singapore by Dean Chew and Kevin Guoh aka Kaye, over a decade ago, Darker Than Wax (DTW) has evolved, shapeshifting from a DJ crew, into a label, A&R operation and radio-centric operation. Since its inception, the brand has developed a foothold in the US market, helmed by Marco Weibel. The Singapore native has spent the past eight years pushing the right buttons and spreading the gospel of groove on behalf of DTW in New York and beyond.
This month Weibel will be hosting a couple of special parties back in his hometown - bringing some talent with him from The Bronx and Brooklyn for good measure, namely, Kush Jones & musclecars. Post-COVID-19, it will be something of a homecoming for Marco and Singapore audiences can look forward to hearing how The Big Apple has influenced one of their musical prodigal sons.
If you take a walk between sixth and seventh avenues in Manhattan and wander down West 50th Street, you’ll eventually find yourself standing in front of a gleaming new Singapore-inspired hawker centre called ‘Urban Hawker’. Inside, you’ll find nearly a dozen Singapore vendors like White Bee Hoon pushing out classics from the old country. Singaporean culture has landed in New York, but it’s not all one-way traffic.
Marco Weibel will journey back to his place of birth loaded with influences, ideas and experiences from the cultural swirl of New York. We sat down with him ahead of his series of parties to find out just how deep New York cuts.
How has the move to New York shaped your personal musical direction?
I moved to New York in 2014 - I've learned so much and definitely pull influence from spaces and past moments like Paradise Garage, The Shelter, Body & Soul, Deep Space — even though some of these aren't around in their original form there are still many characters who were key parts of these pockets who pass on the knowledge and still live to spread the core ethos.
There are obvious differences, but any similarities culture-wise between New York and Singapore?
Both have a melting pot type of feel, but they are indeed very different...
COVID-19 was managed in very contrasting ways in NYC and Singapore. How did the scene in NYC cope with city-wide shutdowns?
It was amazing to see nightlife spaces and promoters come together in NYC, there was a lot of empathy shown by everyone. One example that comes to mind was how The Lot Radio immediately offered assistance to Nowadays with helping them set up and troubleshoot a remote live stream portal so they could go online when things shut down. The program "Virtually Nowadays" via Patreon definitely helped keep the club afloat during those dark times.
Kush Jones has a reputation for blurring the lines and blending musical palettes, what can Singapore audiences expect from him?
Kush Jones continues to surprise me, I honestly have no idea what to expect. I know it's going to be authentic to his sound though, but they're going to have to come down to find out!
Now you are based in NYC, what is usually the first thing you do when you get back home in the +65?
Hit the hawker centre of course... Singapore's culture is food!
You have a reputation for delivering eclectic sets and searching across a broader musical spectrum. How open are audiences in Singapore to that kind of diversity compared to NYC?
Singapore has always had an open-minded audience, that said, I haven't played in Singapore since mid-2019, I'm excited to connect with new and old faces. I've been hearing that because things have been shut for an extended period audiences are hungry and excited to be able to share moments on the dancefloor again. Looking forward to tapping into that energy.
Money’s no object and you have the perfect club available for your night. Which three headliners would you love to put on?
Theo Parrish, Josey Rebelle and livwutang.
You have been active on radio – flying the flag for DTW – on places like The Lot Radio & NTS, how important has the growth in truly specialist radio programming been in helping you grow the label’s audience?
The radio shows allow us to showcase the breadth of music we're into - the label definitely isn't one for categories, so the shows really reflect that. I've been co-hosting our weekly DTW FM show on The Lot Radio for over 6 years at this point - Same time every Saturday from 12-2pm EST. Having people rock up to the gigs and mention they've been avid listeners of the show makes me realize how important an aspect it is. We have listeners from all over too, from London to Berlin, Tokyo to Sao Paulo, being able to connect with people across the globe through radio is so important. It's the groundwork before actually making connections to playing in these places.
What’s your go-to track right now to get a dancefloor properly moving?
House Master Baldwin featuring Paris Grey - Don't Lead Me (Medusa House Mix) - Jackin' Chicago vibes from 1987!
Chopped cheese sandwich or chicken rice?
Chicken rice all day — it's soul food to me.
Which artists on the DTW label right now are exciting you?
I'm looking forward to tape_hiss's release (the first two singles just launched, EP will be out early next year, January 20), he's someone I got to meet through being in NYC. We also have something coming out from Malik Hendricks in the new year, he's just relocated to Lisbon but was in Brooklyn before that, someone I often rub shoulders on the regular as well.
The label has always had roots in both Singapore and New York, how does having a foot in two locations help with A&R?
It's positive for our A&R as it just allows for more in-person connections to happen. A lot of the artists we work with on the label are people who we have a personal connection with - We don't want to just work with the hottest artist, where egos aren't in check for example, so I think having access to two locations definitely is a win.
Tell us what was behind your move to New York? What was your motivation?
I wanted to be in a city that inspired me daily and surrounded by people who are pushing things forward culturally. There's truly no other place in the world like NYC.
Being a selector is a time-consuming affair. Where do you do most of your record shopping?
I'm on Bandcamp a lot!! Also a regular at spots like Human Head, A1 records, Cosmic Arts to name a few.
Who do you consider to be the originators of the Singapore scene as we know it today?
There are heaps of pivotal people but just in my experience, Jeremy Boon who held things down at Zouk and Velvet Underground late 2000s, and of course, DTW co-founder Dean Chew is someone who comes to mind.
Do you think durian would ever catch on in New York?
I don't know if people would be able to get over the smell of it, I mean even in Singapore it's banned on public transport!
What’s the best part about living in New York?
The energy - I'm constantly in awe of the drive and grind the city brings out in everyone. In a more geographic and seasonal sense, I love the extremities of the weather. For example, how summer and winter have such a contrasting feel and mood. I also love the access to nature nearby (upstate New York) as well as beautiful beaches (Rockaways, Long Island etc.)
What are you most looking forward to being finally back in Singapore?
Seeing family and friends, and obviously the food! Send through your favourite spots please!
Dive into the sonic offerings of Darker Than Wax's Marco Weibel via SoundCloud here.
Also, don't miss out on his events in Singapore this week:
- Kush Jones & Marco Weibel at Headquarters (December 8, 2022), tickets here.
- DTW presents Musclecars w/ Marco Weibel, Dexter Colt & Aaley (December 9, 2022), tickets here.
[Images by Filipe Zapelini & Enrique Alba]
Toby Doman is a freelance writer for Mixmag Asia, follow him on Instagram.