Singapore — a small city-island in Southeast Asia with a relatively young music scene, but there is one DJ that has defied expectations and broken out from the confines that are set by a small music scene. Manfred Lim, better known as Myrne, started his DJ career like most kids — by uploading songs to SoundCloud. One day Diplo serendipitously stumbled upon one of his songs and quickly recruited him to release under his Mad Decent label. His career sailed smoothly from there, quickly thrusting him into an international spectrum and soon after Myrne debuted as the first Singaporean DJ to ever play Tomorrowland. A gig at Ultra Miami in 2018 helped, and since then he's been playing across Asia and Europe. Just this year, he signed to Ultra Music, again as the first Singaporean DJ. Last month saw the release of his debut album 'In Search of Solitude' and embarked on his first US tour in support of it.
It sounds like a Cinderella story, but in fact, through the album, he expresses his deep desire and dissatisfaction with his career while on the path that led him to where he is today. "I felt as though my entire discography was the work of an imitator and that I hadn't truly found a 'sound' that was original to me," wrote Myrne's in an Instagram post. To fix this, Myrne went back to his hometown and locking himself up in his home studio to make the music for this album in the same way that he did when he was learning how to make beats and uploading them to SoundCloud.
The output was an album in which Myrne reflects on his music and reviews his identity as an Asian DJ again. 'In Search of Solitude' is personal, sentimental and introspective. And while he was preparing to go off on his US tour, we got the chance to talk to him about his journey in making it and the impact of this journey on the album we hear today. We threw him a few questions his way so we could get a deeper look at his local-boy-breaks-out-internationally journey, and he feels as an Asian representative in the music industry.
In a recent Instagram post, you referred to your new album as 'sentimental'. Can you give us some backstory here?
For a long time, I have been releasing LPs and EPs on SoundCloud and making DJ-friendly tracks knowing they would get popular on it. From that phase, I felt like I was making music for other people, just for the sake of festivals or to them get played by other DJs. I decided I didn't really want to do that anymore because it felt like everyone can make those songs and there was nothing special about that.
Hence, I wanted to make a diverse and personal album, one that was not just for festivals or clubs, but one that fit into any kind of atmosphere, to be able to listen to it at home, with friends or alone.
I also spent more time thinking about this album to get it to feel more Singapore-related. I make music in Singapore, and I have lived here all my life, but it's hard to think of what the Singapore sound is because there isn't one -- probably because the music scene here is just too young. As a result, when I was working on this album, I was just working on music that was unknown. I just sat in my own room and wrote music I wanted to hear because I was alone and my friends weren't there, and this is how my album came out.
Have you ever thought of breaking out of Singapore? What was the goal you set for yourself when you started out?
I didn't start and want to be a famous well-known DJ from the get-go, and I still don't have this goal. Making music and experimenting with music is what kisses me up in the morning and gets me out of bed.
This is what I did five years ago when I started producing music. I just made music on advert studio when I was 18 -- I wasn't thinking about playing in Tomorrowland or EDC because I was just a kid making music. Finish songs and learning how to make songs and different sounds are all I wanted to do at the time. I think I still have the same goal today. I don't think about being the best DJ and producer, because music to me is not a competition at all; it is something personal.
Looking back, how do you see yourself in your earlier years? What are some of the greatest achievements or most memorable moments you've had along the way?
Even though I played in Tomorrowland and Ultra Miami, and earlier this year I signed with Ultra music, I don't consider these as my milestones. Playing in big festivals is not always about how talented or famous you are; it's actually a lot of things that happen behind the scenes and most of the time, things are out of my control. That said, it's really nice and humbling to get to play at these festivals.
What I consider my greatest achievements is actually sitting down as a producer and make this album. I have pretty much been a wanderer in my life; I have been making music for the sake to release it for a long time. It was nice just to sit down and return to just be a musician with this album, so it is for sure a highlight for my life.
Your career has so far been smooth, but have there been any under-the-surface moments that you were down or wanted to give up?
Definitely. Probably in early 2016 or 2017, we were looking for an agent to book shows in the US, but for a long time, no one wanted to because it wasn't common for the US to book artists living outside, particularly in Asia. We don't know anybody from the States, so it's even harder.
At that moment, I got really frustrated about negotiating with agents. I was wondering if I used the wrong kind of music or if my music wasn't popular enough. But when I was thinking all those harmful thoughts, I decided I didn't care and that I would just keep on making the music I make.
At last, we did the shows through our own agency. After the tour, I discovered it is hard to do anything without a team and a group of people believing you, and it just motivates me to work a lot harder.
Today I have an agent, and I have shows in the US. Most of our shows requests come as direct requests from venues. Despite the lack of a huge team agent, we are still getting by, and it was just another hurdle in the process -- but you get past it.
How do you cope with the times when you get frustrated with the music industry?
For a lot of DJs and producers getting frustrated with music, I think it's just important to know that there's a life outside music. Everyone has life goals, and music doesn't always have to take the president of these goals.
For me, my biggest goal to achieve is to start a family and settle down while still doing music as a hobby. If suddenly you have a lot of fame, money and stress -- it's essential to remind yourself of the simple goal that you had before music. These days, I still enjoy hanging out with my friends, doing things I like, exercising, and a lot of stuff not related to music. I don't think I can achieve my bigger musical goal if I neglect other life goals for myself, like becoming a good member of society, supporting my parents, etc. To me, life goals are more important.
How do you see your identity as a Singaporean DJ in the music scene? And do you think this identity hinders you from your career?
A lot of Asian artists who try to make it in the music world struggle. They especially struggle to make music in a country with a relatively young EDM scene. But I also think this deep struggle connects everyone and motivates them. For me, as Singaporean, a lot of people would agree the music scene here is still very young, and it is also full of struggle. It is not popular to get a job that would pay the bills instead of turning to music, because being a musician, in general, is challenging to get by in Singapore, and I'm sure it's the same for other Asian countries too. So the time spent trying to get to Europe and the US is a big gamble, it doesn't always pay off; therefore, I understand when artists are scared of breaking out.
As a result, I love to say that I'm just lucky because I was young and I have access to the Internet and SoundCloud. I was just there, in the right place at the right time, and discovered by the right people. I can name at least 20 people that are more hard-working and talented than I am, but you won't get the same reward because to me, it is ultimately luck.
You're definintely lauded as one but do you see yourself as a Singaporean icon?
No! When I started, I was a big fan of a Singaporean DJ Aldrin. He mixes on BBC Radio 1; he was playing shows at the scene in Europe, he was working on techno -- I look up to people like him. So I don't agree that I'm the first one to do all these things, maybe I'm just the first Singaporean DJ that pops out.
It's also nice to see native Asian DJs get recognition. I know there are a lot of DJs and producers from China, which is also difficult for them to break out. When I see people like Penta Q in Ultra, I feel kind of proud because I know how hard it is to break out of his market.
What was your biggest growth throughout these years?
I conquered one of my biggest fears while playing live. When I started out DJing and performing live, I was really scared of seeing people not dancing. Back then it was very common to play house music, and I would not play the second drop because it took too long to get there -- there will be a whole break section and people would stand still. For me, I was so scared of those moments because if no one danced for my music, I thought no one was enjoying my set. So back then, I would just make some high energy and intense music but with no meaning to them.
But early this year, I saw a change in myself. In 2018, I released an album with my friend Gentle Bones. When I played it in a performance, I discovered that if people aren't dancing with the music, it means they are impacted by it and thinking about it. It's not that they don't like it, it's that their minds are processing the music. Before, I didn't know that. So one of my most significant growth throughout these years is that I now play a full set of songs when I perform live and it doesn't really matter if people stop dancing since I know they are probably having as music as a good time as I am.
Who is at the top of your list of thank yous?
Probably my parents, all my friends and supporters. Without them, I wouldn't be able to think of music as a career — also my manager Adam. There's no man as an island, you have to surround yourself with people they care about you, and people who have your best interest, that's all you need for how you go far.
What's coming for you in terms of vision and goals?
The biggest goal for me after this album is to make as many people listen to this album as possible; I don't care if it's on Spotify or TV or a live show -- I'll make you listen to this album. Also, I hope to get more shows in Asia and the states, and of course, my ultimate music goal to play in Coachella.