If you’re one of those wannabe, pretentious music snobs who love declaring that “you only listen to techno”, this piece will blow up in your face. Wherever in the world you’re from, such a snooty statement might score you brownie points for revealing your so-called superior musical palate, but this affirmation you’re seeking won’t fly in Singapore. To most people here, it wouldn’t elicit an ego-stroking response of curiosity or admiration. What you’d probably get instead is a raised eyebrow, a look of disapproval, or even laughter meant to mock. The fact is, amongst the general populace of the Lion City, techno has quite a different meaning altogether.
You first have to understand that Singapore’s not exactly a mecca of dance music culture, not unlike other Southeast Asian countries in the region. While Western nations gave birth to electronic genres, we were playing catch-up. And along that elongated strand of catching up — like a botched game of broken telephone — mainstream society began formulating their own interpretations of musical terms, with techno being no less a victim.
If it’s any consolation, the term ‘techno’ still manages to carry a musical connotation; it’s just not the perception you might expect. Sporting a severe case of mistaken identity, ‘techno’ has become a wishy-washy term used to describe an assortment of genres that are more recognisable by the average Singaporean.
For instance, remember the Eurodance boom that dominated the 90s? Yup, plenty of Singaporeans still think that’s techno. Smile.dk’s “Butterfly” would be deemed just as techno-centric as Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”. Back then, Singaporeans adored belting along to their favourite ‘techno’ tracks from Aqua and Vengaboys. And even in the arcades, young’uns at the time would show off their best ‘techno’ moves on a Dance Dance Revolution machine. As this style of music pervaded pop culture, so did the rise of ‘techno’ in society.
Unfortunately, even though the blaze of Eurodance has long ridden off into the sunset, this misinterpretation continues to linger within the city’s consciousness. If you’re saying you like techno with a Len Faki banger in mind, it’s more likely they’re thinking of a Haddaway track instead.
Eurodance isn’t the only genre that’s been mistaken for techno. Another thing to bear in mind is the split racial demographic of Singapore’s population, one with a Chinese majority. Today, the term continues to be tossed around loosely like a hot potato, and it’s fallen into what locals call Manyao.
Manyao is a popular genre that’s soared within the Chinese clubbing community for a few years now, where it remixes well-known Mandopop hits with sprinting, NRG-like, four on the floor beats. Like Eurodance, it, too, has gained traction across the city beyond the clubscape. Just as passionately as a DJ spinning for a Manyao-themed night at a club, you’re likely to stumble upon a zealous cab driver plugged into it on your ride home, or even more bizarre, a spirited old uncle blasting it around Marina Bay on a pimped-up scooter (yes, everyone here is familiar with the ‘techno uncle’).
But while this flawed association with techno is lighthearted, there exists a more sinister suggestion that gets frowned upon, one that involves gang activity in Singapore. Contrary to its spick and span global image, Singapore does indeed have a seedy history of illegal gangs and secret societies that was more rife in the 80s. And believe it or not, even techno wasn’t spared in their criminal antics.
While not affiliated with gangs, even youths in this day and age are aware of the notorious Salakau, a Chinese secret society and their boisterous gang chant. This infamous chant, recited vehemently in Hokkien, adopted dance beats to stay in rhythm which, in turn, sullied the impression of techno. Chanting gang poems, till this day, remains illegal in Singapore as it implies an association to an unlawful society. So as you can imagine, techno continues to have a bad rap no thanks to this unlikely link that still exists.
The interesting irony about all of this, though, is that all these incorrect presumptions are not entirely false. If you want to be technical about it and dissect the constituents of these imposter genres, you’ll actually find elements of techno interspersed across, whether it’s the tone of a kick drum or the rush of a synth arpeggio. If certain components were tweaked, like say, a slowdown in tempo or the removal of a chipmunked vocal, you’d actually inch closer to what the more traditional anatomy of techno is. But more pertinently, would Singaporeans still love it all the same? Or would they be put off by its name alone?
With more local clubs doing their best to educate the masses with proper techno events, I’d like to think that our society is getting better at distinguishing the genre. Hopefully, someday, you’ll be able to have a techno conversation with a casual Singaporean without confusion and judgment. And without Vengaboys’ “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” playing in their head.
Now, what does techno mean in your country?