Local heroes. If your town still has one, count yourself very, very lucky. I’m not talking about the one who made the front cover of Mixmag, moved to Berlin and blew up, prompting you to reminisce over DJing with them at the Dog & Trumpet on a Tuesday night until the bar staff begged you to stop, because you’d made all the customers leave (yep, that happened, though I’m not gonna tell you who I was with)… And if you’re from Berlin, Chicago, London or any other hotbed of music, I’m not talking to you – you’re spoiled.
Your local hero is the one who’s at home in uncharted territory; who grinds it out in the trenches for decades, through good times and bad. Who shapes the very sound of your hometown and gives you a reason to feel proud. The benchmark of quality that other local DJs reach for (even the ones who are already out, touring the world). The one who gives visitors a totally unique soundtrack to where you live and ensures that wherever in the world they are when they hear that track again, your city is the first thing they think of. My last local hero was a guy called Mex and when he hung up his headphones, for me it felt like the soul of the town had slowly begun to die; it wasn’t long before I moved away.
Like Ireland’s Fish Go Deep, the subjects of my last 5 Mag feature, Singaporean DJ/producer Eddie Niguel is a bona fide local hero, satisfying all the criteria mentioned above and more. Now getting the recognition he so richly deserves internationally, Eddie has been a quiet architect behind Singapore’s electronic music scene for a couple of decades or more, though he’d probably too humble to admit that. Resident in many of the city’s most iconic nightclubs, he brought his taste for underground house and techno sounds to more commercial venues, giving Singapore clubbing an edge and helping to define its sound. He introduced international clubbing brands to his country and helped bring musical heroes to his city, without ever turning the spotlight on himself. His label, which launched in 2016, is aptly named “Integrity,” a title reflected in the uncompromising music he releases: Tony Lionni, Whitesquare, Kiko Navarro, Dachshund, The Model and Kocleo are among the names who’ve appeared so far.
His latest EP, the sheer brilliance of which prompted this interview, is titled Guardians of the Sacred Visions, a name that summons up a dream in which DJs and clubbers come together, bonded to perform mysterious rites in the club, preserving ancient secrets that are inaccessible to all but the chosen few. “Many of us see the dance floor as somewhat of a sacred place, a sanctuary where people can find refuge; we are always looking forward to the gathering of such events just like a weekly ritual” says Eddie. Amen to that, say I.
Lead Photo by Melissa Han
Tell us a little about your history as a DJ. When did you start, what kind of stuff were you playing in the early days?
I always had music around the house, my dad was an audiophile and both my parents loved music and so did many of my extended family members. My elder cousins were running a mobile disco set-up back in the early ’80s and I would tag along during the holidays, that was when I first took interest in DJing, at about 13-15yrs old. That little experience I had, along with my dads record collection helped me be the designated DJ at school parties even though I didn’t know what i was doing half the time. House parties were also where I first learned how to mix with double cassette tape decks, using the “pause, play and pencil” trick, also editing them as well with the mini blade and sticky tape. I really enjoyed the experience but never really thought to pursue it professionally until a decade later, in the mid-’90s. My parents didn’t like the idea of me getting into it full time, as the arts and creative field wasn’t considered a legit job or a recommended career path by the majority here. So I did what many Singaporeans kids do: I took a “proper” job and had a comfortable role working in the hospitality industry until a series of events led me down back on the musical path.
A DJ friend who worked at a place called “Chaplins” was looking for someone to help cover the Sunday shifts and I decided to take up the offer. I figured Sunday was a slow night, which meant I would have more opportunities to practice on the job. Like most DJs during this era, I was playing a mixed bag of everything, mostly R&B, Soul, Hip-Hop, and ’80s/’90s 12″ club remixes with some big beats thrown in (this was in ’96 or thereabouts). I was playing here and a few other small spots for two or three years until I was presented with the opportunity to audition for a full-time residency at then mega-club “Venom.” It was here that I started digging deep and honed my skills as a professional club DJ. The club had two rooms, a main room where we’d play the more accessible stuff and a smaller room called the “Red Room” which is where I spent a lot of my time. The club offered us a fairly decent budget for record shopping, so we could grab stuff from labels like FFRR, Junior Boys Own, Strictly Rhythm, Henry Street, Subliminal and of course Defected for the main room and deeper cuts from labels like Guidance, Waves, MAW, etc. for the smaller room. The club also booked top International DJs like Josh Wink, Erick Morillo, Danny Rampling and was also known for curating special events and supporting local nights. It was also the first club in Singapore that streamed a club night over the internet. I was very fortunate to work alongside the team of experienced club DJs, from who I learned so much to make me a better DJ, leading me to other club residencies around the island. Venom’s owner John Lee was a great guy/owner, but a bad investment in the IT sector cost him dearly and he had to sell the club to recover, at least that’s what I was told. A shame, as I really enjoyed working there.
I didn’t want to put my name to something that wasn’t 100% me. I didn’t ever wanna be the guy who shies away from speaking about their earlier work.
When did you transition into production?
About a decade later actually. I’ve always considered myself a DJ, first and foremost. I’d never had that urge to become a producer, but when it came, it was a natural process. At that time I was really just focusing on my residencies, which were six nights a week. I was also a booking manager for most of the clubs that I worked at and was also a brand representative for a couple of international labels as well. Basically, a busy work life, plus the fact that I knew nothing about music-making and was under the impression that it would require a huge amount of investment to set-up a studio (unlike today) wasn’t really encouraging either.
It’s only when I met a guy called “RY” in 2003 who was one of the pioneers to perform live with just two MPCs at a club I worked at that I became really interested in music production. There were a few others of course who made or performed electronic music, but it was the style of music that he was playing. He was performing a mix of jacking Chicago house and Detroit techno and I was really impressed that a Singaporean could actually pull that off. I spoke with him after his set and found out that he was really into the music and was also a very technical guy so I asked him more about music production and stuff. Later on, he helped introduce me to digital workstations and gave me tips on how to get started. We’ve been friends ever since.
I messed about for a couple of years, doing my own edits for my DJ sets and a couple of remixes under an alias called “Edel.” I continued working on more edits for my DJ sets and remixes which seemed to be well received by the clubbers and some of the touring DJs, so I decided to enter some remix competitions, which included one from the esteemed Get Physical Music label from Berlin. The remix that I did for Patrice Baumel’s “Roar” went on to top the Techno chart on Juno and was supported by DJs like Laurent Garnier, Sasha, Jerome Sydenham, Detroit Grand Pubahs and others when it was released. Although, due to an exclusive partnership with Juno, the remix was not made available on any other digital stores, so to this day you can’t find it on the label’s catalogue anywhere else but Juno.
After the win, I continued doing a couple of remixes under my “Edel” alias, ’cause I was still in the “messing about” phase and didn’t wanna put my name to something if it wasn’t 100% me. I didn’t ever wanna be the guy who shies away from speaking about their earlier work. Anyway, the positive feedback that I received gave me the confidence to start working on some original work and i signed my first record deal in May, 2012 on Danny Howells’ Dig Deeper imprint.
Was there much of a house scene in Singapore when you first started out?
Yes, there was actually a healthy nightlife scene when I first started out but in the mid-’90s, but in 2003 the SARS outbreak happened in Asia, the hospitality industry took a really bad hit and clubs were no exception. The scene never really recovered to it’s fullest potential even with big brands like “MoS” and “Avalon” coming in to shake things up. After the SARS outbreak recovery, half a dozen dance clubs, excluding many new mid-sized venues in Singapore started to spring up, the scene got saturated and the market couldn’t sustain an increase in such a short time. Apart from Zouk, every other club closed down as quickly as they sprung up.
All is not lost though, the demand for club music is on the up again and has grown in the last five to six years. I also noticed that the clubbers today are more clued up and know exactly what they want, and are more open as well, which is great. Perhaps that is something positive that came out from the internet and YouTube.
What prompted you to start your label, Integrity? How would you describe the music policy?
I think my motivations aren’t that different from many other producers out there. The lack of response from label managers and long wait time for a release, lack of creative control and promotion are just some of the few common things i keep hearing producers lament all the time. Hence why I think we see so many DJs today running their own record labels.
I have a personal policy of “music first and not genres”, so it can be anything from deep house to techno and everything in between. If I’m feeling it, I’ll put it out, irrespective of market inclinations. What’s most important for me is the quality and dance-floor sensibilities. Above all, it has to connect on an emotional level as well, I think that’s what makes a great record.
With South Africa seemingly the current hotbed for new deep house sounds, do you think Asia could be the next place?
To be honest, I don’t really pay too much attention to what goes on out there, I do however know of a young SA talent which i recently discovered on Transmat called Mbulelo. Really impressed with this 23-year-old’s work and if this is just scratching the surface of the talents coming out from SA then I can see why the country is a hotbed for new sounds at the moment.
As for Asia, i’m not too sure about this even though I’d personally love to see that happen, EDM, Tech House and Techno however is the popular choice for many producers out here in Asia.
What other local labels should we look out for, and what clubs should we visit in Singapore?
As for labels, the ones that I’m aware of are Dustpan Recordings, Darker Than Wax and Midnight Shift Records, which I was formerly a part of, though they have since relocated and are now based in Berlin. If you are visiting Singapore I’d recommend “The Headquarters'”and “Kilo Lounge” just for the music and “Ce La Vi” and “Zouk” for its breathtaking view and atmosphere. Also pop-up parties: there are a couple of them happening every so often.
Guardians Of The Sacred Visions is such a standout release – really a cut above most of what’s out there at the moment. Tell us a little bit about what was happening in you mind/heart/life when you created these two tracks?
Thank you so much, I really appreciate your kind words. I wanted to do something special for the label’s second anniversary and I was just thinking what would be a cool idea, you know. So, I put some thought into it and then it struck me. Just a year ago, I came out of a three year hiatus and did a couple of gigs mostly to support the launch of my label, Integrity Records. The gigs were memorable and I was actually only expecting to see new faces but was very surprised to be greeted by some familiar ones. People who have clubbed for as long as I’ve been a DJ, that really showed how much they love the music. It also got me thinking… in the time that I’ve been in the scene, I’ve seen how much things have evolved and changed. Clubs and event promoters come and go every few years but the music lovers are still here today looking for that next beat. I think this is the only thing that remains unchanged in my view, generations of music lovers and selectors who continue to seek out and who have remained true to their love for electronic music. Often, people usually tend to only credit the institutions and the local stars here when they speak of the music scene. It’s understandable and natural I suppose to feel that way, but I felt that the people and the selectors who have been supporting the scene for so many years deserve some credit too, if not more, because without them there wouldn’t be a scene to begin with. They were the inspiration for this release, and this release is just my little way of paying tribute to them in a way that I think matters the most, the music. I see the movers and shakers, selectors and originators as like-minded people with very similar visions and goals; spreading the culture and continually introducing or supporting good music despite the pressures of commercial demands. For me, this is pretty similar to the role of a Guardian if you think about it.
I also think many of us see the dance floor as somewhat of a sacred place, a sanctuary where people can find refuge, we are always looking forward to the gathering of such events just like a weekly ritual and that was how I came up with the titles and concept for the tribute EP.
What’s next for you?
Release-wise, I’ve always preferred quality over quantity and only write new stuff when inspiration strikes. I do however have a collab release with one of Switzerland’s finest DJ/producers, Dachshund, coming out very soon on Integrity as part of the “We Are Friends” series. It’s a little more contemporary than this release but still with the house and techno influences, so look out for that. I’m keen to look into maybe kickstarting another residency or a night to call my own perhaps next year, we will see. It’s actually a very busy period for me at work right now so I have to make sure that I can manage and stay on top of things that matters. Funnily enough, despite my busy schedule, I’ve never felt the urge to write more tunes now than I did before so I reckon you might hear more from me soon. As for everything else, I’ll let the universe decide…
What do you think of the current state of electronic music in 2018?
Well, like everything else, there is always two sides to it, but I try to stay on the positive side of things. The world of electronic music is always evolving; the new deep house and house sounds infiltrated the top of the pop charts in recent years and tech house and techno today is taking center stage at most of the festivals worldwide. Musically, there’s so much more available now, with an ever-expanding array of sub-genres and styles. The democratization of music production and consumption, mainly through software and the internet, has played a major role in this. Electronic music has benefited from this with a huge influx of young producers who are bringing fresh ideas to these styles. Sure, there’s equally as much bad music as good stuff, but I think that’s down to the listeners and us DJs to go dig and filter it out ourselves.
The only thing that I’m less optimistic about is the business side of the music. Royalty collection, streaming models and big corporations with their alternative agendas. This system is broken and it needs to be fixed, but I don’t have the answers to this. Maybe we can look at the movie industry for some answers and adopt some of their ideas, maybe that would give the music business a real chance to thrive again. The reality is that nothing is ever perfect, despite all the positive developments we see, you still hear every other week from some of your favourite DJs and producers on how they struggle emotionally and financially to make a living in this thing we call art.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self when you were first starting out, what would it be?
I would have told my younger self to learn to have little to no expectations from anyone, especially the people you work with in the music business, I think that would have saved me from all the heartaches and disappointments.
Thanks Eddie, great chatting to you!
Many thanks for having me.