Chew Wei Shan and Nurudin Sadali make honest music borne out of existential crises.
Text by Stephanie Peh
Interview by Jonan Liang
Through .gif, Chew Wei Shan (weish) and Nurudin Sadali (din) have been making music for more than a decade. Both were in university then and started the indie-electronic band in 2012 as a fun after-school project, making songs in dorm rooms and releasing them on Soundcloud. It was a means of escape when they first started messing around with music gear, combining velvety vocals with a loop machine and synthesizer. “We didn’t really have any hopes or dreams back then,” weish says. Contrary to their expectations, .gif would go on to become well-loved in the music scene, playing at major music festivals and sold-out shows in other parts of the world. “At that time nobody really sounded like us, so it took off for a bit and we rode that high for a bunch of years,” she says.
With lush haunting vocals backed by sleek lo-fi beats, their music expresses lived experiences through sombre lyrics and atmospheric refrains. “Once we started writing our own music, it was like a drug. Honestly, I never want to lose the joy of making,” says weish. Music-making is their way of diving into their subconscious and accessing extreme emotions—it is likely as painful as it is cathartic. In their latest album Hail Nothing, weish says that the climactic track ‘My Darling’ was the hardest to write. Told through her personal experiences, it narrates an oncoming panic attack. “Every time we perform it live, I cry a little. It feels like a demon comes out of my body each time,” she reveals. This display of vulnerability stems from a desire to connect with others who could be experiencing similar pain. weish sings, ‘just cry my darling, nobody’s listening’—the words hint at some darkness yet the execution feels somewhat liberating and possibly comforting for the listener. “When people come up to us or write to us and say ‘I don’t feel so crazy or alone now’, it’s very precious,” says weish.
There is a message of acceptance that threads through Hail Nothing, which has a slightly brighter and more upbeat tone as compared to their previous albums. “If there is a message, it would probably be that life sucks, but it sucks for everyone so you’re not alone. Don’t feel too messed up,” says din. An anthem for the cynical, the playful bob ‘Let’s Go’ is sure to get the crowd dancing their troubles away as soon as live gigs resume in full force. “The universe is random. It’s all arbitrary anyway, so why am I tearing my heart out in my own meagre way?” says weish. In a way, music is as psychologically healing for the listener as it is for the composer.
As .gif offers an outlet for them to negotiate their places in the world and the lives of others, there is a strong desire to not become insular. A multidisciplinary approach helps. Apart from making music for themselves, they dabble in other artistic disciplines quite often, through collaboration. Past projects at the National Gallery saw the duo creating music in response to visual art. “It pushes us as artists in ways we would never have otherwise,” explains weish. Literature, theatre and film also inspire many of their works. They treasure spaces such as The Projector that give space to support the creative pursuits of artists who may not necessarily have the means to sustain their work. “It’s an art space, not just a film space,” din adds.
The band is also motivated by a community of music lovers and patrons who make making alternative music in Singapore easier to bear. Managed by a couple who are passionate about music, Lithe House charges affordable rent for jamming. The iconic space may be cosy, but it means so much to musicians in the region. So much so that at the height of Covid-19, funds poured in from all over the world to help them keep the space. Another place that is special to .gif is the production house Snakeweed Studios, founded by a well-loved veteran producer Leonard Soosay who has worked on the music of many local bands that paved the way.
“These are just some of the good places that we need to protect. We’ve already lost many central venues,” says weish. The now-defunct Home Club was once “the one and only glue between scenes and circles, where you could see the post-hardcore, indie pop, screamo, math rock, shoegaze kids and so on all sharing a stage and hanging out,” she describes. Places as such close the distance between creators, listeners and budding musicians, enabling them to come together and fuel one another in a challenging pursuit. “There is this creative energy. It emboldens you to see people who are just like you,” she says.
For weish and din, it’s no longer just a “fun thing”, there is pride—for them and their fans—as they write a chapter in the history of alternative music in Singapore. “Art-making and all kinds of making, whether it pays the bills or not, are precious things that we often take for granted. The art of creating has meaning in itself,” says weish. And as din concludes, “life would be pointless without music.”
Hail Nothing will be launched through an original film to be screened at The Projector in December 2021. Follow .gif on Instagram for updates.
This editorial provides complementary content to Hidden Places, a film series that showcases an alternative Singapore through the eyes of four homegrown creatives. Watch the films here.