Local band The MadHatter Project considers Singapore's colonial past in Sarong Party: A Multi-Disciplinary Musical Look At Singapore’s Anglophilia. They hope to reflect on our political and social relationship with colonialism through music, theatre and art. We spoke to the team about what they've been up to.
Tell us about yourself. How did you come together as a group, and what have you been up to since?
It is probably fair to say that The MadHatter Project has its roots in NUS’s fabulous History department, seeing as Mark, Jamie and John hail from there. Not being the most active or extroverted members of the student body, we played together for the first time at our graduation party “The Mad Hatters”. We thought we could get something and going, and our fourth member, ZZ, though not being of NUS stock, was a natural fit for our line up moving forward.
We started off as a conventional rock band, more or less, but “conventional” only satisfies our weirder impulses for a short period of time! Over time, we have become far more interested in creating and producing music that is mixed with other artistic elements in order to discuss themes both fantastical and social. For The Future Of Our Pasts, we are delighted to be working with three other NUS alumni, Rayne, Stefanie, and Daren, who will bolster our ranks with their expertise in music, historical research, art, curation, and sound.
What do you think sets the MadHatter Project apart?
At the most basic level, we sound different because we don’t use a regular set up, being piano and keyboard-centred and devoid of guitars. Furthermore, we aren’t youthful enough to keep up with the trends of the day and therefore remain on the fringes of the mandala that is the Singaporean music scene. Beyond that, we are unabashedly nerds when it comes to our chief passions in life and incorporate a lot of that into our work. For the purpose of this particular project, you’d be pleased to know that Singapore’s history and culture is one of those passions.
Any past projects you are most proud of?
We were proud to be awarded the National Arts Council’s Noise Singapore Award of 2015, which allowed us the chance to stage a full-length production in May 2017. Having ideas swimming around your head is one thing, but actually being given the support to flesh those ideas out was a remarkable (in scope and stress) opportunity for us. Titled “For The Time Being”, it was a musical exploration of the progress that a city like ours makes, the things we lose along the way, and how to live with these ghosts as we progress some more. We were privileged to collaborate with some outstanding visual artists and poets and in many ways, it was a baby step in our artistic journeys, but a vital one. It gave us the confidence that our artistic vision wasn’t merely the ramblings of mad people but one that had a future with audiences and society in general. It was very much the base for our future endeavors and our dalliance with Yale-NUS and The Future of Our Pasts is something we hope to achieve good things with!
"Our project title is “Sarong Party”, so you can expect exactly that – a party. You’ll be the guests for this party and there definitely will be music and other kinds of art at it."
“Anglophilia” is an unusual topic of interest. What got you all interested to explore its history?
For what we intend to explore, “anglophilia” isn’t simply a love for England or English things. Rather, it is a consideration of Singapore’s colonial past and how Singaporean politics and society tends to have a cosy relationship with that history. This is accompanied at times with a quite rosy-hued memory of that period. 2019 of course is the 200th anniversary of Raffles’ landing in Singapore, and so we thought this would be a perfect moment to look more closely at our aforementioned relationship with British colonialism, and question the reasons and narratives for this.
The MadHatter Project is known to combine music, theatre and even visual art in exciting ways for your shows. What can we look forward to for this project come 2019?
Our project title is “Sarong Party”, so you can expect exactly that – a party. You’ll be the guests for this party and there definitely will be music and other kinds of art at it. As with many parties, the whispered gossips may prove far more entertaining that the scheduled fair, and if you listen hard enough, maybe you’ll go away realising that the Anglophile hosts aren’t the perfect as they appear to be on the surface!
What would you like audiences to take away from your project, and about the idea of “Anglophilia”?
Singapore likes to see itself as an overachieving red dot on a global map. What we sometimes don’t seem to realise is that it is a red dot situated in South-East Asia. Hopefully our research, and project, will add something to contemporary Singapore’s conversations about our identity, especially with regard to the geopolitical trends of this century.
"It gave us the confidence that our artistic vision wasn't merely the ramblings of mad people but one that had a future with audiences and society in general."
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
A music professor once said that it is far more interesting to play or listen to music than it is to talk about it, and so, in an attempt to be cryptic, we hope that as the creation of this project progresses, there’ll be much more we can share with everyone and that the final outcome is something everyone can be satisfied with! We’d like to thank everyone associated with this project for this wonderful opportunity and look forward to the journey ahead!
All images courtesy of The MadHatter Project