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Various Artists

Singapore A-Go-Go

(Sublime Frequencies; US: 10 Nov 2009; UK: 14 Dec 2009)

Sublime Frequencies describes its releases as occupying four main categories: regional radio collages, field recordings, folk and pop music compilations, and video/film documentaries. The label has also gained a recent reputation as a promoter of specific artists, as shown by recent releases and tours by Omar Souleyman, Group Doueh, and Group Bombino. Singapore A-Go-Go falls into the category of folk and pop compilations and follows on from earlier Sublime Frequencies releases such as Latinamericarpet, 1970’s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground, and the two-volume Thai Pop Spectacular.


These 22 pop tunes from the Malay Peninsula have been compiled by collector William Gibson from singles and EPs released between 1963 and 1975. In his useful contextualizing liner notes, Gibson describes how this undeniably chirpy music, known as “a-go-go” or “off-beat cha-cha”, enjoyed a brief spurt of popularity before falling out of favor; the records now show up in flea markets, junk shops, and “the selling baskets of old men”. A-go-go was a magpie genre, picking up sonic influences from East and West alike; young singers such as Lim Ling (clearly Gibson’s favorite) might include re-worded, Mandarin versions of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs alongside excerpts from Chinese operas (Lim Ling’s take on the Sweet’s “Funny Funny” is included here), while instrumental groups such as Charlie Electric Guitar Band’s Sound of Japan might mix Shadows licks with Latin or Southeast Asian textures.


This is one of the lighter releases from Sublime Frequencies, novel for the first play or two, but unlikely to sustain interest beyond that for any but the most ardent of pop archivists. It certainly doesn’t have the variety of the Thai Pop Spectacular albums, perhaps not surprisingly given its specialist focus. Fans of bubblegum may well be intrigued, but for many the undercurrent of fetishism that runs through the liner notes and accompanying reproductions of the original singles may seem less enlightening than disturbing. Then again, this is the work of a collector, and collectors need to find a way to live with their symptoms. Sublime Frequencies lists the compilation on its website as “Vol. 1”, so there may well be more to come. The label is to be commended for its commitment to vinyl archaeology alongside its other maverick field recording projects, but we can’t expect all its discoveries to be lost gems.

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Richard Elliott is a writer, university teacher, and journal editor based in Newcastle upon Tyne. He is the author of the book Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City (2010), as well as articles and reviews covering a wide variety of popular music genres. Richard is currently working on a co-authored book on ritual, remembrance, and recorded sound.


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