A/K/A SOUNDS is a Riot Grrl

source: A/K/A SOUNDS

Text Alfonso Gomez

Continuing in the grand tradition of great Singaporean DJs the likes of Cherry Chan, Pixiedub, Debbie, and Pamm, Amanda Keisha Ang (A/K/A SOUNDS) cofounded all-girl DJ-cum-event collective ATTAGIRL! (along with DuriO and Jaydah) with the intention to give an empowering platform for girls in music and art. A natural progression considering she was after all trained by all four of the aforementioned acts during the 2012 iteration of FFF Girl DJ Bootcamp. Now an indelible fixture of the underground scene in Singapore herself, Amanda recently just got off playing shows in other big cities, namely Tokyo and New York, and is set to play in Kuala Lumpur for HO4X tomorrow. JUICE caught up with her and learnt about her riot grrl aspirations…

We did some social media stalking… what was that No Pantz band?!
(Laughs) It was a project that came out of nowhere when four friends decided to come together after a discussion in a vegetarian restaurant and relive their 16-year-old riot grrl rockstar dreams. We’re inspired by crazy girl legends like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, and female fronted bands like The Breeders and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We’re set to record an EP this year… if we don’t get too distracted by mucking around in the studio too much.

You were mostly just doing graphic design and illustration before DJing was a career choice for you. But even before that, you attempted to DJ at 17 and only started doing it again after going through the FFF Girl DJ Bootcamp. What made you stopped at 17 and what drove you to do it again years later?
I took a short course with Frontallabs when I was in school. You know, just to try something new. I don’t think I did too badly, but after I was done I wasn’t too sure how to continue and I was really shy. Plus, I didn’t have my own set up either. I got caught up with school and getting a job, and kind of shoved the interest aside until one day I got let go unawares of my job sometime in 2012. I was really lost and felt awfully depressed, so my partner encouraged me to try joining the bootcamp to get my mind off things – needless to say, that kickstarted everything and led me to where I am in electronic music right now.

Seeing that you played in a band before, you must make music. Ever thought of going into production as a DJ?
Yes, in fact, I kind of made a pact with myself to learn some basic production skills and hopefully I can release a track by the end of the year. Sticking to being a selector is great, but production really is a next big step for anyone who really wants to push themselves to the next level.

You are an alumnus of FFF Girl DJ Bootcamp 2012 – what was the camp like?
Super fun, the founders (Cherry, Pixiedub, Debbie, Pamm) were all friendly people, which made it easy for us to assimilate into the bootcamp. The camp was held at Zouk Club and lasted for a month, with a full day of lectures and practice every weekend by really respected DJs and producers in Singapore. The bootcamp teaches you how to beatmatch, mix, and gives you a little taste of how different DJs and producers make beats and play with effects, scratching, etcetera. Dot (Alpha Pup, Low End Theory, Team Supreme) was one of the guest lecturers, and that was really exciting. At the end of the four weeks, we had a graduation bash at Zouk Wine Bar where we played through the night to our friends and the connections we made.

Was there a lack of female DJs back in the day that there was a need for the camp?
I’m not too sure if ‘lack’ is the right word to use, because I think getting into this industry is kind of an equal choice for all, and if there isn’t a lot of girl DJs, there just isn’t, if you know what I mean. But yeah, we don’t get to see many girls DJs around, or hear of many female producers… perhaps amongst girls, there’s a lack of interest for this industry, or there may have been many girls who could DJ but maybe were under the radar for different reasons.

But I think with the internet now, with more women coming out to encourage girls to spin, I think that’s good progress for us all!

What about the bass scene itself? Was there a lack of female representation?
Do you mean in general? Internationally, there are people like DJ Storm, Ikonika, B.Traits, Monki, Tokimonsta, Dot, Emika – MCs like Dynamite and Lady MC who were really inspiring and been around for a long time, whom a lot of us here take our cues from. In Singapore, there are women like Reiki, Cherry, [and] suki quasimodo who were really pushing the underground bass scene and are very well-respected by their male peers. I’d say it’s small but strong.

You co-founded ATTAGIRL!, a collective aiming to bring together women in arts and music. Would you say it’s the spiritual successor to the very camp you graduated from since all three members met there?
Well yes, of course. The bootcamp itself was very inspiring, and there’s this sense of unity throughout the camp because we were all learning together, so we wanted to bring that same spirit to ATTAGIRL! where everyone could encourage each other to do big things if they wanted to. That’s why we called it ATTAGIRL! – our collective cannot exist if there weren’t all these other girls who are doing so much cool shit and keeping it real.

Is there common ground between women in art and women in music such as yourself?
Yes, I think visual arts and music always come together hand in hand, it’s just a different way to project our voice, we all have something to say. All of us take our inspiration by using our different senses, and this emotional collaboration is pretty universal. I think also as artist, keeping our artistic dreams alive is a struggle at times. I think regardless the medium, music or visual arts, this is something we can all agree upon and this is also the reason why we need to support each other.

It seems like despite FFF’s and ATTAGIRL!’s hard work at changing the perception of ‘girl DJs’, there are still men who objectify, sexualise, and condescend women in the industry. How do you respond to this?
We don’t usually give a damn about what people say – thankfully so far we haven’t received any scrutiny for doing what we do, and for people who say things that objectify and sexualise any of us or the artistes we feature, we just take it with a pinch of salt… or leave it to the men who fiercely support us to give these guys a little telling to! (Laughs)

What advice would you give other women when confronting sexism in the field?
Pretty simple; if anyone tells you to “go make a sandwich,” tell them to piss off, and keep doing what you do.

Who’s your feminist hero?
(Laughs) My mother. She’s a super strong spirit, and even though I really hate the way she nags at me for everything, she really doesn’t take shit from anybody.

There seems to be a good crowd in Singapore for electronic-dance music of the non-mainstream variety. Even Zouk Singapore books non-EDM acts (unlike ours). Is this assessment accurate or are we just having a bad case of the grass is always greener on the other side?
Yes, the club scene in Singapore is quite vibrant, and although it may not be as much as many other Western countries or compared to our [other] Asian counterparts, I think we are very blessed to have a diverse selection of acts to choose from every week. I’m also very proud of our underground electronic music scene in Singapore. Everyone is generally very supportive of each other, like family, and we all appreciate different genres and there’s hardly any dissing that gets thrown about. A d’n’b head would support a house night if they were friends, I think it’s good that we have an audience here that is quite open-minded and has a keen ear.

Home Club was very important in that regard, what does its closure mean to you and how does the loss affect you?
Home Club was an important institution for bringing awareness to leftfield genres that other bigger clubs could not cater to, and it gave so many DJs here a voice when they were not able to have that opportunity elsewhere. I felt its closure was sad, because of the influence it had being that one place without all that big club prettiness and delivering really solid underground acts, but I think it just made people work harder and think of more creative ways to push the scene instead of depending on one venue to make it happen, and hustling independent gigs at different venues. It’s kind of a good lesson for us to keep paving that path.

Underworld’s 2000 live album Everything, Everything was what “started everything” for you – what about it that captured your interest in electronic-dance?
I hated it at first, I had no choice because it was playing everyday in the shop I was working at. I don’t know, one day things just changed. Just like that. I can’t explain it! But it definitely helped in maturing my taste in music, and in that live album I could really feel the crowd, it made me want to be there, and there was something so rowdy and dark about it. Really euphoric. That album made me make that first step into the HMV electronic music section and I started digging for other similar sounds, and that’s how I discovered Sasha, John Digweed, Satoshi Tomiie, Ken Ishii, etc.

Underworld is markedly different from what you play in your sets now (from what we’ve heard so far, at least). Are you still big on techno and house? What’s your preference like now?
Yeah I still enjoy playing and listening to house a lot, techno not so much, but I would really love to throw out a really solid techno set some day. It really depends on the venue. These days I’ve been playing lots of trap, hip hop, footwork, juke, with bits of dubstep, jungle, and some d’n’b here and there. My main influences at the moment include Machinedrum, Alix Perez, DJ Rashad, Sam Binga, and similar artistes.

Hypothetical situation time! Imagine you’re DJing now and someone, clearly drunk, comes up to the DJ booth and slurred to you, “I’ve got a requesssttttt,” and passes to you a serviette with Guetta written on it. What do you do?
I would just smile and say I don’t have the song, and if they complain, get mad, or flip the bird, I just ignore them and go back to playing.

How’s the travelling been? Any mark differences among the cities (SG included) when it comes to the nightlife scene?
Travelling is always fun, jet lag isn’t! I just came back from Tokyo and New York, and I did my fair bit of partying as well. Well, for one, you can’t smoke in clubs in Singapore compared to other clubs in other cities! People in clubs in Tokyo are very polite, friendly, and pretty laidback, I guess in New York the vibe is a little more aggressive, but people are really expressive on the dance floor. In Singapore, I think everyone is pretty chill – and we’re just talking about the more underground electronic music scene here, not big EDM parties, those are pretty ridiculous. Drinks are also cheaper overseas, there’s definitely a stark difference in that regard.

What’s your ideal DJ set and what can we expect at HO4X?
Intimate sets are the best. I love playing in smaller clubs with a crazy sound system where the people are less pretentious and more appreciative of the DJ and the music – where I can share tunes I really want people to hear. Expect bouncy sounds and a good time! 

A/K/A SOUNDS is set to close HO4X, happening tomorrow at Black Box, Publika.