“Singapore, 1960s. Music lovers who did not follow mainstream tastes found themselves among the first members of the underground music scene. With every new generation, this underground scene evolves; musicians, music styles, fashion and venues change.

Yet something connects these different groups. How did they develop these non-mainstream tastes; and more importantly, how did Singapore’s underground scene survive, and grow, in those 50 years?”

(re)Surfacing: 50 Years of Alternative Music

(re)Surfacing: 50 Years of Alternative Music, a film supported by the irememberSG Fund, explores this journey and celebrates the diversity and tenacity of mat rokxinyao and other local music genres. We spoke with Panuksmi Hardjowirogo from M’GO Films, on his experience directing this film.

Death metal band E-THEREAL performing at Sound Steady Saturday earlier this year 

. (Photo credits: M’GO Films)

1. What inspired you to make a film on alternative music in Singapore?

Panuksmi: Many of the bands have been around for more than two decades and it felt relevant that they were still performing with the same enthusiasm today. We also wanted to avoid nostalgia and romanticising the stories of these artists.


Pest Infested, a pioneer Singaporean blues band from the 60s (Photo credits: M’GO Films)

2. Tell us about an interesting experience while producing (re)Surfacing: 50 Years of Alternative Music in Singapore.

Panuksmi: I was amazed at the turnout for the (Sound Steady Saturday*) performance at the Aliwal Arts Centre. Young couples brought along their young kids to the gig and enjoyed the experience as a family.

*MCI note: Sound Steady Saturday was an event held in February this year celebrating the alternative music scene in Singapore, bringing to life alternative music bands from the 1960s to today. 

Vedic metal music band Rudra. They describe their music as “a bridge between the east and the west, incorporating 

Indian traditional music, Sanskrit chants and mantras into Metal”. (Photo credits: M’GO Films)

 3. Were there any interesting stories from your interview with guitarist Suhaimi Subandie of local hard-core music band Stompin’ Ground?

Panuksmi: (What interested me was) the whole ‘Do-It-Yourself’ culture that the band embraced and how they stayed on course with their music. 

Local musicians Earth Modes Sanskri play several ethnic and modern musical instruments, fusing both indigenous sounds 
and the fresh grooves of the present in their genre of world music.
 (Photo credits: M’GO Films)

4. Describe your team using 3 adjectives.

Panuksmi: Determined, creative and committed.

Behind-the-scenes: scriptwriter Liew Kai Khuin in discussion with director Abdul Nizam Abdul Hamid 

(Photo credits: M’GO Films)

5. In 5 words, what should people look out for your film?

Tenacity, talent, inspiration, perseverance, courage! 

(re)Surfacing: 50 Years of Alternative Music in Singapore
 is part of Rewind/Remind - a film festival by the Singapore Memory Project. Don’t miss the various screenings at a library near you! You can also visit the film's Facebook page for more information.

This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and content.

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