We chatted with one of the best DJs in Singapore at Kilo Lounge, for the debut edition of our new music interview series
“You can’t do music full-time in Singapore. The music scene here isn’t vibrant enough. You’re better off basing yourself in another country.”
In this debut edition of Sound Minds, our new music interview series, we prove that the aforementioned perceptions are, for lack of a better word, hogwash. Case in point: meet Oliver Osborne.
If you’re a punter who frequently paints the town red at dance parties, that’s a name you’re already familiar with. Oliver Osborne is a veteran DJ who churns out underground house music, having spun at clubs like Kilo Lounge, kyō, Millian, and even the Singapore edition of the Ultra Music Festival. Yet, despite his UK origins, he’s chosen to call Singapore his home, and even took the challenge of making music his bread and butter, in a stiff city that might otherwise spit you out for being ‘creative’.
Has it worked? Well, not only has Oliver Osborne become a name that clubs frequently book, but also Eyes To The Front, his label and talent booking agency that’s supported international and other locally-based artistes like Brendon P, Amy Dabbs, Jeck Hyde and Seng Wei. His success is also apparent in his DIY parties that have become fixtures of the party scene – pool parties at Sofitel So, and a strong stint at the now-defunct CATO. So yeah, we reckon he’s been doing pretty well.
For this first foray into Sound Minds, we met up with the bold trendsetter at Kilo Lounge for a casual chat, and find out why moving to Singapore has been the best decision he’s ever made.
Hey Oliver. If you could describe the music that you play as a Singaporean dish, what would it be and why?
Ha, nice one! Probably laksa, because although there are a lot of different elements in there, there is also a commonality that runs through everything. And it’s hot.
Nice. On that note, where are your favourite Singaporean food hangouts? Any local food you can’t stomach?
Lau Pa Sat, for sure. I spend a lot of time around that area, so I probably eat there two or three times a week. To be honest, I like everything I’ve tried, and I’m pretty sure I’ve tried it all.
So let’s rewind a bit… how did you end up living in Singapore?
After eight years in f&b and nightlife, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I ended up working for Abercrombie & Fitch opening flagship stores internationally. I’d worked in a bunch of different countries, and by the time I was sat down to talk about Singapore, I had lived in six different apartments in six months. They put a two-year contract on the table and I took it, mainly just so I could unpack my bloody bag. However, I soon fell out of love with the company and the industry and returned, albeit in a different capacity, to nightlife. I set up my company and never looked back.
Good on you, mate. Tell us more about Eyes To The Front.
The label was mainly born out of a desire to give artistes based in Asia another platform for their work. It also enables me to be very self-serving artistically, and still get my stuff released. It has been a real learning curve, but a very gratifying one. I have some super cool tracks in the pipeline, and just signed a quirky new act called Jin Lane; she has an EP out mid-March. I feel that producing and releasing music is an essential part of any DJ’s career progression, so it’s important for ETTF to be able to offer that platform, in order to help our artistes grow.
Isn’t it hard to make music a full-time career in Singapore?
It’s important to balance the kind of music and experiences that will appeal to people who have had a similar kind of exposure to music as myself – for instance, in my 10 years in London, I was at Fabric twice a month, and I often made annual pilgrimages to Ibiza – with that of people who perhaps haven’t had as much exposure to that end of the musical spectrum. I’m all in at this point, so I need to think about the success of the business before my own musical indulgences.
Also, I take public transport everywhere. I just put my headphones on and work on whatever track I have on the go at that moment, and I probably work about 100 hours a week. I also have various revenue streams: the parties, my gigs, the agency, event management, turning the occasional trick.
Were you already working on a musical career before the move?
I’ve arguably been working on it since I was a kid. I have been singing for as long as I can remember – Nirvana made me want to play the guitar, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers made me want to play bass, DJ Shadow got me playing the drums and gave me an interest in production, and Squarepusher got me into jungle and drum & bass. And by 18, I was organising raves in disused railway tunnels and warehouses, and playing gigs at Bristol clubs like Lakota, Blue Mountain, and The Thekla. However, it was only when I got to Singapore that I realised I could make it my everything and give up the day job.
On a personal level, what was the most difficult thing about moving to Singapore initially?
Honestly, there was nothing difficult about it. Singapore and I hit it off right away. The biggest culture shock was about how safe and clean it is in Singapore. I spent nine out of the 10 years I lived in London in Hackney – no one is likely to describe that borough (or anywhere in London, really) as “clean and safe”.
About the dance scene in Singapore: how is it better, and conversely, how does it pale in comparison to the dance scenes in other countries?
Singapore doesn’t pale in comparison to anywhere else in Asia. I like what we have going on here. These days, there are great options within the house and techno milieu every weekend, often with more than one on the same night.
Otherwise, I love playing in Bali, and they have Koh and Jenja, which are superb clubs. What is exciting about Bali is the geography, and the dynamic that results from the people there. Kuala Lumpur is also great for its raw enthusiasm; the scene there has worked for years with venues that aren’t built to purpose. For example, KL has Sweatbox, with a licence until 8am. It’s up on the 32nd floor of a building in the centre of town, and the sun rises behind the DJs as they play the closing set. It would be superb if we had somewhere like that in Singapore.
How do you want the parties that you organise to stand out from the rest of the scene?
I like to think that my parties have a great mix of people. I like to create an environment that appeals to both the music heads and people who are more interested in enjoying a premium experience – I know that sounds like super dry business speak. I don’t want to alienate people who aren’t super into house and techno. Much as I’d love to go down the rabbit hole of my own musical tastes, with a young scene, that isn’t super big, I feel that doing so wouldn’t help Eyes To The Front. I do, however, have my TILT parties where I get to be a little more self-indulgent, but I have only done two in the last year.
You picked Kilo Lounge for this feature. What is the significance of this place to you?
In terms of what I’m doing at the moment in Asia, Kilo started everything. Ever since Joshua Adjodha, myself and Alexander Dengler put on a pop-up in Kilo Restaurant, with a controller and a handful of basic speakers, so much has followed from that. Joshua didn’t wake up one day and decided that he needed to set up a badass nightclub. The success of what were, on many levels, very simple pop-up parties demanded that it happened. Things happened because they needed to, not because of some pre-conceived masterplan. And now, Kilo Lounge is one of the best clubs in Asia. I have never enjoyed myself more than playing at Kilo Lounge.
What other cool spots – music scene aside – would you recommend to folks visiting Singapore?
Cafe in Dempsey for brunch, sundowners at Spago, Mezcals and tacos at Lucha Loco, and a night-cap at The Cufflink Club.
And finally, what’s next for Oliver Osborne down the road?
I really want to be making more music, and releasing more. I had a few tracks picked up at the end of the year, and it really gave me the impetus to push it. I also want to expand the ETTF team; this will enable us to spend more time focusing on the agency and label side of things, which, to me, is artiste development.
Photos taken by our very own Darissa Lee.