The Singapore music scene is still at a relatively infant stage. Very few bands in Singapore can boast that they have lasted this whole period. But Singapore’s oldest punk band can. TAN WEIMING sat down with Opposition Party to dig out the harsh truths about the band and the Singapore music scene. Francis Frightful, Lee Piao, Ray Aziz and Kazz gave the answers. 2001 pictures by FADILA.

The '80s was a time when few people dared, or even perhaps, dreamed of forming a band. Let alone a punk-rock band. But in 1986, Opposition Party was formed.

A name so sensitive that in their early years it would be shortened to OP. Only familiar to Singaporeans who are past their teens, the band was initially severely influenced by the UK punk rock scene. Their influences then included Exploited, GBH, Chaos UK, Broken Bones, English Dogs, Oi Polloi and Discharge.
Originally playing hard-edge punk rock, the entry of Silent Sorrow guitarist Danny Lim saw the band shifting to a style not too commonly found.

While punk and hardcore have often been fused, Opposition Party blended speed metal with their already heavy punk sound. This unique sound, helped Opposition Party become one of the most exciting bands to listen to. Over the years, the band’s musical influences have varied extensively.

As the band took a break from its music in the mid-’90s, they have returned with desires to go back to their punk roots. The return of ex-guitarist Lee Piau has helped this process. The band currently consists of original member Francis Frightful, who plays guitars and does vocals, bassist Kazz, drummer Ray Aziz and Lee Piao, who does some of the vocal duties as well.

 
 

Last year was your band’s 14th anniversary, any celebrations?

Francis Frightful: We celebrate everyday what, actually. (Laughs) Every week, every day... Oh! You mean special significance... that kind of celebrations? No. Not really. Just started to put out CDs and all that, because we took a break since 1995. So 1996, '97, '98, '99 we were not very active, you didn’t hear anything from us right. Only last year we started again.

Kazz: And this year is going to be the 15th year so we have released a CD.

Seriously speaking how politically-minded is the name opposition party?

Francis: You see, back in the ‘80s, when there weren’t any punk bands, a name like Opposition Party in Singapore, where it is such a ****ing strict place right, we wanted to really wake people up. And it did. That’s how our name got shortened to OP. There was this period when nobody would put Opposition Party on the flyers, because they were afraid that the Ministry of Home Affairs would come and grab them or something. The name is really to shock people.

Ray Aziz: But nowadays, it doesn’t shock people anymore.

All over the world punks have been accused of hating society for the sake of it, what is your take on that?

Francis: I am part of society. I am. I mean, I pay taxes, I have a job that pays like $4K; he (pointing to Lee) has a job that pays $5K. (Chuckles) A long time back I didn’t consider myself a part of Singapore society, that’s why I started OP. Now, it’s like even if you do not want to blend in, the normal people blend in with you. There are so many people who dress like so-called punks. You have to take a second look before you know what music they are into.

It is interesting to note that you guys are one of the first punk bands in Singapore. As such you have always, somehow or another, had a certain relationship with BigO and the indie music of the early days. That is unlike these days where the punk scene is very much segregated from BigO or even indie music. Does that make you guys any less punk?

 

Lee Piao: It’s just a label.

Francis: You don’t have to be part of this organisation to be part of the scene or something. You can be cut off from the scene, cut off from BigO, don’t play at gigs and I can still be as punk as anybody else. It depends on which way you want it. People think that they can go on somewhere like Audioload and then consider themselves a proper punk band, then so be it. But I admit, back then there was only BigO. If you did not approach BigO, you don’t get gigs and you don’t get exposure anywhere. Nowadays it is very much different; you can pretty much do whatever you want.

The EP you guys have just launched, it is a collection of old and new songs right?

Francis: Yes.

Opposition Party have certainly become tighter as a band, but as the band progressed, correct me if I am wrong, but I sense less angst, how true is that?

Ray: Our music has never been about angst or pain. Maybe last time when Francis and OP wanted to make a statement, there was more angst. Our music now has nothing to do with angst, nothing to do with politics; we are just singing what we feel like. It’s basically songs about our own feelings, what we feel about the world.

Francis: Last time OP was angry lah.

Ray: I guess now we are tired of being angry. I mean how long do you want to be angry for? Now everybody got handphone, everybody got roof over their head, what’s there to be angst-y about? Quoting from June Koh, Sugarflies. Basically, yes, we are still playing aggressive music. We are still playing hard music. But if you read our lyrics, it has nothing to do with politics or anything. It’s just feelings coming out.

Francis: The only anger we have is against people...

Ray: With ignorant people, people who judge us by the way we play, or the way we look, but they don’t judge us by the lyrics that we write. Maybe because, I don’t blame them, they cannot hear what we say.

 

Kazz: And we don’t attach lyric sheets. I guess I am still younger than you guys, and I am still angry. My lyrics are about angst. It is more to people who are hypocrites.

Francis: Yah, more against people than against society.

Kazz: Like those who know only one view, and do not try to look at things from a different perspective. In Singapore, what we do is a stupid thing to do. "Why don’t you concentrate on your work and get a Mercedes and a BMW?" But, to them, what we are doing is stupid. What we think, or what I think, I shouldn’t talk for you guys, is that they are stupid. ‘Cos we are doing something that I love. So it is like, I want them to know that there is something else to do...

Ray: I guess what Kazz is trying to say is that, right now in

Singapore, because, I don’t want to get political or what, but we are in a society right now where we are almost like robots, there’s no more passion in life anymore. Everybody is working for money, it’s like everybody is in the rat race. Everybody is working for a Mercedes, everybody is working for big houses, and everybody is working for the 5Cs. For us we are normal people. We are not saying that, I don’t know about you guys (referring to the band), money is still important in life. But it’s not the only thing in life. We have our own careers. As human beings in Singapore, we need to survive as well. We are not into music full time. But at the same time we do music on the side as a serious passion. Which gives an outlet for us. Whereas people are out there working overtime and all that, I’m sure they are not happy with their jobs, I’m sure some of us here are also not happy with our jobs. But then bo pian (Hokkien: no choice), we need to survive.

Francis: But then again, overseas, you cut away those bands that are signed to major labels like pop-punk Offspring or Green Day, that actually live as a band, the rest of the underground, say in the United States or England where the punk scene is damn big, a lot of them are working. There is no such thing as a professional punk band, unless you sign to a major label. Some of them got all kinds of funny jobs. Some of them are cooks; some of them don’t know what kind of job they have, even in the States.

Lee: That term is rather contradictory, "professional punks," it doesn’t make sense, there is no such thing.

Francis: But that is what they are, Offspring, Rancid and all that are.

When you guys played the first two songs off the new album at Stasis 3 at The Substation in December, Francis you made a statement about returning to your roots, which is punk. Was there any guilt in that statement?

Francis: No guilt. None at all.

 

Ray: Every band goes through different phases. There is nothing wrong in change.

Francis: And actually one of the main reasons is that we wanted to go back to our roots a long time back. But our ex-guitarist is a very metal kind of person.

Ray: He is Danny lah, from Silent Sorrow.

Francis: He is a very metal guy. It was very cool last time, ‘cos we mixed our punk influence with his metal technical stuff. But after a while, we felt we were not going anywhere, and we decided to go back to punk. So when he left, we simply got our ex-guitarist back. But we just cannot suddenly switch back, so we had to tell everybody about the change.

You guys seem to be very much influenced by the Japanese punk scene — the Japanese songs that you have been playing and the Japanese EP cover, why is that? Why does the Japanese scene appeal to you more than, say, the American or the British punk scenes?

Francis: The main thing is that we have a Japanese member, who can speak Japanese, so we cover a couple of Japanese bands for the **** of it. No one does it in Singapore.

You have a Hokkien song. Notably, Objection Overule also have a Hokkien song. What is so interesting about these sort of songs? Does it have anything to do with a sort of Singapore punk sound?

Francis: I think precisely, Objection Overule do it not to create a Singaporean identity, but because they are Singaporean.

Ray: I tell you, we admit we are not the first band to sing in Hokkien. Basically a lot of bands do too. But I guess we are at a stage where we want to try new stuff and different languages. We are already writing Japanese songs, so why not Hokkien songs?

Francis: We are smack right here in Singapore, ****ing Japanese member, and we are Chinese, but we are influenced by the Western stuff, so it is only natural to write in Hokkien, or his mother tongue Japanese (referring to Kazz). We don’t have a precise plan. I mean **** lah, we will just do it. Maybe end up with a repertoire of, say, 10 Japanese songs and two English songs. Or maybe 10 Hokkien and one Japanese song. Just see how it goes. Ah, but sometimes we don’t like it!



The popularity of J-pop has spilt over to J-rock, any intentions on cashing in on it?

Francis: No lah! They are **** kids lah, those that listen to J-pop. They ****ing listen to...

Kazz: Luna Sea...

Francis: Ah, Luna Sea, they are a J-pop band dressed as a heavy metal band. When I first caught onto Japanese stuff, I thought, "Wah! Damn cool ah!" Big hair, everything, so aggressive, right? But after a while I moved away from that and found a more underground scene in Japanese, which was better. There is another side of Japan that nobody knows. He (Kazz) knows well.

Lee: No, it has nothing to do with the scene. It is that you express yourself differently when you speak a different language. You see, if you think in a different language, you will think in a different way. It has nothing to do with the culture. When you experiment with different languages you tend to think differently. 'Cos the words are different.

But we are always adopting another culture, how about one of our own?

Francis: Are we adopting another culture? It is his (pointing to Kazz) not mine. He is part of our band.

Ray: We are a democratic band, that is why we have a mix. Hokkien and Japanese. We have to balance it.

Lee: You see, you mention punk, right, as much as I would hope and would like to think, punk is a global thing. It has nothing to do with the culture, but it is how you think, where you come from and from what you experience and go through in life that matters.



Kazz:
And it is only me I guess, but a lot of nationalism leads to discrimination. I’m okay with being Japanese, but not too proud of it. Most of the discrimination against the countries and racists stems from loving the country too much. So OP is, no matter what, based on Western music. I don’t really "hail Ang Moh" (Westerners), so it is natural to add an Asian feel into it.

Francis: It is a recent development only (this Asian influence).

The thing that intrigues me most about this lineup, is that it is not Francis nor Lee, that does some of the vocal duties, who are the actual frontmen, but Kazz, who is the centre of attraction. Isn’t it awkward to have such a scenario?

Kazz: One thing is that we do not like the usual thing. Look at AC/DC, their front man is the guitarist, the one with the shorts.

Francis: It is actually quite okay, ‘cos when we play in a gig, we cannot get a proper lineup, vocalist in front and it's either Lee or me on the right or left and Kazz will be in the centre. He is like a sideshow kind of thing.

Ray: We use him for visual effects only.

Francis: So, you get a full show lah. You get a person to look at, and you get two people shouting their guts at you.

Kazz: And they are playing guitars and singing, they can’t do much. So I have to do the head banging.

Ray: We are not really showmen lah. We are musicians. You do not see us dancing round the stage.

Lee: Neither are we musicians.

Kazz: We are punk. (Laughs)

The titles of your songs, Hack N Slash or Impending Death, are rather brutal. Have the lyrics changed over the years?

Francis: Impending Death is about nuclear stuff, that some day you will die from it. That was in the ‘80s when everyday you read the papers and there is something about it. Hack N Slash is about a serial killer going around chopping people.

Kazz: Hack N Slash is more of a fiction kind of thing. But it is very personal. Last time was more on society’s problems.

Francis: Impending Death wasn’t political or what, but just about dying one day from the bomb. You know with all the ****-kids running the government. Because of that it was likely.

How much do you guys play for passion? Some people have said that Singaporean musicians should stop faking it and live up to the fact that you all want to be rock stars? How much of that is true?

Francis: It will be 15 ****ing years, do you think I am still working to be a rock star? (Laughs)


But the Moderates are going to Australia...

Francis: Let me tell you something. Those ****ing hardcore American bands coming to Asia, we think that they are rock stars? **** no, man. There is this band, I forgot the name, and they played the whole ****ing Asian network. They came up with US$10,000, they only made back $8,000. But when they came to Asia, everybody thought they were ****ing rock stars. They were like, "**** all you people man! We ****ing work and we came up with the money to play there." They lost $2,000 and they went back to the US to be chefs or taxi drivers or whatever. So you ask them, are they rock stars? They will say **** no, man! Because we play punk, the whole idea of being a rock star does not occur. Of course, if you want to play overseas, it is great.

Ray: When we went to Bangkok, we felt very small actually. There were a lot of huge bands there. I just hope other local bands know where they stand. Like we, we know where we stand. We don’t go around telling people, when we play gigs we must have 10 packets of blue M&Ms in our dressing room, or mineral water. That is rock star lah. Of course we must admit, if OP can make it big, don’t say make it big, but play music as a living; travelling overseas to play gigs is every musician’s wet dream. But the thing is that right now we are not thinking about it. We are just doing the thing we love, and if it takes us somewhere along the way, then that will be good. There is no target. Maybe another 15 years lah.

Kazz: But I never really wanted to be a rock star.

Francis: But if it falls right on your lap, then what the ****? But if it doesn’t then never mind. We are not going to give ourselves pain every night thinking about it. A lot of bands say, we have a CD now, so we are rock stars. **** off lah. Ten years ago we put out a seven-inch vinyl in France. That one nobody knows, ‘cos I don’t ****ing give a **** about me doing it. I actually had a lot of so-called fans in the huge underground radio network, where our songs were played. Another four to five years, the seven-inch was sold out, so we are back down here again. But if I was to tell it to everyone, everyone would say, "Wah, OP damn ****ing big in France man."

Francis, you wrote in to BigO and spoke of how people have changed, what point were you trying to make?

Francis: It is so different from the last time. When I came out people stared at me. Well, I stare at people now. Last time I wore the same fashion as now, spikey hair, boots and everything. People look at, "Wah, what the **** is this guy, crazy ah?" Now people dress more xiao (crazy) than me. But I do get angry lah, once in a while. See the mainstream punk fashion, even though they are not punk. Like today, I saw on television some Taiwanese guy, spiky hair, dog collar and chain. I said, "Ten years ago people would scold, "You kao ah?" ("You dog?") Nowadays, when this Chinese singer wore it, everybody shouts, "Oh! Hen hao, hen hao." ("Very good.") I do get angry at stuff like that. That is why I made that point.

Apart from musical styles you guys have created a certain style of your own. How important is that for local bands here? How important is an image in Singapore?

Francis: Basically, very generally, there are two types of bands. One that copies everything, and one that strikes out on its own. But I guess both will have to exist together. Like when those rap-metal bands that sound like Limp Bizkit, there will be those who will cheer and those who will jeer. We just happen to be on the side that doesn’t copy. It is part and parcel of the whole thing. The other local bands can do what they want.

Is there anything in these 15 years in the music scene that you wish you achieved but you did not?

Francis: Wah... a lot of things. You sure you got time or not? (Chuckles)

Ray: I have not been with OP for 15 years, maybe 10 years or so. I’m just proud of the fact that Francis has been around for 15 years... It doesn’t matter if OP isn’t among the top local bands, it doesn’t matter. The thing is that we have survived for 15 years. You tell me which local band can boast that kind of record? That is the bottom line to me. Fourteen or 15 years, it says a lot about the character of the band no matter the line up changes and all that.

But this guy, Francis, has been keeping the band for 15 years. I have never told him this, but I am very proud of the fact that I can be part of OP. I am just proud of the fact that we have been around for 15 years. I don’t think Stompin’ Ground can even boast that.

Francis: Wah... Emmy award. (Grins) To tell you the truth, I wish back then, when we were active internationally, in France and all that, I wish we could have gone overseas. Not to become rock stars, but at least to create some impact. But the problem was we didn’t have the money. We were working but it paid very little. I wish we could have gone earlier. Now, we can fly to any goddamn place at our own expenses.

 

Kazz, you are Japanese, do you get the special "foreign import treatment?" Now that Singapore has this foreign talent idea?

Francis: **** lah, they see him they du lan (hate themselves).

How much do you call Singapore your home and, if so, why is it more than Japan? If not then why not Singapore?

Kazz: I feel neither. I always have this identity crisis; I don’t know where I belong to. My family and OP is where I belong. It doesn’t have to be Singapore or Japan.

Ray, you played in a few other bands. But each time you do, you state that you are from Opposition Party. How much should Singaporean musicians play with other bands? (Ray plays in Sugarflies and Popland, among others.)

Ray: I want to make this clear, that I am not a professional

musician. I help underground bands and I help club bands as well. But the thing is, I’m doing this because I want to help the scene. I mean if a band has no drummer but wants to record album or play gigs, I don’t mind playing for them. Second thing, is that I love to play music a lot. I love to play drums. That is why I do a lot of session work. Not only do I help the scene, I also help myself improve my skills and try different styles.

Do you find you have less passion?

Ray: Whenever I sit down behind the drums I always give 100 per cent. Last year I played a gig with Wendy Koh (Singapore ‘80s club icon). I was playing Careless Whisper and all those ‘80s retro s***. Whether it is a club gig, or a studio gig, I give 100 per cent. And I feel that any musician capable of helping out should help out. Because I feel it is helping the scene to grow. There is no such thing as I am playing for OP, **** you, I don’t want to help you.

I daresay the local scene is moving into the third wave. What has gone wrong and what is going right? Especially after what you saw at Stasis 3, how does that compare to those earlier gigs?

Ray: To tell you the truth I prefer the second wave gigs. Last time, The Substation gigs in the second wave, you can be guaranteed that everybody would stay from start to finish. There is no such thing as I come to listen to this particular band, after you play I **** off. No such thing. Punks, skinheads, hardcore or metal... everybody would stay to the end. The whole family would come down. Like the No Surrender gig, those gigs from 1991 to 1993 maybe, you look at those gigs back then at The Substation you will feel damn proud to be an underground local music supporter.

 

Francis: Serious you know. That time we did a countdown for don’t know what ****ing year. ****ing hell, the skins, the Mohawks, they were all moshing, slamming. Then Stasis, eh, okay lah, we cock-up lah, but even without the cock-up, right, people were just stoning. I was thinking, "Eh what the **** is this?"

Ray: That is the only thing we don’t like about this wave.

Francis: They are like too proud to enjoy themselves. I really want| to tell them that.

Ray: I feel that those gigs at the Youth Park, same thing. They come for the band they like then they **** off. If you really love the local underground scene, if you really love local music, then stay from beginning till the end. Even if it is a ****ed-up band, just give them the support.

Francis: The first wave was very different. The first wave was when like nobody knows what was happening. You go to a gig and then you get a good response, but not like "Wah!" a lot. They will still cheer for you, even though OP was a punk band and they were not into punk. Second wave people are more into specific kind of music. They will still cheer for everyone. Come to the third wave where people are specifically into a certain kind of music. So even at a gig, they see OP... "Wah! Even with 15 years they will still tell you to **** off."

Ray: That is why I also think that maybe organisers should stop having so many bands in a gig, from different genres. Last time can! Now cannot. You want to have a punk gig, then have all punk bands.

Francis: You see, these **** kids, they are into rap-metal, you come up with "dum-ta-dum-ta" British punk, they will say "**** off man!" Their musical tastes already developed, they will say, "I want to support this band, and all the rest can **** off."

Let’s say, you had a gig and then you were told it is No Art Day, would you cancel your gig?

Francis: Hey! I’m not part of the art scene man! **** it!

Kazz: Anyway, music has never been an art. Art is like painting and sculpture and all this. Music is always entertainment.

Francis: Maybe in the first wave we would have been affected, because there were those Art Festival gigs. But right now, I don’t think so.

Ray: Music is an art form lah. But a different form of art. If you are talking about No Art Day, then it is probably referring to plays and mimes and stuff.

Kazz: Anyway, we are punks right, we hate to be told to do something. We play when we want to play. (Laughs)


Well, No Art Day was actually a reply to censorship that has been happening in Singapore. What is your take on censorship in Singapore? Do you feel freer now than 10 years ago?

Kazz: I think other than last time, which prevented the long-haired artistes from coming in, there is not much change.

But things like slamdancing are still banned today. If it happens, your deposit would be revoked.

Francis: To tell you the truth, right, I don’t think they will take your money unless something bad happens. If nothing goes out of hand, I don’t think the government will do anything.

Kazz: When people get too pampered, they get spoilt.

Ray: I think this ban on slamdancing is really hurting the scene. I mean, how can you go to a hardcore or punk gig and not slamdance? You see people sitting down clapping, how can!?! I think it is ridiculous. It is just a different culture.

Francis: But right now with the internet, this censorship thing is a bit grey. I mean, the police are unlikely to come to your house and arrest you because you surf porn sites.

But you know, right, No Art Day is a very passive form of protest. How much do you think radicalism is necessary today?

Francis: Anyway, playing on No Art Day is also rebellious what.

But in society today, say, like in Seattle, the anarchists go out there and smash things. Being a punk how good is it to bring awareness to the world of society’s problems?

Francis: I don’t think so. Seattle and Singapore, not the same. If people want to do it, then let them, we will just sit there and watch. But we are way past that already.

Ray: It is like The Boredphucks, you know, with all that vulgarities. That is their style. But you must know that you are in Singapore and you must be responsible for your actions. Right now, the very fact that The Boredphucks are banned says a lot about radicalism in Singapore. We are not ready lah.

Version 1.0, when will we get Version 2.0?

Francis: This year. It is going to be version 0.1. Because we are going to play some ‘90s songs. Our old songs lah. It is part of the process of going back to the roots.

Note: The above interview was published in BigO #182 (February 2001).
Click here to order a copy of the issue (S$4.80). Overseas readers can email singbigo@singnet.com.sg for rates.

Click here to order Opposition Party's Ver 0.1.



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