Elephant Gym

[Review] Crossing Seas; pushing boundaries with music

There’s no better place than Blu Jaz to host a math rock gig that features three gems from Asia. We’re referring to the Crossing Seas gig that happened on 20 January 2015, a Tuesday evening, on the cozy third floor performance space of this café/bar along Bali Lane. This place is familiar to music lovers who actively support the local independent music scene, as a sweet spot for gigs by homegrown talents. In the same vein, Blu Jaz charms regional musicians with its ambience while introducing regional musicians to our local indie music culture.

Organised by Livepod, whose mission is to bring independent music across Asia to audiences of Singapore, Crossing Seas featured NAO from Malaysia, our very own homegrown talent Sphaeras and at the same time, it also marked the closing of Taiwanese band Elephant Gym’s Asia 2014 Tour.

Sphaeras, one of the Budding Bands of Baybeats 2014, opened the show, taking the stage amid catcalls and cheers from faithful supporters. The band’s chemistry was overwhelming, resulting in a very tight live performance despite unconventional time signatures, which drew the audience in. Transitions were powerfully engaging and smooth such that it took a while for one to realise that the band had switched back to another beat. They did more than just complement one another – each member added individual character into every piece through spot-on nuances. The interplay and balance of sound and silence demonstrated the band’s understanding of both elements.

Photo by Melvin Ong

Zahkran Khan, Axel Ante and Haokai Lek. Photo by Melvin Ong

NAO came on next, after a short break. They contrasted significantly with Sphaeras, as they deviated from the pop format. Their music is fronted by fun riffs and rhythms that are intensely groovy, forcing your head to, at the very least, bob along or else, run the risk of heavy cognitive dissonance.

The clean nasal guitar tones are characteristic of the band, giving their music a light cheeky feel and allowing the guitar to execute swingy lead lines with a lyrical spring. The instrumentation worked well together, harmonising and echoing each other’s intentions to further emphasise each piece. You’ll have to listen to them live before you can understand what they mean, when they describe their music as “Tasty Toe Jam”.

Ian Hen, Tat Mo and Teng Sou Wong from NAO.  Photo by Donald Soh.

Ian Hen, Tat Mo and Teng Sou Wong from NAO.
Photo by Donald Soh.

The highlight of the night was up after NAO. And from the way dudes rushed to chope a place around the stage during the break time, it is no secret that bassist Tif Chang is the motivation for many to turn up for an evening gig on a Tuesday night. After all, there’s always something about girls who play bass and we dare you to object to this statement.

Sporting a mushroom hairstyle and bubbly personality, Tif’s chirpy attempts at English and humouring the crowd paid off. Aside from excellent audience interaction, this sweet petite girl wowed everyone with the energy and power in her bass-wielding. The band focuses on the energy in music, and they bring it out through a play on the tension and release in their iteration of notes and rhythms. Pushing boundaries with every catchy riff, they set us into an uncommon time signature, with a tinge of smooth jazz.

Photo by Donald Soh

Having fun with Elephant Gym. Photo by Donald Soh.

All in all, the one word that can adequately summarise the gig experience has to be shiok. Within a span of three hours, the bands brought us on a journey through the many possibilities and ways in which each genre can be approached and interpreted.

In one setting, the musical personalities of the three bands are brought out crystal clear and it was eye-opening to see how the creative interplay of musical elements could be tweaked, resulting in music that is worlds apart yet achieves similarly odd time signatures. That thirst extended to us as well and left us wanting more.

Images from Crossing Seas Facebook. Header and thumbnail image by Olivia Kwok

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