If you're into the music scene in Singapore, surely Middle Class Cigars would not be an unfamiliar name by now. Our meeting with Nigel Lopez, the founder of newly formed record label, Middle Class Cigars, provided a refreshing insight into the branding process of a label and musicians. Convinced that the tricky (but fulfilling) music industry was one that he wanted in, Nigel roped in his first artist, Linus Hablot after a casual chat on the desire to make music.
Along with Linus are bands like onguyot, Subsonic Eye, Cosmic Child and Silas Price, musicians of vastly different styles but release a constant energy—music you can imagine yourself safely drowning but at the same time managing to pull yourself up with an unexplained force. In other words, music that allows you to travel to a safe, positive zone of introspection.
During our chat, Nigel explained how the love for bedroom and dream pop musicians pushed him into creating a label that's fascinating and personal. He also talked about the ever growing imbalance in system involving independent labels & artists and bigger, more well-funded ones and how the creative scene should work towards bridging gaps to ensure a more sustainable way of creating and living.
Your line up of artists have varying styles. What do you consider when communicating their vision and releasing their music?
Each artist has their own identity and sound. I work with them to get their message out there accurately—How do we want to release each album and music video? When will they be released? How would we bring the press in?
The arts scene here is very supportive of local talents. But it changes slightly when it comes to someone who doesn’t ‘look Singaporean’, like Linus. Even though an artist is based here and may have been living here for years, they may not come across as ‘Singaporean’ to some people. We can be very fixated on what we observe on the surface.
Props to Lush 99.5FM for having Linus on The Lush List. They were very receptive to the idea that local doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘Singaporean face’, whatever that means. Being a melting pot of cultures, we have the luxury of having people of different backgrounds bring out a great variety of art forms. Why should we limit ourselves to the things we can enjoy?
There’s this constant challenge for emerging brands to learn, develop and step up our game all at once so we don’t lack behind. How do you think you can come together with current players in the scene to balance and refine the quality of what is existing in our landscape?
What I appreciate about Singapore is that artists and makers are proactive in getting our works out because we know that we don’t have a choice. Rather than sitting around waiting for someone to pick us up, we get up and do something. In terms of working with labels, each of us has our own sound. Kitchen Label has an ambient, soft sound. KittyWu Records houses harsh, post-rock acts like Amateur Takes Control. In that sense, it can be tricky to work together.
(Photo: Raphael Ong)
But what I think can happen here are label markets. Have record store markets where labels come together to sell their vinyl, cassettes and so on. The record people here could definitely do that, with the growing scene and the many possibilities to set up space today.
From your perspective, how important is audience investment in independent brands like yours?
It should be the highest priority. In the general music scene, you listen to an album, go on a music streaming app and search for more albums.
The record label doesn’t matter. The chance of most people returning to the same music is quite low. That’s why my targeted audience are people who come back for more—that’s where the cassettes play an important role because people love the experience that comes with it. That’s the vision that I represent. I’m trying to build a tight-knit audience base that understands the aims of the label and trusts my taste.
Much like how I trust Orchid Tapes. I know that their music recommendations would be great, which is why I even bothered clicking in the first place. Also, Orchid Tapes has such a great fan base and I set my goals according to that. I want people to appreciate not just the music but also the design and identity.
More of Middle Class Cigars (+ Linus Hablot and Silas Price) on print.
Stay up to date with Middle Class Cigars and listen to its artists here