Under Covers: Kiat

Kiat's accomplishments in music have been well documented. As the head honcho of experimental audio-visual collective Syndicate, the godfather of Singapore's drum & bass scene, and a prominent producer on heralded labels like Metalheadz and Soul:R - he's (deservedly) been held up as one of tiny's country's greatest electronic music exports.

But beyond his exploits as an internationally-renowned DJ and beatsmith, Kiat is equally well-known in his day job as a visual artist. A veteran of the design and advertising industry, Kiat's celebrated work is just as prolific and boundary-pushing. Naturally, the multi-talented multimedia artist has also been combining his twin passions for many decades now.

In the realm of music, Kiat has contributed sleeve art to several notable imprints around the world (including his own), and designed a multitude of collaterals ranging from posters to fliers. Most recently, he's been tasked by iconic Metalheadz founder Goldie and drum & bass legend Digital to craft the cover artwork for the latter's In The Lurch EP.

So for this edition of Under Covers, we figured it'd be an opportune time to have a chat with Kiat about his visual endeavours.

 

Hi Kiat! Most fans mostly know for your music, but you’ve been a designer for a very long time as well. Could you tell us a bit about your background in the visual arts?

I’ve actually been into design throughout my life. Graduated from Lasalle and finished a degree in Multimedia Arts in Melbourne. After graduation, my first job was as an art director at a small design studio for about four and a half years called WORK which was started by Theseus Chan. From then on, I was in the design/advertising industry for too long! I’ve always been attracted to the visual arts in my childhood through multimedia cultures such as hip-hop.

What drives your passion as an artist and designer?

The desire to create and make stuff though different mediums. As well as a certain feeling that my work constantly isn't good enough for myself… that’s a lifelong struggle that has become my DNA somewhat. Or it could be just ADHD.

When was the first time you realised that you dual interests in music and design could intertwine?

Not so much design in it’s purest sense but my early experiences listening to hip-hop DJs play while artists paint in the background did leave a strong impression on me from an early age. In my secondary school days, I think the experience of going record hunting with my seniors during lunch hours and digging through the record shelves played a role. 

Looking at the artwork and wondering what the music sounded like was a large part of discovering how the two different disciplines are not that different, and can not only exist simultaneously, but also in a symbiotic way, where both actually benefit. When I started making music at a later stage, I found countless similarities in the creation process… just like how design or art leaves a physical mark on an object, music leaves a sonic mark on a canvas of time.

Could you tell our readers about some of your past design work in music?

Due to my relationship in the drum & bass scene, I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute sleeve art to many labels that I've always admired such as Soul:RFunction and Metalheadz. I think it’s a nice way to complete the circle by contributing to something that has always inspired me. Currently, I also do artwork for Defrostatica, a new label from Germany run by Booga whom I’ve known through music for over 12 years.

All these labels do give me complete freedom to create anything and it’s a good exercise to expand my mind to come up with something that is hopefully different and memorable. And of course, having the Syndicate label really allows me to have some fun and try out new directions which I normally wouldn’t for other labels.

When was the first time you realised that you dual interests in music and design could intertwine?

Not so much design in it’s purest sense but my early experiences listening to hip-hop DJs play while artists paint in the background did leave a strong impression on me from an early age. In my secondary school days, I think the experience of going record hunting with my seniors during lunch hours and digging through the record shelves played a role. 

Looking at the artwork and wondering what the music sounded like was a large part of discovering how the two different disciplines are not that different, and can not only exist simultaneously, but also in a symbiotic way, where both actually benefit. When I started making music at a later stage, I found countless similarities in the creation process… just like how design or art leaves a physical mark on an object, music leaves a sonic mark on a canvas of time.

Could you tell our readers about some of your past design work in music?

Due to my relationship in the drum & bass scene, I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute sleeve art to many labels that I've always admired such as Soul:RFunction and Metalheadz. I think it’s a nice way to complete the circle by contributing to something that has always inspired me. Currently, I also do artwork for Defrostatica, a new label from Germany run by Booga whom I’ve known through music for over 12 years.

All these labels do give me complete freedom to create anything and it’s a good exercise to expand my mind to come up with something that is hopefully different and memorable. And of course, having the Syndicate label really allows me to have some fun and try out new directions which I normally wouldn’t for other labels.

What’s your favourite track on the album?

Frankly, I really do like them all! It would be hard to pick just one really as they work as a nice little EP. But if you put a gun to my head, I’d choose the title track ‘In The Lurch’ as the mood is classic Digital, moody and cinematic!

Lastly, what’s your favourite album artwork of all time?

I can’t decide! I think it’s between Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. Very different styles but both iconic in their own right!

Kiat and Brandon Tay chats with Vulture

Kiat and Brandon Tay chats with New York magazine's entertainment portal Vulture ahead of our final overseas showcase in New York this fall as part of  Singapore: Inside Out.


From Salvador Dalí and Man Ray to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, artists’ peer relationships are as valuable as their creative ones. To celebrate Singapore: Inside Out, a showcase of the country’s most genre-bending artists (it hits Manhattan’s Madison Square Park September 23–27), we spoke with painter-illustrator Tara McPherson and Syndicate, which pairs visual art with electronic music, about the importance of art communities. The NYC-based McPherson, who got her start illustrating band posters, some of which are at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, helped launch the Cotton Candy Machine gallery to boost fellow artists. And the music festival favorite Syndicate, part of Singapore: Inside Out, has demonstrated that there’s strength in numbers by forming an avant-garde collective. And yet, despite their geographic distance, as McPherson explains with Syndicate’s art director Kiat and visual artist Brandon Tay, they have much in common.

Why did you create art communities? 
Kiat: The communities have always existed on some level, although they might have been rather fragmented. What we have done is to create a kampung (community/common ground) space for these different scenes to come together, to create something beyond the individual. That was in 2010: I remember snail-mailing large posters to like-minded individuals or groups from various disciplines to invite them. 

McPherson: My partner, Sean Leonard, and I wanted to celebrate the work of artists we love. We also wanted to create a place where their art and merchandise would be accessible and affordable, as well as a flagship store for all of my prints, books, and merchandise that was sold online. We’ve hosted exhibitions, book-signings, workshops, ’zine fests, plays, musical performances, and more. It’s been so great to have a space where we can do anything we want.

BURY ME from SyndicateSG on Vimeo.

When did you decide to explore the overlap between visual art and music? 
McPherson: I started playing bass when I was 15, and have always been into seeing live music. When I went to Art Center, I was really focused on learning how to paint. After graduating, I finally had time to start a band and, being the visual artist in the band, I designed our flyers. They were turning out pretty cool, I thought. So I approached some venues around LA and started making rock posters. It was such an obvious evolution in my artwork. 

Tay: It is my life’s work. I think I first realized this attending a concert by Cornelius in Melbourne in my university days. At that point, the cohesiveness of the entire performance and the finesse of its components made it something transcendent.

How do you subvert or expand the notion of what art can be?
Kiat: I really think the idea of what constitutes art is hard to define. With regards to what we do, we try our best to communicate our intentions in the most honest way possible. As long as we feel that our work has integrity, it will show. That hopefully creates a dialogue between us and the audience. 

McPherson: I love the essence of portraiture, capturing this perfectly idealized moment in time, but I also like pushing the boundaries of it as my characters are not based on real people but more on facets of personalities. I can explore a surreal take on the human condition and impart a power into the gaze of the subject. I really love to explore ideas that maybe wouldn’t typically be associated with art, like biology, astrophysics, and psychology.

McPherson’s “The Love Space Gives Is as Deep as the Oceans”

What are the inspirations behind your work? 
Tay: Right now I’m interested in the idea of “slippage.” In the media, it refers to visual cues that betray the methodology of how something is created. In performance, it’s the miscues when a live performer, especially in an electronic context, exposes the hand of an artist during a show. For the viewer, I think it has something to do with manipulating the space between how they perceive time and space. 

Kiat: Space. Both inner and outer. 

McPherson: I have an ongoing exploration of the physical manifestation of thought in my work, things growing and flowing out of a body from the power of the subject’s mind or a heart-shaped physical void created by loss and devastation from emotional trauma. My last solo exhibition at Jonathan LeVine Gallery here in NYC was called “Wandering Luminations” and was based on bioluminescence, the evolution of life in the absence of light, where deep oceans parallel deep space, where the subjects create and emit their own eerie glowing light in their ongoing quests.

How does the Internet impact what you create? 
McPherson: The Internet is my encyclopedia. I can research anything that pops into my head without having to go to the library, so it impacts my creativity with efficiency. The Internet’s efficiency also helps in sharing my art with the world. It has created a wonderful global community. I can travel anywhere and people know what I was doing last week in Rome. It’s pretty magical. 

Kiat: It’s an enabler and connector. It has allowed us to reach into the farthest places on the planet and exchange ideas with like-minded people. The perception of distance has changed.

What is your next step creatively as an artist? 
Tay: A few things I’m interested in at the moment: virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces, dynamic projection mapping, 3-D scanning, digital avatars, post-Internet aesthetics. 

McPherson: My next solo show will be with Jonathan Levine Gallery in December 2016. I’m ready to embark on a new series of portraits of women and creatures that take on more destructive forces. Not only in reference to how we physically and mentally decay, but the power struggles with others and how destructive humanity can be. 

Kiat: I would like to explore immersive experiences where the audience is transported into other realms. The mediums don’t matter as much to me as the idea behind the piece. There is no point getting the best technology or programmer if your idea is faulty.


Originally published by Vulture