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The LiFTED 5: The New Mongrels usher in a new era of Singaporean music

“We believe that every artist, regardless of status, should focus on building organic communities who are invested in them.”

LiFTED | Sabiq Rafid | 30 Aug 2023

“I’ve been spitting so much I need some new tonsils/Y’all rep the big dawgs, we the New Mongrels,” declares Mary Sue in the opening bar of track number two from his forthcoming project, a joint album with UK-based producer psychedelic ensemble. That bar inspired the name of a brand new Singaporean music movement founded by ABANGSAPAU and Mat Isham - New Mongrels.

Venus Oh [@venusproblematics / @bracketdave]

The dictionary defines a Mongrel as “a dog of no definable type or breed,” and that encapsulates what New Mongrels are all about. Take the co-founders for size, ABANGSAPAU is an MC, while Mat Isham is the powerhouse frontman of Saints Amongst Sinners, a seven-piece band. Generally speaking, the worlds in which these two figures exist musically do not coexist, but they’re here to break down those illusory barriers.

When you look into their artist roster, you'd be met with varying genres. There are MCs like Mary Sue, Zaymm, and ABANGSAPAU, R&B purveyors, singer-songwriters, and hard-hitting bands… and that’s intentional. Not only are they trying to break down barriers, they’re also building bridges between these musicians, and in their own words, “to not just coexist, but become indispensable to one another.”

This was exemplified through theirlaunch show earlier in August, which comprised both heavyweight acts and fresh cats, and a blend of sounds and genres. There were no set times released on the night, and a crowd made up from the different music circuits in Singapore pulled up, taking in every act that performed, and subconsciously, ushering in a new era of Singaporean music.

Venus Oh [@venusproblematics / @bracketdave]

In LiFTED’s interview with ABANGSAPAU back in May, he mentioned that he’s working on a “special project called New Mongrels.” Now, the New Mongrels are here, and along with them, comes a renewed spirit of collaboration and sparks of zeal. But, what exactly are the New Mongrels? They aren’t a label, and neither are they merely a collective of creatives and musicians.

Besides curating live shows and events, the New Mongrels Music imprint also focuses on artist discovery, music distribution, and education. We spoke to the two co-founders recently to pick at their brains on that, the processes that went behind it all, and the aspirations they have for themselves.

Tell us more about New Mongrels' ethos, and how the movement is going to bridge the gaps in Singapore and the region.

The New Mongrels place importance and values on self-directed and driven artists who champion what we stand for. They are intentional, self-sustaining artists who believe in the importance of community building and good f*cking music. In a world where vanity metrics seem to make the most noise, we believe that every artist, regardless of status, should focus on building organic communities that are invested in them. These communities are the foundations of possibilities for artists to progress sustainably and achieve greater heights.

Venus Oh [@venusproblematics / @bracketdave]

In a creative scene as small and bustling as Singapore’s, it is easy to get lost in your own bubbles. It’s not wrong, most of us tend to stick with what we know and who we’re comfortable with.

We have four main pillars: live show curation, artist discovery, education [where we are currently conducting weekly sessions partnered with ITE, a tertiary education institute] to introduce students to the fundamentals of musicianship and music business, and distribution, alongside our good friends and regional partners in KL-based TONGTONG Asia. With these pillars and support, we almost always have the opportunity to meet new people from different circles and to be exposed to and connect with people across creative backgrounds and disciplines.

Through our events, roster, and releases, we believe that we can play a key role in creating spaces for other creatives to rub shoulders with each other.

Venus Oh [@venusproblematics / @bracketdave]

With that being said, we hope to push for cross-collaboration between creative circles, in the pursuit of pushing the envelope of what Singaporean creativity and its ever-evolving industry can become.

What went behind the process of curating the diverse artist lineup?

The New Mongrels Music Imprint is not defined by a specific genre or sound, but rather by what we believe to be the ‘color’ of the imprint - fresh music from artists that consistently challenge the status quo and dare to be. This is the official answer.

But honestly, we never planned for the Imprint to be as big as it is now. We just wanted to gather a couple of homies and distribute their music for them; make it easier for them and help them where we could.

As we had more conversations with more people it started to become way bigger than we expected, and we realized that there was a gap that we were filling as well. So we were like, ‘F*ck it, let’s make this a “thing” and just go all out. And here we are now, with a full understanding of this “thing” and the endless possibilities and responsibilities that come with it.

The mix of sounds and genres would pull listeners from all around the music circuit. Would this blend of sounds bleed into the tracks that'll be released under the New Mongrels imprint?

No, it won’t bleed into the releases. Although we encourage exploration and collaboration within the imprint, we place autonomy and self-direction with the utmost importance. Any of the music made and released by the artists in the imprint is done so without any influence from us.

Earlier this month, the collective had its debut showcase via Rise of The New Mongrels. The lineup was stacked with heavyweights along with newcomers alike, and the crowd took it all in. Looking back on it now, what sort of emotions come up? How did the team feel about it?

The immediate emotions that we felt after the show were relief, happiness, and pride. Not gonna lie, we had our doubts. The months leading up to the show were grueling and arduous and filled with many challenges and dead ends. We were honestly not sure if a show this diverse would make sense. But through the team’s grit and understanding that we were not doing this for ourselves, but for the communities that we represent, we pushed forward and pulled it off.

Venus Oh [@venusproblematics / @bracketdave]

Uncountable thanks to everyone who believed in us and supported us. To our artists, thank you for your effort, faith, and patience in us. To our friends within and across the border, The Pinholes, Jin, Luna and gang, thank you for being part of this journey. Same goes to our core team, graphics partners PIECENLUV, and crew; we would have never pulled this off without you guys.

Venus Oh [@venusproblematics / @bracketdave]

This show is proof that Singapore is in a place to bridge gaps and evolve beyond niche crowds and circles. We hope that this show inspires others to take charge and do the same.

Lastly, tell us what lies ahead for New Mongrels, and the aspirations it has for itself.

Firstly, we understand that with a movement with as many moving parts as New Mongrels, a careful and methodical approach is needed so that we won’t burn out or become jaded. We cannot afford to be jaded as we are responsible for many under our care; be it our artists or the students involved in our educational programs. Understanding the weight of these responsibilities has guided us towards further solidifying operations in all our pillars. In order for the New Mongrels to sustain and survive, a “slow burn” mentality is imperative.

With that in mind, our ambitions remain big. We hope to expand our education programs to all tertiary and secondary-level schools, be at the pulse of Singaporean music, curate our own live shows and festivals, and nurture and grow our roster into becoming cultural tastemakers of Singaporean music.