Funk Bast*rd, also known as Dean Chew, is a renowned figure in Singapore’s club scene. At an early age, he started collecting vinyl and soon began to delve deeper and investigate sounds, spheres and connections between all kinds of music, something that became the driving force behind his label Darker Than Wax.
On Singapore’s south shore close to the harbor, in an area called Telok Blangah, Dean Chew set up his headquarters from where he operates his label, while his spatial design studio FUUR is set up in the neighborhood of Jalan Besar. He let us in on how those spheres connect and what locations we should check out in Singapore.
Nick Kurosawa – What do I do
Cookin’ On 3 Burners – More
Than A Mouthful feat. Kylie Auldist4. The Ba-roz – The Last Tim
恬妞 (Tian Niu) -等你在雨中
Brock Berrigan – Hotwire
The Cool Notes – Secrets of the night
Moonchild – The List (gregarious’s intergalactic groove edit)
Tom Misch – It Runs Through Me ft. De La Soul
Dufresne – Kindling
Radio Galaxy – The Falcon
Danger D – Love the buff (Instrumental mix)
Kokolo – The Way Up (Petko Turner’s Koan Edit)
The Pendletons – Set Sail
Space Ghost – Colour Waves
Chrissy feat. Miles Bonny – Back In Time (Crackazat Extended Remix)
D. Lynnwood – Bitcoins
Kevin Over – A G’s Last Dance
Bosq ft. Bruno Morais – Com Força
How did you start your label?
Way back, I had a good fortune of meeting Kaye, a like-minded individual and co-founder of Darker Than Wax, which we started seven years ago. He’s a self-taught saxophonist with a jazz background. First, we started playing together: him on the saxophone and me on the turntables. Fairly soon, the idea was born to create a label, a platform where we could release our own music and link up with like-minded musicians from the region and also globally.
Starting a label from scratch to release your own music sounds like quite the DIY-approach.
Absolutely, one hundred percent DIY from the start. We learned as we went along, especially from DIY labels that have come before us like Stones Throw from the US or Compost Records from Germany. When Soundcloud came along, it really exploded and facilitated connections to other musicians who then produced for Darker Than Wax or joined us.
What are the label’s main influences musically?
Both of us have been heavily influenced by the richness of African American music in all its forms. In all the music you pursue, at least that’s how we see it, you must research and dig deeper for its meaning. Don’t take it at face value. Keep investigating the connections and the dots between all different types of music without considering classifications or categories. To us, Jazz, for example, really is a state of mind rather than just music.
When did you first encounter Jazz?
I got into Jazz, Funk and Soul when I was quite young. I didn’t discover Miles Davis or the usual Jazz standards per se, though. I was always more into Synth Pop like Human League or Depeche Mode and the early Kraftwerk stuff. Yet, I think those people have always been influenced by Jazz or other forms of African American music. So, I guess, that really led me to discovering more.
Can you name a personal milestone?
Definitely when I first heard Lonnie Liston Smith’s Expansions. It’s a very classic album that used elements of Soul, Jazz and even what would later be considered as Techno. It really blew my mind. This music sounded so fresh, although it was produced in 1975. In a way, it opened my third eye, my chakra and I fell into a great abyss of music.
“I try to convey a narrative throughout my mixes, going through different types tempos, moods and feelings.”
What inspired the playlist for the mix you’ve sent to us?
I wanted to cheer you guys up, like, ‘hey, the winter months are over and now it’s a bit of sunshine’. The songs have warmer tones but the selection also represents the way I mix. Categories are not important to me. I might start a bit slower, and then progress into heavier beats. I try to convey a narrative throughout my mixes, going through different types tempos, moods and feelings. The mix pretty much represents the DNA of Darker Than Wax.
Could you give us an insight into Singapore’s contemporary nightlife scene?
It’s very energetic now. Just as in other scenes, you have to dig into the different pockets. There are so many different types of music, demographics and communities here from House to Hip-Hop, to Drum ‘n Bass to Goth, Industrial and Reggae. So, it’s about being open-minded and getting to know the local community. Definitely check out this little House and Techno club called Headquaters. It was opened by some friends of mine, DIY people. My personal favorite hideaway spot, though, is The Projector. It’s an old cinema which was turned into a very interesting location. It’s got a great energy and next to it there is a carpark with another event space called The Great Escape which has an interesting mix of people coming together in on a Friday night.
Who is, in your opinion, up-and-coming in Singapore and the region?
There is this guy from Singapore called FZPZ. He’s a very talented electronic beats producer who just released his EP with us at the end of April. Not saying that because he is working with our label but he’s this just a crazily talented Jazz guitarist. There’s a very talented producer in Bandung, Indonesia by the name of Munir. He mixes a lot of local, seventies ethnic sounds with disco influences. And then there is Prabumi from Jakarta. He’s crazy. I heard some of his music when I was in Jakarta. He’s fusing tribal sounds with Deep House and techno frequencies.
Besides Darker Than Wax you run a spatial design firm called FUUR. What are your projects there?
First of all, I have to say that I am a trained architect, but not a registered one here in Singapore, just to make sure not to get into any trouble with the board here [laughs]. With my partner Jasper, we design retail spaces, for example. In the past we have worked with Nike on several projects. We did a lot of bars and restaurants, quite a few clubs as well and then a Hotel, Bisma 8, in Bali. We really like to work with brands, especially start-up brands. Also, being a designer today is not just about understanding spatial realities but about understanding how clients and brands think; it’s about moving forward with them.
Is there a connection between the music and FUUR?
Sometimes, when we work on a space and the client knows that I am a DJ and that I run Darker Than Wax, I’d plan and program the music for their space. So, we have both; I think clients like that sort of storytelling.
Tell us about your current plans with Darker Than Wax.
Next to the recent FZPZ production, we have a couple of more international releases coming up. We’d like to start a 12-Inch vinyl series with club edits and club tunes for DJs. If everything goes well, that will come out in the next few months. Also, we’re planning some tours, and I’ll be playing at Dimensions Festival in Croatia in September which is quite exciting.
Thank you Dean, for putting together this mix and for sharing the story of Darker Than Wax and FUUR.
Learn more about Dean’s label as well as his design practise and, if you’re around Croatia in September, make sure to catch him DJing at Dimensions Festival in Pula. Also, check for further Darker Than Wax EU/UK dates.
There’s a whole world of sonic bliss to be discovered in our Mixtape section.
Text: Fabian Ebeling
Photography: OSG Photography, Mark Lewis Tan