Coming from humble beginnings, it’s not a stretch to say that KoFlow is responsible for kick-starting the turntabling and hip hop culture in Singapore.
KoFlow developed an interest in turntables when his friend playfully introduced him to the concept. “I come from a traditional Chinese family. I could never pass my exams, as my English was just bad. But I was always the top in Art in school. I knew that I am creative and could draw. But in the 90s, the society is not forgiving to kids like me. I faced tremendous challenges when I was a kid to have an ‘aspiration’,” said KoFlow.
We chatted with KoFlow ahead of his autobiographical show at the Esplanade on 30 June.
How has the music industry in Singapore treated you?
I feel a lot of love and support from everyone. Someone recently told me, “Just focus on what you do best and let the community do the rest for you”, and they really did, which I greatly appreciate.
What are your thoughts on Singapore’s music industry?
The industry has had different forms and shapes through the years. I see the infrastructure falling into place and more artists are benefiting from it, which is very healthy. Also our country is so diverse now and there are many different subculture music gigs available. One day I’m at a grimey bass party; another day I’m at a jazz club or an indie festival. Every genre has its place in Singapore, which means that musicians of all different backgrounds have a place they belong to.
What made you realise music was your calling?
Initially scratching was really just a hobby. But after winning the Singapore DMC 2003 and going to the World Finals, I thought to myself that I owed it to myself to propel the craft of turntablism. It helped me got out of a lot of issues I faced as a teenager, and so I felt this need to spread this culture to everyone like me.
Tell me about your very first battle in 2001. You said you were nervous.
My hands were shaky. I couldn’t even place the needles to the right groove. So yeah, I was terrible. (laughs)
What has been your most memorable moment in your career?
There is too many. But recently I had the chance to work with Esplanade on a NAC pilot programme. I had been longing to work with an orchestra and they paired me up with Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and composer Julian Wong to create an orchestra and turntablism crossover concert! And after the concert, I felt that all these years of doing what I love doing all the more worth it, especially since I’m not a conventional musician!
What are the challenges you have faced in both your personal and professional life?
I come from a traditional Chinese family. I could never pass my exams, as my English was just bad. But I was always the top in Art in school. I knew that I am creative and could draw. But in the 90s, the society is not forgiving to kids like me. I faced tremendous challenges when I was a kid to have an ‘aspiration’. While everyone is in school, I’m at home with my turntables. Even when I started DJing professionally, society did not see it as a proper job. Often I’m seen as a bum.
Then came the professional challenges. How do I make this DJing/Turntablism thing popular? How can I be a full time musician and still support myself doing what I love? And I concluded that even if I have a day job without much education, there will still be challenges. So why not do something that is worth it to me?
What’s the most challenging period in your life?
It was probably between 2009 and 2012 when EDM started to get popular. Hip hop was out of the mainstream and a lot of the club owners said, “If you ain’t gonna evolve and play some EDM you are out of a job.”
So I decided to let go of the ‘Club DJ’ part of me and focused full time on ‘Live Turntabling’ while still playing hip hop. That was really challenging because I had become a freelancer and late payments can be as late as nine months later. During that particular period, I had to ‘grind’ harder than I ever did. My relationship suffered. My rental was late. It almost made me wanna give up.
Given a time machine, is there anything you would like to alter about the past or the future?
I would like to alter McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken. What is the ‘pineapple’ doing there?!
Tell me about something surprising about yourself that many people don’t know.
I can draw really well.
Is there anything you would like to say to the youth out there who aspire to be like you?
I don’t think anyone should be like me. They have their own journey. But use me as an example. See all the good and improve on it. See all the bad, and never repeat it. To my Singaporean youths, don’t just aim to be the best in Singapore. Go take that challenge to the world.
Flow: The Story of KoFlow will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 30 June. Buy tickets here.