Sitting at my desk, listening to Darker Than Wax’s Official Releases playlist on Spotify, I’m thinking, to hell with “local”. It isn’t so much the geographical connotation of the word but the limitation it puts on media produced here in sunny Singapore. “No one thinks we’re from Singapore when they first hear us,” shares Kevin Guoh aka Kaye, co-founder of Darker Than Wax, a record label based here.
It’s not hard to see why. Looking through the company’s stable of artistes brings you across the world from New Zealand to New York – different nationalities unified in musicality. Darker Than Wax was borne of frustration. Guoh explains, “We’d been playing in clubs and everywhere else for ages by then and we’d always meet these international DJs and producers who’d pay us lip service, promising to link us up with other labels but nothing ever happened. After a while, we decided ‘Let’s do it ourselves.'”
Guoh co-founded Darker Than Wax with Dean Chew aka Funk Bast*rd five years ago. “Thanks to the Internet, we’ve been able to hook up with producers from everywhere that want to work with us,” Chew shares. So what makes this homegrown label tick? “For one, we’ve never had to deal with the stigma of being Singaporean,” Chew explains. Unlike a lot of local music that is championed on its origin rather than its quality, Darker Than Wax takes the approach of putting music first. The About Us on the label’s web page explains it as “…a statement that music should have depth and that your racial/genetic/cultural make-up is irrelevant – only your soul is.” If you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense.
“We don’t really understand the concept of ‘Support Local’. I mean, it’s a bit like the Smile campaign, right? Just support music lah,” Guoh urges. With the amount of red tape and restrictions that local acts have to go through just to put on a show, Guoh and Chew point out that it is no wonder creativity is stifled in Singapore. Taking the identity out of the music has paved the way for them to work with quite literally anyone they want to. “People approach us and we approach them all the time,” Chew reveals, likening his research process of artistes to his vinyl-collecting habits. “We’re constantly looking for new people to work with so it’s a lot like digging for records. I’m always listening to new producers and looking for new sounds. It’s a hustle.”
This year Darker Than Wax will take on its “biggest collaboration” in the form of a partnership with Casio G-Shock. The Japanese watchmaker recently launched the G-Shock X Darker Than Wax limited edition timepiece, a partnership that Chew and Guoh are completely psyched about. “We’ve never cold-called brands about doing collaborations, but we’ve managed to work with adidas and Hypebeast through connections. So when Casio called us, we were blown away,” Chew tells us. A Casio executive was on the lookout for a new musical collaboration in the region and happened to be at kyō when Darker Than Wax threw a party there last November. The rest, as they say, is history.
Using the brand’s signature, logo and slogan, Chew designed it with the backing of the entire team. “I used to design the merchandise for Darker Than Wax a while back so I guess they trusted me, and I’m grateful for that. We played around with colour and where we could display our logos, but I think the end product is true to our identity, which is very important to us,” he says. For G-Shock, the collaboration runs true to its stance as a brand that’s well-versed with subcultures. From rappers to graffiti artists, G-Shock’s longstanding record of working outside the mainstream has granted it “absolute cool status” with young people everywhere. Darker Than Wax will surely see some of that on its end.
“It has to be a win-win situation for Casio and us. The fact that we get to put in a little USB drive with a mix of our artistes just sealed the deal that much faster,” Guoh shares. Did these two guys with a shared passion for all things music ever think about having a limited edition G-Shock five years ago when they first started? “Hell, no. We probably wouldn’t be here at all if we were sidetracked with dreams of doing collaborations like this,” they laugh.
The DtW x G-SHOCK will be available for purchase exclusively at Casio G-Factory in Singapore and G-SHOCK stores in London this December.