If you’ve been scrolling through your phone looking for somewhere to be on a Saturday night, you might have come across one of the North East Social Club events.
Today we speak with one of the founders – Chris Sim, a ubiquitous figure in almost every creative subculture in Singapore.
A photographer who has immersed himself in whatever interests him, Chris’ work explores the performative expression of the current generation in his photography, while spotlighting lesser-known local musicians and DJs at the parties he hosts. as part of the North East Social Club (NESC).
Here’s what he had to say about his experiences and inspirations.
So tell us, how did you come to photography?
There were modules in my degree program that required photography work, so I chose it then.
I was initially interested in the gears and the resurgence of 35mm film culture brought about by Lomography, but the medium as a whole hooked me.
At the time, we were exposed to things like web development, graphic design, and writing, but photography felt intuitive to us almost immediately. Nan Goldin’s sex addiction ballad in particular was a formative influence.
Your recent series “on desire, from cheap seats” explores the performative reality of professional wrestling. Why are you so interested in this?
In professional wrestling, there is a concept known as kayfabe. As I understand it, kayfabe is the acceptance of professional wrestling events as objective reality – which is fascinating!
There’s a lot of self-loathing these days, so it’s refreshing to see a subculture that’s so comfortable with itself. I could go deeper into the psychology, but I feel like it’s going to be a 50-page rant.
With this irregular series, I wanted to push kayfabe even further by adopting a cinema truth approach to photographing the shows from my seat.
Tight framing, waiting for the performers and the people inside to fall into place almost like a tableau. Really just highlighting the drama.
Do you think “the inherent performativity of the first generation to inhabit both physical and digital spaces” is somehow unique to Singapore compared to other places?
Not at all. I think I’m part of that generation, where widespread access to the internet and social media emerged just as we were entering adolescence.
Awkward overlap of IRL and online characters, you know? Slacktivism and all that, using personal branding online as a reflection of your values in the meat space.
A look at your social networks and your work shows a strong involvement in many creative subcultures in Singapore. Could you tell us how you came to join these subcultures?
I’m really just a fly on the wall. The one I’m most associated with is the independent music industry.
Raphael from Middle Class Cigars was a classmate and he hired me to do some press footage for Subsonic Eye in 2017. I was already going to a lot of indie shows back then.
Everything else, I went a little. I love talking to creators, I love learning about the process. And people love documentation of what they’re doing, most of the time anyway.
The North East Social Club has recently been responsible for many of the newest and most interesting music events in Singapore. What prompted you to start it?
So NESC co-founder Natasha (a woman of impeccable taste by the way) and I were talking over dinner and it felt like there was no event we felt obligated to attend .
Not a hit on the other collectives by the way, there was just a lull in the shows and everything at the time. Queues were largely the same, venues were the same or entry was too expensive, etc. So we decided to organize something that we personally wanted to go to.
The team has now grown to include Esther and Jérôme, who have brought their own expertise to the table, allowing us to host a wider variety of events more regularly.
You recently traveled to New York and hosted a North East Social Club event. How is the scene different in New York compared to Singapore?
New York City is just bigger. More space, more people, more market. There’s room for dozens of events on the same Saturday, different spaces that cater to different crowds – different spaces that even cater to the same crowd.
Missed getting tickets to a Comedy Cellar show, no problem, a bunch of other comedy clubs on the same street at your fingertips. Grab pizza or chicken rice (yes, really) as you walk.
Or if you’re out of comedy cravings, turn around and Blue Note Jazz Club is right there.
In Singapore, until recently, you might have had three venues taking turns hosting events and very rarely saw all venues hosting an event on the same night for a similar crowd. So overall there were fewer shows, less diversity in what was presented, which I think slowed cultural growth.
But! But there has been a strong pivot to have pop-up events in non-dedicated spaces, which is amazing. So many collectives organized events with very high standards every week. It is comforting.
Not to answer your question, there is something Singapore and New York have in common; more and more, people are crazy for support. They know that it’s really hard to make a living as a creative and that competition is ultimately detrimental to the culture.
A common concern among more alternative and independent circles is the gentrification of spaces and events as advertising grows. Do you think this is a real problem or do you invite diversity?
There is a cycle I think. On a superficial level, tastes change, things fall in favor and out of favor all the time.
If you look at trends in the music industry over the past decade, for example, you’ll see that pop has gone independent and indie has gone pop.
I don’t see the spirit of independent businesses going away anytime soon. If a specific community has urgent needs, say a safe space to operate away from the prying masses, you can rely on members of that community to step in. People will always find a way to get things done.
Are there any big upcoming projects that you would like to mention from yourself or the North East Social Club?
We have a show, Relevant Materials, coming on October 23 and other events in November and December. That’s all I can say for now…
This article was first published in City Nomads.