To many of us, the 60s in Singapore is represented by a few short paragraphs in our Social Studies textbooks, and nothing more.
Enter The Pinholes: 4 men—Famie Suliman, Didi Hanafiah, Qush ‘Rock n Roll’ and Wando—usually donning either leather jackets from Salvation Army, or green bowler jackets, paisley-printed shirts matched with polka-dotted scarves, newspaper-boy hats and sunglasses, and occasionally, uniform blue shirts with white collars. A stark antithesis to Singapore’s modern city life, these guys look like they’ve stepped out from a noisy, sepia-toned photograph and into the real world.
“The 60s, the fashion, the music… it’s very colourful, and we want to bring back what was happening,” Qush, the band’s drummer tells UrbanWire.
“I don’t think anyone of us can relate to, or was told about the culture during that point of time, although… it was a very exciting period. It’s just so vibrant, and that vibrancy didn’t get to us, the new generation,” said Famie, 33, the band’s main vocalist.
And bringing the 60s back, they are. The Pinholes’ latest single “Sunshine” from their Youth of Gold EP, has shots of 4 young boys (not them) playing mini instruments in a beach full of babes in bikinis and sundresses. It’s reminiscent of the easygoing vibe that buzzed among peace-loving hippies. This is almost nothing like anything we’ve seen or heard from Singapore’s many emerging bands.
The Pinholes started in 2002 as a band that was formed for a school competition. The quartet was originally named Pinhole-Chio, because of Famie’s confusion between pigeon holes and pinhole cameras, combined with his love for wooden puppet Pinocchio, and, of course, the Hokkien word for pretty: chio. After leaving school, the band decided Pinhole-Chio was too cute for a rock-and-roll band to be taken seriously, and eventually renamed itself to what it is today.
After more than a decade, with many, many changes of band mates, The Pinholes, as we know it now, with 4 incredibly endearing members with their bright smiles and relaxed postures, was formed just 3 years ago. Famie is the only original member left.
It’s difficult to imagine Famie, the lanky frontman with the laidback voice, belonging in any other genre but rock-and-roll, but he tells UrbanWire he was “actually a hardcore poser” before his life dramatically changed when he was introduced to “Do You Want To Know a Secret?” by The Beatles during a random radio show.
“I wasn’t a Beatles fan back then, and I thought I’d never be. It changed my life, and it changed the way I looked too,” said Famie.
Without their influence, The Pinholes wouldn’t be proving quite the success with their distinctive historical style and sound. Having been invited to perform at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival held in Austin, Texas, 2010, the band has certainly come a long way from their headquarters, a humble bedroom with 2 posters of Glastonbury plastered upon the walls for motivation.
“We’re a DIY ghetto band from Bukit Gombak, and a ghetto band doesn’t have any great managers along with them, no great accountants, no great roadies, cheerleaders, or groupies,” joked Famie, “and we managed to actually go over and present what kind of music or language we are to the Americans. That’s so, so heartwarming for me. It’s unimaginable. We’ve never even played in Vietnam, but we’ve played in America.”
But the stories behind the successes they’ve achieved aren’t as picture perfect as their image. The quartet has had their fair share of criticisms, arguments and doubts. From breakdowns of buses to Kuala Lumpur, disastrous gigs in East Coast Park for which they had not practiced, to criticisms from other local rock bands calling them “backdated”, they’ve been through it all.
“They think ‘It’s been shown, it’s been there before, so why bring it back?’” explained Famie, “but the reason why we’re bringing it back is because someone is already bringing the sexy back, so we’re bringing back the vibes. That’s it.”
An opportunity to sign on with a major record label proved almost detrimental to their future, when Qush expressed concerns about the band potentially changing its image to meet demands. His persistence on remaining independent paid off, when the band heard a young boy praising them after a performance at MediaCorp.
“The kid called us cool. And to hear from a kid… that’s enough,” said Qush.
With an ever-growing fan base of nearly 3000 likes, shows booked till the end of August and their first album set to be released in early 2014, The Pinholes is definitely going to be kept busy.
Forget about the new filtered videos you can make on Instagram; The Pinholes’ songs plugged into your ears are better filters to look at Singapore through. Just like its name, this band is capable of producing fresh, unadulterated imagery in your minds. And with a band this photogenic, we can only wish for them to be the troop tasked to write the soundtracks to our lives.
Photos courtesy of Leong Shiuan Wen.