Growing up in Pakistan, having lived in the United States, and finally relocating to Singapore in 2011, the musical experiences of Amber Hasan (or Amber H) runs far and deep. The seasoned DJ and electronic musician is known for her hypnotic grooves and chuggy bass lines, and in some cases, live elements from drum machines, guitar pedals, and other effects equipment. And ever since hitting the decks for the first time 15 years ago, she’s played at several underground venues in Washington DC, the notable Sullivan Room in NYC, Phuket‘s Baba Beach Club, and more recently, Quest Festival in Vietnam last year. Closer to home, Amber regularly takes up at Kilo Lounge and The Council’s Headquarters.
This edition of City Nomads Radio, she shares with us her thoughts on Singapore’s club scene, how she prepares for a set, and her dream gig.
When did you first touch a turntable? And have you always been interested in electronic music?
I bought my first pair of Technics SL-1200 turntables back in 2002, when I quit my job and had gone back to graduate school. I thought there was no better way to take a break and disconnect myself from my textbooks than to mix some records. I became most interested in electronic music when I was working in Washington DC, and I’d travel up to New York City just to listen to the likes of Danny Howells and Danny Tenaglia play at Twilo and Vinyl. I got my music fix on weekends in DC at The 18th Street Lounge, and then, later at night at Nation – the legendary club that was worth the trip to the rougher edges of the city.
You’ve played festivals and shows all over the world. Which was your most memorable set till now?
My most memorable festival and set was at the Quest Festival in Vietnam last November. Die Empathie set up a secret sunrise stage, where the lights and sound were mind-blowing, and in my opinion it was the best stage the festival had to offer. The crowd was always so engaged that we extended our set times so as to not leave them without sufficient closure. I also really like Wonderfruit. I didn’t play there but visited twice since they started a few years back.
How does the scene in Washington DC and NYC differ from Singapore’s?
It was a different time when I played in DC and NYC! There were no MP3s, no beat-counters and definitely no sync buttons. There was some heavy lifting to do, and playing a two- to three-hour set meant that I had to lug over 60 or 70 records, and ensure that each record was dust free and cleaned prior to the gig. I had a friend who would always call me out on my dusty records. He even bought me a spray and vinyl clearing brush as a gift! Since then I’ve moved on to digital mediums. I use MP3 with CDJs, and at times I try to incorporate external effects such as guitar pedals and drum machines. Don’t discount how much work we put in just because we use MP3s, as preparing for a two- or three-hour set can take about eight to ten hours of programming time.
Who are your music influences?
Deep Dish, Danny Howells, and Danny Tenaglia were my inspiration.
In a sentence or two, can you describe your sound?
Deep, driving, groovy, with chuggy and percussive elements.
How do you prepare for your sets?
I don’t prepare all my sets the same way. If I really like a track, then I try to tell a story by selecting tracks around it. If I know I’ll be playing an opening set then I make sure I leave space for the headliner to bring in the noise, because I’m there to warm up and not steal the show. For main sets, I try to programme my tracks so that it’s not too hard or dark – I like to keep it energised and groovy.
Share with us your dream gig.
I’ve never been to Burning Man but my dream gig would be to be to play there, or similar gatherings like Afrika Burn.
Surely there are challenges that come with being a female DJ. Is it more difficult to become known and rise up in the industry?
I don’t differentiate myself because I’m a female DJ and I hope I’m not picked cause of my gender. I want to say that I prefer to avoid playing for venues that only pick women DJs to bring in men, and lucky for me, I have not encountered that in Singapore. Well, at least not yet. It should be about the music and not about the gender.
When you’re not gigging, where are your top spots in Singapore to party and find good music?
Headquarters by The Council is my second home, and I’m there almost every weekend. I stop in for a drink or just to say hello to like-minded clubbers – it’s my favourite night spot for music in Singapore. I also like Kilo Lounge. They have good sound, the décor of the place is minimalist and industrial, the lights are ambient, and they also work hard at their programming. I’m also really looking forward to the new kid on the block, Tuff Club, that is expected to open its doors in early April. I’m very optimistic about the positive addition to the Singapore nightlife scene.