When you've made two of your favourite musicians walk in the sun to meet you after a venue change, the nerves start to overwhelm. I had planned to meet electronica duo .gif (pronounced "dot jif") at the Earshot Café in The Arts House, when I arrived early and discovered that the café had been shut down. Before the duo arrives at our final meeting point — a good old Starbucks joint — I armed myself with a black coffee. In part to stay alert, in part to seem cool in front of musicians I admire.
After listening to the band's unique brand of experimental electronic music, one might expect them to be the brooding artist types, but the two are quite the opposite. There's a definite presence about them, but happily it's one that's inviting. Some of the best musical duos have come together through friendship, and .gif are one of them. They met in university six years ago, when Din (Nurudin Sadali) used to DJ and Weish (Chew Wei Shan) was more of a singer-songwriter. "So he bought me a looper, because I was always saying that I wish I had more voices," Weish recalled. "One day, we were like, 'why don't we just combine our gear and see what happens?'"
This instinctive, collaborative nature is still the undercurrent behind how they make music today. They're fresh off the launch of their record, soma, at the discreet roof top bar Golden X The Great Escape on 16 December. Their launch, however, was anything but underrated — in attendance were the who's who of the local music scene: Charlie Lim, Timothy De Cotta, Vanessa Fernandez and alternative rock newbies Stopgap.
While soma's considered a sophomore effort, it's their first full-length album after various EP and single releases since their formation three years ago. "We never started this with an end goal in mind," says 27-year-old Din. "So it's always like, one step at a time, see whatever comes. Now that the album's out, we have no idea what we're gonna do."
It's a refreshing take on making music in a productivity-obsessed country, and it extends to the diverse range of genres on the album. You'll hear a bit of trip hop and rap, but not deliberately. "The thing about us and how we work, is that we don't really think about anything," laughs 25-year-old Weish. "We just kind of ride and jam, and along the way, I guess..."
"Whatever comes, comes," Din adds.
The album also features some heavyweight guests, from rapper Mean to singer-songwriter De Cotta and Pleasantry member Isa Ong. The way they've jumped on board is testament to just how grounded and open to collaboration .gif are, especially when it comes to the local music scene. "Tim [De Cotta] and Isa [Ong] are really good friends of ours," Weish shares. "So it's just like, 'Eh, you want or not? Okay set, let's go.'"
As we talked dream collaborations, Din laughingly brings up Diplo and Major Lazer after Weish calls him a techno-head. The two bounce names off each other – Fourtet, Chris Liebing, Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote – and it's clear that they're in sync.
As I bring up their fans, Weish excitedly whips out her phone to show what one of their ardent listeners has made: Illustrated Telegram stickers of the duo. Both Weish and Din see their listeners as friends rather than fans, which is almost a luxury of having a small local scene. The last thing they want is an overly-adulating fan culture. "We've come to recognise a lot of them, because they keep coming for our shows," Din elaborates. "It's always weird to have that divide. That's just us."
While last year's local releases saw carefully calculated labours of love from Deon Toh, Inch Chua and Charlie Lim, .gif takes their approach more spontaneously. Weish reveals that some of the common threads running along the album are actually coincidental, which brings to mind the beauty of making art; how a cohesive, refreshing album can come together through unconventional ways. As our chat came to a close, I learned that .gif are powerhouse talents who are still discovering themselves — as a listener, it's an exciting journey to be on.
soma by .gif is available on iTunes.