Hailed as the most important independent music band in Singapore, The Observatory—or The Obs to their fans—is a low-key purveyor of high craft. Through their fourteen years and seven increasingly dark albums, The Observatory has ventured into the hallowed recesses of music (with their long-time producer Jørgen Træen (Jaga Jazzist)), art (Andy Yang, Philipp Aldrup, Justin Bartlett) and design (Keith Utech)—all the while remaining completely understated. A veritable supergroup, the band and its members reach back into Singapore’s musical history.
Tracing the footsteps of one of Singapore’s longest-surviving outfits from Bali to Bergen, the experimental music documentary The Obs: A Singapore Story looks back in time to understand the creative process of the band and its core members. Through archival footage, photographs and exclusive interviews with the band, fans, influential music critic David Toop and collaborators X’Ho (Zircon Lounge) and Mark Dolmont (Magus), The Obs explores the relationships and processes behind the group’s brooding, brilliant, and confounding body of work, set against the context of Singapore’s problematic music history, which has weathered governmental clampdowns and wavering public support.
Directed by Yeo Siew Hua (In the House of Straw), The Obs highlights the constant struggle between artistic vision and pragmatic realities, and the tension between an unwavering commitment to evolution and a society that unforgivingly favours the mainstream. More than a music documentary, The Obs is a tale of uncompromising passion, the power of companionship, and the costs—and invaluable rewards—of being creative in Singapore and beyond.
In 2011, I was approached to make a short video on Singapore music legend, Leslie Low, the vocalist and guitarist for The Observatory. I was surprised by how popular the video became, especially when the general impression is that there is a lack of quality local musicians and people are not interested in home-grown music. But if we only probe a little deeper, we would discover that Singapore music has thrived—in fits and spurts—since the 1960s and that in recent years, there has been an explosion of young bands. Movements in the arts and music aren’t formed out of pure momentum, however, they have to be documented. For instance, the second golden era of local music in the early 1990s fizzled out with the physical death of the influential BigO zine.
In late 2011, I was sitting at my desk clearing up space on my hard drive and moved the Leslie footage into the trash. I remember a moment of hesitation before I emptied the trash and the familiar sound of paper crushing was heard. It is at times like this, when something is finally lost, that one suddenly feels the emptiness. I realised it wasn’t only some piece of my own memory that got emptied out, but a bigger piece of collective heritage that had just disappeared.
At this, I phoned my producers and said, “We need to do a documentary on The Observatory.”
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
YEO SIEW HUA—Director, Writer, Editor & Producer
YEO Siew Hua is a winner of the Kodak Singapore Prize for Cinematography and the Cathay Organization Gold Medal. He wrote and directed short films such as AIK KHOON (in competition for the Silver Screen Awards – Singapore International Film Festival 2005), WAKING MONKEY (The Substation’s Best Film Award for the Best of First Takes 2007) and WORMHOLE (Winner of Fly By Night Video Competition 2012). He is also an award-winning director of photography for THE BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY PROJECT (2006) by Ho Tzu Nyen and the first Singapore omnibus feature film, LUCKY 7 (2008), and also produced the Singapore horror anthology NIGHTMARE ON ARMENIAN STREET (also known as HELL ON EARTH).
IN THE HOUSE OF STRAW, which he wrote and directed, is his debut feature film that premiered in competition at the Bangkok International Film Festival 2009. Presented at the 34th Sao Paulo International Film Festival 2010, it was lauded by critics as a significant film of the Singapore New Wave.
Apart from his work with the narrative fiction form, Yeo is also a keen documentarian that believes in the need to treat seriously the archival and preservation of collective memories and histories. He has won documentary awards and has since directed documentaries for Channel NewsAsia.
THE OBS: A SINGAPORE STORY, on one of Singapore’s most iconic bands, The Observatory, is Yeo’s first directorial foray into the crowd-funded feature-length music documentary. Apart from being the few band documentaries to be produced in Singapore, it is also one of the most successful crowd-funding attempt for any film locally.
2018 A LAND IMAGINED (as Writer & Director)
– Recipient of Aide aux Cinémas du Monde (France) 2017
– Recipient of Netherlands Film Fund + Hubert Bals Fund Co-production Scheme 2017
– Recipient of Hubert Bals Fund, Script and Project Development support, International Film Festival Rotterdam (Netherlands) 2016
– Recipient of Grand Prix, Autumn Meeting (Vietnam) 2016
– Recipient of New Talent Feature Grant, Infocomm Media Development Authority (Singapore), 2014
2015 THE OBS: A SINGAPORE STORY (as Writer & Director)
– Nominated forthe Bonehead of Excellence Award, 17th Bare Bones International Music and Film Festival (USA) 2016
– Official Selection for 25th Singapore International Film Festival 2014
– Official Selection for 14th Cinedays Festival of European Film (Macedonia) 2015
– Official Selection for 14th Urbanscapes Festival (Malaysia) 2016
– Official Selection for 10th Festival of Music Documentaries DORF (Croatia) 2016
– Official Selection for 26th Focus on Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival (Japan) 2016
– Official Selection for 7th Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film, Video & Music Festival (Malaysia) 2016
2014 THE MINOTAUR / 牛魔王 (as Producer, Writer & Director; short)
– Moving Images, The Substation (Singapore) 2014
– DIYU, Latent Spaces, Haw Par Villa (Singapore) 2015
– 12th Singapore Short Cuts, National Museum of Singapore 2015
– Singapore Art Week 2016
– Courtisane Festival & Âge d’Or Festival (Belgium) 2017
2012 WORMHOLE / 蚯影 (as Producer, Writer & Co-Director; short)
– Top 10 – Fly By Night Video Competition 2012
– KLEX (Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film Festival) [Malaysia] 2014
– KLEX Southeast Asian Experimental Shorts (Taiwan) 2016
– Kinofow Experimental Film Festival (Hungary) 2016
2009 EARTH (as Assistant Director; medium)
– Singapore Arts Festival 2009
– Official Selection for 66th Venice Film Festival 2009
– Official Selection for 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2010
– 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2010
– Artspace (Sydney, Australia) 2011
2009 IN THE HOUSE OF STRAW / 草屋 (as Writer & Director)
– In Competition for the Golden Kinnaree Award – Bangkok International Film Festival 2009
– Official Selection for the 23rd Singapore International Film Festival 2010
– Official Selection for the 34rd Sao Paulo International Film Festival 2010
– Official Selection for Honolulu South East Asian Film Festival, Hawaii 2010
2009 WHITE DAYS (as Writer)
– In Competition for FIPRESCI Award and Official Selection in Indie Power Section, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2009 (World Premiere)
– Official Selection for Singapore International Film Festival 2009
– Official Selection for Buenos Aires International Film Festival 2010
– 2nd Prize – Asian Hot Shots Berlin 2010
2008 LUCKY 7 (as Director of Photography; omnibus segment)
– Winner of Best Cinematography at the Singapore Film Awards – 22nd Singapore International Film Festival 2008
– Official Selection for 37th Rotterdam International Film Festival 2008
– In Competition for Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema, 27th Vancouver International Film Festival 2008
– Official Selection for 2nd Jogja NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2008
– Official Selection for 6th Vladivostok International Film Festival 2008
– Official Selection for 6th Bangkok International Film Festival 2008
2006 THE BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY PROJECT (as Director of Photography; short)
– The Singapore Biennale 2006
– Official Selection for 53rd Oberhausen International Short Film Festival 2007
– CACSA (Adelaide, Australia) 2007
– Official Selection for 30th Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2008
2006 WAKING MONKEY (as Writer & Director; short)
– Winner of Best of First Takes, The Substation (Singapore) 2007
Born in Jakarta, Adeline SETIAWAN has been a Singapore native since she was two years old. She graduated from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, with honours from Sociology, minoring in Southeast Asian Studies and Cultural Studies. Her relationship with film and video started in 2008, when she was an intern video-journalist for Jakarta-based Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia, (RCTI). This subsequently led to her involvement in Freestate Productions Pte. Ltd as a researcher and assistant producer in their EAT TO LIVE series, for the National Museum of Singapore, and a producer and scriptwriter for Preservation of Monuments Board’s MONUMENTAL WEDDINGS, which was exhibited at the National Museum of Singapore. She has since art-directed and produced a short film, WORMHOLE and art-directed Liao Jiekai’s SONG OF TOMORROW. Her love of anthropology has sparked her keen interest in the possibilities of video to serve as a visual ethnographic medium documenting people and slices of cultural life.
An alumni of the Southeast Asia Fiction Film Lab x Produire au Sud 2016–7, Dan produced the experimental music documentary, THE OBS: A SINGAPORE STORY (2015); associate-produced the Asian Film Archive’s SINGAPORE SHORTS VOL. 2 (2008) DVD; and production- and location-managed prolific Filipino director Lav Diaz’s upcoming feature, HENRICO’S FARM. A member of the Network for the Promotion of Asia-Pacific Cinema – NETPAC, Dan has written about cinema for ArtsEquator, The Online Citizen, and more—interviewing Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Diaz and others—and also done jury duty at the Bengaluru International Film Festival, plus acted in features like Daniel Hui’s award-winning SNAKESKIN (2014). He is currently co-producing and script-consulting two feature films by Yeo Siew Hua: A LAND IMAGINED (est. 2018)—recipient of the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde and Netherlands Film Fund + Hubert Bals Fund—and STRANGER EYES (est. 2020); producing a feature documentary by Lei Yuan Bin (est. 2019); and scriptwriting plus line-producing a video-art installation for the Ateliers de Rennes Biennale 2018.
Country of production: Singapore Production company: 13 Little Pictures Running length: 98 minutes / Colour Year of production: 2015 Language: English Subtitles: English Original format: Mixed (HDV & SD) Screening format: DCP Aspect ratio: 16:9 Sound: Stereo
13 Little Pictures presents
THE OBS: A SINGAPORE STORY
Writer, Editor & Director YEO SIEW HUA
YEO SIEW HUA
ADELINE SETIAWAN ANDREW SOBRIELO
ERIC LEE LOOI WAN PING
WU JUN HAN
YEO SIEW HUA
YONG RONG ZHAO
SEE TONG WAI