Say hello to Din and Weish, the laid-back duo behind electronic band .gif who first came to prominence with their debut track “Diatribe’, a gorgeous gem that’s dark, moody and punctuated with jungle animal sounds (courtesy of Weish who used to work as a zoo presenter, obviously).
Seven years after they burst into the scene, these former teachers have left the world of academics to keep their passion for music alive. In this interview, they share with Arman Shah their inspiring journey as music makers.
Describe the music that you make.
Din: We’d like to think of it as electronic, rainy day music.
Weish: Whenever we say electronic, people think of bands like The Chainsmokers. It’s a downer for people who come to our shows expecting an EDM gig. They end up sorely disappointed and start swaying in melancholy.
Din: Sometimes it’s not a good thing to say that we make electronic music. We’re not trying to distance ourselves from EDM. It has its place; but, it’s not us.
How did the two of you first come together to make music?
Din: We met during our university days. We both studied literature. She was doing her solo singer-songwriter thing and I was doing my deejaying thing.
Weish: I was always whining that it’s so boring to play acoustic by myself. On my birthday, he gathered a bunch of friends and bought me my first live loop station. I began beatboxing and layering and I suddenly became this one-woman band.
Din: We decided to combine gears and started bedroom jamming for fun. We didn’t know what the music was going to sound like. We were just playing around, really.
From bedroom jamming to performing as a band. How did that transition happen?
Din: I was 21 and she was 19. We were both teaching scholars bonded to the MOE and we had no grand plans or desire to form a band. We were just playing for fun in the beginning.
Weish: At the time, I was helping a friend host an open mic at this now-defunct book café called Pigeon Hole. Sometimes we struggled to fill up slots when there wasn’t enough performers. One day, we thought let’s just whack and perform whatever we’d written.
Din: We had a bunch of songs that was already up on SoundCloud. They were for friends and family to hear for fun but we hadn’t actually performed them in front of a crowd.
Weish: To our surprise, we got positive response from friends and other musicians we really looked up to. It was really unexpected. I remember Isa Ong from Amateur Takes Control telling us that we sounded like CocoRosie. After that day, things began to snowball I guess.
Why .gif as a band name?
Weish: GIFs were the cool, new thing that was trending back then, I guess. We were sending GIFs of cats and all kinds of nonsense to each other.
Din: But that’s not the real reason why we named ourselves .gif. It started off as a joke, but there was a post-rationalisation that looping is kind of essential to our music-making process, and GIFs are essentially loops.
Weish: That’s the freeing thing about jamming electronically. If I want a riff to loop, I don’t have to play it over and over again like on a guitar or piano. With a live loop station, I can loop a bassline with my mouth, throw on a beat and keep it running.
From a lyrical standpoint, we like to weave in recurring images or things that respond to each other into a whole body of work, be it consciously or subconsciously.
For those who are not familiar with your earlier works, please offer some insight into your older stuff.
Din: We released our debut EP Saudade in 2013. Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgia or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that you care for or love. It carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.
Weish: We were just emo kids back then. That’s our inspiration. One of the tracks on Saudade was “good night, green light”, and it’s about Daisy Buchanan, the love interest of Jay Gatsby. It’s about what I wish she felt for him because by the end of The Great Gatsby, it’s unclear whether she had any real emotion in that relationship.
In 2015, we released Soma which was also very much inspired by literature. The very first track “blanche” is a response to A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. We’re very drawn to these Gatsby-esque type characters who decide to be a part of the world as a grand illusion of themselves because they feel they’re not enough.
What’s the best and worst thing about working with each other?
Weish: The best thing is that we know each other so well as people; but, we’re both creative in different ways. I have no idea how he sees the world or how he uses the exact same equipment and software. It’s quite fascinating actually.
He is so methodical and creates that skeleton and backbone while I come in with lyrics and the more melodic side of things. It’s a kind of accidental pairing that really works. He thinks he’s more efficient and I think I’m more efficient so we don’t disturb each too much.
Din: We complement each other’s working style – that’s the good part. The worst part is that I know she’s going to take forever to do something because she’s being a perfectionist or not in the right headspace. We’ve been writing our upcoming album for the past three years!
Since you brought up this exciting news, can you tell us anything about your upcoming album?
Weish: The album is called Hail Nothing. It’s a nonsensical, nihilistic name. Completely absurd. We were whining about it before but now we’re going with it.
Din: The analogy is, if our old albums were more like The Smiths, the upcoming one is more like Joy Division. It’s more aggressive, more fun.
Weish: It represents where we are right now in life. In your early twenties, you feel like you got thrown into the waves. But as you grow older, you kind of acknowledge the messiness and ridiculous unpredictability of life and are okay with the murkiness.
We were working on the album while concurrently composing music for a play for the Fringe so most of the music ended up on the album.
Tell us more about your involvement in the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.
Weish: Sean Tobin, who is the Artistic Director of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, reached out to us and said there hasn’t been a music-centric piece in his many years of curating for the programme. I think he was very interested in putting a different sort of elevated production that’s focused on music.
The play that we’re composing music for is called Beside Ourselves, and when you say you’re beside yourself, it means that you’re not yourself that day. You don’t feel all that present; you’re neither here nor there.
I guess these past couple of years have been very intense with people around me who have experienced some form of an out-of-body experience, be it anxiety attacks, gender dysphoria or caring for people with dementia.
So the play is a series of vignettes dealing with these stories I collected from people around me. Some of these stories are also my own.
Composing music for a play versus an album. What’s the difference?
Weish: With composing music for an album, our approach is mainly sonic. It’s a journey of how the whole album is crafted, how it flows lyrically and thematically and how everything just falls into place.
Din: For us, it’s sound first and then lyrical content. Your headspace will influence what you write anyway. That’s why it kind of gels together.
Weish: Composing music for this play is kind of different. It’s not like the play came first and then we composed on top of it.
The themes we were already exploring in our music blended into the play, so the play formed the song and the song formed the play. We had this ping-pong co-construction. It’s quite a unique process.
What have been some of the challenges you faced as musicians? Have you ever thought of calling it quits?
Weish: We’ve been too busy to even think about calling it quits. We’re quite lucky to have a few things to juggle, upcoming projects to prep for. And we still enjoy what we do a lot.
The last time I thought of calling it quits in music was when we were teaching. It was just impossible for me to cope emotionally. I was your punching bag for BGR problems. Kids would call me at 2am saying they wanted to jump. Parents called with marital problems.
If i’m at a gig and going on stage in a few minutes and a kid called, what do you do? It was a privilege to be part of their lives but I was going to snap. I was thinking I cannot do this anymore, but somehow I didn’t quit.
Din: There weren’t many challenges on my end. Just the whole idea of throwing away a full-time job and the implications of not having a stable paycheck. My mom trusts me to be able to survive and she continues to be fully supportive, so I’m pretty lucky.
Anything you’d like to say for aspiring musicians out there?
Din: It’s possible to survive as musicians in Singapore. Take it from two teachers who left a stable, well-paying job two years ago.
Weish: We were literature teachers serving our bonds. We both really loved our jobs but it reached a stage where we were backstage marking essays, rehearsing till 2am and waking up at 6am to go to school and sing Majulah Singapura. it was just this cycle of diminishing sleep and decay.
So we quit. If not now, then when, right? We were lucky because we were putting together a portfolio while we were still teaching, so when we left, we suddenly had people calling us to do things. We were never short on jobs these past couple of years.
Din: So go je! Really, just do it. You won’t know until you try. Just whack. That’s what we tell people.
Interview by: Arman Shah