Remembering Chris Ho: Singapore’s music scene pays tribute to pioneering DJ

DJ, musician and writer Chris Ho speaking in an interview for the retrospective exhibition, So Happy: 50 Years Of Singapore Rock in 2015. (SCREENSHOT: fFurious/YouTube)
DJ, musician and writer Chris Ho speaking in an interview for the retrospective exhibition, So Happy: 50 Years Of Singapore Rock in 2015. (SCREENSHOT: fFurious/YouTube)

SINGAPORE — The year was 1988 and a hall at the Rediffusion radio station along Clemenceau Avenue was buzzing with expectation ahead of what some in the Singapore music scene retrospectively consider as a legendary gig.

Pioneering local DJ, musician and writer Chris Ho had organised the gig as a tribute to punk music and invited several Singapore indie bands to perform.

The Oddfellows, Opposition Party and Mortal Flower were playing mostly originals and punk covers to an expectant crowd. Inexplicably, Ho also introduced a game of musical chairs to the rhythm of punk classics being blasted from the speakers at the gig, and it descended into chaos when a number of participants slammed and moshed against one another.

The idea for the gig personified the ethos of Ho, the acclaimed musical maverick who had long challenged prosaic conventions of radio broadcast in Singapore. The death of the frontman of Singapore alternative rock band Zircon Lounge on Monday morning (27 September) from stomach cancer, who considered his age to be “Forever 27”, has drawn many tributes from the local music fraternity.

Among them was Patrick Chng of The Oddfellows, who had known Ho for decades. The singer-songwriter of the indie rock veterans called him a “gentle soul, music connoisseur, supporter of local bands, most recognisable and best voice on Singapore radio, and an inspiration to many.” Ho had been supportive of The Oddfellows since their early days, Chng recalled fondly.

The educator had performed together with the DJ to cover R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” at Hard Rock Cafe in 1991. The duo also met a few years ago to collaborate on a song, with Ho contributing vocals. “We lost an icon today and a wonderful human being,” Chng said.

In the 1980s, Ho was way ahead of his peers in the radio scene, fronting programmes including “Eight Miles High” on Rediffusion, with a focus on obscure and upcoming indie bands from around the world. For many listeners in Singapore, including this reporter, Ho had opened a window to the world of the embryonic musical genre, spinning records by bands such as R.E.M. long before they became globally famous, The B-52's, Wire, The Church and many others.

In later years, Ho had stints on Lush 99.5, Radio Singapore International and most recently, the GOLD 90.5's Homestretch radio programme, and also made several short underground films.

A refrain among those who praised Ho for his unyielding professionalism was his kindness towards others in the scene.

Kevin Mathews, a singer-songwriter and part-time lecturer, remembers the first time that Ho interviewed him for a programme on Rediffusion in the early 1990s.

“He struck me as one of the kindest, gentlest and sweetest persons I had ever met. And in all my subsequent encounters with him, that aspect of Chris – his kindness – always left a mark. The Singapore music scene will sorely miss him,” Mathews said.

The editors of BigO also paid tribute to Ho, their founding member who was a prolific writer for the groundbreaking local music publication. They highlighted that Ho was on the first and last cover of the hardcopy BigO magazine, and was a mainstay in it with his regular X'Ho Files column, with articles compiled into two books: ‘Skew Me, You Rebel Meh? (1998) and Attack Of The S.M. Space Encroachers (2002).

“He was the most insightful Singapore commentator that Singapore never realised it had. He told truths with unusual clarity. Both his book cover titles alone spoke volumes of the Singapore construct,” the BigO editors said.

While Ho was better known for his tastes in indie music and movies, he once told his radio colleague Melanie Oliveiro, a senior presenter-producer from CNA938, during a chat that his favourite songs were by three legendary female rock and soul singers: The Pearl by Emmylou Harris, Stuart’s Coat by Rickie Lee Jones, and Amazing Grace by Aretha Franklin. “May your gentle soul rest in peace dearest Chris,” Oliveiro said in a post on her Facebook page.

In an interview in 2015 for the retrospective exhibition, So Happy: 50 Years Of Singapore Rock, Ho outlined his uncompromising attitude towards challenging the norms of music entertainment in Singapore.

“I am proud to say that back when at Rediffusion I was the only person who believed in punk music…I pushed for the music on Rediffusion. People don't know this but I've gotten into a whole lot of trouble as well,” Ho said.

“It always goes back down to whoever believes in it and the person happens to be in a position to do something, I think that's the most important thing.”

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