You’ve probably seen her spinning at Kampong Boogie or at other large-scale music events, but if you haven’t — meet AKAsounds, also known as Amanda Keisha Ang.
Question is, how do you sum up the life of a woman like Amanda? You could start with the facts. That she took off as a jewellery designer after graduating from NAFA. That she learned how to illustrate, all on her own. That she became a DJ at 28 and started an all-female DJ collective, Attagirl, in 2014. There’s also her side project called Shibusa Atelier, where she makes artisanal soap bars. While others were taking things one at a time, Amanda was getting her hands full doing everything she loved, all at one go. From designing and illustrating, to keeping the decks diverse as one of the leading female DJs in Singapore, she left her mark on the world better than she found it — that’s her legacy.
Let’s face it: female representation in dance music is rare, which is why, as an influential female in that male-dominated industry, Amanda’s story is a fine one to recount. Her musical knowledge blossomed at a very young age, and thanks to the influence of her family, she learned how to play the guitar on her own — this later paved the way for her career as a DJ. Her musical taste, desire to continuously learn, and the mix of new (and old) music, make her sets something you wouldn’t want to miss. When starting Attagirl, Amanda also found that she could share this space for other like-minded women who aspire to hone their skills on the decks — and we definitely have to give her props for seeing the potential for such a platform. With such fervour and her amazing technical and musical gifts, it’s clear that Amanda is a shining beacon for dance music today. And she isn’t slowing down any time soon.
As she sat there during the interview, clad in her denim jacket and with her signature septum piercing, she was clearly beaming with passion while sharing about her upcoming projects, plans of moving to Germany in the future, and opening up to new experiences in the time to come.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADELE CHAN USING THE LEICA M10-P + MS Optics Vario-Petzval 57/2 F-MC.
HAIR BY DEN NG.
MAKEUP BY DEWI MAHONEY.
STYLING BY JOE TAN.
Longchamp Lambskin Leather Jacket, $2,766
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Gucci rouge à lèvres gothique (norma pink), $46
DESIGNING OR DJ-ING — WHICH ONE CAME FIRST
“I’ve been designing for a really long time. I was in NAFA and I graduated in 2009. I’m already 35 this year. Design wasn’t exactly something I learned when I was in NAFA. My major was actually jewellery design. I mean, most of the time I was doing rings and metalsmithing and stuff, but the illustration part came from just drawing rings and earrings every day. When I got out of NAFA, I worked as a jewellery designer for about a year and a half, then I realised it was really boring.
I also had the opportunity to work with a company in the past that was selling skins for laptops and phones. So I actually got a job at a company where they were looking for a full-time illustrator to just draw skins. I was drawing a lot every day and they let me do whatever I want as long as it’s not offensive. So the love for illustration came from there and all the design bits came from just training on the job.
DJ-ing came much later. I learnt how to properly DJ when I joined the ‘FFF DJ Girl Bootcamp’. It was like an initiative that Zouk and this collective called the ‘FFF Girl’ decided to do together. This was in 2012. But when I set up Attagirl, that was only about 2 years later and I started DJ-ing a lot more, like maybe in 2015-16.”
STARTING OUT AS A DJ
“I think you have to love music, to begin with. My brother and my dad were quite huge influences in my life, especially my father because he collects a lot of music and he plays instruments as well. He bought me my first guitar, he bought me my second guitar, so I used to play in bands.
The minute I turned 18, I wanted to go to a club. I told myself, “I have to listen to all this music I’ve been listening to when I wasn’t legal”, so I think that there was that love for a rave at such a young age from simply just listening to music. Eventually at some point, when the opportunity opens up to you to play the music that you like, why not? So I started playing stuff that I really love and started doing small parties and when I set up Attagirl, things really took off.”
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Gucci Rouge à Lèvres Gothique Lipstick (My Forbidden Past), $46
FORMING HER OWN DJ COLLECTIVE — ATTAGIRL
“When we started learning how to practice, we wanted to find somewhere where we can exercise that skill also. Of course, we would play to friends, like at small bars, but it came to a point where we were like, why don’t we just make our own party?
When I set up Attagirl, it was just meant to be a party. We did it at a friend’s bar and we didn’t get paid, but he also just opened the bar, Spiffy Dapper. So George, the owner, offered to us to bring some friends over to get to know his bar in return he let us play and gave us free drinks. But we ended up hanging the whole night because it’s a party for our friends that no one really had to pay much for, other than to just go there and enjoy the music without having to worry much about entry fees or anything — it’s just like a small little gig. From there, we started proposing nights at other clubs like Zouk and Butter Factory. It’s kind of an opportunity for these girls to tell their friends that they’re DJ-ing at Wine Bar and invite them to hang out. It’s nice to be able to have different platforms for people like that.”
BEING A DJ AT A CERTAIN AGE
“No, I don’t think so. You always see those videos of kids learning from really young and it’s super incredible and it’s interesting because we’re living in a time where people can already see this as a possible career pathway, where there is more hope in arts and culture because people can make money from it right now. I think older people are the same.
I wished I did this slightly earlier because once I passed 30, I could feel my body was different and when you do entertainment or nightlife, you have very long hours. Like in the night, you don’t sleep when everybody is sleeping, so when you do continuously it’s actually quite strenuous. And I wouldn’t feel this if I was 25 but I feel it right now.”
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BEING A FEMALE DJ IN THE MUSIC SCENE
“I think in Singapore we’re quite privileged to be able to have equal opportunities. I don’t see myself discriminated against here often, most of the time it happens when I’m DJ-ing and a really rude customer comes up to me and he thinks he can bully me into a song request for him. You know if I was a man, he wouldn’t say that to me. I think there would be more discretion in being so rude. Once in a while, you get a really drunk customer as well, who will come and hold you from behind and if there isn’t security around it can be quite dangerous. I’ve definitely gotten experiences like that but honestly, I won’t dare say that other male friends I have who DJ, hasn’t had other experiences themselves in a club that’s dismantling.
There are still fewer women who play than there are men.
And just like any other industry, people will tend to stick to their own circle, so sometimes it can be quite daunting for a woman to want to break into electronic music here because first, you don’t stick to these people because they’re not your friends, and if they’re all guys sometimes it also feels a bit awkward. So I think when Attagirl does things like open calls and workshops, it gives them a pathway to get to know people from the inside better so they can see where this hobby takes them or whether they want to get gigs by using Attagirl for that.
But other than that, it’s been quite a good run in Singapore and being a DJ as a woman. Women here actually do get more corporate gigs for sure, like events, people love female DJs because they’re non-threatening.”
A QUESTION OF TASTE
“I actually play a lot of music. I know what I don’t like to play — EDM. I don’t really Top 40 unless I really love the artist, like for example Ariana Grande, so I don’t mind playing her. I really love Cardi B. She’s like popular gangster rap, I’m down with that. I mean Bruno Mars is okay too, people just feel good when he sings so I’m good with that. But if I play most parties I will do more, stuff from the underground, things that aren’t usually on the radio so like house music, classic house, soulful with black women vocals, kind of like gospel vocals, anything that has to do with the bass spectrum, I love jungle music — not so much drum and bass, but I do pay it here and then if I find a song that’s nice. I love UK dubstep, not the Skrillex kind, rock, like really deep subby kind of stuff. I play a lot of Chicago footwork, which is basically created from Chicago. It’s not very popular here but it’s something I’m trying to build up. Oh, and I play a lot of hip-hop. That’s as commercial as I can go. Of course, I try not to have too many different genres in one night because it might sound very messy but I do like to have an idea of a mood that I want to bring.”
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Onitsuka Tiger Knit Tank Top, POA
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Gucci Rouge à Lèvres Gothique Lipstick (GOLDIE RED), $46
WHAT FUELS HER THROUGH HER CAREER
“I think when you love something, like in essence, music, it’s something that can’t be taken away from you. So always listening to new music inspires me, and even listening to old music inspires me because you go like, “Wow they created this at this time?” or “This house music track was made in 1992? That is f**king amazing”. So it makes me feel inspired to put it out. It makes me go “You know what I need to play this out when I have a gig”.
I also think when I DJ and when people are enjoying themselves and they tell me after that they had such a good time that actually makes me super happy. Sometimes I look around and people don’t know how to have fun and let loose and when I go to a club or places like Kampung Boogie, people just dance. And you can wear pyjamas, slippers, nobody cares! and that’s how it should be. So the feeling of providing some repose to people and letting them enjoy themselves, that’s good enough for me.”
PURSUING DESIGN AND ILLUSTRATION
“I’m always left alone when I was younger because my parents are usually at work. Obviously we don’t have a lot of money for a helper, so thankfully my grandfather had a coffee shop business, like really those kopitiam kind. So I spent a good portion of my time working at a kopitiam during my school holidays and after school while waiting for my parents. If I don’t have homework, my dad will give me a stack of paper for me to draw on — and I spent a lot of time at coffee shop drawing stuff up to my ‘O’ Levels. So when it was my time to go to poly, the first thing I did was to apply for a design course that was the closest to what I wanted to do and honestly I wasn’t much of an academic student. Once you get an education in that, it’s hard to turn back on it.”
ON MAKING SOAPS AND HER SIDE PROJECT, SHIBUSA ATELIER
“It’s just a really small thing I did when I was freelancing before I got this contract with Grey Group. I started being a bit particular about soaps I was using, I mean I still use a body wash that you get from Guardian, but there was a time when my eczema was quite bad so I started about more natural ways to relieve it because I was using lotions and stuff that didn’t really work. So I started buying natural soap — I felt that it was less harmful, or made me itch less. I even took a soap course — but after I did the course I realised I need a licensed lab to do it but there are ways to make soap at home that’s legal.
I started using ready-made soap but I would put in oatmeal and stuff. I started giving away to friends. And with all the essential oils I had, I started making rollers for friends and face sprays with toners. I would get raw materials like lavender or rose water and start making hydrosols. And after a few friends asked me if I wanted to do a market and I said I would try. So that’s when I decided I wanted to put a name to it — Shibusa Atelier. But now that I have a day job, I don’t actually do as much anymore but I still do make stuff for friends.”
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Gucci Rouge à Lèvres Gothique Lipstick (GOLDIE RED), $46
USING HEALING CRYSTALS IN HER SOAP
“My friends love crystals so they requested to include it into the soap and it became a thing. So I started buying crystals and it looked so pretty anyways. I’m not really superstitious but at the same time I was a jewellery major, so we had to learn gemology as well and learn about the stones and crystals. Just like diamonds. We know why people like diamonds because it’s highly valued and because they think it’s the pinnacle of a wedding stone. But let’s say rubies and sapphires, people choose them because it’s their birthstone or they believe it has healing powers that’s why they wear. But of course, when I give to friends, I give it as a gesture. Like some stones are said to have certain powers that give you peace and so I will give it to them as a gesture. But do I particularly use it? No, not really.”
ON HER UPCOMING PROJECTS
“I’ve been working on some Olympic-related stuff for clients. Recently, I also did the branding for the bar, Pinball Wizard. For parties, I took a bit of a break, but hopefully, after February, we’ll start something. But it’s also a bit tricky because of the Coronavirus and a lot of parties have been cancelled as well. For Attagirl, at the end of the month, we’re actually doing a Dj workshop for women. So even trans people who identify as women can join us. It’s happening on 29th February at White Label. It’s just like an introduction to DJ-ing.”
MANAGING HER TIME
“Oh my god, it’s really an exercise to have to do that. The only way I can manage is to make sure I have everything on a calendar, and I’m quite pedantic about it. It’s funny because now it feels so busy but I’m not meeting friends that often obviously because of work as well but I would like to. So I try to make myself more busy by trying to meet friends because I would like to spend time with them. I realise I can’t take everything at one go, so there are times I say no to gigs or just tell myself that I won’t do anything today.”
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lipstick (WORN AS EYESHADOW):
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WHAT SHE DOES IN HER FREE TIME
“I mean make stuff for friends like soap? I also try to meet a friend to go to a nice place to eat. It’s not that I don’t enjoy lunch but sometimes you eat in such a hurry when you’re working but I just really enjoy sitting down and eating good food. And Netflix — I feel like there are so many shows that I haven’t caught up on, and I sometimes end up watching one-off episodes of like complete nonsense, like comedy anime, that doesn’t require my brain to think too much on.”
A WORD OF ADVICE FOR ASPIRING INDIVIDUALS
“First, you don’t have to be worried about your age. I have friends who only start to realise that now, and at 35, they are learning how to pole dance, even after two to three kids. You can do it, you just need to set your mind to it. I started DJ-ing really late. Just keep learning new things. Every time people tell me they have no time, I tell them that they need to make time for it. And if you don’t find something you enjoy then your life will be so colourless. I will always feel like even just having a hobby like going cafe-hopping every weekend, I have friends who do that, they really put time aside like doing it as an activity and it’s actually quite cute.”
HER FASHION INSPIRATION
“I always have a soft spot for vintage clothing but right now I’m into 70s vintage. Like the 60s was great but the 70s is a bit more like my style. Like when you watch The 70s Show, all the stuff they wear, I love it! I think it looks better on a woman than a man though, like the bell-bottoms and the tiny tees, the way they do their hair and big sunnies, that’s the kind of style I like. But I always have a foot in when it comes to street style for a very long time. My first job out of secondary school was at Stussy, that was very long ago so I always had a love for sneakers and skate brands and stuff even though I don’t skate myself. I also like other brands like X-Girl, X-Large, Obey, Vans. I mean music also influences the way I dress and It really depends where I’m going as well. I really try to dress according to the occasion. My only style advice would be to just be really comfortable with what you’re wearing because for a really long time we get influenced by certain things and we try to dress but we don’t feel comfortable but we think it’s right for us. But we don’t need that kind of sh*t, to be honest.”