Long-running Singapore arts venue The Substation will leave its home on Armenian Street this July.
Yesterday (February 4), TODAY reported that the arts centre will vacate the building in late July. The space will be taken back by the National Arts Council (NAC) for renovation works.
The Substation plans to relocate and is reportedly in talks with the NAC on its next location, where it will stay for two years. Possible venues include Goodman Arts Centre in Mountbatten and Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam, though The Substation’s general manager Loh Aik Khoon told TODAY that the venue’s team is also considering other locations.
While it is possible that The Substation will return to Armenian Street once renovations are done, Loh added that he was not sure “what form and shape” it would take.
“We don’t know if we will have the whole building for us to manage and to work with all the artists or if it will be a shared working space with other arts groups,” he said. “We’re not sure what plans NAC has at this point.”
The news came after co-artistic director Raka Maitra announced Wednesday in a blog post on The Substation’s website that “at the end of July, The Substation will be no more, and what was plainly obvious would disappear. It will be the end of an era”.
She added, “Nonetheless, this ending will be marked with a SeptFest like no other.” The four-week arts festival will take place this March instead of the usual September due to the pandemic.
“I dedicate this SeptFest not only to the rich and diverse talents we have amongst us but also as our fond farewell gift to Singapore, as we bring you stories from the fringe and the margins,” Maitra wrote.
The Substation was founded in 1990 by theatre giant and Cultural Medallion winner Kuo Pao Kun. The 45 Armenian Street building, formerly a disused power station, has since served as a performance and community space for Singapore’s independent arts scene, especially its more experimental corners. It currently has a gallery, studio and black box.
The Substation has had a long-running relationship with Singapore’s independent music scene. In its early days, it regularly hosted performances and hours-long showcases in the Substation Garden (now Timbre). Several influential local rock and punk bands have played the space many affectionately call the Sub: The Oddfellows, Humpback Oak, Opposition Party, Corporate Toil, Stompin’ Ground, Concave Scream and Art Fazil, just to name a few.
At one point, The Substation became a hub for local hardcore and punk gigs. “We would all congregate for gigs at The Substation, which was the main place for gigs at the time,” Ginette Chittick of shoegaze group Astreal and now-defunct punk band Psycho Sonique, recalled in a 2019 interview. “If you managed to play one there, it would be considered a really big deal.”
In 2016, the newly appointed artistic director Alan Oei announced a number of controversial changes to The Substation, including phasing out venue rental – a move that stoked concern and criticism from Singapore’s independent music scene, who feared it would mean losing yet another space for live shows. Oei left The Substation in 2019.
Oei’s announcement prompted a petition to the National Arts Council and the Singapore government for the establishment of an independent performance venue for the public, managed by the music scene.
The Substation has had some music programming in recent years. It was due to host the Swedish metal band Soilwork for a 2019 gig that was eventually cancelled. In July 2019, BlackKaji, the concert series conceived by The Observatory and Ujikaji Records, held an experimental music festival in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and Nusasonic at The Substation. Its line-up included Gabber Modus Operandi, Nadah El Shazly and Fauxe.
BlackKaji returned to The Substation last year for live-streamed performances by The Observatory, George Chua and sl_owtalk.