Dropping the Bass

Self-taught DJ Aaron Sim (CS’17) shares his journey behind the turntables and his mission of revving up the trance music scene in Singapore.

In April, Sim spinned at the Mental Asylum Singapore event held at Altimate. PHOTO COURTESY OF TRANCE REPUBLIC

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During his exchange semester, Aaron Sim spent four consecutive nights at a bar in Ibiza, Spain, hoping to get lucky and pick up a spot at the turntables.

On the last night before Sim left the party island, the manager of the Tropy Trance Bar finally allowed him to perform a 30-minute set despite the bar’s packed roster. Sim seized the opportunity with aplomb and impressed both bar staff and foreign revellers with his set.

“It felt stressful with all those ‘angmoh’ (caucasian) eyes on me. But the bar manager liked the set and told me I could drop him a message to play again if I return to Ibiza next summer,” said the third-year undergraduate from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. Sim went to Ibiza during his exchange at Stuttgart Media University in Germany.

In Singapore, Sim, 23, is part of a community called Trance Republic, a disc jockey collective passionate about the local trance scene. The group, formed in the early 2000s, performs monthly at clubs such as Altimate and Azzura Beach Club to around 200 guests each time.


Despite the seemingly impressive attendances, he said there is still room to improve the local trance scene.

“Trance used to be very popular back when (Dutch trance DJ) Tiesto was huge,” said Sim, who has attracted a steady following on his SoundCloud account since starting it four years ago. “The scene is still growing, just not as much because trance has already gone past its peak 10 years ago.”

To breathe life into the scene, Sim suggested grooming home-grown DJ talent. “Not only (to) teach people to DJ, but also guide them in their music path,” he said. “When these DJs build some sort of reputation in the industry, listeners do pay more attention to their tracklisting and will be eager to find out more.”

Sim developed a keen interest in trance music, a genre of electronic music characterised by repeating melodic phrases, after listening to internationally acclaimed DJs Armin van Buuren and Tiesto, while studying for his GCSE ‘A’ Levels.

After completing his exams, he learned the ropes from a friend and started freelancing as a trance DJ. He spent $600 on his first set of DJ equipment and practised almost every day in his living room, with each session lasting from 30 minutes to several hours.

His consistently impressive performances have brought him beyond Singapore's shores. Two years ago, Sim performed two gigs in Sarawak, Malaysia for Wet Electric Rave, a music festival organised by university students.

“They wanted to add international spice to their line-up, so I sent them my mix and they invited me to play for them,” said Sim, who spun in front of 300 partygoers at the event. He was later invited to headline its second installment.

At Azzura Beach Club last year, Sim entertained the crowd at Reverb, WKWSCI's annual music and dance event. PHOTO COURTESY OF 21ST COMMUNICATION & INFORMATION CLUB

His love for trance music has also shaped his academic decisions. Initially studying accountancy, Sim made the switch to communication studies after his first semester in university, attributing this to his desire to “build his name as an artiste.”

“You learn a lot about media, how to engage your audience online, and meet people in this similar field of communications,” he said. “These people are the ones who will help me reach my target audience in the future, as they will be working in public relations agencies, conducting interviews and so on.”

Sim hopes to turn his hobby into a full-time career in the future, despite its bleak prospects in a local setting.

He laments the lack of “career progression” for local DJs, declaring the next two years of his undergraduate life as the “deciding factor” that will determine if he DJs for a living. “It depends on whether I get the publicity I want; whether my tracks get recognised by international DJs; whether they are played on their radio shows to an international market base,” he said.

In a bid to make his dream a reality, Sim has shifted from mixing tracks to producing his own sounds, which he said is “essential” for his brand as an artiste to break into the international trance music scene.

And he is doing it with his own values and style, staunchly refusing to imitate others to carve out a name for himself.

“It’s good to have someone to look up to, but only one person is going to make it out of a thousand aspiring DJs,” said Sim. “So don’t copy (others); just be yourself. You can’t have a second Armin in this world.”