When The Great Spy Experiment took to the Baybeats Powerhouse stage 3 years ago, the band was already on the verge of breaking up. However, that memorable performance changed their decision – or so they thought.

“We did a big band hug after the show, and drummer Fandy cried on stage,” keyboardist Magdelene Han, 38, recalls, “The energy backstage was crazy and it was my favourite moment because I thought ‘Everything is going to be okay.’”

The band even released their second album, Litmus, in 2013, in the hope that staying together was a final decision.

Yet, in April this year, the band revealed that the decision to split was finally cast in stone. They decided that the House of Riot’s Triple Bill show on June 6, where they performed alongside local indie artists Inch Chua and Charlie Lim, would be their last.

The Great Spy Experiment has definitely come a long way: from developing their surging indie rock sound showcased in their wildly successful debut album, Flower Show Riots, to garnering international acclaim by performing in numerous overseas festivals from Malaysia to New York.


Five Ways Away

Vocalist Saiful Idris, 35, says: “It has been on our conscience for maybe 4, 5 years now, actually even longer than that. Every once in a while we would bring it up. At some points we would take turns to say that we wanted to stop.”


“I will never play with another band,” Magdelene shares. “The Great Spy Experiment will not be as it is if any of us is out of the equation. So, the only decision to end this is to go our separate ways,” she adds.

Over the years, events in their their personal lives had left permanent scars on the band. Putting a strong emphasis on the band’s relationship, Saiful says: “The band is not just about music. It is about the relationship within the band, relationships outside the band. The music is based on stories, which is based on life experiences.”


Guitarist Song Tan, 39, explains: “We need to heal. Honestly it’s the relationship between us that has been affected and it’s the right time to call it a day so that we can go away, get our own space, and heal. Maybe when we have healed properly then we can come back. I won’t put a certainty to it. We might not come back. No one knows.”


Growing Up

In 2010, the band was forced to face the fact that perhaps they should focus more on their families.

“There were some times when I wanted to stop playing because my first girl had some medical complications and she had to go for a very major brain operation during [one of] our band travels,” Magdelene reveals.

Song adds: “We have reached the age where we have to consider other things in our lives – starting families, getting careers on the road. You start prioritising. It’s not just doing things for fun without considering your future.”


Drummer Fandy Razak, 35, agrees, saying: “I switched careers somewhere in the middle and I was trying to make it work. At the same time, I was a father, so there was a lot of pressure there. I still want to do music, which has no monetary gains at all. Not enough, at least.”


Yet, there is no trace of ill will. You can see it in the smiles of greeting after a long day of work, the handshakes they offer, the charm with which they clap their hands playfully at questions thrown their way. “Above everything else, we had a good run for the 10 years. We gave our best, we got more than we deserve, and we are very, very thankful for that, especially to our fans,” bassist Khairyl Hashim, 38, says.


The Goal is Achieved

Extenuating circumstances there may be, their determination to set the ever-soaring benchmark in the local music scene has never crumbled. Describing the situation as a “cultural cringe”, Saiful comments that it makes sense for Singaporeans to be critical of local music because they are used to products from all over the world.


“We were really conscious of raising the standards of the music, songwriting, production, as well as the level of professionalism,” he adds. By showing Singaporeans that taking local music overseas can be done, Fandy believes that The Great Spy Experiment has inspired younger musicians to believe in local music.

With 10 years of making music together, has The Great Spy Experiment, as they have so loudly proclaimed on their band biography pages, really left a mark on the local music scene? Fandy taps mischievously on the café table’s indent: “What kind of mark? This kind of mark?”

Easy to suss or not, The Great Spy Experiment is a homegrown legacy that will continue to live on for decades to come.

And if you still don’t get it: yes, that kind of mark.




10 Quick Facts About The Great Spy Experiment


From finding out who in the band is a ‘Walking Zalora’ to knowing what the band’s alternative genre might be, we assure there’s enough to get you covered to pass the Litmus test.


  1. The band members all married out of their own races


Keyboardist Magdelene Han is also married to bassist Khairyl Hashin and they just welcomed a second baby girl into the family!


  1. ‘The Great Spy Experiment Junior’ is a band you may want to keep your eyes out for… perhaps 15 years down the road

“Because I was a part of it and it’s an amazing journey. Back then, it was hard to convince my parents that I want to do music but I did it anyway and I feel that we can have both [work and play] at the same time. So I’ll definitely encourage my kid to explore whatever it is that they are interested in, especially music because it is so close to my heart,” says Fandy.


  1. Saiful was a scholar


He earned his scholarship during his undergraduate studies back in 2000.


  1. Class ‘A’ Love Affair music video was a regret

While Saiful finds that the music video did not reflect the band in the “right way”, both Magdelene and Fandy agrees that they wished they could have changed their outfits.


  1. Khairyl is a “Walking Zalora

Who knew that the bassist could give great shopping advices for his fellow band mates? Fandy adds: “Whatever I want to buy, I will ask him first. From shoes, to clothes, to music, to bicycles…” the list goes on.


  1. Song is into collecting vinyls

And that is the one thing that Khairyl will not shop for! The reason? The man himself tells us: “I’ve left that scene”.


  1. Magdelene is Saiful’s “biggest fan”


“Can I just add that I would love to see him write again? I used to read his blog and writings and I just wish that he could revive that blog! He writes about random stuff like things that he has noticed or issues that are currently happening in Singapore. And the way he write with such clarity is just, amazing.”


  1. Given an alternative genre for the band, The Great Spy Experiment seemed more inclined towards… metal


“I would have liked to play metal, but it’s too technical [and requires] too much energy. I would love to play drums for a metal band,” says Saiful.


  1. Magdelene sells handmade baby apparels for her humble online business “Kbibs”.


For the keyboardist, she describes her love for crafting as an “accidental passion”. “My teacher had personally told me to get out of Home Economics class because I will spoil every single sewing machine in the classroom,” she shares.


  1. Racial differences have never been a problem for the band. Except…

“When they crack Malay jokes, I’ll just pretend that it’s funny and laugh with them,” quips Song.


A Kind of Love


Fans and friends of The Great Spy Experiment shed some light on the reason why the band deserves to be fondly remembered for their contribution to the local music scene.


“They are fantastic performers, I like their kind of music and they know how to work the crowd. I grew up listening to the band and their songs have always cheered me up. It breaks my heart that they will be disbanding because they are a unique band and my #1 favourite local band. But life goes on and I wish them all the best in their future endeavours. Thanks for the memories!”

– Muhammad Irfan Bin Mohamed Noor, 27


“The Great Spy Experiment is one of the bands I’ve looked up to when we were first starting out. We owe it to them for paving the way for us younger musicians. It’s sad to see them calling it quits but at the same time, extremely happy to see them becoming mummies and daddies! I guess it’s true – the price of greatness is responsibility!

Personally, Saiful’s lyrics and melodies transcend the boundaries of songwriting. I really like the way you can hear his emotions through the way he sings. As a whole, they have garnered such a following that inspires any musician to work towards to. Thank you for writing such beautiful and inspiring music. I wish each of you all the best in everything you do! Godspeed. Song, I will see you on the pitch!”

– Martin James Kong, 27, drummer of Caracal

“I remember them for their fresh sound and energetic stage performance. They will be missed. As a 30 year old veteran of the local music scene, I know the ups and downs of all bands – it’s just the nature of the beast…”

– Farid “FGL” Long, 50, Singer Songwriter

“My best memory of the band will always be of my 21st birthday. I had nothing planned at all but I found out last minute that GSE was planning a homecoming gig at the Prince of Wales where they got their break[through]. I decided to make the journey down to Little India with another friend, watched their show and took a photo with the band afterwards. To them it may have just been another gig, but they were making one of their fanboys very happy that day. I also managed to catch them at Singapore Day last year when I was on student exchange in Europe.

I’ve been a little dormant with music recently, but I found GSE to be a subconscious source of inspiration even when I was writing music with Take Two in the past. GSE have been influences on people not just in terms of music but in other aspects too. They showed that it was possible to make great music in Singapore even while juggling their day jobs, which may have encouraged the next generation in the pursuit of their artistic dreams.”

– Yin Wei Lee, 25, former vocalist of Take Two

“They were one of the first few local bands that I listened to when I first started listening to local music. My uncle introduced them to me when one of their songs played on the radio, which is ‘The Great Decay’. And since then, I started to listen to more of their songs and told myself to catch them live. The first time I watched them was during Baybeats 2012, their energy on stage was just really positive and energetic! I never saw them live again until the House of Riot gig, and I didn’t regret going for it. Still looking forward to the GSE reunion gig!”

– Jazreel-Anne Rama T, 20, Student


Photos courtesy of Aloysius Lim, Bryan Soon, Pop Culture Online, and The Great Spy Experiment

How has The Great Spy Experiment influenced you? Share the love at the comments section below!


The Great Spy Experiment:

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Bandcamp: https://thegreatspyexperiment.bandcamp.com

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