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Gashaus sits down with homegrown indie rocksuperstar Levan Wee for a smoke and the straight dope...

Ronin?

Sporting his signature sunglasses with the white and black leather cuffs on either forearm, Levan Wee, the vocalist of hit local rock outfit Ronin, was slouched nonchalantly over the sheesha pipe. We were on Arab street, sitting in a drab corner next to a rather fragrant drain and a waitress spilled coffee on me just a minute ago. A rather dismal environment for a gathering... one of Levan's momentary fits of genius "Hey guys I have an idea, lets go smoke some sheesha at that... you know... that place in Arab street". I keep telling myself to pass, but sometimes musos just have nothing better to do on a Sunday night.

Following their meteoric rise upon release of chart topping hits 'Black Maria' and 'One More Moment' on 98.7fm as well as power 98, Ronin have gone from strength to strength - becoming one of the staples in the local live music circuit with an almost undeniable fan base across the teenage demographic. Their debut album Do or Die is widely available through most good music stores islandwide, packing hard rock tunes such as the anthemic 'Hail to the God of Rock and Roll' as well as the biographic 'Crazy son'. I personally favour the political 'Revolution' as well as 'Do what thou wilt', the first track of theirs I heard while off my face in Jon Madd's car back in '04:

"You said he's gonna teach you how to be a stayer . Kill me I'd rather be a quitter. What this hell hole needs is a little lubrication and a little less political masturbation..." A rather neat take on former PM Goh Chok Tong's reference to Singaporeans that migrate overseas as 'Quitting' on the country if you asked one.

Seated at either end of the table were Wayne Thunder and JBoss, two thirds of The Suns (formerly known as the Bored Phucks) as well as Snakeweed Studio honcho Leonard Soosay, an instrumental genius behind the production of the Ronin phenomenon as well as that of Pug Jelly.

Surprisingly the other members of the band were not present. Derryn (bass), Sean (Lead guitar), Simon (rhythm guitar) and Bang (Drums) seem to lack the spontaneous flamboyance of their front man, but most probably have unfathomable ways of having fun. Such a gathering of local luminaries... they looked stoned; such a wonderful placebo, this Sheesha invention.

Hours ago we were at Changi hospital visiting San, singer of The Suns. The poor man will be out of action for 3 months due to an unfortunate stage-diving accident. As usual our white haired friend was absolutely punctual, arriving a full hour late with Sabrina of Rock For Good fame as well as hardcore fan 'Pepper'. We all had magazines and snacks for the damaged Sanjeev, however it was rather cruel that we all contributed pictures of gorgeous women when his right elbow is broken. Enough said.

This brings to mind Levan's attempt at crowd surfing at the seminal Rock for Good Concert in RGS, he was stopped short by security - the 1,700 strong crowd would have ripped him to pieces for his clothes alone. That gig reinforced Ronin's popularity with a decidedly virgin (literally) crowd mixed in with hardcore Ronin fans. Rather unsurprisingly, the arena-sized concert sold out with other heavyweights on the lineup such as Electrico, The Suns, West Grand Boulevard, Crossbred and Skyjuice.

"We are not the loudest band in Singapore, but we have the loudest fans, am I right?" boomed Levan to a unanimously enthusiastic audience. Ronin's stage antics have earned them notoriety at their performances, particularly in their school invasion tour. Said Levan: "We've been banned in more than half of the schools that have booked us!" Amen - throwing G-strings, hair dye and what not into a crowd certainly will not earn a band points in the eye of conservative institutes, but it has worked wonders to date on the massing ranks of disenfranchised subscribers.

Their 'riot' concept has sparked a movement in local live music: many younger bands such as the avid 'Stockholm Syndrome' draw great inspiration from Ronin; Indeed Stockholm's lead guitarist and singer Wenqiang was pestering me at Revolver Studio's exposure gig in Gashaus for Levan's signature (on his guitar) for hours on end.

When Levan finally relented, I was sure the 15 year old nearly creamed himself. Most of Ronin's younger supporters are female, although I'm sure Stockholm Syndrome's fixation with Levan is completely wholesome. ...Derryn showed up at the hospital, dressed in his "support local music, f*ck a musician" T-shirt and the ubiquitous facial hair and ponytail.

Aside from Levan's albino distinction, Derryn is the next most recognisable member of Ronin on stage. "Being recognisable is 50% of our success" said Levan once, while we were walking through Bugis... heads were turning in all directions as the white demon strode past them in his pale glory. Derryn has never failed to amuse me with his dry humour. His antics during the recent Sembawang festival were naturally hilarious - sound checking with 'one, two, three, my balls, suck my... ' and was promptly cut off by the cheering crowd at the P.O.W stage.

I was greatly amused by his attention to detail - At Rock For Good he had caricatures of phalluses drawn on his wrists and an "X" duct taped to his crotch. This made a little sense considering the overwhelming presence of jailbait. Rather strangely, he is the one member of Ronin I have never observed in the company of the fairer sex - so 'x' could be more of a beacon than a mark of restraint. Derryn's slap happy mastery of his bass has always given the band's sound a distinctly 80s rock drive that has made their riffs incredibly catchy.

Guitarist Sean has been the band's in-house sex symbol - more than twice have I heard crowds chanting 'take it off' and I don't think they meant the Ronin track of the same name. To the delight of screaming fans at Rock For Good, Sean took off his shirt and rather disappointingly, so did Derryn.

The rapport between Sean and Simon on stage is utterly amazing with crisp tonal harmonies; their ability was even more emphasised when they played unplugged at Music for Good's Quiet: The New Loud II at the Singapore Arts Museum (17 Dec. 2005) alongside Typewriter and Amanda Tee, Rushed, and Leslie Low. It was rather amusing when Levan made the crowd stand before launching into Black Maria that "unfortunately, is at number 1", giggled Levan.

Ronin are going regional with an upcoming Australian tour in May, gigging particularly heavily in Melbourne. Attributed to Guns and Roses and citing influences such as Marilyn Manson, Bon Jovi, Metallica and Led Zeppelin, the quintet are certainly going places especially with a rumour of appearing on Universal's upcoming Red Hot Compilation circulating in South East Asia. Do take a listen to their latest online release "Memories" on their website, www.roninriot.com which is due for Colin Goh's upcoming movie in the later half of the year!

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Photos from the Gashaus