Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sunny Singh of

Joe Hardcore and Sunny Singh
at This is Hardcore 2013
Sunny Singh is one of the nicest and smartest people I have ever met! Back when I was in 6th grade, he did this really cool video for me to show the kids at my school when I did an assembly on choosing to be drug and alcohol free.  I had traded a few emails with him, but did not meet him in person until he and my dad went to a coffee shop for an hour in Sacramento. (Sunny was filming a wedding video the next day.) Because of Sunny, people all over the world get to see great shows even if they can't go to the show.  He is probably one of the nicest guys I know.  I am really REALLY happy that he is my friend. 

PMAKid: You are kinda famous in the hardcore scene because of your website  You record hardcore shows and post them online for free so people all over the world can see these shows when they cannot go themselves.  Why did you start this site in the first place?

Sunny Singh: There were a couple reasons I started this project. In 2001/2002 when I was in high school I was really into collecting VHS tapes of live show footage. I was also starting to go to shows in southern New Jersey and Philly and wanted to find a way to get involved in my local hardcore/punk community. Having never used a camera before I realized the benefits would be threefold: I could teach myself something new, help my friends who were in bands, and start documenting my favorite bands much like the people who filmed the shows I had collected on VHS. The entire project has taught me probably the single most valuable lesson in my life: DIY. If I see a void that I want filled (even if it’s just for myself and that no one else would enjoy), I fill it.

PMAKid: I bet it costs a lot of money with all your camera equipment.  How can you afford to do this when it is free?!?!?! Did you win the lottery or something?!?!?

Sunny Singh: I get donations from people here and there and I am on staff for This Is Hardcore, so I get some money from that. The bulk of the costs come out of my pocket. I don’t live lavishly and I am thankful to have a full-time job, so running the site now isn’t as much of a burden as it was when I was still a student. Donations help immensely though. I’ve learned how to stretch my resources to cover costs, too. Having done this for so long I now have a good handle on the operations of things so managing costs is much easier as I know how to plan for upgrades and whatnot. I also film weddings now under the name love5six which has been a good way of supporting/funding hate5six.

PMAKid: I know that you are straight edge like me.  You did that REALLY awesome video that I used in my presentation about PMA and straight edge and hardcore music that I gave to my school in 6th grade.  All the kids were blown away by that video you did! Anyway, can you tell me how long you have been straight edge and why you made that choice and what it means to you?

Sunny Singh: I have never consumed drugs or any sort of alcohol, so in that sense I’ve always been straightedge. It was the late 90s when I was in middle school when I got bored in English class and started drawing an ‘X’ on my hand with a marker. Some kid saw it and asked me if I was straightedge. I had never heard the phrase and thought it was bad until he explained it. I wasn’t into hardcore/punk at that point but the idea seemed cool and it was comforting to hear a single word that, at the time, represented the choices I had made in life up until that point. The alternatives never interested me.

I almost never call myself “straightedge”. The choices I make in life coincide with what people would call “straightedge”, but the way it is worn like a badge sometimes seems posturing to the point where I want to distance from it. What’s interesting to me is that the the general sentiment towards the label is that it engenders solidarity and like-mindedness, but often you see that it results in alienation and isolation. For example: the alacrity with which the solidarity spoils into resentment and condescension the moment someone “breaks”.

PMAKid: Give me your three favorite books and songs please and why they are your favorite.  I know I always ask this question, but I always think it is interesting to hear people's responses.

Sunny Singh: These lists are always changing, and I think it’s better for the books to speak for themselves:

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon
“Manufacturing Consent” by Noam Chomsky
The Bhagavad Gita

Songs: this changes way faster than my list of favorite books. In fact, it changed several times over the course of writing these responses that I think it’s futile to even try!

PMAKid: My dad says that I should ask you about your mom.  I am not really sure why he wants me to ask, but he did say that you sometimes share on Facebook the funny things she says.  So, I guess...would you tell me about your mom?

Sunny Singh: She hates my beard more than she hates hardcore. She’s generally pretty comical but she doesn’t really understand the things that I do or my passions for video, unless it’s the wedding videos. She is always excited to watch those.

PMAKid: I know you are not only one of the nicest guys around, you are also really smart.  What do you do outside of hardcore?  Like, your job and stuff.

Sunny Singh: I’m a computer scientist by day in a field that merges mathematics, computer science, and linguistics. I build statistical models of human/natural language and use artificial intelligence/machine learning to train computers to “understand” and do things with human language. Natural language processing is everywhere and most people don’t know it. Take talking to Siri on your iPhone for instance. It requires a computer program to take your speech signal, convert it to a sequence of phonetic sounds, combine the phonemes into the likely words they form, parsing the sentence formed by the words for the subjects/verbs/objects, searching for the most relevant answer to the query, and displaying a result in a human readable or machine-spoken form--which reverses the process and requires training a computer to translate words into speech that it can pronounce. All of this requires math, statistics, and large amounts of language data, and the ability to write code to do all the machinery. These are things that absolutely fascinate me. Note: I don’t work for Apple so if you hate Siri, it’s not my fault!

PMAKid: Can you tell me about going on tour in Europe with Mindset?  How much fun was THAT?  What were some of the coolest things about that tour?

Sunny Singh: That was both my first time in Europe and my first tour in general. I was supposed to go with 108 a few years ago but the tour fell through a few hours after I was given the green light to go. Having been very good friends with all the Mindset guys for a while now, it was really amazing to tag along and document their adventure. I never thought I’d see the day where “Be The Spark” wasn’t THE incendiary device to ignite a  Mindset crowd, but the tour proved otherwise. The reaction their new material received eclipsed the older material. It was bittersweet, but mostly sweet. They are becoming the band Mindset will be remembered for and witnessing that transition in Europe is something I won’t forget.

I met so many wonderful people in all the countries we hit. People who were excited to see Mindset because they remind them of what attracted them to hardcore, other people who are passionate about putting on, playing, and documenting shows. And it was just an honor to finally go out and personally document some of the European scene, especially since so much of my website traffic and donations come from Europe.

I really appreciated the political discussions at the shows, too. I found that there was a degree of sincerity that is generally lacking in the American scene. It was illuminating to hear their perspectives on issues that directly affect them (fascism/Nazism at shows, for example).

PMAKid: If you could record one band, who would it be and why?

Sunny Singh: It’s really hard to say. I could name my favorite bands, but in those cases I think I would much rather go off! Inside Out comes to mind. But even when 108 or Damnation AD play, I always have a friend film because those are bands that I can never bring myself to film.

Filming new bands always falls into two categories: sets where I don’t know what I’m doing because I don’t know the material, and sets where I feel like I’m responding in real-time to a set. It’s hard to describe, but there’s definitely a feeling of knowing that I’ve nailed a set with respect to capturing the emotion and energy, and other sets where I feel disconnected and just standing there. When the former happens, especially with a band I have never heard before, that feeling assures my newfound interest in the band.

PMAKid: Another question that I like to ask people: how do you keep a positive attitude when things are really crappy?  

Sunny Singh: I honestly don’t know if I’d say I keep consistent positive attitude. I tend to have very dark and abysmal outlook on things, but I try to keep things rooted in reality. Right before I started hate5six I felt as though my life was falling apart. I taught myself how to take the negative momentum caused by my downward spiraling life and transform it into something else: funneling every ounce of myself into the project. Perspective is always key and I think being able to view things through a variety of lenses is what helps me endure difficult things. Learning how to adapt and reallocate resources, time, and energy is such a vital skill in facing challenges.

PMAKid: Who is the absolute coolest and nicest person in hardcore?

Sunny Singh: Superlatives bother me because it sort of dilutes the meaning of the adjective. Whenever someone dies I always hear that that person was the “nicest” or what have you. I don’t doubt their niceness, but when everyone is the nicest then no one is the nicest. Hell, when I finally clock out of life I don’t want to be described by any adjective other than “real”. Apologies for the random turn into Bummer City; I’m a stickler for language if you haven’t noticed. I will say that among the nicest is Dan Fang of Mindset. I have never once heard him disrespect anyone and his heart and soul are in the purest of places.

PMAKid: Are you going to be recording TIHC 2013? My dad and I are probably going to go, so it would be REALLY cool to see you.

Sunny Singh: This will be my 5th year and I’m so excited! This Is Hardcore has represented my growth as a person since I started hate5six. Each year I use it to push myself and take things to the next level.

PMAKid: Anything else you want to say?

Sunny Singh: Without a notion of irreducibility, truth is subjective. Always ask questions.

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