Dennis Lau, Malaysia's Funkiest Violinist

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This post was written by Sarah Rees.


Like many talented artists, Dennis Lau is a chameleon. Anyone who has seen him take to the stage with his stylish, customised violin is wowed by not only his prowess, but his ability to take a centuries-old musical art and offer it refreshed and renewed in this modern time. And beyond that, his mysterious personality and quietly brooding composure on the stage give him a presence many artists would kill for.

But when the lights come up, the skin is shorn, and the beaming, energetic young man that meets me at the door of his trendy studio couldn’t be more different and more refreshingly down-to-earth, making it easy to forget that Lau has a talent that is almost unparalleled in Malaysia.


The facts are fairly staggering: Lau was three years old when he started playing the piano, eight when he started the violin, and eleven when he became one of the youngest Malaysians to pass the Grade 8 piano exam. He has played with the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra, he has been invited to play for the King’s coronation and was the support act for international star Adam Lambert. Most recently, he entertained the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit in September this year.

“That was pretty cool,” he cedes, “they were very nice. It was just great to get a picture for my Mum, as she loved Princess Diana.”

It is appropriate that conversation swiftly turns to his mother, as she bears some of the credit for the prodigy who now makes his living with his strings. As a piano teacher herself, his mother was thrilled when her only son approached the piano and violin with such enthusiasm and astonishing talent, but as his interest waned, hers only intensified.

“By the age of ten I hated it,” he admits. “I totally rebelled, but I had no choice.” The moment the youngster got in from school he was practising scales, while meal times were spent learning the names of musical notations or writing out musical terms in order to commit them to memory.


The fiery hatred of his musical abilities lasted eight long years, and it wasn’t until he began reaping some financial benefit that regained a sense of satisfaction. “As soon as the first pay cheque came in, everything changed,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I realised that music could be useful.”

That is not to say that Lau is unhappy with his chosen path, and when asked if he has any regrets, he is quick to shake his head. “Life is just life,” he says. “You learn from everything.” He pauses, then reaffirms, “I wouldn’t change my childhood, but it isn’t the way I would do it with my own children.”


Indeed, children may be a future ambition, but right now, the 27-year-old is busy with his music and video production company, and finds his life packed with press conferences, appearances, meetings, performances, and interviews. “People don’t realise quite how much work it is,” he tells me. “It would be fine if I had a huge team to organise things for me, but I have to do everything myself, from arranging things and signing contracts to styling myself and getting the music out there.”

Style is something he takes seriously, and while he may have creative flair, he also has a wise head on his shoulders, and is wide awake to the realities of the music industry. “Artists are like a bowl of rice,”he says, “or any sort of food dish. The presentation of it is just as important as how it actually tastes, and I like to keep reinventing myself with each new single.”

This constant reinvention allows him to remain fairly unnoticed when he moves around the city, and that’s by design: this chameleon prefers to maintain his mystery.


Lau is also, even at his relatively young age, beginning to find pleasure in nurturing the talent of others, and he is keen to tell me about Crystal Lee, a nine-year-old girl with a precocious aptitude for singing who now thrives under his management. “It gives me such satisfaction,” he gushes, as we watch the youngster singing on screen, “I want to see her succeed faster than I did.” That isn’t to say his own ambitions have fallen by the wayside, and he is following up his debut album (DiversiFy released in 2009) with regular singles, the most recent of which, Gotcha Style, is already racking up thousands of views on YouTube.

“I am going to stick with releasing singles for the time being,” he explains. “The album was something I did for me more than anything.” He describes his debut album as the “one thing that I am most proud of,” and, considering the range of achievements and accolades that have been showered on him in the seven years since he launched himself onto the scene, this speaks volumes.

From that ten-year-old boy who loathed the instruments on which he displayed so much talent, Lau has blossomed into a savvy, mature, and contented performer who is aware of his skills and is happy to pursue the life that the fates have laid before him. He doesn’t look too far ahead, preferring to enjoy the moment, and shrugs off my questions about the future. “I don’t plan further than a year ahead,” murmurs the chameleon, side-stepping the certainties with a playful smile. “Let’s just see what happens.”


More information on Dennis Lau is available on www.dennislau.com.my. The new single Gotcha Style was released in August and is available to download on iTunes for $0.99. View the music video at www.youtube.com/dennislautv..


Source: Senses of Malaysia Nov-Dec 2012


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