Zouk Lives

Sin­ga­pore’s iconic night­club is in good hands


IT FELT LIKE THE END OF AN ERA when Zouk got ac­quired by Gent­ing Hong Kong over a year ago. Peo­ple got emo­tional. Some blamed the govern­ment for tak­ing the land back, killing an icon. Others dreaded the changes to come. “I bet Wine Bar will turn into a jackpot room,” a friend joked. The pub­lic wasn’t con­fi­dent, shrug­ging off the idea that Gent­ing, a com­pany bet­ter known for run­ning a cruise or casino, could be fit to con­tinue the legacy of Lin­coln Cheng’s brain­child.

But de­spite all the claims and woes, per­haps a breath of fresh air was needed for the 26-year-old night­club. Her­itage is im­por­tant, but one should al­ways be open to evolv­ing. Who would have guessed? Nights have been do­ing swim­m­ingly well since the move to Clarke Quay last De­cem­ber, and no one has com­plained. “Wed­nes­day nights are go­ing strong and we are pretty much booked solid ev­ery week­end,” An­drew Li (VP of life­style and F&B of Gent­ing, and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Zouk) says. He has been tasked with bring­ing the Zouk ex­pe­ri­ence to greater lev­els. But will Sin­ga­pore’s favourite night­club be saved? We dig a lit­tle deeper for the sake of clo­sure.

So it’s been over a year since Gent­ing Hong Kong ac­quired Zouk?

Yes, a year and four months. When the space at Jiak Kim was set to be re­turned to the govern­ment, Lin­coln Cheng knew open­ing a new club would be another long-term thing. He was ready to see the brand grow even more, but for that, a lot of en­ergy would be needed. Fur­ther­more, he’s al­ready spent so much of his life groom­ing the brand. I be­lieve he felt a fresh mind­set would do it good.

I can’t say I’ve been in Sin­ga­pore very much be­fore, but in this last year and a half, I’ve seen how iconic and sen­ti­men­tal the club is to Sin­ga­pore­ans. It’s amaz­ing. I’ve been to Las Ve­gas and Spain, and never have I seen a city or coun­try with so much emo­tion for a club.

Will sen­ti­ments af­fect the new Zouk?

Zouk is more than just a lo­ca­tion. It’s a brand and sub­cul­ture in it­self. Wher­ever it goes, I don’t be­lieve its cul­ture and DNA will be gone. We had to move any­way, so what op­tion did we have? But you know, we do try to bring as much as we can over to the new Zouk. While we will con­sider bring­ing Mambo Jambo back, we have Phillips Con­nor, the orig­i­nal in­te­rior de­signer who pretty much grew up with the brand. He un­der­stands the im­por­tance of re­tain­ing its soul ‒ a soul that’s born from mu­sic. The old Zouk was in­spired by Lin­coln’s trav­els to Ibiza and how mu­sic unites peo­ple no mat­ter the cul­ture or race. So from Jiak Kim to Clarke Quay, we try to do the same. It doesn’t mat­ter where you come from or what part of life you are at. It’s about en­joy­ing mu­sic and hav­ing a great time with friends.

Why Clarke Quay, though? Is it not dy­ing as an en­ter­tain­ment en­clave?

It’s go­ing through a trans­for­ma­tion. When you think about a space of 2,880 square me­tres, you don’t have that many op­tions. Not in Sin­ga­pore, at least. Clarke Quay was a good fit be­cause it has am­ple space, good tourist traf­fic, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and her­itage. With that, we have man­aged to re­tain the old Zouk and Phuture, as well as in­tro­duce new spa­ces like the VIP con­cept, Red Tail and Cap­i­tal. It was a good chance to unite the best of the old and new.

What are the se­crets to run­ning a suc­cess­ful night­club busi­ness?

I won’t say there is one se­cret. I’ve been in this busi­ness for about seven years and it’s re­ally a com­bi­na­tion for a lot of things. Nat­u­rally, ser­vice comes first. It is im­por­tant that the peo­ple you em­ploy are pas­sion­ate about what they do. Lucky for us, we have peo­ple who have worked at Zouk since for­ever. They are fa­mil­iar with the soul of the club and will go out of their way to make sure you have a good time.

In fact, our front desk has been nom­i­nated many times by the Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board for good ser­vice. It’s in­ter­est­ing for a night­club to have that. Of course get­ting the mu­sic right is im­por­tant. You can’t be too com­mer­cialised or too trendy, ei­ther can be a turn-off. So you strike a com­fort­able bal­ance be­tween the two.

But what is the av­er­age life­span of a club here?

To be hon­est, around three to five years, and we are 26 this year. The nightlife in­dus­try is ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive. There’s al­ways a new player in town with a brand new con­cept, which brings me back to my point on the im­por­tance of evolv­ing. I be­lieve the rea­son why Zouk has man­aged to stand strong all these years is be­cause it has built a sub­cul­ture of its own, for gen­er­a­tions of trend-set­ters in Asia. For tourists, we have since es­tab­lished our­selves as a des­ti­na­tion club be­ing the sixth best club in the world ac­cord­ing to DJ Mag’s poll in 2016.

What are the threats that Zouk may face?

Other than the chang­ing land­scape, it’s a chal­lenge to keep cus­tomers. There is such a thing as fes­ti­val fa­tigue, for in­stance. Ev­ery city is do­ing a fes­ti­val ev­ery cou­ple of months with sim­i­lar line­ups and re­peated con­cepts that tend to leave peo­ple in­creas­ingly un­ex­cited, and this has an im­pact on our plans for ZoukOut’s ex­pan­sions in the re­gion.

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