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.