Too dirty, too noisy, too good


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Zouk in Singapore once introduced House music to Asia. But now the club — number one on the continent for almost 25 years — is under pressure: Their parties are too wild for the neighborhood.

  • Author: Knut T. Jordaan

Party on as if there is no tomorrow. The saying threatens to become a harsh reality for Zouk, Asia’s most popular dance venue. Located on the Singapore River, amid waterfront skyscrapers, the club on Jiak Kim Street has received many complaints over the years: Too many people, too much noise, too much dirt. In other words, too much fun. But now it seems the irrate bourgeois neighbors have won out: The island state’s strict government ordered the dance club shut down.

Immediately, some 40,000 fans petitioned to save their beloved party location. Thanks to Save Zouk, Singapore officials granted the club a suspension: Managers have until close of June, 2015, to find a new home for their rave parties; if they manage to present a new lease contract by then, Zouk’s parties can go on for a few more years, however if they fail... well, then, some of Singapore’s citizens will revel in a good night’s sleep.

Three sheds, one vision

The Southeastern melodrama began in 1989 near Robertson quay at the Singapore River’s mouth: Lincoln Cheng, businessman, furniture importer, and Hong Kong Chinese immigrant, bought three dilapidated warehouses, envisioning a night club — and not just any club, parties like the ones he enjoyed on Ibiza, where he regularly vacationed. No club in Hong Kong played house music like what he’d heard on the Balearic Islands. Cheng turned from importing furniture to importing the sound of contemporary Europe.

He restored the old buildings to their original 1919 style, built water pipes, paved the road. He ordered stark white walls and dance floors for multiple levels. Two years later, Zouk opened its doors. The logo, written in pseudo-Arab signs, symbolizes the sun, ocean, and a magic eye; the name calls to mind souks, oriental markets, as well as the music style of the same name, a Lambada-like dance with a creole name that translates as party.

The original Zouk can fit for more than 1,500 people. The club lures top, cutting edge DJs from all over the world —Hardwell, Fedde Le Grand, Bob Sinclar, Sven Väth. Says Lincoln Cheng: „We do not play what is heard all over the charts. We want to present the next big thing to our guests.” In spite of local restrictions, the club flourished. Cheng turned the historic riverside into party central. These days, Zouk is actually five venues in one: To the original, Cheng added the more intimite Velvet Underground area, then Phuture, with glowing bars and purple dance floors, as well as a lounge and a wine bar (oh yes, it’s legal: You can get a license to sell alcohol in Lion City).

No drugs, please

Many wonder how a venue like this can exist in Singapore, a country with laws so rigid most Westerners consider them near ridiculous: The notorious ban on chewing gum has been slackened of late, but smoking, eating and drinking in public all remain punishable. Graffiti sprayers risk not merely detention but also corporal punishment, and drug dealers, if caught, are executed.

Zouk not only brought Singapore’s club scene to life, it created a real dance culture. Since 2000, the club organizes ZoukOut, a festival on the small island resort of Sentosa. There, under palm trees and dressed in bikinis and board shorts, Asia’s party animals socialize and dance to the beats of David Guetta and Steve Aoki while fireworks light up the skies and there are no nearby neighbors to complain.

Back in South Asia, jetsetters worry: What if Cheng cannot find a new lease? That will bring a dark and very, very quiet night on Jiak Kim Street. The business man claims he scoured the city’s entire 277 square miles for a new location. Rumors spread that he wanted to settle near the Singapore Flyer, a ferry wheel near the harbor promenade, or in the old airport building. Media outlets confirm he has three favorite spots but supply no details. Cheng says he is willing to invest $20 to 30 millon. That should be enough for quite some fun.

The clock is ticking down.

Address: 17 JIAK KIM STREET, SINGAPUR 169420
Capacity: All Clubs together approx. 4000
Dresscode: Zouk & Phuture & Wine Bar: Entry age 18+, Stylish; Man: No loafers; Velvet Underground: Entry age 21+ (Women) and 23+ (Men); Stylisch, smart casual, Man: no shorts, loafers or sandals; Women: no ballerinas
Opening hours: Zouk: wednesday, friday and saturday, starts at 23:00, open end; Velvet Underground: friday and saturday starts at 22:00, open end Phuture: friday and saturday, stars 21:00, open end
Ticket Price: Men: 30 Singapur-Dollar (approx. 20 Euro), Women: 25 Singapur-Dollar (approx. 17 Euro)
Homepage: http://www.zoukclub.com