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Lifestyle

On Zouk: Its Legacy And Future 28 Years On

Zouk is the undisputed OG of clubs in Singapore, but has it still got its groove? Its latest head of marketing Audrey Choy sits down with Tracy Phillips - the cultural connoisseur who held her position at the nightspot a decade before – to talk about the institution of electronic music.

Scroll through the Instagram feed of Zouk Singapore and you’ll notice that the cheesy snapshots of cam-whoring partygoers that used to pepper the 46.7K-follower-strong account in the past few years have gradually dwindled to zero starting last September. It’s not that the revellers have stopped coming – a visit to the mammoth club at Clarke Quay on any given Saturday night, when entry queues often snake out to the main road, would affirm that.

It’s just that those generic nightlife photos have made way for a fashionable explosion of cheeky, often pop art-influenced visuals promoting the club’s events, DJs and identity, recalling its collectible flyers from a time when EDM (both the digital marketing strategy and the music genre) weren’t a thing. To lead up to its 28th anniversary in May, for example, the club released a series of hip highlighter-hued posts paying tribute to its past. “From Bjork to Grace Jones, Armin van Buuren to Hardwell, name an icon that you’ve seen at Zouk, and why you would like them to come back,” read one of them.

zouk

How the club celebrated turning a grand 28 years old this May: by reminding partygoers of its status as a nightlife institution

This hyper MTV-esque makeover of the account is just one sign of a possible cultural shift that’s taking root at the institution since its latest head of marketing Audrey Choy came on board just about a year ago. “Music goes very much hand in hand with design so I brought in the designer who worked with me at Cherry to rebrand Phuture, for example”, says the 30-year-old of the smaller, more experimental room within the over 17,000sq ft venue.

The Cherry that she speaks of is the original iteration of the vintage arcade game-decked hip hop joint at York Hotel that she helped mastermind in 2016, becoming the destination of cool for Gen Z clubbers tripping on nostalgia chic. Also on her resume: stints at some of Singapore’s most famous, if short-lived, nightspots (google Avalon) as well as the independent techno party collective No Party Here that she co-founded.

In short, she’s an industry veteran with her finger on the pulse of both the commercial and underground ends of youth culture and the electronic music scene, and her task now is to not only to keep Zouk thumping on, but also forward. “There’s a stigma with Zouk (these days) – that we are a sell-out and have gone mainstream,” she says. “Now that I’m here, I would like for Zouk to again be at the forefront of music, design and art.”

Zouk’s longevity alone makes it a legend. Its true legacy though stems from its history as an independently owned progenitor of music and cultural trends that started in its original warehouse location on Jiak Kim Street (yes, Bjork and Grace Jones were there). Today, while it still reels in the crowds, it’s owned by the Genting Hong Kong conglomerate that bought it over in 2015. And – as with any company – it faces the challenge of changing tastes and the constant lure of the shiny and new.

To re-establish the club as a cultural hotspot for music aficionados to discover the next big sound, Choy and her allies-at-work – general manager Wayne Lee and DJ booker/resident DJ Nash D – have brought in underground names ranging from techno DJs Charlotte de Witte and Jeff Mills to Chinese rappers Bohan Phoenix and Young Queenz. “The creative crowd now is into hip hop because it comes together with street wear,” says Choy. “(Names like Bohan are underrated), but people in fashion know them. And what we’re trying to do is more of educating. If I wanted to appeal to the masses, I would have just booked the Higher Brothers.”

Also usually unheard of for a super club: partnerships with independent music collectives like the Britpop and rock-playing Poptart and house and techno DJ Zig Zach who have amassed their own cult following. Says Choy: “This way, we hope to bring back different communities (that’ll see Zouk as home).”

The woman who held Choy’s position at Zouk exactly 10 years before her appointment ought to be proud. Now the founder of cultural progamming agency Present Purpose, Tracy Phillips made the clubbing experience as much about fashion and creativity as it was about music and dance during her reign as its head of marketing from 1998 to 2012. Is the Zouk spirit still alive, and what does its evolution say about nightlife and culture in general? Here, excerpts from their first-ever recorded conversation.

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