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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.

TP: Zouk birthed Singapore’s electronic music and clubbing scene. What do you think is its place today in local nightlife?

AC: It still represents a rite of passage to many. Every Wednesday and weekend, the university kids are still out here in full force. I don’t deny that we have lost a bit of the older community (that knows Zouk as) always being at the forefront and paving the way of music direction, and this is what we are trying to bring back.

TP: Why did you start going to Zouk as a clubber?

AC: My roots are in drum and bass and I started clubbing at independent clubs like Home Club (now Canvas). When I ventured into – for lack of a better word – more mainstream clubs, Zouk was of course the first place to be and that was when I discovered Ready Set Glo (a nudisco night introduced by Phillips in the mid-2000s). EDM was also already infiltrating the scene (and honestly) I think it’s a good gateway into electronic music. From there, I discovered electronic music and its various genres and I think this discovery process is what the kids today are still going through.

TP: I think this idea of good entryway music is important. Whatever gets people into music and onto the dance floor is good. My problem with EDM is that it’s so much more all encompassing than, say, a trance night ever was. With trance, it was still a part of nightlife and electronic music, whereas EDM is the home of radio, bottle service and all these things.

AC: It is (a very lazy strand of electronic music culture). My colleagues and I were having this conversation though about how the latest generation of clubbers grew up on EDM with it being their entry into electronic music. And we have this logic that people are always looking for harder music than what they first got into, and right now, hardstyle (a high BPM genre that mashes techno, trance and hardcore) is the ‘in’ thing.

TP: Are the expectations of what makes a good club today different from before though?

AC: Clubbers today come in knowing what they want to hear. Before, they came to discover. We really have to give respect to the DJs who must learn how to strike a balance between educating and entertaining. Now – especially at places with bottle service – there’s this mentality that because I’ve paid good money, I want to hear this particular song. A DJ has to entertain first so that people will come down to listen to him, and then slot in songs in between to educate about new sounds.

TP: Even when we were running the club, this was a problem. The idea of education has always been something ingrained in the Zouk culture, and made us speak of music the way we did. I’m sure it’s not a part of the language of many other places that have opened. For some places, it’s about making money so if a certain type of music is popular, it’d be what’s played. That’s also why many places come and go.

AC: What would you do if you were me now?

TP: Music evolves and scenes change, and things like EDM happen. These are things that change the whole scene, but what Zouk had – and still has – is that legacy. (The important thing is to be clear on what it stands for and to stick to it.) People today would have no loyalty if it’s just another venue. The booking of acts alone is not what makes a club. It’s also about who you work with; the type of communities you’re cultivating and what’s important to you; and striking that balance between the commercial and satisfying your communities. Community is still so important.