It wasn’t just travelling British DJs and party-goers that original Balearic DJ Alfredo inspired with his now infamous sets at Amnesia in the mid-to-late 1980s. While Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and company would go on to launch influential acid house-era parties in London, another Amnesia regular, architect and businessman, Lincoln Cheng, would go one step further and build his own Ibiza-style superclub in Singapore: Zouk.
Twenty-eight years after it first opened its doors, Zouk remains one of the World’s most celebrated clubs, offering an unbeatable mix of quality music, top-notch DJs, superb sound and eye-catching décor. While Cheng is no longer involved — he sold the brand in 2015 — his dream of a world-class club in Singapore lives on.
This is an impressive achievement, especially given the club’s 2016 move from its iconic original warehouse space to custom-built premises in Clarke Quay. This allowed for Zouk to effectively become a complex of four interlinked venues, each with its own themed décor and music policy. While it’s Zouk’s large main room that usually gets the headlines, Phuture and Capital are also popular haunts for Singaporean clubbers.
In 2018, Zouk’s management also unveiled another new space. “One of the biggest things for us last year was the introduction of Queens, a speakeasy bar inspired by the hip-hop movement,” Zouk CEO Andrew Li tells DJ Mag. “At the same time we also strengthened the direction of Phuture, focusing its programming to hip-hop only and highlighting the rise of Asian hip-hop artists.”
Being able to respond to musical changes is key for any long-running club. Zouk continues to do this, mirroring shifts in Asian clubbing that sometimes differ from those in the West. “In the last few years music tastes in Singapore have definitely evolved,” explains Li. “There’s increasing interest in hip-hop, but there’s also been a resurgence in interest in techno and trance.”
A quick glance at some of the club’s headliners over the past 12 months confirms this, with Sven Väth, Charlotte de Witte, Vini Vici, Cosmic Gate, Zedd and Jeff Mills all putting in notable performances over the main room’s custom Gart Stewart soundsystem.
Yet for all of the impressive headline guests, the heart of Zouk remains its team of resident DJs — something that Lincoln Cheng prioritized from the start. It’s fitting that one of Zouk’s original resident DJs, Jeremy Boon, remains a key part of the team, alongside younger Singaporean talents such as Ghetto, Hong, Zushan and Nash D.
“Our resident DJs are integral to the Zouk experience,” says Li. “Our current roster holds seven residents, with each of them helming their own signature nights based on their specialities.”
Zouk is a very different proposition to what it once was, but there’s no doubt the club is stronger than ever. Crucially, the venue still operates on similar principles to those that inspired Lincoln Cheng at the turn of the 1990s. “Creating the best possible clubbing experience has always been the goal,” Li adds. “Just as important is the culture of working together as a family.”
The word institution is thrown around far too readily when it comes to clubs, but Zouk Singapore legitimately lives up to that title. Not just as a world-renowned club with an illustrious history and global influence dating back to 1991, but because it’s been able to entirely relocate to a new location and venue and still retain its atmosphere, status and loyal following.
The last year has been testament to this; Zouk re-opened just over a year ago in its new riverside location on Clarke Quay and continues to claim its must-play reputation for world-touring DJs and world-travelling music lovers.
This is down to a number of reasons: the attention to line-ups, production and atmosphere remains just as strong as it has since it became a critical incubator of electronic music as it moved from west to east in dance music’s earliest chapters, but also its design and installation was taken care of by the same company who fitted their original location on Jiak Kim Street. This created consistency with the club’s 27-year legacy in terms of its aesthetic and vibe, but this time on a much grander scale as it offers two new lounge areas, two storeys and an impressive overlooking balcony as well as its two famed rooms: Zouk and Phuture. The former dedicated to the big EDM guns, the latter championing underground and deeper talent as it has done since Phuture was established in 1996, both Zouk brands remain as on-point and dedicated as ever with their line-up curations and support of the entire cross-spectrum of dance music.
Don’t take our word for it, though. Ask the likes of Apparat, Âme, San Hole, Jai Wolf, M.A.N.D.Y, Blasterjaxx, Sven Väth, Tujamo or any of the other high ranking artist who’ve passed through the famous club’s doors in the last year. Long may the institution continue…
When its doors first opened in 1991 inside three derelict warehouses, Zouk was the first club in Singapore to introduce dance music to its nation with a central aim of propelling the Asian dance scene forward, and boy did they put Singapore firmly on the map.
Over the last 25 years, they’ve operated not only as a super club but also as a host to an annual dance music festival called ZoukOut to showcase their cutting edge musical vision by inviting highly acclaimed artists such as Paul Van Dyk, Richie Hawtin and Sven Väth onto their world stage. It’s no surprise then that the institute has gone on to win several awards from the Singapore Tourism Board.
Yet despite being bestowed the highest honour of ‘Nightspot of the Year’ by the Board an astonishing nine times and a high profile campaign to #SaveZouk supported by over 40,000 people, the government still deemed it necessary to move the operators out of their beloved home. It’s sad to see yet another iconic institute being forced to relocate due to authorities caving into external pressures from property developers.
A new location taking over 30,000 sq ft has been secured in the Clarke Quay area with a healthy cash injection of $10 million pumped in to further innovate and develop the space.
With its many design features, the allure of Zouk is generated by five distinctly different zones all within the space. Zones like the intimate, jet black, velvet room where the likes of John Digweed & Riccardo Villalobos have played, showcasing time and time again the best of the underground.
This sits nicely alongside the main, more commercially focused, Zouk room which is heavily inspired by the chic architectural designs of Gaudi and complemented by futuristic video mapping technologies. It will be interesting to see how Zouk recreates its vision in a new space.
Even with all the re-structural changes, Zouk has managed to climb the top 10 this year and is getting even closer to the top 3. Just like DJ Mag, they celebrate their 25th anniversary this year and will celebrate their final year at Jiak Kim Street in style before moving into the new site by the winter season.