Zouk



Zouk is a globally renowned award-winning nightclub in Singapore that has been credited with putting Singapore nightlife on the world map.1 Opened in 1991, Zouk is also Singapore’s oldest nightspot.2 Its role in revolutionising the local dance music scene has been widely acknowledged.3 Over more than two decades of its existence, the nightspot has successfully ridden out a major drug scandal, spawned the biggest outdoor dance music festival in Singapore and endured considerable lease-related woes.4

Origins
Zouk’s beginnings can be traced to Lincoln Cheng, the owner of a furniture and design business who was captivated by the house music scene in Ibiza, Spain.5 Cheng travelled often in his younger days and had a deep passion for music, which led to his increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of nightspots back home.6 For a year he organised weekly parties at The Warehouse, the biggest disco in Singapore at the time, and gained a following. Cheng then became convinced of the potential of a revolutionary dance club.7 In a leap of faith, he opened Zouk – meaning “village party” in Antillean Creole – in March 1991 and, in the process, introduced house music to the local club scene.8 Zouk’s motto is “One World, One Music, One Tribe, One Dance”.9

Early years

Zouk saw sparse attendance in its first three years. The type of “lyric-less” music that it played proved too unfamiliar and failed to catch on with the locals who were used to dance remixes of Top 40s chart hits.10 Zouk also defied local club culture by not allowing DJs time on the microphone, forcing them to win the crowd over solely by their music.11 By 1995, however, Zouk was hosting up to 10,000 people on the weekends.12

Mambo Jambo

In 1992, Zouk tried to appeal to the younger demographic by launching Thank God It’s Wed – a monthly retro-music event co-organised by Zouk and a radio station – which then evolved into the popular Mambo Jambo, which was held every Wednesday night.13 Despite initial scepticism, Mambo Jambo soon proved to be a veritable success, and Wednesday nights at Zouk were packed with the crowd performing synchronised dance moves to ’80s pop music.14 “Mambo nights”, as they were later known, soon came to be perceived as a coming-of-age event for Singapore teenagers.15 With Mambo Jambo, Zouk became the first nightspot to introduce midweek clubbing in Singapore.16 However, the appeal of retro music began to decline in later years and Mambo Jambo was eventually retired in July 2012.17

More than just a disco
Apart from pioneering the concept of midweek clubbing, Zouk also established itself as a hotbed for local culture, hosting not only music performances, art and fashion shows, but also poetry slams and theatre performances.18

Premises and rooms
Situated by the Singapore River, the 20,000-square-feet  (1,858 sq m) premises at Jiak Kim Street was originally three abandoned warehouses. In 1990, Cheng and his partners successfully won the lease for the land on which the warehouses stood and began renovations. Couched as an S$8-million entertainment complex, Zouk opened in March 1991 with a discotheque, restaurant, café, wine bar and a pub – the last of which became the MTV Bar at the end of the year, a room that showed music videos from American cable television channel MTV.19 The Zouk enterprise was run by Zouk Holdings Pte Ltd, which was then made up of an international consortium comprising five partners, with Cheng as the major shareholder.20

In July 1994, Zouk replaced the restaurant space with the 4,000-square-foot (372 sq m) Velvet Underground – Singapore’s first membership dance club.21 The exclusive club, which played soul music, sought to appeal to older Zouk patrons who were less inclined towards frenetic tunes played in the main Zouk disco.22 Velvet Underground – named after the rock group of the same name – features the artwork of prominent artists, most notably Keith Haring’s Healing Hand. 23

The MTV Bar was converted into Phuture in December 1996, a club featuring music that broke from the mainstream – such as down-tempo, drum ’n’ bass, breakbeats and ambient – and ensured that Zouk maintained its cutting edge in the local club scene.24 It currently serves up mainly urban, hip-hop and R&B music.

Zouk KL, a S$7.2-million outlet of Zouk, opened to much fanfare in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2004. The sister club, which carries a similar concept, has since won considerable accolades and become an iconic clubbing destination in Malaysia, attracting 8,000 people each week.25

In line with its mantra of constant evolution, Zouk has undergone several renovations since it first started, with the most significant carried out in 2000 and 2005. In 2000, the club was soundproofed for S$4 million; five years later, Zouk underwent a facelift with a month-long renovation.26 In 2011, Velvet Underground was split into Velvet Underground Dance and Velvet Underground Lounge.27

Local and international success
Zouk’s contribution to the Singapore nightlife scene has been recognised by the Singapore Tourism Board: It has named the club “Nightspot of the Year” six times and “Best Nightspot Experience” thrice as of 2014.28 Zouk has also bagged multiple honours in the annual awards of local lifestyle magazines I-S and Juice.29

As part of its goal to introduce Singaporeans to new styles of music, Zouk is famed for hosting foreign acts. It is the first club to feature big-name foreign DJs on a regular basis; some prominent examples include Paul Oakenfold and José Padilla.30 Zouk also gained reputation for bringing in quality alternative artistes such as The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Grace Jones, Björk, Erasure, Primal Scream and Boy George.31 

The boldness of Zouk’s direction and its eclectic culture soon caught the eye of the foreign press: British trend-setting magazine The Face declared Zouk to be the best club in Singapore in its May 1994 issue.32 By 1999, Zouk’s ascension to superclub status was complete when it was named as one of the top three clubs on the planet by the British dance music magazine, Ministry.33 Zouk continues to be well regarded by the international clubbing circuit. Since 2010, Zouk has consistently ranked within the top 10 of the best clubs in the world in DJ Mag’s annual polls.34 

Drug scandal
Zouk’s immense success has not come without controversy. In 1995, the club was on the verge of shutting down when it was embroiled in a high-profile drug scandal. In the early hours of 31 March 1995, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) conducted islandwide raids and arrested 32 people, among them nine employees and a director of Zouk, as well as the club’s patrons, for drug-related charges.35 It was reported that drugs were distributed freely at the nightclub and that Ecstasy and cocaine – drugs that were believed to have never surfaced in the local scene previously – were circulated and consumed at Zouk.36

Cheng was arrested for possession of drugs, and fined S$20,000.37 Following the drug raids, as its entertainment licence was restricted permitting it to be open only until 10 pm, Zouk closed on 31 March. In August the same year, Cheng sold the club to Shaw Vee King of Shaw Organisation, and the entertainment complex was run by his son Mark Shaw.38

The bad press that ensued following the scandal dealt a blow to Zouk’s image and the nightclub was removed from the Singapore Tourism Board’s 1995 Nightspot of the Year award shortlist. Prior to the incident, Zouk had been tipped as a favourite to clinch the title.39

After eight months of closure, Zouk reopened in November 1995 with a renewed antidrug stance. It was business as usual for the nightspot as old patrons returned undaunted.40 Zouk’s rehabilitation of its status as Singapore’s premier nightclub was complete when the Singapore Tourism Board named Zouk “Nightspot of the Year” in 1996.41

ZoukOut
ZoukOut is an annual outdoor music and dance festival organised by Zouk, which usually takes place at a beach. Since its inception in 2000, ZoukOut has steadily made a name for itself to become one of the biggest dance parties in Southeast Asia, featuring local and international acts. The event, however, was not a success from the get-go. The first three installments of the events were well received and generated much hype, but failed to turn a profit.42 The first ZoukOut was also notably marred by the drowning of a Malaysian youth.43


Finally, the fifth installment of ZoukOut was a breakout event, attracting 15,000 people.44 Its 10th installment, ZoukOut 2010, was attended by some 30,000 people and featured two headlining DJs, Tiësto and David Guetta.45

Termination of lease
Zouk was initially on a nine-year lease when it first opened in 1990.46 In 1999, the club got a one-year extension while negotiations were in the works to procure a longer stay.47 Following negotiations, it was announced in 2000 that the lease was successfully renewed.48 


In June 2014, Cheng announced that the club would close at the end of the year, as it was unable to secure a further extension of its lease from the Urban Redevelopment Authority.49 The land that Zouk sits on is zoned for residential development, and Zouk’s function is viewed as incompatible with the residential nature of the area.50 Property analysts also stated the nightspot was sitting on prime land that is underutilised in terms of economic value.51

Following the announcement, Zouk launched the “Save Zouk” social-media campaign to appeal for an extension of the site’s lease.52 The news of its imminent closure provoked responses from the club’s patrons, with a considerable number of celebrities speaking out against it.53 The campaign garnered almost 40,000 signatures by the end of its run in September.54

On 22 August, it was announced that the government has acceded to a conditional extension of the lease on Zouk. The nightclub will be allowed to stay at Jiak Kim Street until 31 December 2017, provided that it finds a new location by 30 June 2015; otherwise, the lease will end on 31 December 2015.55 Cheng has expressed interest in the Singapore Flyer as a possible new home for Zouk.56



Author
Aloysius Ho



References
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2. Lim, J. (2014, June 19). Zouk’s neighbours say noise, trash a ‘nuisance’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
3. Van Miriah, C. (2011, April 15). Ace of clubs. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Party on: Milestones. (2003, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ng, H. G. (1996, October 15). Cleaned up, accepted – and still a happening night spot. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 63. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Mulchand, A. (2000, February 19). Folks, the beat goes on in Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, J. (2014, June 18). Zouk may shut by year end. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
5. Mehta, H. (1991, April 13). The party behind Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, pp. 4, 15. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR).
6. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 5. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
7. Loh, E. (1986, November 29). Warehouse disco opens. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 5. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
8. Zouk Singapore. (2014). About us: Introduction. Retrieved from Zouk Singapore website: http://www.zoukclub.com.sg/about-us/introduction; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, pp. 5, 13. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); van Miriah, C. (2011, April 15). Ace of clubs. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ang, K. (2011, December 16). A Singapore party keeps going strong. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from website: http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2011/12/16/a-singapore-party-keeps-going-strong/
9. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 65. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
10. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, pp. 8, 15–17. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Low, I. (2014, June 15). Party days at Zouk. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
11. Party on: Milestones. (2003, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Ng, H. G. (1996, October 15). Cleaned up, accepted – and still a happening night spotThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 24 (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Party on: Milestones. (2003, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Kerk, C. (1994, March 5). Say Jambo to mid-week Mambo. The Business Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 26 (Call no SING 793.2095957 MIR); Tan, T. (2009, October 26). Dance like a king of Mambo. The Straits Times, p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Boon, R., & Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2010, October 8). Bringing back the ’80s. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
15. Soon, W. L. (2007, May 7). If it's Wednesday, it’s Mambo Jambo. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Party on: Milestones. (2003, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Kok, M. (2012, July 18). Mambo Jambo loses its groove. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
18. Bjork concert. (1996, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Poetry reading at Velvet Underground. (1996, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Page 13 Advertisements Column 2. (1998, March 12). The New Paper, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Jazzy jive. (1998, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 54. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
19. Sim, G. (2005, March 2). Zouk boss stays ahead of the game. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mehta, H. (1991, April 13). The party behind Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mulchand, A. (2001, March 2). Highs and lows. The Straits Times, p. L5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Party on: Milestones. (2003, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Mehta, H. (1991, April 13). The party behind Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; de Silva, G. (1990, November 3). Group to add sparkle to S’pore River nightlife. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lui, J. (1994, July 3). Velvet Underground opens – for older Zoukettes. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mulchand, A. (2001, March 2). Highs and lows. The Straits Times, p. L5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lui, J. (1994, July 3). Velvet Underground opens – for older Zoukettes. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. A $75,000 Keith Haring adorns the wall. (1994, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte. Ltd, p. 45. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Mulchand, A. (2001, March 2). Highs and lows. The Straits Times, p. L5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Zouk Singapore. (n.d.). About us: Clubs. Retrieved from Zouk website: http://www.zoukclub.com.sg/about-us/clubs; Sounds of the Phuture? (1997, March 22). The New Paper, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte. Ltd, p. 93. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Leow, E. (2004, March 29). Zouk opens in KL. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Alphonso, J. (2005, October 20). Zouk parties on. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Leow, G. (2005, August 19). Zouk over and out for a facelift. The New Paper, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Zouk Singapore. (n.d.). About us: Clubs. Retrieved from Zouk website: http://www.zoukclub.com.sg/about-us/clubs
28. Zouk Singapore. (2014). About us: Accolades. Retrieved from Zouk Singapore website: http://www.zoukclub.com.sg/about-us/accolades
29. Zouk Singapore. (2014). About us: Accolades. Retrieved from Zouk Singapore website: http://www.zoukclub.com.sg/about-us/accolades
30. Party on: Milestones. (2003, June 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 31. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
31. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 51. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Bow down, Boy George. (1991, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 33. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
33. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 54. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
34. Zouk Singapore. (2014). About us: Accolades. Retrieved from Zouk website: http://www.zoukclub.com.sg/about-us/accolades
35. Wild parties held at Zouk after closing time: CNB. (1995, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Miller, D. (1995, April 2). 32 staff and patrons arrested in drug sweep at Zouk disco. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Miller, D. (1995, April 2). 32 staff and patrons arrested in drug sweep at Zouk disco. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Lim, L. H. (1996, February 28). Zouk’s ex-boss’ jail term set aside, fined $20,000. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Lam, J. (1995, August 18). Lincoln Cheng sells nightspot Zouk to Shaw Vee King.The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ng, H. G. (1996, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 2. Cleaned up, accepted – and still a happening night spot. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Zouk loses out. (1995, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The far-out club that went too far. (1995, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; ‘No need for drugs in clubs’. (1995, December 18). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Ng, H. G. (1996, October 15). Cleaned up, accepted – and still a happening night spotThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Peralta, C. (1995, November 16). New owners, tighter security but same image and music at Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Ng, H. G. (1996, October 15). Cleaned up, accepted – and still a happening night spot. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Van Miriah, C. (2011) Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte. Ltd, p. 63. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); Leow, G. (2005, November 25). Go loco with locals. The New Paper, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Tong, K., & Goh, D. (2000, December 3). Party goes on despite drowning. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaeprSG.
44. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 63. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR)
45. Van Miriah, C. (2011). Z: Once upon a time. Singapore: Zouk Management Pte Ltd, p. 63. (Call no.: SING 793.2095957 MIR); ZoukOut 2010 attracts about 30,000 partygoers. (2010, December 12). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
46. Mehta, H. (1991, April 13). The party behind Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Highs and lows. (2001, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. Mulchand, A. (2000, February 19). Folks, the beat goes on in Zouk. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Lim, J. (2014, June 18). Zouk may shut by year end. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
50. Lim, J. (2014, June 18). Zouk may shut by year end. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Lim, J. (2014, June 19). Zouk’s neighbours say noise, trash a ‘nuisance’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Keeping Zouk at Jiak Kim St not optimising economic value: Analysts. (2014, June 23). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
52. Lim, J. (2014, June 20). ‘Save Zouk’ appeal goes online. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Save Zouk petition gets close to 16,000 signatures on first day. (2014, June 20). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva; Aw, C. W. (2014, July 14). 32,000 votes for ‘Save Zouk’ and still counting. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Low, I. (2014, June 15). Party days at Zouk. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva;
54. Zouk Singapore. Save Zouk. Retrieved from Save Zouk website: http://www.save-zouk.com/; Aw, C. W. (2014, July 14). 23,000 votes for ‘Save Zouk’ and still counting. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
55. Lee, M. (2014, August 22). Zouk’s tenancy given conditional extension. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
56. Lim, J. (2014, August 22). Zouk gets more time to move to new location. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.




The information in this article is valid as at 22 January 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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