In spite of the usual suspects scoring top spots each year and the controversies that come with it, there’s no disputing DJ Mag’s far-reaching influence and power in granting a club superstar status with its annual rankings. In 2016, CÉ LA VI Singapore earned its stripes with its debut in the dance bible’s Top 100 Clubs poll, sealing the Marina Bay Sands nightspot’s place in the broader dance community with a world-class stamp of approval. However, this year, the club is on a mission to rise up through the ranks and ‘Raise the Lion City’, in hopes to put our little red dot on the global map of must-visit nightlife destinations. Sitting down with CÉ LA VI Singapore’s Head of Entertainment, Joshua P, and resident DJ Brendon P, one of Singapore’s most decorated veterans with three decades of dance floor-moving music under his belt, the pair fill us in on how the rooftop revelry is looking to reach new heights, with a larger team of selectors to spin their way to success and friendly rivalries with fellow DJ Mag-listed clubs to spur them on.
Joshua P (left) and Brendon P (right)
Congratulations on CÉ LA VISingapore being listed among the DJ Mag Top 100 Clubs! What do you think got you into the rankings this time around?
Joshua P: When we started off in the early days, we rarely booked big name DJs. Eventually, we started to change a bit and starting booking acts like Lil Jon, Jazzy Jeff, and hosting events like the Ultra Music Festival closing party; a lot of things changed in 2016 and we started bringing in more world-class acts. We also expanded our DJ team – it started off as six people, and now we have 14, including Brendon and Kaye of Darker Than Wax. Also, another big reason is our location. People rank our view as one of the best views in the world, and I don’t know of many other places where you can DJ and party with the feeling that you’re on top of the world.
Brendon P: Putting aside the whole tourist attraction side of things, we get people from all around the world and from different walks of life coming through. While a lot of them are tourists, we also get people who have been to good musical venues and understand good music. When you’re playing, you get a little worried about people coming to you with music requests, but I’ve met a couple of people who’ve come up to voice appreciation for what we’re doing. The irony is that I’ve received more appreciation in my last three years at CÉ LA VI than anywhere else. There’s this guy from New York, who added me as a friend on Facebook, who had posted “I’m here at my hotel discotheque and they're playing the best disco ever,” and that’s a guy who knows his stuff who's in on a Monday night. On a Monday night, if you’re a world clubber, you don’t expect a club to be doing anything. These are the people who help our status, by posting positive things.
What do you look for in a DJ when you’re putting together a team of performers who can keep the crowds coming back?
BP: I think what's good about CÉ LA VI is the balance; we’ve got DJs who are connoisseurs of everything. While we have a guy who’s playing commercial and open-format sets, we’ve also got that same person who can double up to do a SkyBar dinner set. That’s how ambidextrous the entire team is. All 14 of us don't have to worry about someone falling ill – we can get one of the team to fill in and fit right in, because we all know the disciplines involved in each different set or time of the day, be it sunset or night.
JP: When I took over the team, there were a lot of gaps that I had to fill up and it’s very tricky. I have to know my music, and commercial music wasn’t really my forte, so I only knew what my DJs taught or shared with me. The first guy I roped in, YA5TH, he was the balancing point for me – he helped putting the team together so we could handle certain styles of music, and we worked together to form a team and know the special sound each DJ brought to the table.
BP: If anything, guys like Josh and I feel inadequate because we’re not into EDM or the Top 40 stuff, so we can’t really help the guys out [laughs]. But it’s a very strong team and everybody works hard for one another. It helps a lot when you have that sort of environment, and I think the guest DJs that come through can see it as well. It’s a kind of no-competition spirit that I’ve not seen in many other places. In other places, DJs rush to get on the decks and say things like, “You played your hour, it’s my turn now,” but there’s none of that in our team and it makes it a joy to come to work.
"If you have a global positioning like DJ Mag, it enhances the expectation of people who want to diversify but don’t which clubs to go to. The novice is going to look at the Top 100 Clubs and say, 'Hey, that’s a club in Singapore I need to check out,' and whether they have a good or bad time is up to them." – Brendon P
Speaking of competition, you recently collaborated with Zouk by bringing some of their residents to play at CÉ LA VI.How did the idea of hosting residents from a competing club come to fruition?
JP: I met Wayne [Lee, Zouk’s Head of Entertainment] – we were drunk – and we decided to do it! I wish I could tell you the “concept” behind it [laughs].
BP: Some things happen over a good Jägerbomb… or 50.
JP: Truth be told, most of us know each other and have respect for each other. When Zouk’s team came to our club, they would bring their guest DJs, and when we brought our guest DJs to Zouk, they always showed us a lot of love and respect. Over the years, every time we met up with people from Zouk, we would say “we need to do an exchange!”, so I think that after talking about it so many times and Zouk’s takeover, there was an opportunity to work on it and try it.
BP: It’s nice to see Zouk opening up, and CÉ LA VI is quite liberal in letting us play in other clubs as well; it allows us to experience different environments and makes us better as DJs. It was nice to see Jeremy [Boon] playing with me again, because we used to be residents at Velvet. The one thing about Jeremy that I’ve always enjoyed is that we have this sort of semi-telepathic understanding in terms of programming a set. I know where he’s going, and I know where he’s going to leave me before I go from there, and vice versa.
Do you now feel that collaboration is a better strategy to put Singapore on the map of the global nightlife scene than competition?
JP: I think it’s good to collaborate, because it’s good to see unity in the clubbing scene – but I still feel that it’s essential to have competition, because it keeps us evolving and makes us learn. If Zouk ups it’s game, then we also have to up our game, or any other club for that matter.
BP: Collaboration gives you a chance to show a side of your self that a lot of people don’t get to see. If I play a techno night all the time, people will say, “Brendon’s a techno DJ,” but when you give people a different spin on things at a different time – let’s say a 2pm slot at Tanjong Beach Club – you can flip from reggae to funk to hip-hop to soul, and people will look at you like, “he’s not playing techno”. It shatters audiences’ expectations, and I think it opens their minds. We try to open it up, and I think the Zouk guys appreciate that, because they can do stuff that they cannot do in Zouk and open other people’s minds, which can only be a good thing for cross-collaboration.
With all of this at play – from the effort you put into your team to branding and cross-branding – why does being listed in DJ Mag matter at all?
BP: It comes back to expectation. Although I hate for it to be true, a lot of people go to clubs or nights with a certain expectation. I think if you have a global positioning like DJ Mag, it enhances the expectation of people who want to diversify but don’t which clubs to go to. The novice is going to look at DJ Mag’s Top 100 Clubs and say, “Hey, that’s a club in Singapore I need to check out,” and whether they have a good or bad time is up to them – but they’re going to look at the Top 100 and see Zouk and CÉ LA VI and think, “These two are the Singapore clubs I should go to once I touch down in Changi Airport and check into my hotel”.
JP: I always say DJ Mag is a beginner’s guide to dance; it helps a lot in that sense, and a lot of people rely on it. I think from a global standpoint, they play an essential guide to music and who the big shots are. When DJ Mag put SPACE IBIZA at number one – and that was the year that they were closing – everybody went to SPACE because DJ Mag said that it was the place to be. So, you can see that it’s very influential.
Aside from voting in DJ Mag, what can audiences actually do to make Singapore known as a premier nightlife destination?
JP: Don’t top up at home or 7-Eleven – come to the club [laughs]. But no, we have a lot of clubs in Singapore, and I think our audience should give a fair chance to every club, not just stick to the same club or style. It has to be a movement.
BP: We have such vibrant nightlife for such a tiny island, and there are so many things happening every weekend that you have the chance to pick and choose your nights here and there. I think our biggest problem is that we don’t have a proper ‘after-hours’. I think any government in the world needs to realise that – if you take the example of Berlin – a thriving economy means a thriving nightlife; it creates jobs for a lot of people. I think becoming a nightlife hub is a good thing for the country.