Zouk. The rest of the world may know it as an Asian mega club that has consistently crushed it in DJ Mag’s annual ‘Top 100 Clubs’ polls. But for us in Singapore, Zouk is more than a physical monolith of nightlife. It’s an idea and concept that is crucially linked to any groundbreaking subculture in Singapore, particularly those of the musical variant.
As a staging and breeding ground of some of the best electronic music ever played and performed on the consoles of our nation, Zouk is bar none. And as it leaves its stronghold of Jiak Kim Street – where it has resided for 25 years since its inception – for its new grounds in Clarke Quay, the club is giving punters a final chance to reminisce its early glory days. This Friday, the club will affirm its legacy with a Balearic-themed night, a throwback to the raucous, giddily euphoric Fridays when humongous, feel-good, house-inflected tracks emanated from the main room’s speakers. To mark this historic night in the local clubscape, we enlisted Andrew Ing, former marketing manager of Zouk and current chief operating officer of the Lo & Behold Group, and Cara Van Miriah, former nightlife journalist and author of Zouk’s commemorative 20th anniversary coffee-table book, Once Upon A Time, to take us through what made Balearic nights the weekly spectacles that they were.
One For All
‘Balearic’, like ‘punk’, isn’t merely a genre. Its true merit comes from the fact that it defines the spirit and attitude of the music that is played. Therefore, Zouk’sBalearic night wasn't one where the music was policed to an obsessive extent, but one where vibe and feel were privileged. Ing tells us that there are essentially two definitions as to what ‘Balearic’ means within the context of Zouk. “Firstly, it was a style of music that the DJs at Ibiza were playing back in the ’80s and early ’90s; eclectic music played by DJs like Alfredo. But house was the predominant element” he says, citing as an example the time he caught Alfredo in 1992 and he dropped a few house tracks before treating clubbers to a Michael Jackson hit.
The second definition has to do with the structure of the club’s programming. As Ing lets on, the Balearic night was launched on Fridays in 1993 because “the music that was played on Saturday nights was a lot harder and didn't have vocals. It was more trance and progressive stuff, which was becoming popular at the time”. In response to the ubiquity of these more aggressive sounds, the club sought to go back to the “Zouk of 1991”, with “uplifting songs with vocals, dance floor-fillers and big party anthems”.
Informed by this philosophy, the night served as a gathering place for people seeking something different from the nightlife options available then. As Van Miriah remembers, the Balearic banner drew “a different sort of community – people who wanted to be different; people who were different; the curious, and the musically-adventurous”. And so, they came, they raved, and they loved it.
In Zouk We Trust
Like all visionary developments, the Balearic night created reverberations that not only impacted its immediate present, but shaped the future that it was undoubtedly influencing. We were stunned to learn from Ing that before Balearic, Friday night wasn’t the main party night in Singapore. In fact, Friday nights seemed just as quiet as any other weekday. But once Balearic took off, and word of its good time-proffering powers made the rounds, all that changed. “We did such a good job of turning Friday night into a party night that it became the strongest day of the week for nightlife as a whole in Singapore”, clarifies Ing, before adding, “We legitimately changed how people went out”. That is tremendous.
What this means is that Balearic was a paradigm-shifting force that lit the way to how every new generation will organise its weekly club calendar. Just by giving Friday nights a particular musical identity, Zouk caused a definitive change in how people in Singapore engaged with clubland.
This is remarkable given the fact that Balearic was an anomaly to begin with. To hear Van Miriah tell it, “no regular clubbers knew what that sound was or where it came from. It was unfamiliar music”. Unlike the pluralistic present, whatever was played in clubs back then was whatever was heard on the radio. And as always, it was Zouk that was defying the zeitgeist. With its house-first ethos, “Zouk was the only club at that time that played music that was totally out of the Top 40 charts”. This is something that Ing concurs with, thoroughly: “Zouk was also known for breaking new songs and turning them into anthems. We didn’t wait for anyone else to do it – we created the anthems”.
More Than Memories
On the cusp of the weekend, the upcomingBalearic shindig will undoubtedly be a nostalgia trip for many. It’ll be a time to relive music from what’s universally regarded as an easier, simpler time. But it’s important to note that it’ll be brought to you by veritable legends of the scene. Jeremy Boon, Aldrin, Cher, and DJB are the Zouk legends who’ll be manning the decks that night. Joining them will be tabla virtuoso, Maniam. Even that very setup of having a percussionist play alongside a DJ was a Zouk-pioneered move here. “I’d imagine the night will be a flashback to the roots of Zouk, an aural musical journey”, Van Miriah offers, and we completely agree. Night after unforgettable night, these gents shook the club floors and helped cement the Zouk brand – and for that, we, and many others, are grateful.
“A true classic never goes out of style. I firmly believe that if these songs worked so well for us decades ago, there must be something special about them”, concludes Ing when we ask him what Balearic can offer to the current generation of young partygoers. Again, you can’t contradict logic like that. Like those who’ve done so before you, head over to Zouk and lose yourself to dance that night. You’ll remember it.
Balearic happens at Zouk on Friday, November 18. For more information, visit zoukclub.com.
Text: Indran P
Images: Various Sources