True story: It all happened over nasi lemak. That’s how Arjun Singh and Vanan M – who previously helmed the music direction at Canvas – became the Co-founder and Entertainment and Marketing Director respectively of the soon-to-reopen club Cato. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, so is a good helping of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk. Since tucking in, Arjun and Vanan have gone to great lengths to breathe new life into the beloved nightspot brand, imbue it with the all the trappings of their visions and with what they perceive to be lacking in the gamut of SG nightlife. Under the veil lies something that is both a passion project and a gauntlet to the merciless proposition that is operating a club in Singapore. But, as they assure us, if you’re in the market for pretension-free good times that are lubricated by affordable drinks and soundtracked by good music, you won’t have to look further. To find out more, we had a chat with the twosome and left feeling very excited.
What made you want to reopen Cato?
Vanan: The idea to reopen Cato came to me after I got back from Bali and I saw that Arjun had announced that Cato would be doing a of pop-up party. I told him that we could work together to do something new. Fast-forward three months to when I was working in an ad agency, Arjun hit me up saying that he wanted to have lunch and that he had a massive nasi lemak craving. So we scored some of the good stuff and bounced ideas off each other.
I always felt that there was something missing in the party scene here. We noticed that the trend was to throw pop-up parties. But the cost for such events is always high because it’s recurring. Then, I had this idea of buying a sound system and renting it out to people doing parties and one thing led to another until the big epiphany: Why not just open our own club?
Arjun: It was really good nasi lemak. I was stuck in India for months and not having fragrant coconut rice really got to me. When I met Vanan, it was just to catch up. I wanted to do a one one-off party and give the people what they want. But the numbers didn’t add up well so we decided to open a club.
“If you’re feeling good and want to get drunk, you’ll come to Cato. If you want to bring a date out, you’ll come to Cato. If you’re having a bad day at work and you want to diss your boss in the company of some drinks, you’ll come to Cato.”
And what about the Cato brand appeals to you so much?
A: Cato’s philosophy has always revolved around making people feel at home – house is home. It’s an ecosystem that includes music, food and good vibes; a nice multi-sensory experience. Once people are happy with a place, they won’t go anywhere else. And even if they do, they’ll always come back.
V: When I was working at Canvas, there was a period of time when my then-boss Mahen would text to ask me where I was. And I’d always say that I was on the way back from Cato where I had dinner. Not too long after that, I’d see him at Cato and we’d be partying together. I work at a club so partying can get boring for me – but never at Cato. The former owners of Cato are good friends of mine. I’ve always felt a strong association with the brand. It’s a brand that feels like home to me. It’s more like partying in the living room of your best friend’s house than partying in a club.
What can people expect from the re-launched Cato?
A: Consistently good music, friendly staff and personalised service. These are things that are missing from the industry, currently.
V: People who have been to Cato before know that it’s always had good music. It’s not necessarily popular stuff, but it’s definitely something you can dance and groove to. We’re going to focus on electronic music, especially house, that’s underground but accessible. We want the space to be associated with happiness. If you’re feeling good and want to get drunk, you’ll come to Cato. If you want to bring a date out, you’ll come to Cato. If you’re having a bad day at work and you want to diss your boss in the company of some drinks, you’ll come to Cato.
And the music policy exists to serve that end too?
V: Yes. Arjun and I argued over the music policy for months. You see, while the concept of Cato’s next phase took off over nasi lemak in Singapore, the design and branding elements were conceived of by Arjun in India while he was meditating and I came up with the music policy and marketing campaigns while I was in Bali working on music. We’d have four-hour-long phone calls about the music policy and we realised that consistency is something that’s missing in local nightlife. If someone shows up for a particular genre and a club doesn’t play it, they’ll leave, most of the time.
What I decided for Cato was to keep the music consistent. I’m going to work with a core group of DJs to keep the vibe fun. Arjun and I are big believers in the idea that your vibe attracts your tribe. So during the hiring process, we turned away anyone who brought a negative spirit to the table. We want people who are committed to keeping things positive.
How would you say Cato does (or doesn’t) fit in with the local clubscape?
A: Prior to this, I was a flight steward with Singapore Airlines. During this time, I got to party in many spots all over the world and through it all, I realised that it’s not the destination but the company you’re with that matters the most. It’s about the basics. For me, the most rewarding aspect of Cato will be to cultivate a good and welcoming community here as well as giving talent in Singapore a space to do its thing. It’s that simple.
Cato reopens on March 2.