Zouk’s reputation preceded it long before an email landed in my inbox inviting me to cover ZoukOut, their beach festival, for 3D World.
Scott Walker, my erstwhile DJ colleague from Brisbane, spoke in hushed tones of the time he’d seen Danny Tenaglia ring in the New Year there in the noughties.
Just getting to Singapore was a challenge, a balls-up which saw my ticket issued in the name Campbell Swales Kris meaning I had to book a second ticket, land in Singapore at midnight and go straight to the club to meet my colleague Dave Dri, dragged along on photography duties.
Things escalated quickly and constantly from there. The less said about my drunken Sunday 8am interview with Dennis Ferrer (an absolute dude who delivered a blistering festival-closing set), the better!
Read-on below the tear-sheet, and get a glimpse of what it was like through the aftermovie at the end.
SLINGING IN SINGAPORE
WHEN SINGAPORE’S ZOUKOUT FESTIVAL CELEBRATED ITS TENTH ANNIVERSARY EARLIER THIS MONTH, 3D WORLD EDITOR KRIS SWALES WAS THERE TO SURVEY THE SCENE OF AN EVENT WHICH CAPTURED THE ELUSIVE SPIRIT AND FEELING OF THE ALL NIGHT RAVES OF YESTERYEAR. PHOTOS BY DAVE DRI.
FRIDAY 10 DECEMBER – IN THE CLUB
It’s easy to get blasé about dance music festivals given the regularity with which they roll around Australian in the summer months, but for Singaporeans the ZoukOut festival and its legendary parent club are a source of national pride – and not just for the small nation’s clubbers. From the moment 3D World lands at Changi Airport and is greeted by enthusiastic driver Ivan Tan, it’s clear everyone is on the ZoukOut street team. Ivan is 50-something and yet to attend a ZoukOut himself (he’s generally on duty, as he will be for the next 48 hours of madness), but he beams with pride when talking about how a nation with a population slightly higher than Sydney and a surface area substantially smaller has become known for a festival which punches well above its weight.
Well before ZoukOut, there was Zouk. Ranked #10 in DJ Mag’s 2010 list of the world’s best clubs, it’s spoken about in hushed tones by all who have played there (whether for business or for pleasure) since founder Lincoln Cheng returned from a trip to Ibiza during the late 80s/early 90s Balearic boom with a vision to bring the music he heard there back to his people. Located innocuously down a back street behind a high rise apartment tower right next to the Singapore River, the club (which opened its doors in 1991) doesn’t betray its origins as a warehouse.
3D World is whisked in through the servant’s entrance straight onto the Member’s balcony. The dancefloor below – though more sparsely populated than usual with most regulars saving themselves for the big one tomorrow – is rocking in fine style with a big room electro sound not completely unfamiliar to anyone who spends any time in the main rooms of Australian clubland. The interior looks like it could have been torn straight from a Spanish Villa with its predominately white, rounded edges (infamous Spanish architect Gaudi was reportedly an influence when Cheng fit out the room), but a mammoth lighting rig covers the tiered dancefloor and a compressor/limiter free sound system pumps with ample volume and crystal clear precision – you can not only hear yourself think, but refreshingly also hear others speak.
One of Zouk’s iconic figures, known only as The Doctor, has been a fixture in Zouk’s main room for as long as anyone can remember and is in fine form on the dancefloor below. Clad in sunglasses, dark jacket and gloves (one black, one white), The Doctor sets up camp on one of the main floor’s podiums and is a picture of understatement no matter how big the drop, but whatever zone he’s in is respected by punters at least a third his age watching on from nearby.
Beyond the main room, the Zouk catacombs also house the lush Velvet Underground (pitched at older clientele with upcoming DJs including Osunlade, Tiefschwarz and Dimitri From Paris) and Phuture (a long rectangular room which tonight is ram-jammed with people getting their funk on to commercial R&B sounds), while the Wine Bar outside caters for those for whom too much humidity is never enough – even well past midnight, steamy is an understatement.
After we briefly bask in the awesome of the main room and try to picture what upcoming sets from Roger Sanchez and Ferry Corsten might feel like, we’re whisked through a doorway tucked behind an ornate tiled fountain which doubles as a unisex hand basin and through the Zouk offices, where even at 3am an army of staffers continue last minute preparations for the one day of the year that Zouk is taken into the great outdoors.
SATURDAY 11 DECEMBER – ON THE BEACH
The Amara Sanctuary Resort, situated on the island of Sentosa just south of Singapore City, is the epicentre of activity as ZoukOut officially kicks off at 8pm. Artists are fed and watered before the logistical nightmare of ferrying them to and from the Siloso Beach location just ten minutes way begins – and with only one road onto the island from the mainland and to the festival site, the traffic jams have become as legendary as ZoukOut itself.
3D World shares a car with a beaming Dennis Ferrer, a Singapore veteran but clearly excited ZoukOut debutant handed the unenviable task of keeping the dancefloor pumping from 6am til closing time two hours later. A golf buggy ride from the festival perimeter to the main stage later and we’ve entered festival nirvana. The sound is immaculate as Zouk veteran djB keeps things relatively deep for an already impressive main stage crowd – in fact Marketing Manager Mari Muramoto says the festival has never been so full at such an early hour and smashing the 2009 record attendance of 27,000 seems a formality.
The three stages are positioned on the edge of the beach facing the ocean waters south, spread out side by side along an area roughly a third of the width of Bondi Beach. The humidity is still oppressive but the occasional lick of sea breeze helps, while the organisers’ requests for people to turn up in their beach wear are heeded for practicality as much as titillation. It’s a friendly, courteous crowd who seem to be mindful that there’s not only a long night ahead but that they’ll be sharing it with 30,000 new friends, so the unbridled looseness and boorish behaviour which have come to characterise the worst parts of Australian festival culture are noticeably lacking.
After local hip hop big band Sixx have delighted a small pocket of their fans with an energetic display, the Midnight Juggernauts take the stage for what is their final international performance of 2010. There are a handful of the already converted joyously singing every word of Australian festival staples like Into The Galaxy straight back at Vincent Vendetta, while Andrew Szekeres taking the vocoder for Tombstone is also a highlight – until the band’s roadie Dale takes the stage sax in hand to help the band blast through Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, then Daniel Stricker steps out from behind the kit to collapse on Szekeres’ drum module in a delay drenched finale.
Back at the main stage Afrojack is bringing the rave in a big way, slamming down remixes of the Black Eyed Peas and Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction with fist pumps at every drop which are mirrored by the throbbing mass of humanity before him. Meanwhile Lindstrøm is lost in his own world back at Arena B, but everyone has a ticket for his spaceship – if they can only find the control bay doors. “I wish I had more hands so I could do more,” reads his bio in the ZoukOut 2010 bio, but the Norwegian disco astronaut seems to have his hands full well and truly full at his control panel. Grand Ideas from the spectacular Where You Go I Go Too album pulses away before off-kilter toms tumble out of hyperspace, then a pair of 303s duel for supremacy over unquantised yet still propulsive rhythms, Lindstrøm all the while ducking and weaving with each tweak of his iPad controller. He gets one tap on the shoulder from the stage manager and then another, waving him away so he can get the final bed of tech house stabs just right before taking a bow to an audience not quite sure in what solar system they’re disembarking.
Tonight marks the second appearance at ZoukOut for Booka Shade, and with the biggest crowd to gather in front of the Arena B stage for the entire event, it’s pretty clear they made some friends last time. Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier launch straight into a highly energised version of Movements classic Darko and the hit parade continues from here – Charlotte, Night Falls and Body Language nestling snugly besides new bombs like Teenage Spaceman and Regenerate. The marathon 90 minute set really takes off with reinvigorated takes on In White Rooms and Mandarin Girl sounding as smashing as ever, before O Superman provides a blessed out finale from a dancefloor happy to have been cooled by a downpour mid-set.
The main arena is somehow even more full as an enthusiastic Laidback Luke delivers a set of electro straight out of the big room handbook, complete with an unexpectedly slamming dirty dubstep section and then a fireworks display seemingly leaping from the ocean itself right on 2:30am – the normally reclusive Luke is so excited he leaps on the mic and declares his love for everyone involved with Zouk. It’s a sentiment many seem to share.
Next comes Tiësto. There’s a reason he’s one of the biggest DJs in the world – he’s a crowd pleaser and he knows how to deliver, so check your cynicism at the door and reach for the lasers. Opening with an epic ambient take on Kaleidoscope, his set traverses electro and trance in equal measures, the benefits of a dedicated light and visual show clear as a female vocalist appears to give an onscreen voice to one of this tracks, while each build and drop is given added impetus by a lighting guy who’s having as much fun as anyone at the festival. And as expected Tiësto’s remix of Delirium’s Silence is a moment, hands aloft everywhere as pyrotechnics spark up at the front of the stage.
By now the festival has broken its banks, the temporary fencing separating the crowd from the water swept aside in some areas as many get some respite by sitting at the water’s edge, watched on by a small line of security guards never at any risk of a large scale throng swimming en masse into the distance. At the far end of the site local hip hoppers Andrew Chow, Eclipse and Ghetto are dishing up the classics (Ice Ice Baby is universal it seems) at Arena C (which DJ Cash Money headlined) while Vincent and Dale from the Juggernauts have discovered a wave pool which Dale unsuccessfully navigates several times before 3D World wishes him well and returns to the madness of Arena B – at which Dubfire is still slamming out the same one-note white noise techno he has been since 2007. And at 5am after a hard night’s work nothing could sound better, with even the Radio Slave remix of his own Grindhouse lifting the spirits despite being rinsed and repeated a million times over since 2008.
“I don’t want to be credible…” David Guetta says from billboards around Singapore. “I want to be incredible.” And few of the 20,000 punters crammed into the space in front of him at the main stage are here to argue as he unleashes an onslaught of mainstream big room bangers, including a brace from the Black Eyed Peas (The Time (Dirty Bit) and their collaborative effort I’ve Gotta Feeling in a rousing finale) and his Rihanna-fronted Who’s That Chick. When it’s all over Guetta shares a touching moment with Zouk patriarch Lincoln side of stage before being whisked off surrounded by more security than the Pope as ZoukOut veteran Aldrin once again takes his familiar sunrise closing slot – and opens big with Madonna’s Hung Up into the Dirty South remix of Evermore’s It’s Too Late.
But the real party is happening down at Arena B with Dennis Ferrer and everybody still standing is invited. The sun is up and the heat is on, especially on the dancefloor with Ferrer throwing down the funkiest of funky, jacking house like his life depends on it. Guetta and his minder have turned up side of stage and are grooving happily along with a smattering of crew to set of the festival, while Seth Troxler dances in a horse mask (which Guetta later steals to hilariously taunt his fans below with) in between regaling anyone who’ll listen with stories perhaps too fantastical for print (Guy Gerber, P Diddy and music made for K-Holes do get a mention). The 8am curfew comes and goes and Ferrer looks like he’s just getting started, but somewhere around 8:40am the plug is pulled and the journey down that long, hard road back to reality begins.
For Singaporeans it’s a 12-month wait until the dance music festival world lands on their doorstep again. For any Australians looking to capture the essence of the dance music all-nighters they’ve attended or been regaled about by people who were front-and-centre “back in the day”, it’s 12 months you’d best spend planning how you’re going to get yourself and your crew to a magical night under the stars on Siloso Beach.