Despite the changes in Zouk, its flagship music festival remains as dominant as ever with top talent from its international and local DJs at Siloso Beach Sentosa
Change is a constant thing, and Zouk has embraced plenty of it – whether it’s a new owner, resident DJs, and even a new home in Clarke Quay. But despite this restless state of flux, there is but one aspect of the superclub that remains unwavering – the titanic appeal of its annual, beachy, beat-pummelling phenomenon, ZoukOut. This year witnessed 41,000 ravers – both young and old – storm the shores of Siloso Beach in swimsuits and glow-in-the-dark hues, all ready to rumble and tumble through hours of EDM, underground house, hip-hop, and even some peekaboo psy-trance that no one saw coming.
While ZoukOut took place over two solid evenings, I will reveal what transpired in numerous bits and pieces – which I swear has nothing to do with the booze-induced fragmentation of my memory. From basking in the presence of the biggest DJ in the world, to finding meaning in life in a piping-hot bowl of Tonkotsu King ramen (I am dubbing this my annual ZoukOut tradition), and intimately dancing amongst dozens to some of Singapore’s finest techno and house elites; this is what my ZoukOut looked like this year.
“Wait a sec… the Moon Stage looks different”
For the past few years, ZoukOut’s two main stages – the EDM-focused Moon Stage and the underground-oriented Star Stage – faced the same direction towards the sea. But this year, the commercially-driven Moon Stage had its stage setup and speakers rotated to face the entrance instead, meaning that punters who gambolled in were instantly drawn by the monolithic, fan-shaped façade of the EDM haven calling out to them.
The good thing about this shift in placement was that the Moon Stage area could now fit a lot more people, with ravers trickling from the foot of the stage all the way to the bars outside – though meandering through this mosh did feel like an eternity. Grinchy gripe? This change in direction meant that sound from the Moon Stage was now bleeding into the Star Stage. Imagine being entranced by the rolling, spiritual house music of Hot Since 82… only to get interrupted by belligerent spurts of “Put your f*cking hands up!” chants every other minute. Yeah, it was strange.
“Loving every minute ’cos you make me feel so alive”
That said, once you chose to exclusively tune into the giga-sized theatrics of the Moon Stage, the takeaway was truly something special. Take the #1 DJ in the world for instance, Martin Garrix, who had the crowd in the palm of his hand the moment he opened his 4am set with a piano-twinkling teaser to his hit banger, “Animals”, before punching out a cyclonic deluge of prog- and electro-house – signs of a master at work at just 20 years of age. Or when ZoukOut alumnus, Zedd, busted out an earth-shattering remix of Empire of the Sun’s “Alive”, that was dropped in tandem with an euphoric display of fireworks that had the sky lit like a hip-hop anthem. And we haven’t even gotten to ZoukOut’s biggest draw yet…
“Ugh. I can’t see anything”
Unless you were camping at the Moon Stage from the very beginning, it was unlikely you would’ve gotten anywhere close to Hardwell, arguably ZoukOut’s most popular performer. Do recall that this is an industry titan who’s dominant enough to have his own stand-alone concert at Gardens By The Bay, so you can only imagine how unforgivably packed his audience was. From his hype-mustering introduction that had everyone spelling out his name like Sesame Street for ravers, to anthems like “Apollo” where he indeed made everyone feel like the lucky ones, and not forgetting the moment when he waved the Singapore flag loud and proud – Hardwell was a true ambassador of the EDM industry that all hotshots should aspire to be.
“I’m so glad I didn’t wear shoes”
Even the skies wanted to party on the second night of ZoukOut. It was just past midnight when ZoukOut was bombarded by torrential rain, forcing everyone to scramble under the shelter of the Star Stage – good thing local hip-hop icon, KoFlow, had them covered. Braving the rain, I ended up at the Kaleidoscope Stage instead, the pop-up area presented by Rebel Decibel and Lush 99.5 featuring homegrown selectors.
The second night lacked any form of underground house and techno in the two main stages, so this provided a refuge of left-field beats with arguably the most dazzling and, indeed, kaleidoscopic visuals of the festival courtesy of the Mi5chief Makers crew. On the decks, DJ Seng Wei had grooves so intimate that he kept everyone warm and fuzzy despite the drizzles, Zig Zach added dashes of melancholic melody while keeping the pulse going, while Kaye played a rhythmic set of bumpy basslines and techy beats. But in my opinion, it was Haan who stole the show with his blend of mesmeric tech-house and rib-shuddering techno – a prime example of why our local dance scene is in good hands.
Oh, and did I mention that Tonkotsu King ramen on a chilly night with the post-drinking munchies is absolute heaven? Queues were just as lively for Park Bench Deli, Three Buns and Bird Bird; but I’m a sucker for my hot, smoking broth on an early, woozy morning.
“Go hard or go home”
I mean, what’s a little rain anyway, right? But thankfully for those who don’t share my enthusiasm, the rain fully dissipated by half past one, urging everyone to come out from the shade to get their blood pumping once again with the ebb and flow of KSHMR’s roller-coaster big-room set. Other acts that saw surprise climbs and drops were Snakehips, who would bounce between future bass, nu-disco and even some Rich Chigga for giggles; and Tokimonsta who switched halfway from her bass-fixated hip-hop numbers (everyone lost it when she dropped Keith Ape’s “It G Ma”) to play more upbeat, seminal jackin’ house hits from the likes of Breach, Shiba San, and even Tiga, who had everyone riding on his “Bugatti” and then some the day before.
“Huh? Where did this finale come from??”
With Martin Garrix ending an hour shy of the sunrise, it was up to the capable hands of Zouk resident DJ, Lincey, to keep the Moon Stage up ’til first light. The Star Stage saw indie darlings, RAC, with infectious displays of indie-dance and French house. And as far as the schedule showed, there was nothing left at the Kaleidoscope Stage following the bass antics of ATTAGIRL! spitfire, DuriO. Except, that wasn’t the case one bit.
Playing a surprise set at six in the morning was Rebel Decibel’s own Huntersson, the elusive DJ responsible for hooking the Kaleidoscope Stage up with the glorious Funktion-One soundsystems. And it wasn’t just his appearance that caught everyone off guard, but the fact that he was playing a – for lack of a better phrase, no sh*ts given – tech-trance set that struck with fidgety, hyperactive beats and galloping synths that ’90s ravers would’ve eaten up, a throwback to the years when ZoukOut closed its festivals with over-the-top trance. For an instalment that lacked trance this year, this unexpected finale was a breath of fresh air.
That, I figure, is what’s so great about music festivals – the twists and turns that show up along the way. A spontaneous burst of fireworks. An abrupt thunderstorm. Old hits from artistes you thought you’d never hear again, and new ones you never thought they’d have the balls to play. The epiphany of realising how great a bowl of ramen at 5am in the morning is. Stumbling upon a mystery trance set that’s as iridescent as the rising sun. And how the crowds simply seem to get bigger and bigger at every ZoukOut. Indeed, new chapters await in Zouk’s future; but for the legacy of ZoukOut, the story seems set on continuing.