BLLNR Meets Byden Lian, Head of Entertainment At Zouk Singapore
How has Zouk stayed on top for so long? What's the secret to their success and what's next for the brand? We reveal all, here.
With nightclubs having a famously short longevity, Zouk has outstayed all its competition being around for 26 years. How have you managed to stay relevant in such a rapidly changing industry?
Zouk has been constantly ranked within the top 10 circle on DJ MAG TOP 100 CLUBS in the World since 2006. In 2017, the club was voted Asia's Top Club with its highest position yet at #4. Zouk has also achieved numerous accolades across the year most notably for earning Singapore Tourism Board's "Best Nightspot Experience" Award 6 times.
It’s not an easy feat to become Singapore’s longest running club and music institution, and the club owes much of its success to passionate staff members both past and present ranging from floor crew, DJs, staff who work behind-the-scenes, founder Lincoln Cheng, and current CEO, Andrew Li. In terms of branding, Zouk was the first club to fly out international acts and the first club in Singapore to stage a dance music festival in South East Asia with ZoukOut since 2000, and has always championed the local music, arts and design scenes.
In terms of brand positioning, our club nights are associated with a long list of renowned brands across fashion and beauty including Kenzo, Lancôme, Guess and more. We’ve also played host to several lifestyle magazine events, and sub-culture events such as Sole Superior, as well as our very own, Flea & Easy, with last year’s Sunset Pasar edition. On top of all these events, we pay huge emphasis to our monthly line-up and will always go the extra burst for iconic annual events such as the themed Anniversaries, Halloween, and year-end parties to constantly entice partygoers.
This year, Zouk aims to strengthen customer engagements and cultural community through the revamp of the membership system. The new system will have multiple tiers to ensure engagements are more targeted to specific audiences and will feature perks that will stack across the tier. Benefits will include complimentary club entries, by-invite-only events (be it in-house or external partners), discounts and priorities. It’s expected to launch sometime in February this year.
Above everything mentioned, Zouk owes its success to the tremendous support from generations of revellers over the years. Without them, none of these would have ever been possible.
Zouk is famed for its cutting-edge music choices, can you tell us how it stays ahead of the curve?
Music trends tend to move in cycles, I think there is a resurgence of bass, low bpm, hip-hop and house music at the moment with acts like Rezz, Mura Musa, Slushii, Troyboi, Kayzo, Ookay, Jai Wolf, Don Diablo etc. who are shaking up the scene now. These days, DJs usually start from being music producers and tend to gain popularity through collaborations - think Calvin Harris, Zedd, Diplo. If the sounds stand out and people are hooked, that’s when I go knocking on their doors. There has to be demand before we engage them to ensure that our revellers will enjoy themselves. Just last December, we hosted CHACE, the first Chinese DJ to spin at Tomorrowland who is just 17-years-old. The night was magical and his Trap sound drew a niche group of followers who came specially to see him.
In your own words, what is Zouk synonymous with?
It’s Singapore’s school of entertainment and dance music - Zouk is where many Singaporeans first got exposed to the club scene and dance music.
With expansion into other countries, including the U.S, how will you make sure Zouk maintains its identity while capturing a new audience?
It’s easy to follow trends but for us, it’s about keeping things exciting and immersive for the audience; be it through music by engaging guest DJs and grooming new DJs, visuals like our stage set-ups and lighting, or collaborations with various partners in fashion, art and design.
We embrace an open-minded mind-set in our bookings, in order to continue pushing the bracket of cutting-edge sound and diversity in talents. At the same time, we must bear in mind rising DJ and venue rental costs. To continue staying ahead of the game, booking A-List, international DJs and credible names, we need to stay financially sound. Rising DJ costs is even more apparent in today’s situation, especially since developing countries in South-East Asia have generous alcohol/tobacco sponsors to subsidize a bulk of costs in running a club. This means they are more willing to splurge on international DJs and hype up the demand for them in this region – as opposed to an already developed city like Singapore.
So how do you ensure the brand does not get diluted?
We always look back at our heritage and adhere to Zouk’s core pillars of art, music and culture to guide every decision making process. On local ground, we still actively seek out partnerships and collaborations to show our support to the local music scene and arts scene with initiatives such as the Zouk DJ Academy and Phuture DJ Battle. We value the relationships with our partners who have allowed us to book the best names in the industry and we also take a strong view of copy cats that pop up, and will not hesitate to commence legal action against those who have diluted our trademark and brand.
Zouk certainly has many exciting things in the pipeline but what would you say are the key targets for the business this year?
As we’ve always been known as a music institution, we’ll continue striving to maintain that identity by delivering best experiences across genres of dance music. We want to be an approachable club where all music lovers can enjoy themselves to the fullest hence the different outlets, different theme / genre nights, and acts across EDM, commercial, pop, techno, hip-house, house and so much more.
We are heading towards internationalism and strengthening our lifestyle offerings with upcoming expansions. Recent expansions include Zouk At Sea and a Zouk club on board luxury cruise liner, Genting Dream. Both are designed to be entertainment spaces with the former being an outdoor lounge with a shallow pool dance floor and mega LED screen, and the latter being a dance floor and sports bar complete with bowling lanes and pool tables. Since its inception, we have held notable events including a night headlined by international DJs such as Headhunterz (No. 36 on DJ Mag polls), as well as partnerships with fitness brands such as Guava Pass – a partnership that allow us to collaborate on programmes that combines wellness and fun.
The key expansion at works this year will be Zouk Genting. Targeted for year-end, the project is slated to be launched amidst exciting lifestyle offerings such as FOX theme park, premium fashion outlets and international food franchises such as Burger & Lobster. Bringing the concept of offering a suite of different experiences under one roof, Zouk Genting will house four concepts – Day Club for poolside lounging, RedTail for pre-game drinking, and main dance rooms, Capital and Zouk.