One Small Voice: Lincoln Cheng

Published on 23 December 2014

It takes more than good music to keep people coming back to Zouk and ZoukOut, says founder Lincoln Cheng.

When I first opened Zouk, my dream was to create the right venue to push house-music to a crowd in a way that had not been experienced before, not only in Singapore, but also in Asia. I never expected that, 23 years later, Zouk would still be at the forefront of an evolving sub-culture in Asia, not just in music but in the way people club, dress, socialise, drink and entertain, and in the way attitudes and entertainment are created.

I am a trained architect and an avid art collector. Designing a club, be it the exterior or interior, is the ultimate form of artistic expression because there are no constraints. I can be as wild or as creative as I want as long as the final product is functional. Zouk is testament to that philosophy.

We have spent the last three years trying to find a new stand-alone space for Zouk to relocate to. We’ve been unsuccessful, though we are still trying. It’s all part of the process of reinvention and staying current.

In that regard, the audience means everything to us. Our regular clients have supported us for 23 years. There is also the new generation that has just come of age for clubbing. We must engage all their senses by giving them the best sound system, lighting and laser equipment, including LED and video walls; the best mist machines, confetti canons, air-conditioning. The list goes on. The experience is multi-sensorial.

But ultimately, the music we play in each room is key. We must play some familiar music the audience can relate to, and at the same time, slip in new tracks so that they become the familiar tracks of the future. It is very important to push the envelope of new music so we can stay on the cutting edge and remain relevant.

Whether we are entertaining 4,000 people or 40,000 people, the theory is the same. For a dance music festival, we are entertaining 10 times the number of people as at the club, so the entertainment value has to go up by at least 10 times. This could be in the DJ and artiste line-up, production values such as staging, sound and lighting, pyrotechnics, side-shows, roving performers, décor and so on. We must also provide good security, door staff, bar and service staff so everything is as seamless as possible. Once you get all these elements right, the crowd will automatically create the right vibe and energy.

We had 13 years of experience behind us to make the recent 14th ZoukOut run like clockwork. We added more new sensations to surprise the crowd. And the bigger the crowd, the better the vibe and energy.

In the main, I still think Singapore lags in pushing the music envelope. We could be bringing in more international DJs of all genres, playing music that is not so commercial. Most clubs stick to the safe formula of playing commercial tracks. This does not help Singapore’s dance music scene as a whole. I’d like to see Singapore lead the dance-music scene in Asia and to have a really healthy and vibrant nightlife.

LINCOLN CHENG ran a successful business in trading, specialist construction and designer furniture before pledging his talents to the then-fledgling Singapore club scene. In 1991, he opened Zouk and transformed a generation’s musical taste and the way it partied. Zouk has also won the Singapore Tourism Board’s ‘Nightspot of the Year’ award numerous times. Launched in 2000, ZoukOut, a music and dance festival, remains the marquee highlight on the Singapore party calendar.

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