The strobe lights were pulsing, the music was pumping, then someone pulled the plug. DJ Fila, of popular Egyptian group Aly and Fila, stormed off stage to make way for Norashman, progeny of Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak – aka PM Najib. Partygoers protested, and the DJ felt so “insulted” he swore he would “not play in Zouk any f***ing more”. Worse still, after Norashman took the stage, the dance floor emptied as disgruntled partygoers poured into the night like the world’s worst trance-induced nosebleed.
In the aftermath, netizens braved emerging hangovers to raise their grievances on Facebook as early as 5AM. The flood of opinions were overwhelmingly supportive of Fila’s side, since they came to see him, not Norashman. One Facebook user compared it to “insult(ing) a Pharaoh by elevating the son of a false god”, with Zouk’s “unfortunate tactless display” derided as “a terrible embarrassment for us Singaporeans”, “a letdown to the trance community” and in many more colourful words, like a bad case of alcohol poisoning. (Norashman was a VIP and the club probably wanted to appease him more than merely letting him cut the queue or not watering down his drinks).
As we all probably agree, Zouk literally put Singapore on the clubbing map, having hosted famous international names from all over the world, including Steve Aoki and Sven Vath, and has built a reputation since 1991 as one of the best nightclubs in Asia.
Yet this incident, coming on the heels of Zouk’s buyover by Genting HK in 2015, has cast doubt on the club’s previously unimpeachable reputation. As Zouk’s former marketing manager Andrew Ing commented on Zouk’s swapping of DJs like casually swapping seats on a bus with an auntie, “I don’t think we would have allowed that to happen, not under my watch”.
The unrest is rooted in the breaking of an unwritten social contract between Zouk and its long-standing and increasingly long-suffering patrons – that it is common practice, to let headliners play till closing; like the encore performance of every other live music act. To make matters worse, Zouk’s Facebook responses called the kerfuffle a “misunderstanding” that they simply wanted to “clarify”, hugely missing the mark by failing to do the one basic thing everyone expected them to do: apologize.
Having alienated its star, its patrons, and probably any hope of reconciliation, all for the sake of pandering to Najib’s son, perhaps (and until last weekend, it’s impossible to imagine saying this blasphemy), it would have been better for Zouk to have quit while it was miles ahead, calling a curtain on its clubbing legacy when its lease ran out, and ending it all on a high note.