Hong Kong gigs

ZoukOut comes to Hong Kong, more mainstream and with an emphasis on live music

US rappers Nelly and Ne-Yo plus Dutch DJ Nicky Romero headline the Hong Kong event, part of Singapore club Zouk’s international expansion after its acquisition by leisure group Genting

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 9:00am

Singapore’s popular nightclub Zouk is finally coming to Hong Kong, for one night only. And it’s happening in the unlikeliest of locations: a racetrack.

That’s what the part of Hong Kong island from the Star Ferry pier to Tamar will become for a weekend in early October, when it plays host to the first ever Hong Kong ePrix on October 9, part of the Formula E series of electric-car events. And as part of the pre-race entertainment, on October 7 the purpose-built 50,000 sq ft Emotion Club at Central Harbourfront – actually the race’s converted hospitality tent – will host Live Edition by ZoukOut, a new iteration of Zouk’s famed ZoukOut outdoor-party brand, which in Singapore takes place on a beach. Topping the bill are US hip hop artist Nelly, R&B superstar Ne-Yo and Dutch house DJ and producer Nicky Romero.

Hong Kong’s Genting to take Zouk, Singapore nightclub brand, to ‘next level’

Zouk opened its doors 25 years ago, at a time when dance music was very much a niche sound in Singapore. Famed for its three massive rooms, stylishly designed, maximalist interiors and high-tech projection-mapped visuals, the venue has attracted so much big-name DJ talent that DJ Mag placed it sixth in its most recent list of the best clubs in the world.

ZoukOut, the club’s outdoor festival, was launched in 2000. Its musical approach has always been even-handed, leavening a populist touch with more credible underground acts – so you have the likes of Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris, Afrojack, Chuckie and Avicii, but also the likes of Richie Hawtin, Sven Väth, Carl Cox, Masters at Work, Gilles Peterson and James Lavelle.

Zouk was given a major shake-up late last year, however, when it was bought by Genting Hong Kong, part of the giant Malaysian leisure group, and embarked on a programme of international expansion. ZoukOuts in the Philippines and Japan have followed, but Hong Kong is the first outing for the Live Edition concept.

Not only is the beach party moving away from the beach, but it’s moving into the middle of a motorsport event, which is about as contrasting a vibe as you could hope to find. A previous Zouk Celebrates the Grand Prix Season event was held in Singapore in 2010.

“ZoukOut Singapore will always be the definitive beach festival,” claims Andrew Li, vice-president of lifestyle and F&B concepts at Genting Hong Kong and executive chairman of Zouk. “We launched Live Edition because we want to specialise in different types of music for different audiences, in this case live music. For instance, we’ve never had a hip-hop star in Singapore.”

That has manifested itself in Hong Kong as a line-up focused far more on accessible artists with more widespread appeal than the Singapore original. There’s also the move Li mentions from pure electronic music into hip-hop and R&B, and from DJs to live performances, although the former will still be represented by Romero, who, he says, is “a bit more in tune with the Zouk Singapore culture”.

Tying up with the ePrix, adds Li, makes sense as a way of standing out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive market for live events in Hong Kong.

“I would say the market’s even a little bit saturated right now. Before, if you brought a top 10 DJ to Hong Kong, you’d get 10,000 to 15,000 people; they come so often now that you need to bring four or five top DJs. It’s very hard to find big-name DJs who haven’t come to Hong Kong before.”

The acquisition of a club- and event-based brand like Zouk is new territory for Genting, which specialises in gambling and resort cruise ships.

“It was really about appealing to a different demographic, and looking for a more lifestyle-driven clientele,” says Li.

Absorbing the culture of Zouk into that of a larger organisation like Genting without crushing it, of course, is hard. “It will be a challenge, expanding the brand while keeping its core beliefs,” says Li. “We’re careful that everything goes through Zouk’s Singapore head office; the creativity really happens inside four walls in Singapore. We’re very careful about retaining the brand: the culture of the company is the brand.”

It hasn’t been without its growing pains. The new emphasis on VIP seating, bottle service and other luxe-EDM trappings isn’t entirely in tune with the original ZoukOut, for example, while the Singapore club attracted a fair amount of flak in March when big-name Egyptian DJ Fadi was asked to make way for Norashman Najib, son of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

Princelings bullying their way to the DJ booth? It happens in Hong Kong as well as Zouk in Singapore

None of that looks set to stop the march of the Zouk brand, however. ZoukOut has already visited Boracay, where it drew a 90 per cent local crowd of 6,000 people over two days in April; and had its own stage at the Summer Sonic musical festival in Osaka and Chiba. A standalone ZoukOut event is planned for Japan next year.

The Singapore club is about to move to a new Clarke Quay location, while in November it will take to the sea, with one of Genting’s cruise liners carrying revellers up and down the Pearl River estuary between Hong Kong and Nansha, Guangzhou, and farther afield. It follows a non-Zouk-branded 2,000-guest party last year on the SuperStar Virgo, operated by Genting-owned Star Cruises.

The company is also planning more physical Zouk clubs in other cities, but the scale of the typical Zouk enterprise (the new Singapore club, for example, covers 30,000 sq ft) combined with high rents means that Hong Kong is unlikely to host one any time soon.

That means the emphasis here will remain on events – and at the moment, says Li, the complexity of organising the forthcoming Live Edition party makes that quite enough. “It’s full-on right now. It’s challenging but extremely exciting. With the night race and that iconic skyline, this could be something really special.”

Live Edition by ZoukOut, Oct 7, from 5.30pm, Central Harbourfront, HK$1,380 (early bird), HK$1,780 (standard admission),