By the time it came around to ZoukOut I’d been on the road for several months, a continuing holiday trend throughout my time at Imperial that’s led to me missing almost every major music festival since I started uni. This year was supposed to be different but, alas, my optimistic KaZantipplans crumbled in the face of the Crimean crisis when organisers were forced to cancel. I swore to myself that if I heard the words “turn down for what” or “why you gotta be so rude” one more time, I was just about ready to cut someone and/or myself. Embracing music is certainly a healthy part of any travel experience. I mean I love reggaeton as much as the next guy, totally digged that Omar Souleyman record and even managed to sniff out some tidy South African tribal house on a trip there, but nothing could compare to the heavyweights on the bill of ZoukOut 2014.
ZoukOut is Asia’s only sunrise beach festival, and every year sees tens of thousands of revellers take to the sand to bounce to some of the world’s best international DJs – seven of the eight international DJs on the Star Stage featured in this year’s Resident Advisor Top DJs poll – kicking off at dusk and continuing well past dawn the following day. The festival is the brainchild of the good people at Zouk, a Singapore institution that over the last two decades has been graced with talent from Carl Cox and Paul Van Dyk to Bonobo and Tale Of Us. It takes place on Siloso Beach in Sentosa, an artificial paradise along Singapore’s southern tip.
The festival acts are split across two stages. The Moon Stage is the main stage, catering for arguably-bigger names including Above & Beyond and Steve Aoki on the Friday, and Martin Garrix and Skrillex on the Saturday. But my focus at the festival was the smaller Star Stage, which hosted the likes of Loco Dice and Richie Hawtin on the Friday, and Maya Jane Coles and Nina Kraviz on the Saturday. During the festival there was the typical snobbery found among the dance music crowd, with some at the Star Stage disregarding the Moon Stage – as one reveller put it – as “commercial shit that’s ruining dance music culture”. A far cry from the ‘one tribe’ idea put forward by the festival’s promoters.
Anyway, I can confirm that the VIP areas at both stages were full to the brim with barely-dressed girls and peacocking meatheads more interested in scoring than enjoying the music, so both sides certainly have their vices. I personally view the Moon Stage as a great introduction for those previously unacquainted with the dance music world: a gateway drug to darker sounds, if you will. Throughout the weekend many made the trek to the Star Stage, with most of them mesmerised by unfamiliar sounds, a trend towards musical discovery that’ll no doubt continue in the festival’s wake. And surely opening people’s eyes to new sounds can only be a good thing. That said, I’d much rather have Richie Hawtin smash a speaker in my face than get caked by Steve Aoki.
The festival went in hard on the Friday night, as party goers waved goodbye to the working week and put on their dancing shoes. After a couple of striking opening sets that got everyone in the mood, Detroit’s Magda hit the decks to pick up the pace with some rich industrial vibes, which segued into Loco Dice’s established brand of groovy bass, before Richie Hawtin closed the evening with a hefty dose – he had the longest set across both stages and days – of dark minimal techno. Saturday night was equally strong, with rising star Mano Le Tough and veteran Damian Lazarus delivering quality performances, setting the scene for a delicious deep set from Maya Jane Coles that coincided with beautiful fireworks over the water behind both stages. Next, Grammy-winning Dubfire spun a seamless funky set before stepping down to make way for techno goddess Nina Kraviz, who absolutely killed it as always.
I was particularly interested in the presence of home-grown talent, of which the Star Stage at ZoukOut offered plenty, both behind the decks and grooving on the sand. Red Bull have spotted the potential in Debbie Chia, while Zouk resident Jeremy Boon has already made it as far as Amsterdam Dance Event. A special shout-out also goes to Hong: Kraviz is undoubtedly a tough act to follow, especially at 7 o’clock in the morning, but he managed to creatively prevent a mass exodus by spinning the latest Caribou effort ‘Can’t Do Without You’, which kept revellers glued for the final hour. It could be the mixing skills, sure, but this was obviously aided by dropping this belter from Imperial’s most beloved musical alumnus (sorry Brian May). It was also refreshing to see a solid representation of Singaporeans in the crowd, proof of the unabating power of the internet to deliver fresh beats to anyone interested, irrespective of geographical location.
You might think that Singapore’s harsh drug laws would be a double-edged sword, and you’d be wrong. The logic of drug advocates usually goes that alcohol brings out the worst in disgruntled young men and ruins the vibe of the party, although my experience at ZoukOut and recent reading of Mark Easton’s Britain Etc. would lead me to believe that this is probably just a British (or, at best, European) phenomenon. While it would be difficult to separate narcotics from western club culture, there was a distinct absence at Singapore, which was extremely refreshing to see. Rather than looking around to spot young minds losing their shit to pretty much anything blasting out of the speakers, Singapore’s sober crowd required a certain level of finesse in order to be entertained. There were no fights breaking out or casualties arising from tainted batches of pills, just a bunch of young people there for a good time. This adds a huge degree of credibility to a subculture that for too long has been tarnished by stimulant use; for this I believe ZoukOut is worthy of some bonus points.
All in all, ZoukOut was executed with perfect precision. The organisers did a fantastic job on every front, including free transport to and from the venue, reasonably-priced (by Singapore standards) food and drinks, and a blinding array of fireworks. But, most importantly, the artists were at the top of their game; every set was flawless and brought unique magic to the dance floor, projected far and wide by the epic sound systems. Whether you’re interning, travelling, or heading home for the holidays, be sure to have ZoukOut on your cards for next year.