SINGAPORE’S NONSENSICAL NIGHTLIFE BAN
“We’re at the bottom of a pile of shit, trying to wave our hands and say hello, we’re still here”
Week two in no-nightlife Singapore and the underground is unfolding—in half-whispered stories of secret warehouse raves, private gambling dens in billionaire mansions, a thriving gay network of private house parties, weed smuggled in through durians. “Be careful what you write about here,” a local music journalist urges one night, as we smoke cigarettes outside a friend’s new restaurant. “Your work is very… courageous,” he continues, which sounds like a polite way to say: sis, you’re wilding.
Below, a deeper dive into Singapore’s party prohibition and the political forces shaping it. Next week, a *subscriber-only* report on the secret party scene—so if you’ve got some change, consider upgrading to a paid tier so you don’t miss that drop AND get to float into the heavens like the underground media-supporting angel that you are. Broke but still fab? You can still support by liking + sharing—thank you for keeping this project pumping.
I’m drinking $22 lemongrass cocktails at a ritzy restaurant as local friends tell me about life under pandemic party prohibition. Club culture has evaporated, the once-vibrant scene gone stale. In this hyper-surveilled state, everyone must download a location-tracking app on our phones that tracks where we’ve been and who we’ve seen. After promising the data would only be used for contact-tracing, the government was like lol jk and passed legislation that it could be used to prosecute citizens for committing crimes. Sometimes Zoomers throw illegal raves in industrial warehouses, my friends say, but the paranoia is overwhelming—at the last rave they went to, people kept jumping into bushes when they heard footsteps approaching.
So instead of partying, my friends just drink at home, singing karaoke in their living rooms until narcy neighbors call the cops. The rush of dancefloor transcendence is out of reach; nightlife faded into a distant dream.
“It’s very sad, it’s like we’ve all just forgotten about it,” they say.
On the offshore island of Sentosa, shipping containers loom over the industrial horizon. Once known for their EDM parties, these sandy shores are now eerily silent; DJs are banned from spinning at the beach clubs, so a house music playlist plays softly to Chinese tourists in designer sunglasses flopped on their bellies in cabanas.
A circle of Singapore DJs sit by the pool, finishing an interview with The Straits Times. Once the respectable journalists leave, we order beers and they give me the download on the situation: despite a 92% vaccination rate, Singapore’s approach to Omicron has been one of total risk-aversion and micro-management. Nightclubs and music venues have been closed since March 2020, disco lights are banned, and DJs are prohibited from playing on “raised podiums” or mixing tracks in case, god forbid, this encourages dancing.
A list of government-approved rules (via Life in Arpeggio)
While bribes and under-the-table deals have allowed clubs in other Southeast Asian countries to skirt pandemic restrictions, in squeaky-clean Singapore, there is little chance for corruption. The moratorium on partying feels like a morality-tinged repudiation on the value of electronic music culture: classical music concerts have returned, pop bangers blast at indoor spin classes, church choirs sing maskless, yet the country is still waiting for a tiny cadre of four or five top officials to decide when clubs can reopen—and there have been no hints on when this’ll happen.
The DJs offer theories on why nightlife in Singapore is so fucked. Last year, a big COVID outbreak was traced back to underground karaoke lounges (also known as KTVs), prompting a string of police raids on these illegal spots. “The government is trying to get rid of KTVs, and we’re just collateral damage,” says Aldrin, a longtime resident at Zouk club. To conservative Singaporean normies, nightlife is still heavily stigmatized and undifferentiated from other forms of vices. “They think it’s for people with low IQs,” notes Brandon P, another veteran DJ who tells me a secret history of the country’s 90s trance and techno parties as I lounge on a pool floater.
Conservatism in Singapore is nothing new: “the authorities have been shitting on music since the 1970s,” wrote local DJ K̲i̲D̲G̲ recently in a post. Until 1990s, long hair was banned from Singapore (lmao) and bands like the Led Zeppelin and the BeeGees cancelled shows because of it. Moshing was also prohibited at punk shows in the 90s, and according to K̲i̲D̲G̲, event organizers had to pay $1000 deposits if anyone in the audience dared to slam their bodies—causing the local underground scene to screech to a halt. “It was a dark period for many,” he wrote.
Public demonstrations are illegal in Singapore, so without the option to protest, many nightlife workers have pivoted to food delivery drivers, riding bikes under the scorching sun while waiting for the chance to play music again. “It’s like you have a bad breakup with someone and they just ghosted you. You’re hitting them up for answers but just get total silence,” says Matty Wainwright, a Liverpool lad who is now the music director of the beach club we’re chilling at. Matty has been driving the rich people’s dogs to doggy daycare to scrape a living, or installing DJ equipment in the private basement clubs of the island’s many billionaire mansions.
Recently, he decided to spearhead a campaign called Save Music SG to try and educate the public that electronic music is more than sweaty EDM debauchery—it’s also DJs playing Balearic disco at sunset, Northern Soul at listening bars, acid jazz at dinner. He’s also pulling in favors from friends to set up a 24-hour livestream on March 11-12 that he hopes will bring attention to the suffocating Singapore scene.
“We’re at the bottom of a pile of shit. They dug a hole and put us in it,” says Matty. “We’re just trying to wave our hands and say hello, we’re still here.”
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