WTF IS UP WITH SOUTHEAST ASIAN NIGHTLIFE?
Scene discourse on pandemic party prohibition
It’s not easy to parse what the hell is happening with Southeast Asia’s pandemic party scene. The global conversation around nightlife recovery for the last two years has been dominated by America and Europe, where street protests and other organized defiance of COVID-19 measures have turned clubs into political battlegrounds—and the reopening of these spaces into litmus tests for pandemic fatigue. In Southeast Asia, where scenes have been decimated and bereft of government financial aid, the situation is even more fucked, yet the discourse has been quiet due, in part, to the heavy social stigmatization of nightlife and lack of a robust music media.
So I was stoked to have been invited to a virtual meeting last Thursday between the Southeast Asian ~nightlife illuminati~ to discuss the host of challenges facing the battered scene. The discussion was moderated by Phuong (Homeaway Agency) and Anastasiya from Berlin-based nightlife advocacy group VibeLab, and attended by key DJs/promoters/agents/bookers from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. (Full credits at the end of the post.)
The vibe in the room, despite an air of congeniality, was tbh pretty bleak—I heard tales of police raids, government stalemates, Crazy Rich Asians-style hyper-gentrification, and confusing regulations navigated through bribes and high-society connections. But I also caught glimmers of silver linings—in stories of resilience, germinating support networks, and ambitious new projects sprouting in the face of harsh conditions.
Below is an edited and condensed version of the convo—if you’d like to fuel my rave research (and gain access to our cute lil Discord), smash that money button to keep this engine chugging. Ya’ll know I’m out here grinding!
STATE OF THE SCENES
Savage club in Hanoi—went to a party here in 2019, was sickk
Dean Chew: It is very bleak. The Singapore government rules with an iron hand, and [until] September we weren’t allowed background music in any space. Misconceptions are deep. They think it's all about vices, that it doesn't contribute anything to the GDP.
Maurice Simon: The Singapore government’s approach is to [encourage nightlife workers to] pivot to something else, which is very short-sighted. We don’t have any legitimacy.
Matty Wainwright: Singapore has got F1 [races] coming up in September. Who in their right mind is going to come to Singapore if they have to be in bed by 10:30pm?
Adam Mathews: There is literally nothing in Malaysia. No events, no nightlife. About six months ago, the government finally recognized the DJ as a performer. That pivotal moment quickly came crashing down, because venues were raided, with equipment confiscated, and DJs either fined or taken into remand. I would like clarity from the government about what you can and can't do. A lot of venues have taken creative interpretations, resulting in massive fines and unnecessary headlines.
Godwin Pereira: For now, if you want to dance in Malaysia, forget it. We’ve been trying to get some level of conversation going with the authorities, but we’re facing brick walls.
Ouissam Mokretar: The worst is behind us in Vietnam because they’re talking about reopening the borders. All clubs in Saigon are open now and I think we need another month in Hanoi. Everyone’s optimistic.
Sebastian Keusch: The Thai scene is all smoke and mirrors, no one really knows what you allowed to do. There's events happening with 500 people, then there's days where they say you have to limit your capacity or finish at a certain time. But there's other places going until 5 am. It's a classic case: in Thailand, relationships matter and how much you pay the police.
But I’ve seen the biggest growth in Thailand’s scene in the past two years. Record shops and radio stations have opened in Bangkok. The music’s been really improving. You can really feel an energy of community in the air.
Coran Maloney: The quality of the entry-level promoter in Thailand has really changed. Now that big brands are not able to operate, you’ve got DJs and promoters starting their own events, and the competition is good. You can’t get away with a dodgy flyer anymore.