The Future of Singapore's Nightlife with Andrew Li, CEO of Zouk Group

"I certainly don’t believe that this spells the end of nightlife and the dance floor." We speak to Andrew Li on what's in the pipeline for Zouk, his biggest challenges to date, and some of his favourite memories at the nightclub over the years.
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We’re finally reaching the second half of 2020. And with August being the month of Singapore’s birthday, what better way to commemorate than to look back at some of the iconic landmarks of the nation… Namely, the pinnacle of Singapore nightlife, Zouk, which has very much shaped the scene for Singapore over the past two decades.

But with nightlife remaining a near-distant past given the onset of the pandemic, it appears there may be trouble on the horizon for the local nightlife industry. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by the Singapore Nightlife Business Association states that four out of 10 pubs, bars and clubs state they intend to shut down permanently, as reported by CNA. 

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Capital Dancefloor. Image: Courtesy

Even so, Zouk is bouncing back with other plans. They have pivoted to a new strategy namely, transforming their lounge space into a new dining concept Capital Kitchen, introducing items such as their own canned cocktails, and focusing their efforts on their Zouk Digital live streams.

“If anything, with the pandemic, it has accelerated the process of propelling us into a global lifestyle brand,” says Andrew Li, the CEO of  the iconic nightclub company Zouk Group, who adds that they have already added many new initiatives and concepts in place. 

Li  is no stranger to the hospitality scene. He was previously the chief operating officer at Prive group Hong Kong in 2012, Vice-President in Genting Hong Kong in 2015,and currently holds title as CEO of the Zouk Group, managing over 300 people across Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and on the Genting cruise lines. Despite that, he admits that the pandemic "was nothing like (he) had faced in my professional career."

Ahead, we speak to Li on the future of nightlife in Singapore, how he has been coping during such challenging times, and of course, some of his favourite memories at Zouk over the years.

What have you done to adapt Zouk to suit the current climate? 

During this period, we found alternative ways to utilise the large spaces we have on our premises. We diversified our business model by transforming our clubbing space into a new dining concept – Capital Kitchen. 

We have also introduced new initiatives and partnerships. For example, we have conducted live-streams on Zouk Digital featuring guest DJs, and virtual events such as Zouk Phuturescapes, in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). 

Drawing on these successes, we are now offering Zoom parties and event management packages for corporate partners and private clients. This includes services such as audio-visual and technical set-up and support, live-streaming to multiple platforms such as Zoom, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. 

To provide users with even more entertainment options and choices, they can also opt to engage our DJs to provide music programming and emcee services. Additional on-screen entertainment in the form of dancers, performers, or guest acts, merchandise, food and beverage packages, and design support are also available. 

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 What are some of your personal recommendations off your menu at Capital Kitchen, and why? 

We have some fantastic ‘specials’, and it changes every week. Right now, we have the Full-Blooded Wagyu Steak from Australia built on the famous Tajima bloodline. It has a marble score of 7 and literally melts in your mouth. 

I’m also very excited to have debuted my Spicy Prawn Aglio Olio on the menu. So if you want to try my home cooking, and you can handle your spice, that would be the dish to try!

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 Prior to the pandemic, Zouk had plans to expand into a global lifestyle brand. How much of your plans have changed since then? 

If anything, with the pandemic, it has accelerated the process of propelling us into a global lifestyle brand. 

We have already added many new initiatives and concepts. For example, the circuit breaker has pushed us into the digital sphere in a strong way, especially with our digital programming. 

We have also launched our bottles and, very soon, our canned cocktails - these will further complement our existing outlets and add online F&B options to our online merchandise portal on the ZOUK Shop.

What has been your biggest challenge during these uncertain times?  

For myself, as a leader, it was very humbling to accept that you are not in control of a situation. I felt that I had multiple outcomes for the future planned, but the way the virus has disrupted all our lives was unprecedented and was nothing like I had faced in my professional career, to the point I felt I was always trying to catch up with its effects. To this day, we still do not know how this pandemic will play out, and it is always a challenge when there are so many unknowns. 

Such was the effect on our business and we have had to make difficult decisions to restructure the business and to make staffing decisions, who in any other circumstance, would have been able to stay with the company. This was personally a challenging time for me to get through. The team we have, in many ways, make up the brand and they are like family here.

What have you been doing to cope or treat yourself when you have the time? 

I have quite a strict morning routine – I run, bike or swim for an hour and then meditate for around 20 minutes, and this has helped my mindset and mentality during this challenging period. 

I find joy in the simple pleasures in life – for instance, at the end of a long day, coming home and playing with my nine-month-old puppy, Toro, is a treat. When it comes to guilty pleasures, I’m currently addicted to soft and chewy cookies, complete with a glass of milk. You’ll know it’s been a stressful day when I’m having this in the evening!

How do you see this pandemic shaping the future of nightlife? 

Until there is a vaccine, it will be challenging for the nightlife industry to resume operations, especially with social distancing measures in place. I also don’t foresee big groups of people congregating and dancing on the dance floor at this stage. 

However, I do anticipate the return of the lounge concept, with many more tables set up in the space and guests partying in their groups. 

But I certainly don’t believe that this spells the end of nightlife and the dance floor. The ZOUK brand is close to three decades old, and it’s a testament to how we will come back even stronger. 

What are some of your favourite memories at Zouk? 

Standing on the beach at 6am and seeing the first light during our annual ZOUKOUT music festival with 20,000 smiling faces dancing together with the music has to be one of my best memories. 

Last year, we also launched “Total Recall” – a night where we play throwback music to the 90s and 00s. I love singing and dancing to Backstreet Boys and Westlife – so whenever those nights are on, I’m in my element!

What are you looking forward to the most when this all tides over? 

I’m looking forward to seeing my family in Hong Kong. This period is probably the longest that I haven’t seen my mum, dad and younger brother. So, the first thing I would do is get on a plane and visit them.

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Could you share some other exciting things that you have in the pipeline for Zouk? 

For Capital Kitchen, we are working with rotating guest chefs and partners to come up with new ‘specials’ in our menu offerings. We will also start adding more theme nights monthly – so make sure you stay tuned to our socials! 

We are also looking to open our second Five Guys outlet towards the end of this year. We are very close to making a significant announcement on our biggest project to date, which will put not only Zouk but also Singapore on the global map. Finally, I am working on some other deals, that if we manage to push through, will be sure to make waves.

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