They would have been downing drinks and belting their favourite tunes when their long weekend festivities came to an abrupt halt.
While nightlife establishments across Singapore have had to cease operations due to Covid-19 measures, on the night of Apr. 2, three illegal KTVs within walking distance of each other in Farrer Park played host to 45 guests.
When I’d reached the scene, evidence of the police’s forceful entry lay strewn across the ground; a knob sat on the floor amongst splinters about meter away from a ravaged wooden door.
At the foot of the door was a small plastic CCTV camera which had been ripped from its mounting above the doorframe moments before the Singapore Police Force (SPF) made its entrance.
The guests were now being detained for investigations, each presumably held in the rooms they had been partying in before police entered.
At the first location I visited — a converted residential space four floors above a coffeeshop — resembled something you might see at a cheap karaoke studio.
Thin partitions had been installed to divide the space into six rooms of different sizes, each outfitted with a sound system, karaoke machine, and a flatscreen television.
Karaoke videos continued to play on the screens albeit with the sound muted.
With the house lights turned on, the illusion of dark paint jobs and LED fixtures being anything more than hastily applied and tacky vanished.
Patrons sat on cheap furniture with their personal items — phones, wallets, and in some rooms, thick wads of cash — laid out on the tables in front of them. Group sizes ranged from three to eight.
Each room had at least one police officer in plain clothes standing watch.
One officer I saw held a clipboard and a stack of pink NRICs, another questioned a petite girl in a hallway.
Also present were other evidence of the reckless abandon that had preceded the raid — unfinished towers of beer and half-drunk glasses of alcohol. Left untouched, the drinks now appeared to be lukewarm and stale.
"I'm a celebrity!"
Despite the circumstances, patrons at the converted residential space seemed fairly upbeat and still in the mood to party.
One plump and heavily tattooed man I saw seemed to be casually conversing with the police officer.
He pointed to my own tattoos as I walked past his room and said: “this guy is got angkong too”.
“I’m a celebrity!” one woman loudly proclaimed as she squeezed past the media in a narrow corridor.
Police were leading her and another woman to the toilets, located in what would have been the unit’s kitchen.
Here the operators of the illegal KTV kept their alcohol in a large cooler.
Standing outside one of the rooms, I heard patrons discussed what they would do afterwards.
“Sh*t I was just feeling damn hungry before all this,” said a woman.
Someone else in the room suggested visiting Swee Choon later.
These patrons, aged between 24 and 66, were released after they were questioned by the police.
They will however remain under investigation for allegedly flouting the rules and regulations under the Public Entertainment Act and Liquor Control Act 2015, as well as the suspected breaching of Covid-19 measures.
Tension and regret
At another of the illegal KTVs — this time a converted office space which featured three karaoke rooms and an open lounge-type area — a hot-headed and uncooperative individual risked spending the rest of his night in police custody.
The mood at this site was much more sober and tense.
A room in the back had a counter, similar to one you might see at a restaurant, with boxes of beer stacked on top of each other behind it.
A cupboard below the counter stored various bottles of hard liquor, some bearing labels with names (presumably those of regular customers) on it.
As I ventured into one of the karaoke rooms to take photos, patrons maintained a dejected silence and hid their faces from the gaze of my lens.
The clicks of my camera shutter pierced the quiet; it must have punctuated the compounding feelings of humiliation and regret.
"The culprits will be dealt with sternly"
Apart from the 45 patrons, eight individuals were also arrested.
Six men and one woman, aged between 23 and 38, are alleged to be operating the venue and suspected of committing offences under the Liquor Control Act 2015 and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.
Another 38-year-old man, established to have an outstanding warrant of arrest, was also arrested.
I watched, along with the rest of the media, as the officers led a man and woman to a police van.
Photographers rushed to get their shots, their flashes firing relentlessly until the sliding van door was slammed shut.
Police were later seen confiscating various items.
Karaoke equipment, television sets, microphones, and alcohol were all loaded into a large lorry.
Addressing the media, Commander of Central Police Division and Assistant Commissioner of Police Gregory Tan said the operation was part of the SPF's on-going efforts to clamp down on illegal public entertainment activities.
"The culprits will be dealt with sternly in accordance with the law."
Top image by Andrew Koay