The S'pore youths who have never stepped into a club because of Covid-19

For two years now, Covid-19 has robbed some 18-year-olds of the rite of passage that they were meant to take. So what?

Alfie Kwa | February 06, 2022, 10:16 AM

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It’s another Friday night and, like the Friday nights before, it is the same drill, beginning with a pre-drinking session at someone's house.

After downing a couple of mixers (just enough to achieve that buzz. You don't want to get too hammered to enjoy the night, do you?), the group of friends hop into a taxi and say: “Uncle, Zouk please.”

The girls fix their makeup in the car while the guys laugh (at what is probably a lewd joke) and hype themselves up for a night of music, dancing, and — of course — drinks.

As the cab arrives at 3C River Valley Road, it is greeted by a growing mass of people who emanate cigarette smoke and anticipation.

But what really catches your attention is the thumping bass that resonates, low and steady, from inside the club.

Soon, the doors open and the waiting crowd pours into the club. The group of friends squeeze gingerly through the mass of dancing bodies, making their way to the centre of the room where they dance their hearts out to remixes of crowd favourites, starting with Zedd's "Beautiful Now" feat. Jon Bellion.

This is my last memory of Singapore's nightlife, a snapshot of the scene back in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Readers of a certain vintage would probably have had a similar, if not the same, experience of the local nightlife scene. In fact, it was a rite of passage for many when they turned 18.

But for those who were born in 2002 and after, this is quickly becoming less of a collective experience and more of a quirky anecdote.

Y'know, the kind that begins with, "Long before your time...".

If you were 18 in 2020 or 2021, you would have experienced this rite of passage for yourself if not for the restrictive measures that were imposed on nightlife operators.

If you think about it, that's two generations of 18-year-olds who never had the "full clubbing experience", from paying for overpriced and diluted house pours to dancing until the wee hours of the morning to dealing with friends who just can't hold their liquor.

Why was clubbing so popular?

Image via Zouk Singapore/FB.

“It was quite addictive. the loud music, the atmosphere and just, in general, being surrounded by strangers who don't know you and would probably not see you again after that night,” said Kane Goh, 28.

Goh, who used to frequent local clubs once or twice a week, recalled the times spent at Zouk with his friends:

“Zouk at Jiak Kim was the best, we had so many memories there. Our favourite room was Phuture cause it was all the top 40 trashy music. We would drink liquor straight from the bottle and chuck sour plum shots.”

But beyond the drinks and the music, the time spent there was “liberating” for Goh.

“Just dancing, drinking and having a good time. And not needing to worry and care about anything else. It was truly a special feeling at a special place.”

Angela Lim, 26, who used to club frequently, misses the loud music, the spotlights, the massive crowd and hanging out with friends until the next morning.

She recalled not wanting to miss on a night out clubbing, clutching her work laptop in her arms as she entered the club after a long Friday at the office.

"Then drunk already ask my friends: 'Where is my laptop?'" Lim joked.

For Lim, she said going to a club was sort of a rite of passage for those who are turning 18.

“I think it's a thing you do once you turn 18.”

However, Goh thinks that the clubbing scene may not be for everyone.

“Some prefer a more cosy bar setting, but some are more adventurous and wants to be among people.”

Missing out on the “fun”?

With its drinks, flashing lights, and booming music, you can see why the clubbing experience with all of its sensory overload is what a young person on the verge of adulthood would seek out.

So, does this group feel like they’re missing out on what nightlife could have been?

I spoke to three 20-year-olds to find out.

“I wished those options would’ve been open to me so that I could experience it,” 20-year-old Sean Tan said when asked about clubbing stories he’s heard from seniors and older siblings.

Tan, who’s serving his national service now, said that while he wasn’t too interested in what the clubs had to offer – crowds, loud music and overpriced drinks — initially, he wanted to experience clubbing when he turned 18.

“You’d think celebrating your 18th birthday would be a very fun and memorable night where you go from one club to another till the sun rises.”

But the reality was very different from what he had envisioned as he hasn’t been able to experience the “fun” nightlife even until now.

Similarly, Loh Chuan Ren (20), a year 3 Temasek Polytechnic student, didn't have the 18th birthday he envisioned.

Loh and his friends had braced themselves in the lead up to his birthday, expecting to embrace a clubbing scene that was “extremely fun, filled with freedom, and a place to chill out until late at night”.

Reality could not have been more different.

When Loh turned 18, he didn’t get to go clubbing or head out for drinks with his friends. Instead, he stayed home on his birthday, thanks to the Circuit Breaker in 2020.

“It was quite disappointing,” he said about the uneventful day.

Kevin (not his real name), who also turned 18 in 2020, expected that reaching the legal drinking age and hitting the clubs was going to be the “peak of his youth”.

Thanks to stories about the local nightlife, he imagined the clubbing scene to be “vibrant” and “lively”, a night that would “lift his spirits” after a week of school or work.

"Anti-climactic". That was how Kevin described his 18th birthday celebration, which consisted mostly of cake and some drinks — at home.

“I expected more of a celebration when I turned 18 but because of Covid-19, most celebrations had to be toned down.”

Kevin, who's also serving national service at the moment, also can't do what many of his seniors in his unit used to do on the weekends – book out and head to the clubs.

Some might think that clubbing is a frivolous experience. But to Kevin and the rest, it's a once-in-a-lifetime rite of passage, one which the pandemic has "robbed" them of.

For them, clubbing is an abstract idea that exists only in anecdotes and social media photos, for now.

Clubbing isn't the only way to have fun

Photo by Andrew Lancaster on Unsplash.

In case you go away thinking this is a story about a bunch of youngsters whining about a First World Problem, the guys whom I spoke to acknowledged that their excitement over clubbing was probably hyped up by what they thought turning 18 should be.

Yes, clubbing can be a rite of passage and a great social activity, but the boys have come to realise that their transition to adulthood doesn't have to happen in a club. Nor is it the only place to hang out on a weekend.

Tan said that the most thrilling thing about turning 18 was getting his driving licence.

Loh relishes being able to drink recreationally (and legally). However, he added:

“I do not think drinking is the only way to hang out together.”

To him, gaming and going out to grab food together, hanging out and talking with his friends can be just as enjoyable.

Similarly, Kevin indulges in photography and bowling in addition to having the occasional drink at a bar.

It's uncertain when clubs will finally reopen. Even if they do, it is unlikely that the nightlife scene will be the same as it was before.

But it's nice to know that there are other ways youths can blow off steam and enjoy their weekends.

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Top image via ZoukSingapore/FB.