Familiar bands and club owners behind new nightspots

Familiar bands and club owners in the nightlife scene start new outlets with fresh concepts

Singapore's nightlife scene is hotting up as a slew of new clubs and drinking joints has popped up in the past four months.

But the people behind these new party spots are familiar faces and established players in the business.

From rockers who have made a name for themselves in the live music bar circuit such as John Molina and Mando- rock band Queen Inc to seasoned nightclub owners such as "Mikey" Manjit Singh of home-grown nightclub Attica, they bring a slice of the past and more to their new endeavours.

These include live music venue Berlin at Chijmes, which opened three weeks ago; club Queen at Esplanade Mall, which opened in December; and nightspot AltaEgo in Ann Siang Road, which officially opened in January.

At another new club, Trace, at Central Mall in Magazine Road, which opened its doors last month, Mr Bernard Chin heads the operations.

He was formerly the operations director of now-defunct nightclub The Butter Factory at One Fullerton.

Next month, the guys behind basement nightclub Kyo in Cecil Street are opening a yet-to-be-named RnB club in Circular Road.

Life! checks out the offerings at some of these new venues.

melk@sph.com.sg


BERLIN

Where: 30 Victoria Street, B1-06 Chijmes; tel: 6333-4036

Open: 4pm to 4am, Sunday to Thursday, 4pm to 5am, Friday and Saturday

Admission: Free

Rocker John Molina has been on a year- long hiatus from the live music circuit. But the veteran club singer is back, not just on stage with his band Krueger, but also as a club operator.

Molina, 44, is the co-owner of Berlin, a new 4,800 sq ft gastro-bar and nightclub at Chijmes that opened last month. He runs the place with his business partner and long-time friend Irene Colhag.

He says the club is not based on the city of Berlin per se, but on the ideology that is linked with the place. He explains: "Berlin represents freedom, the breaking down of walls and diverse people coming together - it doesn't matter who you are or what background you come from."

He adds that Berlin is known for being a city that has "retained much of its old-world charm yet interpreted in a modern way", similar to how he is taking his 20 years of experience in the live music scene and channelling it through his club.

He has performed at places such as now-defunct live music venue Yello Jello and the still-operating Aquanova, both at Clarke Quay. He also had a majority stake in nightclub Thumper at Goodwood Park Hotel, which closed down in 2009.

At Berlin, there will be live performances by the band, alternating with DJ sets, covering a range of music that progressively evolves from 1980s and 1990s music to more clubby tunes as the night goes on.

Molina, who says he and his partner invested a six-figure sum in the venue, will perform only occasionally. In his absence, Jeff Catz, another familiar face in the live music circuit, will take over vocal duties.

Mr Shafiz Iqbal, 36, who has been following Molina since 1993, is a frequent visitor to Berlin. The food and beverage area manager, who has grown to be good friends with Molina, says it is the personal touch the musician has with his patrons that keeps them coming back.

"I think it's the vibe that the band give out and the people that come. It's always a good synergy," he says.

Ms Colhag, who is in her 40s, notes that Berlin has attracted loyal Molina supporters, but she also hopes the concept will draw new patrons.

She says: "We don't want to be run-of-the-mill. We want to select all the good things from the 1980s to 1990s and bring them back, not just for the benefit of the people who are a little older, but also for the younger generation."


TRACE

Where: 5 Magazine Road, 01-03; tel: 6443-4500

Open: 10pm to 3am, Wednesday and Friday, 10pm to 4am, Saturday, closed on all other days

Admission: No cover charge but patrons are encouraged to RSVP and e-mail rsvp@tracelounge.com for guestlists and table reservations. Table bookings require a minimum spending of $1,000 to $2,000.

Partygoers can groove to the high-energy tunes of popular Singapore DJ Tinc (right) while enjoying cool laser light shows and 3-D projections mapped on the walls at the latest nightclub in town.

The 2,800 sq ft Trace, which is located at Central Mall in Magazine Road, takes its name from the idea of building "a new community of clubgoers and party people, to bring something unique to the clubbing scene", says managing director Bu Shukun, 33.

The club, which was formerly occupied by a stretch of small cinema theatres many years ago, offers a blend of EDM - or electronic dance music - trance and hip-hop.

It boasts seven booths for VIP patrons, six sofa tables and three dance platforms.

It is owned and managed by several partners, including Mr Bernard Chin, who used to head operations at the nowdefunct home-grown nightclub The Butter Factory at One Fullerton.

Mr Bu says a strong emphasis is placed on lasers, light shows and a premier sound system "to establish the club as a premium VIP bottle service club with the full dance experience".

VIP bottle service encourages patrons to open bottles of premium spirits and champagne to secure tables and enjoy personalised service throughout the night.

Mr Bu, who also runs an interior design business and is co-owner of The Tuckshop bar in Guillemard Road and restaurant-bar The Refinery in Jalan Besar, is behind the interior decor and lighting effects of the club.

Comparing Singapore's club scene to cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei, Mr Bu says those cities have megaclubs with many international DJ acts that cater to a wide range of patrons.

He says: "The sheer scale and size of these megaclubs help conjure an awesome party atmosphere but, very often, these places fall short in the community building aspect and rarely succeed in constructing an intimate network of partygoers."

With Trace, he hopes to foster a network of like-minded individuals who appreciate quality music from local and international DJs and love "a good night out with their fellow partygoers", he adds.


ALTAEGO

Where: 12 Ann Siang Road; tel: 6222-9520

Open: 5pm to 3am, Friday, 5pm to 4am, Saturday, 5pm to 2am, Monday to Thursday, closed on Sunday

Admission: Free

With the days of mega dance clubs ruling the nightlife scene long gone, more intimate boutique venues are the way to go.

That is the idea behind AltaEgo, a multipurpose four-storey venue co-founded by "Mikey" Manjit Singh.

He was formerly the co-founder of home-grown nightclub Attica in Clarke Quay, one of the longest-running clubs in Singapore, and is co-owner of live music bar and restaurant The Beacon at Marina Square.

He exited his Attica partnership in March last year, handing over the reins to the club's two other founding partners, British permanent residents Mark Brimblecombe and Peter Antonioni.

The 6,000 sq ft AltaEgo is a joint venture between Mr Singh and the owners of The Screening Room, a food and beverage venue cum film theatre which also operates out of the same venue in Ann Siang Hill.

The four-level space features different lounging areas, including a courtyard, a rooftop bar and a private screening room.

The music played includes downtempo lounge, hip-hop and garage house, and local guest DJs spin at the lounge on a regular basis.

A spokesman for AltaEgo, Mr Geryll Fu, says of AltaEgo's concept: "It's like a chill-out place and a break from the big clubs and sounds. It's not about clubbing, it's about friends gathering, with a lounge kind of feel."

He adds: "We just feel the market is no longer doable for big clubs, the market is over-saturated - so a small club with a more homely feel is what we think is the way to go."


QUEEN

Where: 8 Raffles Avenue, Esplanade Mall; tel: 9046-0464

Open: 8.30pm to 5.30am daily

Admission: Free

After 12 years of performing at various nightclubs around town, veteran Chinese rock band Queen Inc finally have a place to call their own.

Located next to the Esplanade Mall, the 14,000 sq ft nightclub, aptly named Queen, has the seasoned rock group as the main attraction, performing evergreen and contemporary Mandarin and Cantonese pop and rock songs.

Deehellsix Xie, 36, frontman and guitarist of Queen Inc and the club's director, says it took him a few years to find the right place.

"This band have been with me for 12 years and aside from the band, we also have sales managers and engineers who have stuck with me for more than 10 years. We just needed to have our own place where we didn't have to work for other people," he adds.

Xie declines to reveal how much was invested in the club, saying only that its owners are him and another Singaporean whom he does not want to name.

He says: "As a club owner now, I have better control over everything. It's easier to coordinate service and entertainment."

Queen Inc rose to prominence in the live Mandopop and Cantopop scene in the early 2000s, cutting their teeth in popular spots such as the now-defunct Mandopop club Dragonfly at St James Power Station, as well as Shanghai Dolly in Clarke Quay.

They were also a backing band for William Scorpion, once considered the undisputed king of Chinese pop at clubs in Singapore.

Xie says Scorpion, who announced his retirement in 2013, will perform with his band at Queen once in a while. For instance, they and Queen Inc will perform tonight in a special tribute to the late Hong Kong singer-songwriter Leslie Cheung.

Queen Inc started as a rock band recording original material in 2003 and cut an album titled The Road To Music (Yin Yue Zhi Lu) in those early years, but Xie says that chasing that career path was not enough to carve themselves a comfortable living.

Prior to opening Queen, the band, which also comprise keyboardist Jaccent Ong, bassist Tommy Ang, vocalists Charlie Cheong, Shawn Wang and Jon Toh, drummer Geist (John Fok) and visual and lighting specialist Trey Tay, were performing at club Sonar in Orchard Hotel.

Each band member is also involved in running the club, taking on roles in areas such as finance, marketing and public relations, and software management.

With Queen Inc being the main draw at the club, Xie says there is no need to rely on foreign entertainers from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, like many other nightclubs do.

Acknowledging that many Chinese clubs hire pretty girls from overseas as dancers or entertainers to draw a crowd, he says: "I'm not doing that type of concept. The main product is still the music, not the girls."

However, Queen allows patrons to purchase flower garlands and silk sashes for performers to show their appreciation, a practice at many Chinese nightclubs. The garlands and sashes cost between $50 and $20,000 each.

At Queen, there are only two foreign singers - one from China and the other from Hong Kong - who join Queen Inc on stage.

In the earlier part of the evening, the club has a four-piece band, made up of members from two former resident bands at Mandopop club Shanghai Dolly, performing an acoustic set.

The new club, which took over the premises of the now-defunct dance club Mansion, seems to be faring well. When Life! visited, the club was still running a full house at 3am on Saturday - 21/2 hours before closing - with a queue outside.

Xie says Queen will soon expand to offer alfresco dining from 6pm to 4.30am next month.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, 35, who has been a long-time supporter of Queen Inc and is a good friend of Xie's, says he is happy that the band have their own place now.

"It's been a long time coming, especially in a place like Singapore, where it's not easy to have a dream like his and make it thrive," he says.

"I think Queen is not just a club but a brand and that's the important distinction from other Chinese clubs, which change their bands from time to time."