Two years since Covid-19 silenced nightlife in S'pore, DJs hope to be back at the decks soon

Singaporean DJ Sivanesh Pillai had played in India and Myanmar, as well as at a music festival in Thailand. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DJ SIVANESH PILLAI

SINGAPORE - Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, Singaporean DJ Sivanesh Pillai was making a name for himself both at home and regionally.

The former resident DJ at Ce La Vi, on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands, had played in India and Myanmar, as well as at a music festival in Thailand.

But with the pandemic and its restrictions on travel and social gatherings, the gigs dried up.

Mr Sivanesh, 35, told The Straits Times recently: "When the bars and clubs first closed, I was nervous and worried - entertainment shutting down means I have no work and no money coming through. But I was okay with that because I was just looking at the bigger picture.

"It's been two years now and I'm still not able to go back to work - that's been disheartening."

Nightlife establishments were forced to shut on March 26, 2020, due to the worsening Covid-19 situation and have not been open since.

Restrictions have forced Mr Sivanesh, who was also playing in bars and clubs such as Tanjong Beach Club and Kilo Lounge, to give up his usual means of livelihood.

Having lived through the Sars crisis in 2003 as a secondary school student, he had expected Covid-19 restrictions to be just as short-lived.

But the current pandemic has dragged on, forcing the DJ to look at other means of income to survive.

In September 2020, he got a temporary job managing a Covid-19 swab centre.

"I was close to being very desperate. No money was coming in. I was relying on my savings. Savings, you know, are meant for rainy days. But it was being depleted, from paying rent and supporting my family," he said.

His entire family had been hit financially by the pandemic, including his 66-year-old father, who is a taxi driver, and his 64-year-old mother, who was laid off as a customer service officer in a hotel.

After his stint at the swab centre, Mr Sivanesh, who has a bachelor's degree in business studies, found part-time work at food beverage outlets. He recently got a full-time job managing an isolation facility.

Though unable to find work as a DJ, Mr Sivanesh continues to practise his craft daily.

"When the pandemic hit, I was faced with a lot of existential questions. Now I'm not allowed to do what I am known for, what I'm all about - what is my identity now?

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A social media campaign #savemusicsg, describes itself as a ground up movement that aims to create a roadmap to normalcy for live music and nightlife in Singapore.

"I decided to continue doing it at home, just so that I don't forget who I am. It's just one way to keep myself motivated and not fall into the darkness," he said.

As there are signs of a return to normality, Mr Sivanesh maintains hope of returning to his usual profession, especially with news that the Formula One car race will return to Singapore this year.

It was announced in January that the Singapore race will take place on Oct 2 after a two-year hiatus.

Mr Sivanesh said: "I just keep telling myself that nightlife will have to come back to keep myself positive. When I heard news about F1, my spirits were lifted. If F1 is happening, it would make sense to have the live entertainment aspect of it."

He is among a group of DJs and musicians supporting #savemusicsg, a campaign looking to bring attention to musicians and DJs who have been out of work for almost two years.

The campaign aims to create a road map to normality for them and will include a two-day live stream on March 11 and 12 to showcase the DJs and musicians.

DJ Aldrin Quek, a veteran in the scene, is lending his voice to the campaign.

Before the pandemic, Mr Quek, 52, was a freelance DJ performing in venues such as nightclubs Marquee and Zouk.

Now, to get by, he is giving DJ-ing lessons and does sound production for corporate events.

But the money he makes is not enough, and Mr Quek has had to sell his home, as he could not keep up with the mortgage repayments.

He is staying with a friend while he looks to buy a smaller home.

The resident DJ at Zouk between 1996 and 2013 says it is not easy to jump into a totally different industry overnight.

"We've spent a lot of money and copious amounts of time to get to where we are in our field of work. You can't just snap your fingers and switch and hope to make the same amount of money in a totally new industry," he said.

Before the pandemic, Mr Quek was a freelance DJ performing in venues such as nightclubs Marquee and Zouk. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MR ALDRIN QUEK

While Singapore's nightlife is currently non-existent, Mr Quek is confident that when it returns, it will do so with a bang.

He is also excited as he is in discussions about doing a residency gig when restrictions ease, but he was unable to provide details.

Said Mr Quek: "We've got world-class venues and world-class DJs coming in. Our local DJs are doing just as well entertaining the crowds.

"We are quite a destination for a lot of people. In the region, people do travel to Singapore just to club.

"Everyone is waiting for the green light and we are just going to roll back in harder and better than before."

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