Selena Tan on One More Time, a tribute to Zouk at Jiak Kim Street and making history great again
There's been an ongoing romance happening between dance and classical music for a number of years now. From Detroit Techno legend, Jeff Mills recreating his seminal track, The Bells, with the Montpelier Philharmonic Orchestra back in 2006 to when The National Orchestra of Belgium was named the surprise headliner of Tomorrowland in 2015. If you're thinking that dance and classical seem like surprising bedfellows, think again. Both styles of music were created for the audiences of their time to dance and get lost in emotion through every breakdown and grandious climax. When synthesizers were invented, their function was to imitate instruments, democratising and simplifying the music-making process though much of the music made and still is rooted in classic styled compositions.
In recent years, the greatest public displays of affection between the two musical styles coming together has undoubtedly been the Heritage Orchestra and conductor Jules Buckley's work with stalwarts of the British dance scene, notably Goldie and Pete Tong. It was watching these very performances in 2014 that inspired a cohort of highly skilled accomplices in Singapore to attempt the same here this coming 24 and 25 March.
The live show and party, One More Time - a Tribute to Zouk at Jiak Kim Street takes place at the historical Capitol Theatre. But isn't brought to you by Zouk as the title might suggest. In fact, it's presented by The Henderson Project and put together by an elite team comprising creative director, Selena Tan, music director and orchestrator Indra Ismail, creative consultant Najip Ali and concert director, Aldrin Quek, who was Zouk's former resident DJ, music director and ambassador till 2015.
We spoke to Tan, Quek, Zouk founder Lincoln Cheng and musicians Vanessa and Alemay Fernandez to find out more about this grand performance and its significance.
Who and what is The Henderson Project and what is it that you hope to achieve with this project?
The Henderson Project is an off-shoot or sub-brand of my theatre company, Dream Academy, the creators and producers of Dim Sum Dollies. Originally intended to be Singapore's answer to off-Broadway, it has since taken on an art and party format. It also allows Dream Academy to explore projects apart from our stable of comedy based shows. The Henderson Project's goal is really to entertain, enrich and engage its community with a collaborative, inquisitive, inclusive and collective spirit of open arms, minds and hearts.
One More Time is such a huge undertaking. What inspired you to take on this project and why do you think it's so important for Singaporeans to experience it?
I think most of us have fond memories of Jiak Kim Street, whether it was in the club or bonding at the pavement outside. It was our cultural community centre for 25 years, an art museum even before SAM or National Gallery came along and most importantly, it was our music academy. It is only right that we mark this milestone and the end of that road with a celebration that it deserves. It's a party that cannot be the same, yet keeps the same spirit of the Jiak Kim Street years. So what better way to assault the aural senses than with a live performance that takes their familiar favourites out of their comfort zones? We'll be making them more majestic and at the same time, do the same thing that Jiak Kim Street did: To move a tribe to dance as one.
How will this differ from performances by other dance music/orchestra collaborations like those that have been done by the likes of Pete Tong and Goldie?
I was there at the Goldie concert in 2014, and that's when I also realised that we do not celebrate or give our local music icons enough platforms to express themselves. So I guess the first biggest difference is that it will be a concert that is for Singapore and Singaporeans. After all, we have Maniam on tabla, Bloco Singapura as guest percussionists as well as X'Ho (for a particular Faithless song) and also Alemay Fernandez, Vanessa Fernandez, Hazrul Nizam and Rani Singham on vocals. They are the best singers in Singapore with very wide ranges and the ability to interpret and sing from the soul.
"House music brought hope to a generation of club goers. Music generally has this ability to inspire and uplift. Presented in a different way, it can also give perspective. We will bring people interested in electronic and classical music together" - singer and songwriter, Vanessa Fernandez
You've got a lot of industry heavyweights on board: Yourself, the founder and director of Dream Academy, Najip Ali as creative consultant, Aldrin as concert director and Indra Ismail as conductor. What did each of you bring to the table and has it been challenging having that many creatives working together?
Everyone brings something to the table of course that's what makes this table so vibrant and full. Najip's history with the club, being there from day one (and even before, at Lincoln's warehouse parties), brings a perspective on the club that none of the rest have experienced. He has almost become the defacto Zouk observer and spokesperson every time an outsider's point of view is required, being the first person after Lincoln that is quoted in both coffee table books of the club.
Aldrin lives and breathes music and he was a resident for 10 years at Zouk. He is perfect for this role as apart from the fact that he knows Zouk's music inside out, he also has music theory background and a good ear, so he is able to really direct how Indra is putting the orchestration together. Indra has been conducting orchestra for many years and comes from a notable musical family. He is no stranger to the use of an orchestra, but his strength is in the groove. He's puting together the rhythm section, which is so critical as he needs this groove to make sure everyone's dancing.
How involved was Zouk with this event?
They were kind enough to let us use their name for one! More importantly, they have contributed a bit to the enormous production budget and have given us some marketing support.
Lincoln Cheng is credited as the main sponsor, what has been his role in One More Time?
His belief in the project, his leap of faith in allowing The Henderson Project to produce it, his generosity both with his time and money, and most importantly, his passion for the music and Zouk is priceless. He is a great man of music who brought house music to Singapore and in this project marking a milestone in Singapore history, he has put his money where his heart is.
Many might be thinking that this is going to be similar to a night with the SSO, just with different music, can you give a more accurate description of what people can expect?
Selena: I have to let Aldrin answer that actually but when I heard the mix, it got me all excited and made me want to dance!
Aldrin: We're recreating a club environment inside the Capitol Theatre so it's not going to be a sit down affair! There'll be a huge dance floor front and centre, disco lights and lazers above, with bars flanking by the sides, so expect to be on your feet dancing from the get go!
25 years of house music distilled into 90 minutes seems like an impossible task. How are you deciding on what makes the cut and can you give us a sneak peak into a few of the tracks that people can expect to hear?
Aldrin: Not an easy task at all! I had to go through my own vinyl, cd and mp3 collection to sift out the tracks that I felt were Zouk's biggest anthems between 1991 to 2015. I also did a lot of research on the biggest dance tracks globally for each of those years. I had to make sure music from all four rooms —Zouk's main room, Velvet Underground, Phuture & Wine Bar — were represented. The Facebook group Balearic:Zouk was a great resource for an insight to the variety of tracks that touched so many clubbers in so many different ways.
As my approach to the concert is to recreate a club atmosphere, so instead of playing one track at a time, I opted for a non-stop DJ mix, a chronological story of the club's anthems. Hence only about 30 tracks made the final list, as I had to make sure the songs flowed together as seamlessly as possible, building a proper journey, with a beginning and an ending, plus loads of accents in between. As for the final song list.... not letting the cat out of the bag! But for the after-party I'll feature a playlist of tracks that didn't quite make the cut!
Is it part of your mission to introduce new audiences to classical music?
Yes definitely. Everywhere around the world, the classical music world seems to be suffering from a falling audience. Does that make classical musica irrelevant? I don't think so. We may not know it but we all grew up with classical music: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all classical tunes. At the end of the day, music is music if it moves you.
If you could give our readers one reason why this is a performance they cannot miss, what would it be?
Lincoln Cheng: How often have you seen dance music performed with classical instruments and classically trained artistes? Most people say it can't be done. But this is exactly what we are attempting, trying to do the impossible, especially using only local and regional artistes. How good the result is for you to see during the two concerts. To achieve this is a very costly exercise because it is not just a band or DJ concert, we have to hire 50 over musicians and have many rehearsals in order for them to have the confidence to perform to the public as a single unit. This is a non-profit event just to prove something with our blood, sweat and tears. So for those with who are musically inclined with an open mind or simply curious, this is the concert for you.
Alemay Fernandez: Taking live music and transforming it into an electronic medium, especially in the world of dance music, has been wildly popular for the longest time. So it's really refreshing to see the reverse happening with The Henderson Project. Taking the most beloved electronic music and having it performed live by an orchestra is a bold and exciting undertaking to say the least! As a jazz singer, getting to combine my old school vocal style with dance music is an opportunity that rarely comes along, so being part of the Henderson Project is a real treat! I'm really looking forward to this uniquely intricate and special experience.
Aldrin: A 50-piece orchestra, 25 years of dance music, the iconic Capitol Theatre, massive dance floor, disco lights & lazers, alcohol & merry making, not done before in the world! How could you miss it?
One More Time - A Tribute to Zouk at Jiak Kim Street takes place at Capitol Theatre on 24 and 25 March at 8.30pm. Get your tickets here.