The O.P.E.N.: Inside Club Malam

The O.P.E.N.: Inside Club Malam

And dance, we did

Text: Denise Kok

Image: The O.P.E.N.

The opening night of Club Malam saw the old Kallang Airport transformed into a raw rojak of music, light, and vintage throwbacks

6.30pm: After making an illegal two-lane swerve from Nicoll Highway into Sims Way, my cab finally pulls up at the old Kallang Airport. The NETS terminal gurgles, it can't seem to detect a working connection. While we wait, taxi uncle peers at the gate and says: "This one new club ah? Since when they open? Why open so early? Better than Zouk or not?". 

6.40pm: Next to the driveway, twelve concrete mixers toil away, forming a curious crop circle of disgruntled debris, all churning with dissonant ease. Yes, it's art (Clockwork), one conceived by Julius von Bismarck and Julian Charriere. No one lingers to watch. Many walk straight on. Some pause to watch 10 men scurry to manually move wooden planks such that they form the digits on an oversized analog clock. The brainchild behind this almost sadistic work of art? Mark Formanek. 

Speak Cryptic's The Tribe

7pm: 100 performers in monochrome and origami headgear move through two storeys of the former airport's historic Terminal building. Speak Cryptic's The Tribe has begun. Electro-joget plays on as micro scenes unfurl at random. Three ladies draw me into a game of cards. We don't speak. We communicate through the flick of a wrist, wink of the eye. A girl holds an illuminated plastic bottle over our oversized cards, casting a worried eye before slinking away. Behind us, the wall is filled with spinning durgas, plastic chairs hurling through space like meteorites, and a torrential rain of tabby cats — all visual projections by media artist Eugene Soh. I follow the fairy lights up the curved stairwell, where more characters — apparently modelled after Speak Cryptic's drawings — gather for a storytelling session. It lasts no more than five minutes and the group disperses as quickly as it assembled. It's a non-linear performance held together by multiple storylines, one reminiscent of Sleep No More, an immersive theatre experience I caught in New York.

As I'm taking my notes, a man slides in next to me. So close I can feel the heat from his body. He's a performer too, one that has taken it upon himself to mimic my every move. Here, there are no boundaries between performer and viewer. In the absence of a script, the gaze of the viewer is returned in equal measure. It's all highly interactive. Let the tribe lead you into dance, a game or two, or unexplored territory — it's all a playful masquerade. 


8pm: Senyawa takes to the stage. When the two-man band from Jogjakarta makes an appearance, the heavens part. Rully Shabara's vocal range is nothing short of incredible. From gutteral growls echoing the tradition of Mongolian throat singing to delicate falsettos that seem to float through the air, Shabara's intensity grips you from the start. Banshee-like shrieks punctuate the performance while instrumentalist Wukir Suryadi completes the dialogue with multiple self-made instruments, the most intriguing being the bamboo wukir, a stringed bamboo contraption tethered to an amplifier. The sounds issuing forth mimic the tabla, sitar, and electric guitar all at once. Live loops combined with an array of pedal work multiply the presence of this inventive duo. Their music has been described as punk, jazz, rock, heavy metal, and tribal — but it truly defies naming or convention. 


920pm. The dance floor fills up when NADA begins to play, reviving the melodies of Bunga Tanjong at New World Park and Gay World's ronggeng bandstands. It's coy, cloyingly melodic, but so much fun to dance to. Set against media artist Brandon Tay's amorphic visual projections, it's easy to hit a happy high on campy beats, but also trip out on Southeast Asian aural culture given a good whirl of electro.

Club Malam plays on for two more nights from 8 to 9 July at the Old Kallang Airport. Free admission with O.P.E.N. Pass. For more information, click here.