Callen Tham

I came from Sabah to KL around 1991. I was already a DJ then. I was studying graphic design but I worked at night.

When I arrived in KL most of the clubs were in bungalows. During those days, Jalan Pinang and Jalan P Ramlee were there, near the race course, before KLCC. A lot of old bungalows were converted into clubs – Betel Nut, Tin Mine, The Turf.

In PJ, there was DV8, the Caesar club. A lot of people liked to go to DV8. The stewardesses would hang out there because the airport was in Subang.

Bob Wong was the original owner of Zouk Singapore. Bob Wong is the king of clubs. How it all started is that his first club in KL was Eleven LA which later became Boom Boom Room. He owned Faces. After that he ventured into Zouk. The Zouk partnership didn’t last very long. He returned and opened Voodoo which had elements of Zouk Singapore.

 

Not many people have the right mindset to run a club.

 

 

The problem with KL was then as now, whenever a new club opens, people go to the new clubs. When Voodoo opened, Eleven LA seemed a bit outdated and so he renamed it LA Steel to revive the club. Most of the core crowd were at Voodoo, the young people, the movers and shakers.

Voodoo was playing early techno stuff, the 2 Unlimiteds, very pop but dance-y. LA Steel was playing pretty much everything, even Sheila Majid, Zainal Abidin, RnB, hip hop and early house.

Later LA Steel became Boom Boom Room – a brand from Singapore, run by Kumar. Boom Boom Room rented the lease from a church. Why it was hot at the time: downstairs it had hip hop RnB and upstairs it had a cabaret show. It was a sort of underground scene with alternative people. Girls liked it because it was safe, they could wear whatever they wanted. A very racially mixed crowd there.

Boom Boom Room came in because of the cabaret influence. Joanne Kam was the first host. Later they changed hosts to Bibi Kaypoh. It closed in the late nineties.

Baze and Scandals were very big too. In the early nineties, Baze was known for soul, RnB and hip hop.

All the rave parties started in 1996. Because they had opened Arena as well. I know Boom Boom Room was struggling after that. A lot of the kids had first ventured into clubs with Boom Boom Room before getting into raves.

Not many people have the right mindset to run a club. They got extra money but are they really into the business? If they open it just because they like money, that is a different mode. Do you actually know how to run a club? It’s not an easy business.

I was part of a party organiser team called Tempo which brought in international DJs. Echo in Bangsar was one of the first ‘pre club bars’. You go there before going to a club. But a lot of people ended up ending their night at Echo too. Usually we would do the DJ pre-events at Echo, a special appearance.

My friends in Shanghai were organising their own parties. The idea of using a club to organise their own party was alien here but this was happening elsewhere. The idea for organising parties came to me then.

During 1994, 1995, clubs had to close at 1am. Because of that, a lot of parties were moved into private homes. That’s how the underground parties started. And the influx of expats was tremendous with KLIA and Putrajaya being built. A lot of foreigners were living here and started their own parties. Then there was the raves, like the Pudu Prison party organised by Yee I-Lann and Nani Kahar.

Back in the 1980s, people in KL travelled all the way to Ipoh for tea dances – there was a very famous one called Apple Jam. There was Cinta in Rasa Sayang Penang. People travelled from all over Malaysia for their tea dance [a party that ran from 2pm – 7pm]. The room was so packed that it started to rain from the ceiling from sweat and heat.

 

We found out Singapore was selling this record, we’d take the bus there to buy it.

 

Now, T shirts and jeans are the norm. But back then, people really tried to dress up. When going to a rave, people planned for months what to wear, they made their own outfits. Halloween, we made our own costumes.

No internet, no Kinokuniya, magazines brought in were three months old. As a DJ you didn’t know where to learn these things. How we did it, sometimes we had friends coming back from England with Radio 1 tapes. We found out Singapore was selling this record, we’d take the bus there to buy it. We’d play it to death because it might take us 8 months to buy another one.

We would play one song every night maybe three, four times for six months to build it into a big track. Nowadays, this week’s music maybe tomorrow people don’t play already. Production of music is so fast. That’s why then you had classics, now you hardly see classics. People are impatient.

In the KL club scene there is no continuation, that’s the problem.

The scale of parties now is so different. When Tempo first did Ministry of Sound at Elephant Lagoon it was  9000 people and we were mindblown. Our first party was only 2000 people we were like “Wah, can die.” Now it’s like “If you don’t have 20,000 people, don’t talk to me lah.”

Callen Tham is a DJ, party organiser and graphic designer; as well as the founder of Bild Creative.

Interview by Ling Low

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