Pandemic fears slash city nightlife and music scene

Kuala Lumpur’s vibrant nightlife scene has been badly hit by the Covid-19 virus. (AFP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The weekend has arrived, but don’t expect to find the usual eager throngs of bar-hoppers crowding nightclubs in KL tonight.

The Social, a bar and restaurant with six branches, has seen a “significant drop” of about 25-30% in customers, with numerous functions and events cancelled due to nervousness about Covid-19.

As the pandemic spreads around the world, more and more music festivals, tours and concerts are being cancelled or rescheduled to later in the year.

In Malaysia, popular live music venue The Bee in Publika Mall has been forced to postpone two concerts this month.

Kenny G, Jay Chou and Super Junior are among stars who have put their concerts on hold in Kuala Lumpur, a city known for its world-class entertainment offerings.

The city’s vibrant nightlife scene, which plays a key role in driving the country’s tourism, hospitality and Food & Beverage industries is also badly hit.

“The impact is real,” said veteran DJ Bryan Burger. “There’s been a 30% drop in clubbers since the beginning of March, and things will soon be worse if the outbreak continues.”

Victor Goh, a local DJ for 20 years, said he noticed a drop in customers when the first wave of positive Covid-19 cases emerged in Malaysia at the end of January.

A deejay mixing at LeNoir in Kuala Lumpur. (LeNoir pic)

“There was a slight drop in numbers then, but it seems like the situation isn’t getting any better.”

He lamented how numerous DJs are cancelling tours because of travel bans, which also put at risk the international acts slated to play at venues across the city.

The RM20 billion economic stimulus package announced by former interim prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Feb 27 does not specifically make any concessions for the nightlife industry, but Goh said that any sector affected by Covid-19 should benefit from the package.

As well as the DJs, musicians, singers and other onstage talent the nightlife industry employs, it also provides a living for an army of promoters, managers, security guards, bartenders, waiters and other workers toiling offstage, away from the spotlight.

Even without falling prey to the virus, they are all becoming victims of the spread of Covid-19.

“The stimulus shouldn’t be used to organise more events but to help affected employees,” said Goh. “Workers income is being jeopardised.”

Limited operating hours have forced many clubs to resort to more creative marketing tactics to bring in the punters.

Veteran deejay Bryan Burger expects things to get worse as the Covid-19 virus takes more victims.

Le Noir KL, a popular 3-storey alfresco bar and nightclub in the TREC (Taste, Relish Experience, Celebrate) entertainment district in Jalan Tun Razak now has two Happy Hour promotions a day – something unheard of just weeks ago.

Venotharaj Armugam, Le Noir KL’s entertainment manager, admitted the 40-50% drop in customer numbers since February could be because of Covid-19.

Just two streets away from the tourist hotspot of Changkat Bukit Bintang is trendy nightclub Pisco Bar, popular for its Spanish and Peruvian menu. It has hosted countless cocktail parties and live music performances since opening in 2013.

Co-owner Nicolas Fraile said Pisco Bar has seen only a “slight decrease” in numbers and has not yet devised any promotions to counter Covid-19 fears.

“It’s still too early to judge as we’ve somehow been spared from this state of alarm,” he said.

“Yes people are concerned, but they still go out.”