Addie Low is a reluctant hero, of sorts. The co-founder at the helm of Taboo, a mainstay establishment in the alternative nightlife scene in Singapore and second-oldest dance club after Zouk, is circumspect about brandishing the flag of the gay movement locally, in too-overt a manner.
That is not to say he does not want to be a part of the change that he would like to see. Far from it, as in reality, he has helped to make significant inroads in the bid to foster understanding and acceptance across the board.
However, he also says much progress can be made behind the scenes as well, and a more tempered approach suits his personality better besides. With a gentle and kindly demeanour, it is clearly apparent Low believes that speaking softly – and without brandishing a big stick – is the way forward, when it comes to the gay community being integrated fully into all aspects of society in Singapore.
A fixture on the nightlife and fashion scene here (he also owns NOW Model Management) the businessman is both candid and funny at the same time. He intersperses a strong point, on the need to co-exist despite differences that may exist, with quiet humour throughout the interview. It is easy to see why he has an obvious likeability, and has been at the forefront of the nightlife scene here. To him, the success of Taboo has never been something he has taken for granted. He credits this is part to shifting tides and a growing acknowledgment of the need to respect differing views and approaches to life.
Taboo just turned 15 years old recently, and its role in the alternative diaspora in Singapore – as well as its longevity in a highly-cyclical industry – makes the establishment one of the standout success stories in the F&B scene. At the same time, Low and his partners know that although it is about having fun, it is also about bridging the divide that exists between the gay community and those who oppose homosexual lifestyles.
“Singapore has come along pretty well with acceptance. But in all aspects of life and society, with different groups, there will still be some who say no – so respect their views. Why push them to accept something that they are not ready to accept? So I think in that aspect, every individual – regardless of whether they are gay or heterosexual – has to respect one another and there must always be a comfort zone.”
Most recently, in addition to the 15-year milestone it achieved, Taboo was also host to another celebration: the launch of volume 3 in the Nightlife Confidential series. This is a collection that provides an insider’s look into all things entertainment, by husband-and-wife writing team, Ivan Lim and Cara Van Miriah.
Called ‘Ready To Wear’, this latest book is rife with humourous, insightful takes on the behind-the-scenes machinations and machinery that is Singapore nightlife, with a focus on fashion – and a lack thereof, at times. Both Lim and Van Miriah are journalists, and the couple’s lexicon of all things entertainment and nightlife is staggering. Ask them, and they will tell you all about it, with their own unique take on what makes the scene here special.
To them, choosing Taboo as the venue for the launch was a happy marriage of opportunity and circumstance. This was an alliance of the flamboyant and avant-garde, meets literati, and Van Miriah says the choice was clear.
“This book would be the most colourful of the three so far. We did the launch at Taboo because it has a certain culture of fashion that’s very associated. It’s very flamboyant, colourful, avant-garde – it represents all that. The collaboration is interesting also because we are also bringing people into a place where some people have never been before. So there’s a lot of curiosity. It was a very good energy, and we could see the synergy from there.”
In volume 3, you will find wit and insight, combined with the unique vantage point of the industry that comes with having all-access, as the couple does. You can read about the visage that greets you at venues like Taboo, The Vault, Zouk and The Butter Factory – from those who dress to the nines, all the way down to those who do not dress at all, in any real sense of the word.
Lim reveals that it wasn’t just his wife and himself who wanted to hold the launch at Taboo. Title sponsor Chivas 12 was also a strong proponent, and arriving at the decision was easy enough for all of them.
“When Addie set up the club, he just wanted a club where gay people can feel comfortable, I think that’s where he was coming from. It was not to promote an alternative lifestyle, it was to promote a party lifestyle – not to promote a kind of orientation, or push a gay agenda. So, that is what I have always felt about his club. Which is why when the name Taboo came up for us to host, have it at the place, we said yes!”
He also reveals that there was an effort on the part of the team to allay any possible concerns – from all sides.
“To prepare my friends for this occasion, I sort of dubbed Taboo as a ‘straight-friendly’ gay club! In a sense that they would not mind you, you see, for your orientation. You will not be discriminated against, just because you’re straight. It’s a reverse discrimination that we are trying to dispel as well.”
To Low, the public reception to Taboo and other such establishments have been welcome, and he says he appreciates the support of the larger community.
“Nobody stops you from doing anything personal, so just continue with your life. I have a different mantle of educating the public. That’s why I always say. I use my friends like Cara and Ivan as my ambassadors. With that essence, I think it works very well and I will still continue to do it that way. So maybe some will see me as very passive or submissive, but I tell them you are wrong. It is more important that we cultivate understanding among all parties. With that said, I think the whole thing is coming along quite well.”
Say what you will, Addie Low has undoubtedly been a champion of gay rights and creating awareness on this issue for the last 15 years. However, although he’s no retiring wallflower, he says he is not about to pick up the gauntlet in what might be construed as an aggressive manner. For Low, there are other ways to bring home the message of acceptance.
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