Charcoal fumes, underscored by heavy notes of fish sauce, Thai chilli, and lard, envelop RICE Media’s crew as we enter Golden Mile Complex on a rainy Saturday evening.
Under greying clouds and constant rain, the building’s brutalist style stands harshly opposed to chic glass skyscrapers a mere 10-minute walk away. Ancient apartments rest above the shopping centre. They’re stacked upon each other; their arrangement reminiscent of Thailand’s rice terraces.
Come May 2023, the same delicious fumes will evacuate the complex, along with the building’s tenants who will have to vacate their stalls, offices and homes.
After years of repeated attempts to go en bloc, Golden Mile Complex will finally be handed over to developers at the price of $700 million. It’s been decades since it lost its shiny post-independence lustre—the building as we know of today is shakily held together by history, heritage and sentimentality.
But before then, there are parties to attend here.
DJs, partymakers and partygoers seized the opportunity to bid Golden Mile Complex farewell in their own way. 13 electronic music collectives united for an event called The Last Mile, an aptly-named final hurrah for a place that has long been a landmark in the hearts of Singapore’s creative communities.
Tonight’s presentation: Five concurrent dance parties, scattered throughout the complex’s bars, clubs, KTVs and studios. A single ticket grants entry to all.
I’ve only visited Golden Mile twice in my 24 years of existence—once to scour the Thai supermarket’s aisles for edible insects (I failed) and the other time is now.
Golden Mile Complex’s crowd was completely different from my first visit. Back then, aunties decked in batik blouses and slippers combed through the complex’s different provision shops for groceries. Young couples shuffled towards eateries for a quick bite before a movie at The Projector next door.
Now, shuttered metal gates stand in place of the provision shops. Aunties carrying red plastic bags of Thai fruits and vegetables are nowhere to be found. The young Singaporeans and expats I see today are dressed for a party.
Funnily enough, middle-aged uncles nursing bottles of beer are the only common thread between my visits then and now.
7:00 PM, The Pre-Party
I’m determined to prevent a sequel to one of my greatest public embarrassments (dead drunk and sprawled along the streets of Clarke Quay). I’ve been cautious, controlled, and more than a little awkward when it comes to partying ever since. Perhaps, Golden Mile’s last hurrah would be the first time I let loose again.
Registration began outside Elite Club. On any other day, the place would have been a Thai Disco for Golden Mile Complex’s regular connoisseurs. But tonight, the club hosts Ice Cream Sundays, Darker Than Wax, and Mugic—all familiar names in Singapore’s alternative party scene.
It takes mere seconds to tell whether someone’s here for The Last Mile. Club-ready outfits stand out against the milieu of shorts, slippers, and fake Louis Vuitton T-shirts. A queue forms outside Elite Club to puzzled stares from regular (and much older) patrons.
Middle-aged men congregate around tables full of half-empty beer bottles. Families strolled through the complex looking for Thai restaurants with reasonably short queues.
I found myself at one of those restaurants: Flying Pig.
The crab cakes, sambal kang kong, and pad thai were great. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to properly savour the food; I was distracted. Every so often, my editor-in-chief, Ilyas, would leave the table to greet a friend. I was almost certain he hijacked the guest list and invited everyone he knew.
I, on the other hand, was a far cry from Mr Popular. The only friend I recognised at Golden Mile Complex was my social anxiety.
I tried as best as I could to relish what would be my last meal before I got thrown to the wolves on the dancefloors. After all, I’ll never know when I’ll have the chance to eat at the Flying Pig after Golden Mile Complex shuts down.
And when it does shut down for good, businesses like Flying Pig will have to find another place to call home. But no other place will fit a Thai restaurant as perfectly as Singapore’s Little Thailand; other shops will follow Golden Mile Complex’s footsteps and permanently shut down as well.
At least the convenience store owners were having a field day from partygoers looking to get their last sips of water before the parties began proper.
8:30 PM, North East Social Club
Ilyas whisks me away to a venue on the fourth floor, hosted by North East Social Club. The queue moves anxiously forward, eager to dive into a party that had already started about an hour ago.
There is a palpable sense of openness and freedom in The Last Mile. Attendees can easily walk out of a venue, grab dinner at one of the complex’s late-night eateries, and pop into another party.
All of this without having to worry about where to hide their unfinished alcohol (just finish your beers and/or Strong Zeros before entering) or which cover charge offers the best bang for their buck.
Away with stuffy club rules. The entire complex is now transformed into a vertical theme park for party-goers.
A display of antique televisions from the electrifying backdrop to the Lim Brothers Travel’s DJ set. They (the TVs, not the DJs) look as if they’d been there since Golden Mile Complex’s opening in 1973.
Unfortunately, Ilyas and Steph discover that I had planted myself at the back of an inconspicuous corner. They tow me to the middle of the dancefloor.
Any sense of rhythm or movement left my body as soon as I enter the dancefloor. The crowd: Ready to get things started. Me: Ready to sink into the floor.
“Can you give me more movement?” Steph shouts, bulky camera in hand. I pretend not to hear. Loud music is as good a card as any to play in my time of desperation. “More movement!” she yells again, but this time with a frustration that sliced through the music’s volume.
I make some semblance of movement.
“More passion!” a stranger to my right walks up to me and shouts. Oh, I’m in the weeds now. You know you’re doing badly when a stranger has taken a personal interest in you.
“More passion!” he commanded again. “More!”
No getting out of this one now.
I step back and forth—all while reminding myself not to make eye contact with my newly minted dance mentor. I shuffled around until he left. Maybe he’s seen enough.
9:17 PM, At Full Swing, The Sights and Sounds of Golden Mile Complex
I need a change of scenery. More importantly, I need another dose of liquid courage if I was ever going to be more “passionate” for the party.
The Thai restaurants face another wave of customers. But this time, it was a different demographic. Golden Mile had transformed from an off-beat hangout to a place better aligned with its infamous reputation.
The Thai Discos uninvolved with The Last Mile were in full swing. Middle-aged men ambled between tables, greeting old friends and shouting out drink orders. A man, probably in his 50s, sits at the edge of a table in a drunken stupor; his knowledge of Hokkien expletives is on full display. Passers-by avoided the vicinity as if he projected an invisible force field around himself.
Now this is Golden Mile Complex.
9:32 PM, Good Times
“Perhaps, you need a challenge or just someone to dance with,” Ilyas suggests as we move past the drunks and into Purnrao KTV on the second floor. The Good Times collective is in charge. The party had gained a good momentum by this point.
People shuffle, jostle and bop amidst the mass of bodies in the cosy venue. Those who weren’t feeling the music left as quickly as they came, perhaps in search of a party with something more in their cup of tea. I’m no music expert, but I believe a hybrid tropical-house-funk mix is playing over the speakers.
“Go make friends,” Steph orders. I felt like a child on his first day of primary school as I took up a vacant seat in the middle of the dance floor. I figured it would be immensely awkward for me to interrupt their good time to strike up a conversation. No dice.
10:15 PM, Reprieve
Perhaps it’s time for more alcohol and a break from all the moving around. I wasn’t the only one that thought so. Last Milers (you can tell by the yellow wristbands) filtered out from the entrance and onto the iconic stretch of Golden Mile Complex.
It’s quiet, aside from some chatter among the smokers. The excitement tapers quickly when you step outside. The merrymaking thins out when you leave the complex; a sombre air takes its place. It’s a jarring contrast.
A man—presumably a tenant—walks to a four-faced Buddha statue watching the entrance of Golden Mile Complex. Elephant figurines stand guard over the Budhha statue. Surrounding lights elevate the statue to regal status.
Muffled shouts from one of the party venues leave the entrance and dissolve into the humid air. The man pays no attention to the noise. He steadies himself before bowing to the statue.
The statue will have to move as well when this place goes.
12:00 AM, One Last Try
We stumble back into Golden Mile Complex after some time outside chatting with a few other random party-goers and downing a few more drinks. I have no clear memory of what happens after this.
One hazy memory: Someone shouting “Fuck the press!” when he walked past—only to turn the corner and see Steph and her camera.
“We’re the press. Well, sort of,” I offer.
He laughs. “Why do you need a dedicated photographer? You’re not that handsome,” he says.
Party-goers are growing restless; all venues are at full capacity. Long, unmoving lines form outside each venue.
The staircases are perpetually full of different patrons walking up and down. I overhear people offering opinions about the different parties, making recommendations on where to go next if they can’t get in.
I got in line to enter 3 Saap KTV. After a good five minutes, I realised our media passes let us skip the queues. Not before making an acquaintance of course.
2:19 AM, Mugic
The alcohol is finally working its magic on me. I’m now at Elite Club, the first venue we checked out when we first arrived. Sequined garlands hung on the walls of the Thai disco.
Stray strobe lights flickered and danced along the club’s surfaces. Occasionally, they’d shine on the garlands. Those garlands were the main attraction on any other day; tonight, no one paid them any heed.
In a life-comes-full-circle moment, I ended the night where I started—at Elite Club. When I first entered at the beginning of the night, I had a reasonably high level of inhibition. Not anymore.
3:00 AM, IT’S A WRAP
My colleague, Alistair, is slung over the railings on an upper floor when I stumble out of Elite Club. I wonder what he’d been up to the whole night, especially after some of the party venues started closing their doors.
The complex, however, remains abuzz with activity. The police are showing up as well. Some station themselves around looking to break up fights between patrons who downed one too many drinks. The other cops are free-ranging patrollers.
It seems as if they already know where to go, like they’ve been here often.
All I can say about The Last Mile is that it’s a sentimental, fitting send-off to the Golden Mile Complex. From a pre-party at a family-run Thai restaurant to ending the night on grimy floors, The Last Mile delivered a tapestry of Golden Mile experiences condensed into a single night.
It was quintessential Golden Mile—an introduction to the complex for first-timers and a homage to years of debauchery and cultural experiences at the place.
The same partygoers I’ve interacted with tonight might not have been regulars. Music collectives can probably find some other space for pop-up events when the complex closes for good.
But for one night, Golden Mile Complex—partygoers, regular patrons, and devotees—was distilled into its essence as a cultural landmark forever etched in Singapore’s collective memory.
It’s only fitting that the youth of Singapore could also make one last run down one last mile.