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Niche was a gay disco located on level 5 of Far East Plaza.

It opened in April 1983 to cash in on the popularity of Marmota, a gay disco at Kallang Leisuredrome on the outskirts of the city area. The proprietor Bernard who set up Niche probably thought that a more centrally located gay disco would draw in larger crowds, especially since they noted that the management and patrons at Marmota were not harassed by the police.

Prior to the 1980s, venues such as Pebble Bar were forbidden to have men dancing with each other but with the relaxation of this arbitrary rule at gay discos located away from the city area like The Hangar along Upper East Coast Road and Marmota at Kallang Leisuredrome, entrepreneurs were keen to test the waters in a more central location.

Niche was patronised by a more English-educated crowd than Marmota. As such, it played only English-language dance music and none of the cha-cha songs that occasionally used to be spun at Marmota. Niche was also a milestone and breakthrough in that it was able to operate as a full-time gay disco, catering to a gay clientele on every night of the week unlike Marmota, which was only gay on Sundays. One of its innovations was the installation of expensive high-fidelity plasma speakers which Atlas Sound was the first to market in Singapore. This was in contrast to the cone diaphragm loudspeakers found in all other discos. The then novel plasma speakers required a bulky helium tank to be installed next to them to produce sound! Although they performed excellently in an audio showroom, the speakers were not as suited to a disco where conventional cone loudspeakers delivered a more punchy sound conducive to dancing, so they were eventually replaced. Niche existed for a few years before closing down in the mid-1980s. Its proprietor Bernard later opened the karaoke bar Inner Circle along Tanjong Pagar Road in the early 1990s.

Russell Heng painted the political background which played a part in the liberalisation that enabled Niche to operate[1]. In 1981, J.B. Jeyaretnam, the then leader of the Workers' Party won the Anson by-election, breaking the 100% monopoly of Parliamentary seats held by the People's Action Party (PAP) for a good one and half decades. When Niche opened in 1983, it was just one year before the historic 1984 general elections where 10% of the popular vote swung against the PAP. It gave the party a jolt and made its leaders realise that their old way of talking down to people could not continue. This political shift was credited to a younger generation of voters coming on to the scene who were better educated and informed than their parents. Thus "liberalisation" came into the political vocabulary of Singapore and in the second half of the 1980s was given more form and profile by Goh Chok Tong, the man who would succeed Lee Kuan Yew. This was the sort of socio-politico-economic environment that gave birth to Niche.

Several years later, another gay club bearing the same name opened in a multistorey shophouse unit at 32 Pagoda Street in Chinatown. Initially, it only had 3 rooms but no dance floor. Later, a dance floor was set up on level 2 and it became a disco, like its predecessor. The same unit was subsequently taken over by Absolute sauna and is currently occupied by Ten Mens Club, another gay sauna.

This second incarnation of Niche in Chinatown had its liquor license withdrawn in 1989 and was given only a week to close down. No reason was provided for the police action but a person, personally involved in the running of the disco, believed it was a reaction to the first reported AIDS death in Singapore in April 1987 (see main article: Earliest cases of HIV/AIDS in Singapore).

See also[]

References[]

  • Russell Heng, "Where queens ruled! - a history of gay venues in Singapore", Yawning Bread, August 2005[2].
  • June Lee and Gary Kitching, "A contradiction in terms", I-S Magazine (reprinted by Fridae), 17 September 2004, [3].

Acknowledgements[]

This article was written by Roy Tan.

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