Insatiable egomasochist Dave Durbach goes looking for cheap thrills on the mean streets of the Mother City.
For those looking for a gateway into one might generalise shamelessly as ?Asian culture?, the most accessible to us must be martial arts, manga, sweatshop-cheap clothes and expensive raw fish. Besides these four, what else is there, really? And seeing as though rice-paper underpants are hard to come by, when you?re hungry, only one of these is ever going to satisfy.
Fortunately, places like the Empire in Sea Point have all-you-can-eat-sushi for under a hundred bucks. The more you eat, I figure, the more you save. And the more you save, the more you can spend on beer and saki. The logic seemed sound at the time.
Taking this into account, as well as the impromptu pre-match frozen margaritas, I?m feeling well-oiled by the time 10pm rolls around on this fateful Friday night. And judging by the looks of the others at my table, the feeling is a mutual one. And then suddenly, through the wasabi-tinged haze, a call to arms rings out, simultaneously signalling a fifth and final element to our conundrum. Karaoke, anyone?
Primed for performance, we arrive at our first stop, Cape Karaoke, just a little further down the Main Road. The guy at the door doesn?t argue when we refuse to pay the twenty-buck cover, because the place is emptier than a hole with nothing in it. The hostess-manager-waitress automatron sits bored behind the front desk. Nearby, two other women (one the ?lighting technician?, apparently) sit staring at us, unimpressed. There?s no music at all, let alone singing, and all the lights are on. Jeez, no one here is even Asian. (The place is Asian-owned, though, I?m later informed).
Anyway, at least the prices are Asian. When I sit down and order a beer, I?m met with a dubious ?Wouldn?t you like to know how much they cost first?? Never a good sign.
Please, do I look like I can?t afford it? (Wait, don?t answer that).
?How much for a Black Label?? I ask the ?tron.
?Fifteen Rand,? she answers, cringing sympathetically.
?OK,? I tell her. But it?s coming outtaya tip, lady.
I get up, take a walk around. A couple of private rooms, each with a ring of seats around huge stage-like tables, and big screen TVs. The manager is quick to reassure me that they?re seldom this empty on a Friday night. MTVBase packed the place out a few weeks ago, she tells me. Now that?s something, isn?t it? (Don?t answer that, either).
But I?m just not feeling it. Russian roulette on the song menu draws ?I?m a Slave 4U.? Up on stage, it doesn?t take long for me to realise I don?t actually know any of the words beyond the chorus, and having them up on the screen doesn?t seem to help. I find my feet glued to the floor, unable to produce any distracting dance moves. I smell myself stink. It?s fine, though, I tell myself, the song deserves no justice. And in this place, who cares? Looking around, it?s hardly like the atmosphere is conducive to letting it all hang out. Really, the only redeeming features of this sorry setup are the rad tambourines and an impossibly confusing toy-store remote control with a built-in applause button.
Just when our night seems to have come prematurely (how embarrassing) to an end, three guys and a woman, all middle-aged, waltz in. The one guy, clearly the instigator, is loving it ? howling, grimacing and pointing, Travolta-style. He pounces on the stage and mutilates ?Hard Day?s Night,? his short-panted, croc-footed accomplice singing backup. Things really turn ugly when Travolta goes solo with ?You are My Sunshine?. On the bright side, though, now that there are others, we don?t feel guilty getting the hell outta there.
Lower Loop Street has a little strip of Asian bars and clubs. It?s like an alternate universe compared to what one usually finds on the main Long Street strip not too far away. Among these places, Kowloon, or Disco K, is a double-storey karaoke bar with an adjoining techno dancefloor. Upon entering, the smug bouncer sneers at us as if we?re intruding. Maybe it?s because the only non-Asian, non-sailors that ever come here, once every month, are lumo-clad trendoids hooked on 90?s techno in that retro-ironic way. So no wonder he?s sceptical. We must be up to no good.
“This is the real deal. Trying to fit in, I think to myself, now, if I?d been at sea for months and got a rare night off on dry land, there would be just two things on my mind – getting fucked, and getting fucked. This is the place to do both.”
Playing it cool, as always, I chill downstairs with little ol? Penny* behind the bar. Her husband owns the place. They?ve been in South Africa for 17 years now. Apparently all the guys here are sailors, Philipino, Korean, you name it. This is the real deal. Trying to fit in, I think to myself, now, if I?d been at sea for months and got a rare night off on dry land, there would be just two things on my mind – getting fucked, and getting fucked. This is the place to do both.
To optimise its operation, the bar sells beers by the six-pack here and prices seem to be negotiable. Upstairs, one dodgy dude sporting an impressive mullet (work in the front, party in the back) has a lady on his lap. When another guy tries to talk to her, he gets jealous and tries to pick a fight. He?s got such a drunken crush on her, he won?t let her speak to anyone else. Pity she?s the waitress.
Half an hour after midnight and there are already guys passed out at their tables. It?s dodgy, yes, but more in a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here than an I?lll-be-lucky-if-I-make-it-to-see-tomorrow-morning kind of way. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps it?s because there?s definitely no shortage of very available women, if you catch my drift.
We buy two six packs and take turns doing Roxanne duets. The rest of the table splits into two teams, the first chugging every time they hear Sting yell ?Roxanne?, the others drinking on ?red light?. I pat myself on the back for not missing a turn when I empty one can and crack upon another, all in one deft motion. But I lose count of the number of red lights. In fact, this part of the night is a little fuzzy. All that remains are vague recollections of broken conversations with rat-assed sailors, the suspicious stickiness of microphone in hand, followed by drunken man-hugs and V-salutes for the cameras.
As we?re leaving, a passion-gapped lady of the night corners me on the stairs, grabs me by the hand, gazes in my eyes and whispers ?I?m available?. I?m flattered, but I?ve got mor?mportant things on my mind. I nod at the bouncer as we roll out into the night.
Outside, the fresh air does me good. By now, instinctive insecurities have long since given away to shameless idiocy. Even though it?s a stone?s throw from the busiest part of Long Street, Kai Yue Entertainment always seems to be empty, at least on the odd occasion I?ve been before. Just pretend it?s a VIP lounge, I tell myself, and you?ll be good to go.
Inside, I order a beer. ?Black label, please?.
?Black Label? I repeat, pointing to the brown bottle lined up on the shelf alongside the rest of the drinks on offer. I thank him as he takes a cold one out of the fridge and puts it on the bar. ?How much??
?Ten?? I guess
?Yes? he nods.
Clearly, the barman doesn?t speak much English, and they might not understand South African currency (although by now I don?t know if I do talk real good anyway). But with a kick-ass sound system, big screen and a rad green laser light on the stage/dancefloor, there?s no reason to complain.
The place is clean and pretty swanky, but still relaxed and everyone is friendly. You can sit at the bar with a mic, sing to your hearts content and no one will even notice you. They?ve got thousands of songs, several hundred of them in English. The barmen sing when they have nothing else to do, which is often. It?s pretty fun just to sit and listen to them. I take to the stage and punish ?White Wedding?, not only the lyrics but the guitar solos, too. The histrionics draw some muted applause as I walk off. The optimist inside me tells me they?re clapping because I rock so hard and not because I?m finished. I decide to quit while I?m ahead, having successfully traversed that fine line between shame and ecstasy that only karaoke can offer.
So, when you need a break from the vapid and the vacuous world of nightclubs; when pool, foosball, darts and bowling won?t do it for you, that?s when you know: karaoke is the answer. Plenty of dive bars may offer weekly karaoke nights. If possible, you?ll need to find to the real Asian deal in your town. It?s the perfect way to spend a night out with your friends, intimate but not sentimental, frivolous but not childish. And it really doesn?t matter how kak your voice is, as long as you NEVER TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY. It?s a good life lesson. The only karaoke loser is the one who?s too embarrassed to even try. You?ve got nothing to lose, for as my friend pontificates at the end of a long night, ?if someone thinks you?re an ass, then they?re an ass.?
Questions do still persist: What kind of people do karaoke? Why are these places here? Why are they always empty? Where do they get the money to stay open? Why do so many people assume they?re all fronts for organised crime? Sometimes I find it?s best not to think too hard.
* names have been changed
10+1 Sure-fire Karaoke Winners
(in increasing order of difficulty)
- Ghostbusters Theme
- Dey-O (Banana Boat Song)
- Frank Sinatra – ?New York, New York?
- Billy Idol – ?White Wedding
- Alphaville – ?Big in Japan?
- Police – ?Roxanne?,
- The Beatles – ?Come Together?
- Michael Jackson – ?Billie Jean?
- G ?n F?n R – ?Paradise City?
- Prince – ?When Doves Cry?
- Queen – ?Bohemian Rhapsody?
Freelance post by Dave Durbach
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