Home' In The City : In the City - Spring - 2013 Contents 020
One by one they gather on East Row, hands
stuffed in pockets or furiously thumbing out
"where are u?" text messages. Some come
prepared with paper-bagged beer, others
still with spirits and champagne concealed
in industrial-sized handbags. The less
organised among us pop in to Dina's Liquor to purchase
some shin-height Sauvignon Blanc. The best organised,
however, shows up with several pre-mixed 1.25L bottles
of Canadian Club/Pepsi because, according to the guy at the
bottle-o, "they charge BYO by lid count".
"He also said we should get them to explain the controller,
because it's all in Japanese," he adds.
It's sound advice, save for the fact that City Karaoke is
run by a Korean family who have kindly reserved the
establishment's largest room for a crack team of In The City
writers, photographers, designers -- and even its editor who
busts out a credit card to pay for three hours' worth of room
hire. Never let the cost get in the way of a good yarn, even at
annual interest rates in excess of 10 per cent.
The establishment's hostess, Sunny, leads us down a
corridor to the karaoke joint's executive suite equivalent,
the kind of space that could fit a busload of people,
including the bus itself. It's immense, lined by benches on
three walls, the fourth taken up by a projector screen, and
the remaining darkness offset by a brash lighting array that
would make Stereosonic blush with envious rage.
The controller is, as expected, imposing in its size and lack
of English. Sunny gives us a quick rundown on how to
program in songs -- enter the number, press this button to
play, that one to cancel -- and wishes us a good evening. The
group, however, is preoccupied with amassing its collective
liquor cabinet atop the centre table. The assortment of
shapes and sizes looks like a translucent cityscape -- one
that's bound for destruction, one plastic cupful at a time.
To begin, no-one seems sure of what to do. Or rather,
everyone knows what to do, but no-one knows where to
begin. It's a room full of wallflowers, bedazzled by the
bizarre K-Pop clips that fill the video screen with all manner
of cheery nonsense.
"Has anybody actually sung yet?" wonders one reluctant
participant, returning from a trek for yet more supplies.
"We're still trying to work out how to use the controller,"
says another, looking up from the cluster of great minds
gathered around the strange device.
Suddenly: the room rumbles with an instrumental rip-off
of the Black Eyed Peas' thunderous Boom Boom Pow. But
still we circle around the microphones timidly, Fergie's
powerful turn of, "I'm so 2008/You so 2000 and late" left to
languish silently on the screen.
Latecomers arrive. The liquor cabinet expands. They, too,
are confused as to why no-one is singing. The controller,
unfairly, cops the blame once again.
A frustrated singer-in-waiting sighs and snatches up the
embattled device. "The lady told us how to use it at the
start, but I guess no-one else was listening," he complains.
He deftly keys in a five-figure number, When Doves Cry
(sung as "when Doug cries") bounces though the speakers,
and two brave souls step up to share the role of Prince. The
night has begun, 20 minutes after the booking commenced.
But once we've started there's just no stopping us; from
Prince we move to TLC, declaring we don't want no scrubs.
Then onto Eminem, losing ourselves in the music. There's
a visit to Hotel California, and to New York as well, that
concrete jungle where dreams are made of. We take a trip
under the bridge, up the stairway to heaven, then over
to Africa, sure enough as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus
above the Serengeti. We come together right now over
John Lennon's spinning corpse, and wannabe the Spice
Girls' lover (although we'd prefer to 'zig-a-zig-ha' than
'zebrahead jam', as the on-screen lyrics would have us do).
Sensing our rhythm is a little off, perhaps, a prescient City
Karaoke staff member brings in a couple of tambourines.
Raver tambourines, in fact, that flash a myriad bright
colours every time they are struck. The fun couldn't possibly
intensify even further, could it? Surely not. Oh, but it does,
and the last-remaining holdout steps up, microphone in
one hand and tambourine in the other, for a rubbery, full-
body rendition of Copacabana that is capped off with a lithe
display of the worm.
I step out to use the bathroom. Discordant renditions of
ABBA and K-Pop reverberate through the reception area
like some manic choir, swirling together in a cackling
storm that turns a simple piss into a journey through
Dante's Inferno. Deafened by over-exposure or earplugs,
the demonic soundscape does not appear to bother City
Karaoke's staff in the slightest. For me, however, it's a relief
to wander back into my colleagues' Radiohead-via-Yoko
take on Creep.
The plug is eventually pulled on In The City's revelry,
though we are karaoke parasites now, unwilling to extract
ourselves from the room, unable to get enough. Suddenly,
we are singing the climax to Hey Jude, over and over,
beating out the acapella jam with our raver tambourines.
And then we are out on East Row again, some piling into
the Phoenix, some accepting cigarettes from Irishmen who
love Pink Floyd enough to belt out the chorus of Comfortably
Numb for the collective pleasure of the bus interchange.
A: 21 East Row, Canberra city
P: (02) 6230 1828
Full-time dedicated writer and part-time recreational
singer DOUGLAS FRY delves into the intimidating
but intoxicating world of karaoke.
to sing about
Douglas Fry takes control of the
mic at City Karaoke.
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