Can Bangkok stop the decline of its nightlife?

Logo by Oliver Raw

I’ve got a few qualms with CNNGo’s article, “30 reasons Bangkok has the best nightlife in the world.” When it comes to sit-down bars and watering holes, this city has it made in spades. There’s no shortage of wacky and eccentric characters on bar stools who have torn the world apart and lived to tell the tale. But when it comes to pairing up electronic music and a dance floor, Bangkok is far from number one. In fact, there are only a handful of nightclubs here doing it right.

Let me first give you some context. I’m a Farang so I don’t dig going to the Thai nightclubs. That’s not to say I haven’t had a good night out at clubs like Sonic or Demo with a good crowd of hell-raisers. But I’m not into commercial pop and rap songs that imitate each other endlessly. They have cluttered bass lines and repetitive hooks with lyrics that are far from clever. I like house music that’s dark, at times dirty, with builds, drops and off-kilter melodies. I can only sit around whiskey and a bucket of ice for so long before I need to get up and dance, and I loath any place that vibes pretentious and uptight.

Secondly, I’m a woman. So no, I don’t want to hang out at gentlemen’s clubs or Soi Cowboy and Patpong (most of the guys I know don’t like to, either). It’s not even the women in these establishments, but the men who are the most annoying, They think that just because they’re in Thailand that no woman is untouchable and no rules apply. And while I can get along with prostitutes, it would take a little more to stimulate me in conversation. Ping pong shows are for tourists and while the Rooftop Bar on Khao San Road is kickass, there’s only so much backpacker hooliganism I can find amusing for an evening.

That being said, I love going out and I wouldn’t say that my standards are too high or that I’m tough to please.

The bottom line is there’s a lack of options in Bangkok to the point that sometimes it can seem like the same thing over and over again.

My understanding of this really cemented when I traveled to Berlin for the first time earlier this year. Ever since, I find myself longing for clubs where “sexy” isn’t slutty. In Berlin, many of the clubs don’t even have mirrors –- you’re there to dance your ass off, of course you’re going to look like a beast if you’ve done the job correctly. In many of these nightclubs, there are no photos allowed and some even check for cameras and confiscate them at the door. In Bangkok that seems unimaginable with album after album of club photography popping up on Facebook feeds.

Now, Berlin may be an extreme example as it boasts some, if not the best nightlife in the world. But the point is that the places I went to – the Berghain, KaterHolzig, etc – are about giving people more than just a night out. It’s about giving them an experience. The energy doesn’t have to be flashy and holier-than-thou. What’s more, it’s not just about getting laid or being sloppy.

I would love to see more nights like the opening of Bash Nightclub where robots and midgets dressed like extraterrestrials splashed in silver paint. Another memorable event was Bed Supperclub’s X-Rated anniversary party last year where bound-up performers and guests in S&M outfits strutted around. In fact, Bed is one of the only clubs that has continued to evolve with the scene over the years, making parties with out-there and interesting concepts. The press release announcing Bed’s closing notably pointed out that the club, “has recently been feeling crowded out by venues that offer a more mass market experience.” It’s easy to see what they’re referring to.

Bed Supperclub was responsible for bringing in many international acts and giving people a chance to hear something different and oftentimes outside of their comfort zone. Their departure is a huge hole in Bangkok’s nightlife scene that’s going to be hard to fill. The big question is: will the forthcoming Ku De Ta step up to the plate or cater to the mass-market experience? With Bed on the way out, there’s an opportunity for Bangkok promoters to do something different and not just take the same tired themes and repackage them all over again. No more “white” parties, please.

Bangkok has all the makings of an amazing nightlife destination, and in that way CNNGo’s article is on the money. After all, there’s nothing better than noodle soup after a night of inebriation or a few pre-drinks at a VW van. This is the city where anything goes and that can be our advantage. What I’m afraid of is slipping into Hangover 2 mediocrity.

So here’s to something new – the start of a column we at Coconuts are calling “Night Prowl.” If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it pays homage to the legendary Bernard Trink. Trink’s “Nite Owl” column for the Bangkok Post started in the ’60s and lasted for almost 40 years. He crawled Bangkok’s evening entertainment from go-go bars to pubs and nightclubs – no matter how seedy or highfalutin – to give people a real idea of what’s going on, or at least a drunken story to chuckle at.

Let’s face it, Trink’s shoes are impossibly large to fill and I can’t promise I’ll be hanging out at any rub-and-tugs. But, what I can do is introduce you to this city’s mischief-makers and obviously, get into some mischief myself. There’s potential for Bangkok to become one of the best nightlife destinations in the world, but it’s not there yet. At the very least, “Night Prowl” is a fresh perspective on Bangkok’s nightlife at a time when it could definitely use a shakeup.

 

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