If you’ve never been to Paramount on a Saturday night, this is what you’re missing: ladies in slinky dresses lined up along one side of the bar, smallish model boys, a girl here and there who knows how to move it, strapping waitstaff with suspenders and golf shorts (knickers?), confetti, smoke machines, and polo-shirted laoban’s playing that inane dice game with xiaojie’s in peach dresses and transparent plastic-bra straps. If you snap photos of the stony-faced one in red t-shirt and shorts with his personal white-wigged girl in stripes, he’ll get his ponytailed associate to kindly approach and ask you repeatedly ‘Who are you taking pictures for?’
Paramount is a blast, we’ve officially confirmed it. The club is dotted throughout with hanging chandeliers and Victrolas displayed just for show, and includes a central portion consisting of a catwalk-dance platform that extends out from the wall-hugging DJ booth. A lowered three sided partition encloses the catwalk, and couches and tables within the enclosure results in a VIP party cocoon. The catwalk ensures that only people willing to dance are going to step onto the platform, as there’s no chance to hide when everyone in the club can inspect how coordinated and put together you are.
Music was provided for the party by DVDJ Leo and DJ Hitomi, who rocked the manga kewpie doll look while hunched over her Mac to keep the music going. She went about her business in front of her laptop like she was calmly trying to abort the nuclear missile launch sequence. And MC Mike Q worked the microphone, helpfully informing everyone to keep their hands in the air at all times.
Clubbing, Provincial Style
The highlight of the evening was when all heads turned to see strange gay-alien model-types in black lipliner, silver and maroon trench coats, and thin single-lens 80’s shades (think Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation) performing a routine that included plastic-chain swinging and pretend motorcycle-riding.
The evening was, after all, supposed to be a brand-promotion event for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. However, whoever was in charge of choreographing and designing the look of the models obviously has had little to no contact with the biker culture which Harley-Davidson represents.
Skeptics might claim that this is precisely why they refrain from frequenting Chinese-style nightclubs, in that they can be cheesy, tacky, and slightly embarrassing. However, we would like to make the case that this is precisely why clubs like Paramount and its ilk are so much fun to visit.
Perhaps it’s the somewhat charming notion of luxury, which strikes us as being at once innocent and ridiculous in its excess (industrial-sized bottles of Chivas, anyone?), that makes for a loose atmosphere of fun and kitsch. Amidst all the bemusement however, there are danceable songs and VIP section members perfectly willing to drink with you. Whereas establishments like M1NT and M2 (whose price of admission allegedly includes your iPhone) might emphasize glamour and standoffishness, clubs like Paramount, No.88 and Club Gaga are places to relax and not care too much about whether your shoes match. For better or worse, no one will ask the obligatory guy-drinking-with-his-shirt-off to put it back on.
The phenomenon of less outwardly-sophisticated ‘Provincial Style’ clubs becoming popular in Shanghai has even gained a little worldwide media attention. The AFP reports reveals that these clubs succeed perhaps due to their understanding that Chinese and foreign non-locals alike seek ‘warmth’ in a strange city, and that students and less wealthy clubgoers are just as welcome in their establishments as Porsche and Ferrari-driving patrons are. Manager of No. 88 Xue Ye believes that, ‘Even rich people don’t want to drink in a quiet place.”
We’ll acknowledge that this all might come off as a bit of condescending cultural tourism on our part, where we might be sporting an ‘oh look at these funny locals’ sort of attitude. That maybe we enjoy Chinese clubs because they ask so little of us in terms of dressing up, the expectations and standards being simply lower than they would be elsewhere. We’re only at ease because of our snarky sense of superiority amongst the club’s nouveau riche, you might think, who we’ll admit have plenty of pecuniary prowess, but also no taste when it comes to foreign films and indie music, right?
Honestly, we’re not sure if that’s the case, and it isn’t crucial for us to press the question further. If having fun on our weekends means feeling smug in an environment of non-threatening inclusivity, then so be it. We’ll gladly drink and dance and engage in our ironic cultural consumption mode as the dead-enders of Western Civilization. After a few whiskey and cokes, the hangups just sort of melt away, anyhow.
if 2012 plays out just like the big budget Roland Emmerich scenario, and China constructs massive arks with the future of humanity contained within, we wager there’ll be a few duty-free shops and KTV’s on board, and at least a few nightclubs. If that is indeed the case, we truly, honestly hope that they’ll be just like Paramount.
Correction: Previously, we incorrectly attributed the report from the AFP on provincial style nightclubs to Jake Newby of Time Out Shanghai, who is a quoted source in the article. The author of the AFP article is D’Arcy Doran.