Hong Kong Bar Hop

Dino Mahoney
Apr 24th, 2015

Now updated, on the day that same-sex marriage was made legal in all fifty states of the USA. Scroll down for the aftermath!

How does a poem get to be a song and what happens to it along the way?  I was about to find out. I’d been reading some of my poems in the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden. Darktown was in the audience. ‘That one you read about Hong Kong gay bars, that would make a great dance piece,’ he said at the bar. Fast forward a year and I’m all dressed up and welcoming members of the press, gay community, DJs, and friends to Propaganda, Hong Kong’s oldest and best loved gay bar and disco. The occasion? The launch of my dance single and music video, ‘Hong Kong Bar Hop’.  


I assembled my poem from the names of Hong Kong's gay bars, clubs, saunas and the streets they're on, venues mostly clustered in Hong Kong's cool SOHO area (South Of Hollywood Road) and the neighbouring, more earthy, Sheung Wan. It was a bit like putting a puzzle together from a jumble of different pieces.


Some of the Hong Kong gay bars mentioned now exist only in the memories of aging party animals; others are still going strong, or fighting on in a plucky one-sided battle with Grindr and Gaydar; a few are being strangled alive by spiraling rents. One or two have fallen victim to the complaints of local residents who resent people laughing and chatting in the street late at night. In one case, locals' attempts to get a bar closed down was aided and abetted by a wannabe legislative counsellor who, eager to get on the right side of his target constituency, led a campaign to close a popular gay club – many in the gay community sensed homophobia masquerading as noise control. 


The world I was conjuring in my poem was of a maze of sloping streets in fashionable west Hong Kong, a mix of soaring towers and crumbling tenements, sprinkled with gay clubs that glitter and shimmer into the early hours, houses of fun and dancing, palaces of gorgeousness, because that's what they turned into when the lights were down. I wanted to celebrate this world, and the freedom and diversity it represented in this great city. 


Darktown's music for the poem caught its mood of celebration and hedonism, a mix of nostalgic disco for times past, and a techno layer that brought it up to date. A song needs a chorus, and my poem didn't have one. So the first way the text was altered was to pull out some lines, add a few new ones and there it was, a catchy four-line refrain to hook the listener. And then there was the rehearsal: singing the lines quickly sorted out which lines were too long or didn't flow along smoothly enough into the following line. Then there were decisions about where to break off for the choruses, what parts should be repeated, and how I should sing, rap, declaim with witty irony or deliver with simple joy.


What did I learn? That a poem put to music releases more flavour, heightens mood, gives words wings.


Now for the launch. How will that go? Watch this space...


And here it is...




It suddenly occurs to me that the address I’ve given for tonight’s launch is useless! 1 Hollywood Road is the location given on the website, but turn up at said address and you find yourself in front of a shiny commercial block. ‘Propaganda?’ you’ll ask the newspaper man on the corner. He’ll brusquely shake his head.


I leap out of bed and start firing off emails, messages and tweets to the invited guests. The launch of HONG KONG BAR HOP, my performance poem turned into a dance single and music video, is taking place this evening at 6:30 p.m. at Propaganda, Hong Kong’s oldest gay disco. But the club is hidden away, as gay clubs used to be, out of sight out of mind, down a hidden alleyway that looks more like a covered walkway through a building site.


 ‘Go a few steps down Pottinger Street and very first right you’ll see a mysterious lane enclosed in garden-green wood.’ My carefully crafted instructions look more like clues in a game and by 6:30 guests are to be seen wandering the steeply sloping streets of SOHO asking, begging, for ‘Propaganda?’ 


Journey’s end is a set-back metal door. Slip in, take the long corridor to the right and, at the end, there’s the magic grotto: the sunken dance floor, danced wafer-thin by two generations of Hong Kong gay men. And there, introducing the event, is my new friend, La Chiquitta, in full, beautiful drag, short white puffy cocktail dress, immaculate maquillage; and, clustered around the edges of the dance pit, the guests, lost and now found.


I find myself overcome with emotion as I stand on the very dance floor where I boogied away so many of my youthful years. And I hear myself saying, ‘I wrote “HONG KONG BAR HOP” as a simple celebration, an homage to Hong Kong’s gay scene – but since the Yellow Umbrella Revolution I feel it has taken on a political dimension, its frivolity become defiant, a provocative celebration of freedoms that now feel somehow at risk.’ I feel a surge of empathy coming back at me, hear applause. As various Hong Kong friends have said to me, ‘Everything is political now.’


Then playwright Simon Wu, a.k.a. ‘Disco Bunny’, comes on – star of the music video  – and recites his version of HONG KONG BAR HOP in Cantonese: a vibrant vernacular translation that has people spluttering with rude mirth. Down go the lights and, on the big white screen, pitched for the occasion, flicker the shadows of the music video, bursting from the monochrome of office life to the glorious Technicolor of Disco-Bunnyland.


More applause, then DJ Puppet spins the extended dance mix and guests leap into the pit and dance like there’s no tomorrow.


I learn that history and circumstance are as much a part of a poem as the poem itself; that what an author intends can so easily be altered and subverted by the movements of the time. And I also learn that people can find their way to a good time no matter how hidden away it is.


Download Hong Kong Bar Hop from iTunes here.

Read the lyrics of Hong Kong Bar Hop here.


Dino Mahoney
United Kingdom
Last blog date: Dec 7th, 2015


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