Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Planet Neptune, the Handover and Hong Kong's Summer of Love

My recent cover story for South China Morning Post's Postmagazine, where I was senior writer for several years what seems a lifetime ago. Pulling the story together, as well as a reunion party at Homebase in Hollywood Road, the last place I DJ'd regularly in Hong Kong (I had caught the fever largely because of Neptune, Hong Kong's rave parties and being bowled over by the music of the day) was a fun but somewhat draining experience. DJing on Pioneer CDJ decks after being a vinyl aficionado and not having played a set in a club for three years also frayed a few nerve endings, but it turned out alright on the night. The real DJs, Christian and David Lam, played some great music at the reunion gig and there was no shortage of blasts from the past. Lee Burridge, who has made serious global waves (and .wavs) in the world of electronic dance music chipped in with some priceless observations. The story seems to have struck a chord (if not a piano synth arpeggio) in certain Hong Kong circles. 

One morning in 1996 I stepped through a neon portal and down a stygian Wan Chai staircase and found myself on another planet. The inhabitants of this alien world floated about with benign smiles, dressed in luminous garments, and seemed to communicate without words. Great pulses of electronic sound swept around me, drawing me to what seemed like the command centre, where an unfeasibly pretty leader jabbed buttons and tweaked strange dials, bending his people into improbable shapes.
     I had been in this same physical space on previous occasions; a subterranean Lockhart Road lair where Filipino bands blared and booze-rouged expats put the moves on amahs. But on this particular morning, somewhere after 5am, fresh from visiting my first rave party at Jimmy’s Sports Bar in pursuit of a story for this magazine about how the drug ecstasy was changing the face of Hong Kong clubbing, it was as if time and space had shifted.
     I felt as if I had stumbled upon the secret dawning of the Age of Aquarius; harmony, brotherhood and understanding seemed to flow through the thudding beats and the flashing strobe. This was no longer some dingy basement clip joint, it was a seething, surging, hugging, grinning, gurning, roiling, raving mad tide of good vibes.
    Suddenly everthing became clear. This was the mothership. The HMS Britannia of some parallel universe, setting sail for the wilder shores of altered states with a truly loony crew as the event horizon of Hong Kong’s handover to China loomed into view. This was frantic fin de siecle fantasy, escapism and hedonism, utter nonsense that made perfect sense. It was the best of times and the worst of times, the alpha and omega, the ecstasy and the agony, the soaring high and the crashing comedown.
    For the ‘FILTH’, the chancers, the gifted gabbers, the wide boys and barrow boys, the restless souls who had fled comfortable middle class lives for a great adventure and a fatter pay packet, and even for a wide-eyed naïve Brisbane boy like me, this was our Woodstock, our punk rock, and we knew it.
   To the north was the Motherland, and we all knew winter was coming. But for a brief season, Hong Kong’s ‘summer of love’ reigned.
    We had found the glowing magma core of the barren rock.
    This was Planet Neptune.