Friday, 28 November 2014

Chinese democracy is cool for cats

This was to be the illustration to go with a column on Hong Kong's protests. However, with many good mates there on the frontlines, I realised there was nothing much I, who hasn't even lived in Hong Kong for 13 years, could add to the collective wisdom on the topic. So in the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words, here's my skewed view of the protests, through the prism of Deng Xiaoping's famous saying about cats

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Raving on a Sunday Afternoon: Inside King Coran's Cult of Many Kolours

© Kolour Sundays
This piece about Bangkok's new dark horse king of clubland and his 'kollective' of DJs which won the cool crowd's heart with sun-drenched daytime rave parties ran in the July-August 2014 issue of Fah Thai, the Bangkok Airways inflight magazine. Kolour Nights is now a 'thing' and the group's Family Wednesday gig at Glow continues to pack them in. The original article as published is at the bottom. Other images are my own shots and edits from the 2014 Kolour Sunday party 'Brighter Days'. 

Coran Maloney likes his photographs laden with lens flare, grainy, desaturated, with a smattering of faux lens scratches and suffused with a pale golden glow. In an advertising agency, an art director might call the style ‘high key’. The uninitiated will notice this look, nod appreciatively at its understated Instagram coolness, and then, as the cogs turn a few more times, think: ‘Hang on, where are the colours?’

Kolour Sundays, you see, is the name chosen for the infrequent, effervescent, stone cool and scorchingly hot daytime raves for grown-ups created by Maloney and his partner-in-crime Vina Charay, a fellow taste-maker who was previously Bangkok's high priestess of house parties and is the Thailand face of international invitation-only hipster conclave French Tuesdays.

An art director would call this epiphany a ‘smile in the mind’, that elusive little ‘aha’ moment where something quirkily clever hits the little sweet spot in your brain, sending neurotransmitters dancing across synapses, creating a new and permanent pathway in your brain.
It's branding manna from heaven, the stuff of the coveted ‘stickiness’ ad men whisper about in reverent tones. As a former marketing student who worked as brand manager for a multinational forestry company, Maloney knows this.

We even have our own filter,” he says proudly, sprawled on a sofa in his spacious apartment a stone's throw from Bangkok's posh SwissĂ´tel Nai Lert Park. He sports shorts and a tattered gym shirt, stretched over a tanned, towering gym rat’s frame. Hanging from the wall is a Kolour Sunday logo, a simple wordmark in the style beloved of the luxury brands, surrounded by a kind of postmark and the group’s slogan, credo and philosophy of life: “This is us … doing what we love.”

© Jason Gagliardi
Despite the Irish lilt to his name, Coran Maloney is the product of a Sri Lankan father and Uruguayan mother who moved to Melbourne when he was a young boy. He has the quiet confidence of the big, buff and handsome, looks utterly at ease in his skin and is a glowing picture of health, despite it being the Monday evening after his latest Sunday triumph, a Caligulan concatenation of after parties, after-after parties, and possibly even an after-after-after party, all fuelled by deep house and nu disco beats, top shelf booze and an assortment of other party favours.

It was a big weekend,” smiles Maloney. Big weekends are prized currency in the kingdom – and growing cult – of Kolour Sundays, and a hot topic of conversation amongst the Kolour Krew, a loose knit collective of 12 DJs who take turns headlining the parties.

There are no international superstar DJs at Kolour events, along with no red carpets, velvet ropes or fawned-over celebrities. “I'm going to ban photographers from our parties in the future,” he says. “We had nine or 10 with big paparazzi cameras at the last party and it looked terrible. It takes people out of the moment and they start posing and it’s just not what we’re about. I come from a background of going to parties where you don’t go to be seen, you go to enjoy the music and to dance. We don't want our party to become a hangout for high-society snobs.”

© Jason Gagliardi
There has been a keen sense of anticipation in the build-up to each Kolour Sunday, with a growing loyal cadre of fans, a savvy social media sense and no shortage of word-of-mouth buzz, thanks to clever touches like not revealing the venue until the day before the party – a nod to the original English rave parties, with pirate radio stations revealing coded instructions to find the party and cat-and-mouse games with police.

None of this is by accident. Maloney is simply on the money, being himself, doing what he loves. He tossed in the branding job and his suit and tie corporate existence a little over a year ago to devote himself full time to living Kolour.

It was a ballsy, sink-or-swim decision that has paid off in spades. The money and accolades are rolling in, he is beating off DJs, promoters and reporters with a stick, and for the moment at least, he seems to have captured lighting – or at least magic hour – in a bottle.

© Jason Gagliardi
A day earlier, I wander into the latest incarnation of Kolour Sundays – Brighter Days, which happens to be at Horizon, a split-level rooftop venue with indoor and outdoor spaces, eye candy design and eye-popping views at every turn, even a gently undulating lawn in a pale shade of peach that looks like it’s had Maloney's famous filter applied to it. It's also the last Kolour Sundays party of the season – the fourth in five months, and the 12th since the concept's launch in 2011 – Kolour Sundays will now be mothballed for the duration of the rainy season, kicking off again in November. In 2012, the Kolour Sundays attracted 7,000 paying customers and booked over 80 local artists and performers, making it by some margin the biggest event of its kind in Bangkok.

The DJ drops a well-judged tune and the energy amps up considerably. Slabs of synth surf sunbeams as smiles spread, legs start pumping and bodies sway. There is an undeniable and infectious feel-good vibe spreading across the crowd, enveloping all in its warm summery embrace. A breeze ruffles the ribbons of purple, blue and maroon festooned across the lower level. Birds, butterflies and bizarre smiling insects undulate on high wires, turning things trippy. The smartphones come out and the selfies are snapped, sending the social media hamster wheel spinning, transmuting woofers into tweeters.

© Jason Gagliardi
I collar Coran and usher him up to the peach-fuzz lawn for a photograph. He leaps a chain-link fence, lies down in a kind of louche Playboy pose for a few seconds, then leaps to his feet, strikes an arms-folded superhero stance, and strides off. He has unselfishly left himself off the DJ bill today, despite being one of Bangkok's best behind the wheels of steel, or the mouse of house. On the bill are ATMA, aka Mark Lipert, an Australian DJ who also runs his own digital agency and is Kolour Krew's recently appointed musical director, a waif-like Russian model known as Alesha Voronin, Absolud, Dylan Griffin, Darragh Casey and Saint Vincent.

KOLOUR SUNDAYS was born over two years ago, when Maloney and Charay returned from holidays to Ibiza and Paris respectively to a crushing depressions and creeping disenchantment with Bangkok's rudderless and moribund club scene. The heyday of Sukhumvit Soi 11, when BED Supperclub and Q Bar were the hot tickets and pushing musical boundaries had passed, but nothing had really filled the vacuum.

I was fed up with the music on offer, it was cheesy commercial stuff,” Maloney says. “No one was making the most of the four to five months of beautiful weather Bangkok has. No one wanted to be in the sun. So we defined what we wanted to create one afternoon, found the perfect venue in Viva Aviv The River at River City and Kolour Sundays was born.

© Jason Gagliardi
Maloney notes that Kolour was founded on three pillars. Food and beverage sitting together at the top, he emphasises that it’s through great service, top cocktails and a wide selection of food that they can aim to lure in the Sunday brunch crowd. Music is obviously one of the three on his list, “It has to be cutting edge.” And, while he explains that the genre can vary, the underground attitude and vibe are essential. “Atmosphere is the third pillar. I never just turned on techno and said ‘I love it’... you need to create the right atmosphere, the right platform, and there’s more chance of someone falling in love with a new genre of music when dancing in the sun with a thousand people than in a dark club late at night.

One local writer, Yvonne Liang, describes the first Kolour Sunday thus: “Imagine drinking and dancing on a boardwalk in broad daylight and then watching the sun dip into the horizon while a DJ spins the sickest of beats. One of the most unforgettable moments was being amongst hundreds of like-minded individuals who were screaming and cheering in an almost animalistic way as the sun descended. That long afternoon on the Chao Phraya was unforgettable, and an atmosphere closer to St Tropez than Bangkok.”

Bangkok clubbing's elder statesman Sanya Souvanna Phouma, the former creative director of Bed Supperclub who now runs hotspot Maggie Choo’s, says: “Right from the beginning there was something in their marketing that was right. The personalised invites, the daytime/sunset concept, it was solid. They nailed it. The gap was there, they spotted it, and people were ready to embrace it. And the fact that it's not a regular gig makes it more ‘not to be missed’. Coran managed to brand himself as well as the event and created a connection with his guests on a very personal level. It’s already a mature brand that everyone associates with great times.”

© Jason Gagliardi
KOLLECTIV, the mother company behind the Kolour Sundays brand, now employs three full-time staff including Maloney, four part-time staff, a team for events of more than 50, and the aforementioned Kolour Krew of 12 DJs.

Maloney is not prone to idle boasting or big-uppery, but he is quietly and determinedly ambitious and very serious about the brand he has built. At the end of the first year and having finally turned a profit, he invested the money into getting one of Asia's hottest branding agencies in to tweak the brand into the fine-tuned and very slick product it is today.

We have built our business model so it can be replicated. The next evolution in our following series will be to take the concept beyond Bangkok, but within Thailand for now. After that, we want to take it overseas, and to build Kolour Sundays into the best brand for discerning clubbers in Asia.”

In the meantime, he has launched a new Wednesday night event called Family at Glow nightclub in Sukhumvit Soi 23 which is packing them in, and he also plans to begin a Kolour Nights series.
Family has begun with a bang, over 100 people in a small dark club on a Wednesday night is no mean feat. It's a great way to bring a credible musical offering to the mid-week scene which Bangkok was lacking. This was also really just me creating the event I wanted to go to myself, and it's a great way to keep the Kolours Krew honed and keen while the bigger parties go into hibernation.”

Ever the social media maven, he is even getting buzz for his spoof Family posters, photoshopped faces of DJs and key scene members plonked into antique photographs of sailors, aviators and lederhausen-clad adventurers. It's weirdly clever, and it works.

© Jason Gagliardi
Maloney doesn't have a firm date fixed yet for the first Kolour Nights bash, but he is 'working on the concepts and venues' and said there would be some new twists and a very different vibe from the daytime events. “Different but just as cool,” he grins. Coolness is the key quotient, and Maloney knows it is not guaranteed to last or to be taken for granted.

I remember in Melbourne, this older guy in his late 50s owned one of the cool clubs, he used to drive up in his Lamborghini and take his posse to the VIP area. I remember thinking, ‘now that is cool’.”

Maloney looks worried for a moment, like he has just transgressed, crossed the line into money-hungry territory. He relaxes back into his genial giant persona.

One of my greatest joys is bringing people together. Through Kolour Sundays I've been able to do this on a scale I never thought possible. We are just getting started and I promise you one thing, I am never going to stop clubbing.” 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Scent of a Half-Man

My Palm Oil column for Coconuts ... in which I say thanks but no thanks to Eau De Upstart by Mario Maurer, especially when flying the cheapskate skies with Air Asia

SUPER MARIO WANTS IT ALL                  ... Insta-Art © Jason Gagliardi

I regularly get to endure the utterly joyless experience that is flying on Air Asia, from the “be here early or we'll leave without you” check-in and stale, overpriced sandwiches for sale to the schizophrenic policy on whether beer can be obtained in-flight.

These indignities were amplified on a recent trip when I glanced up at the garish advertising splashed all the way down the overhead lockers to see repeated entreaties stretched out to vanishing point suggesting I would be an imbecile not to immediately douse myself in the new signature scent of Mario Maurer, the recently ubiquitous, Thai-German, actor-model-whatever du jour.

Now I am not against advertising, although I can advise against its practice having spent some time in its iniquitous clutches. Nor am I against men's perfumes or the branding thereof by assorted fashionistas and celebrities, or the idea of celebrity endorsements (although I believe they should be used sparingly and not gratuitously and above all authentically – otherwise you are left with Tiger Woods shilling Buicks).

Hell, I'm not even against Mario Maurer, as long as he keeps his sickeningly pretty face and his abs of steel in movies for lovesick teenagers and in the pages of teen and gay magazines and not hovering above me in Warholesque repetition, pouting, importuning his captive audience of hapless travelers cooped up in their tin can with wings for hours. And then there's the risible “hero shot” “of Maurer astride his thundering motorcycle, looking about as tough as wet tissue, a “Wild Hog” in waiting.
Mario Maurer for Him.

I mean, give me a break. The dude is a boy. How can you expect to credibly endorse aftershave when you look like you don't even shave yet?

A Towering Pile of Utter Nonsense: Condominium Branding

In which I take aim at the symphony of silliness that surrounds the naming and branding of Asia's throw-em-up, flog-em-off condominiums. The original column for Coconuts is here:

LE C'ORB VERSUS THE FRENDY                      Insta-Art © Jason Gagliardi

My secret theory on the naming of brands, especially the vexed pseudo-science and one-handed greasy pole climb that is the conundrum known as condominium naming, is simply this: The best name is one that has been chosen.

I say this having spent more time dreaming up condominium names and taglines and the rest of the branding babble than any sane man ought reasonably to admit. Six years navigating the high-gloss reflections and shifting sands of adland was enough to give me an enduring cynicism about the seemingly simple task of buttressing bricks and mortar with brand architecture.

It goes like this: Having won the pitch, the triumphant agency sends in the big guns to kick things off with the client (thereafter they may send in the clowns, but I digress).

The client is the project's developer but also, you are about to find out, an instant expert in all matters architectural, design, brand, marketing, sales, style, fashion and cranial nano-surgery. Despite, or perhaps because of all this expertise and intelligence, the client will reject all the first round of names. And then the second. And the third. And the fourth.

Unless you are Clint Eastwood or a call girl penning her memoirs, not having a name is a bad thing. In property, it's suicide. Without a moniker, lacking a crisp appellation that buttresses the brand values while fitting the target market like a Hugo Boss suit, the smartest structure remains ephemeral and amorphous, a chimera skittering on the skyline.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hazy Memories of Hong Kong Press Freedom

My column for is called Palm Oil. It's bad for you but you might find yourself drawn back like a dog to it's vomit. Suck it and see. Originally ran here:


It must have been early December of 1996, although memories are hazy when it comes to the liver-shrivelling raving-loony fin-de-siecle days that marked the existence of a journalist in Hong Kong to cover the big story, Britain's looming colonial garage sale – or shotgun divorce.

My editor at Postmagazine, the glossy weekend read of South China Morning Post, where I had landed as senior writer and columnist, swished past my desk then stopped, turned and fixed my bloodshot, bleary eyes with her perfectly kohled laser gaze.

“Gaggers, something funny for the Christmas issue please. And I want a handover angle.”I scratched my head for a few minutes, gazed out the window for a few more, made myself a tepid instant coffee and chewed on my pen. A funny Christmas handover story, eh? As if they grew on trees.

With an almost audible 'clunk', the idea dropped fully-formed into my skull – no doubt the same one that has saved countless clueless feature writers staring down a 'silly season' blank page from a Christmas stuffing or the rough end of a humbug.

I would parody 'A Visit from St Nicholas', Clement Clarke-Moore's marzipan-dripping, good cheer-laced slice of festive doggerel that famously begins 'Twas the night before Christmas.'

In my version, the night before Christmas would be spent with Hong Kong's last Governor, Chris 'Fat Panda' Patten and Jiang Zemin, China's Brylcreemed supremo that was.

Full of zeal and hopeful of being in the pub by lunchtime, I bashed the thing out in short order –a silly flight of fancy which lurched from satire to surrealism to scatology, and ended with the Chinese leader
in his Rococo rest room, urinating from a great height on his imagined enemies and Colonial running dogs while pining for his 'Precious', namely, Hong Kong. I do more or less remember the final lines, which ran:

And as Jiang bestraddled his gilt-covered cistern,
He shouted to no-one: 'One Country, One System!'

Gangs of Bangkok in Primary Colours

I was mildly worried I might have overstepped the mark with this visual at the height of the latest coup, mid-curfew, but it was alright on the night. It's basically just a plea for us all to get along, while enjoying musicals and Korean novelty acts. Read the original Palm Oil column for here:

MAFIA, I'VE JUST MET A GIRL NAMED MAFIA ...    Insta-Art © Jason Gagliardi
When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way 
From your first cigarette to your last dying day”
West Side Story
You have never been in love, until you've seen the sunlight thrown over smashed human bone” - Morrissey  
Here is an interesting fact you might not know: the English term "mob," which has now become an honorary Thai word by dint of repetition and its monosyllabic allure, comes from the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, or “the fickle crowd.”
Mobile vulgus. It sounds more like the scientific classification for a particularly obnoxious, pimply and aggressive sub-species of adolescent to be found roaming the teenage wastelands of nocturnal Bangkok. The sort of yaba-smoking, engine-revving, gun-toting, gang-banging, Line-sticker-sending sext-pests and Darwin Award recipients-in-waiting you might find in the cinderblock tenements of Din Daeng or the drug-ravaged shantytowns of Khlong Toey or the bling-bling clubs of Ekkamai.
You can almost hear the David Attenborough narration: “Ah yes, and now we see mobile vulgus in his natural habitat. Observe the gaudy plumage, which the male uses to attract the opposite sex and appear larger and more intimidating to his enemies. If we are lucky, we might even see a flock of them perform their mating dance. Aeons have passed since the first caveman speared his neighbour, stole his dinosaur steak and clubbed his wife, and yet, seemingly, no time at all...”
The sort of misspent youth and wasted young who could put the “gang” in Gangnam Style. Oh, wait. They already did. Ekkamai, home of the Eastern Bus Terminal, went West Side Story in 2012 when two gangs dining in the same restaurant began to taunt and challenge each other with increasingly aggressive versions of South Korean pop blob Psy's smash hit.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Singapore Nightlife is Better than Bangkok's

Here's my second Palm Oil column for Coconuts which appeared here: 

ZOUK-OUT ZOMBIES ATTACK BANGKOK                                     Insta-Art © Jason Gagliardi

My first night out in Bangkok saw me sucked into the maw of the original Thermae, the all-night low-life last-ditch speakeasy of Sukhumvit Road. It was the second night of three without sleep (the last spent careening into ditches and trees as my mate dozed and nodded at the wheel of our jeep on the way to the most remote beaches of Koh Phangan and our first Full Moon Party; the first, saucer eyed at a rave party in Hong Kong) and a suitably surreal haze surrounded proceedings.

I popped my Singapore nightlife cherry around the same time, perhaps even in the same year, back in the misty mid-1990s. While I have no idea where the evening began or which hotels, bars, clubs and other establishments were traversed, I distinctly remember ending up at Top Ten, atop the Four Floors of Whores, as Orchard Towers is famously known.

Two maniacal grinning brothers, bald Thai twins, were the DJs at Top Ten and they played the ubiquitous commercial pan-Asian grating disco-house of the day very loud, and very fast. Super Maniac Bros. had heavy smoke machine trigger fingers, and near white outs were common. Through this swirling laser maelstrom, a great whirring and grinding of gears would periodically announce the descent of the Top Ten mascot, a Kafka-esque red-eyed nightmare insect which would drop from its ceiling lair to twitch for a spell above the teeming dance floor.

Both places were packed with mostly young (mostly) women; office girls making rent, maids making whoopee, hardened hookers with thousand-baht stares, rogue ladyboys, and the occasional throwback to the Vietnam War era, when both establishments were born and began swinging. Each is an enduring emblem of its city's nocturnal extremes; the infrared of the nightlife spectrum, occasionally ultra-violent.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Honkers, Bangers, Singers, Gaggers and some greased palms

My new weekly column for Coconuts is called Palm Oil. It pertains to Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore - Asia's spoiled, pouty problem children - not necessarily in that order. Each column comes with a piece of Insta-Art created on my iphone. The original appeared here:


Cities are bitches. You can't live without them, and sometimes you can't live in them. In the case of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore, the bitchery begins as soon as one member of this bizarre love triangle leaves the room.

Like fickle teenage 'besties' or insta-net frenemies, the three cities most right-thinking people would consider the best in this part of the world are constantly at each others' throats.
Sometimes two gang up on the odd man out – Hong Kong and Bangkok laughing at Nanny State Singapore, with its vast unseen police force, the chewing gum fatwah that was, and a government shagging subsidy to save the population, plus bonus national holiday to celebrate “Business Time,” as Flight of the Conchords smirkingly sang in singlets and socks.

Singapore and Hong Kong whisper behind their hands about Bangkok Dangerous, a seething hotbed of bent cops and twisted robbers, defrocked monks and befrocked blokes, itinerant elephants, amputee alms-seekers and unfettered monkey business.

Bangkok and Singapore gossip over the border fence about the latest “bus uncle” to melt down or seize up in Hong Kong's unforgiving social crucible and pressure cooker, a slow chemical reduction that boils people down to their base elements, all burn out, rust and oxide pangs.

Speaking of burn-outs, welcome to Palm Oil. It is my new weekly column for Coconuts, a voice in the social media wilderness, a scream in cyberspace that no one will hear, a manifesto for the metropolitan Everyman, and an accusing finger pointed –or middle finger unfurled – at the messes, excesses and unsightly excrescences of the bodies politic of this fine trio of towns which for two decades have been my backyard.

What qualifies me to comment on such matters? Not a thing, excepting the editor's indulgence, an opinionated nature, and a decade apiece living in Hong Kong and Bangkok with frequent side trips to Singapore, mostly while committing various acts of journalism.

The Lion City. City of Angels. Fragrant Harbour. A trinity, a trilogy, sometimes a tragedy. Sometimes farce. Singers, Bangers and Honkers. It sounds like a long-forgotten union for entertainers, maybe some ambulance-chasing law firm in a seedier part of town. Pay the piper, pay your dues. Better call Saul.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

And now for something completely different

As some of my friends will have noticed, my new hobby is making bite-sized chunks of Insta-Art with the amazing arsenal of iPhone photography and digital manipulation apps available. The erstwhile Philistine and untalented oaf can now buy a smartphone, drop a few dollars on some apps and annoy their friends and family on a regular basis with their new Dali or Van Gogh persona.

I used to paint badly in oils as a young man, and my thing was the most English landscapes imaginable. I would spend hours and days producing crude simulacra of Turner skies and Constable countrysides.

Of course, this was supposing I wasn't in the kitchen working on my KISS portraits. I no longer remember why KISS had to be painted in the kitchen - save for perhaps the alliterative connection, as a gift to my future writer self - while my cod Constables and crudely turned-out Turners were done in my bedroom.

( I'm not sure why KISS and dead Englishmen were my biggest artistic inspirations as a young Australian growing up in Townsville, either. A spot of reverse snobbery or some proto-cultural cringe perhaps. The Australian countryside was often parched, red and dusty, occluded by gluts of gum trees, the smooth white trunks reflecting and intensifying the fracturing crystalline light and the cruel sun that made us squint and gave us skin cancer. The sun in Australia doesn't have a proper ozone layer to keep it in check. Like some lair or lout, it is off the leash, out to lunch and on the lash. It was harsh and hot and hard enough to live in and under, let alone to want to paint. )

My iPhone stuff is a fair distance from hay wains and bruised skies of my youth. My art, like my life, now dwells in the screeching mosh pit of the subconscious, with darting runs down the rabbit holes of the fantastic and through the looking glasses and lobster telephones of the surreal.

The illuminati meeting of wacky hash tags and incantations accompanying most of my Insta-art posts on Facebook and Instagram are simply a list of the apps used and a few groups for fans of surrealism.  

I've posted some of what I think are my best Insta-art moments here for posterity and your viewing pleasure, pain, feigned interest or vehement repudiation. 

Some of the stuff is a bit dark, but it's done in a spirit of fun and discovery and to fuel my new fascination with symmetry, which is a portal into some very strange worlds once you figure out where to find them and how to look.