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.”