Last night I went to Silom, the gay quarter in Bangkok and took in a drag show. There is a certain amount of notoriety given to Bangkok’s nightlife, and I can’t pretend to be an expert after just one visit, but a gay club, is a gay club, is a gay club, it seems. It’s hard to tell where one area in Bangkok starts and another ends, as the night markets are almost identical. The only difference with this area was the availability of sex toys and gay pin-up magazines on some of the stalls. Otherwise, these night markets seem pretty much the same.
DJ Station is a well established club that wouldn’t feel out of place in any other major city around the world. It’s on three floors, with black walls, a huge sound system and a lighting rig – and a large mirror ball. The night starts with a Drag Show at around 11.30pm. I’ve sat through a number of drag shows from when I used to work in gay clubs in Leicester, and they are the same everywhere. A few songs, a few wigs and a ‘couple of boys dancing to a reel-to-reel’.
It used to be Shirley Bassey numbers, now it’s all Whitney Huston and Maria Carey, only with holes in their stockings and a hairpiece that is obviously clipped in to place. The audience of international visitors and Thai men (where do gay women hang out in Bangkok), was suitably attentive and laughed and cheered along in all the right places, but there was a clear sense that most of the people in the crowd had seen this show before and was expecting to get the classic performance. They weren’t disappointed, it was drag-show-by-numbers.
Each song was carefully selected to allow the audience that emotional release that comes with a well selected torch-song. The high-pitched emotionality. The facial contortion and the spot-lit stare into the distance of an imagined power-house diva performance at La Scala. With their smart-phones pointing at the stage, the audience allowed themselves to be driven along by the performance regardless of how fake it was. And given that that is the point, then it was certainly worth the 200 bhat it cost to see the show.
The dancing boys took the event seriously, if some of their exuberance waned a little as the numbers rattled on. The comedy participation at the end of the show was suitably droll, and the well worn jokes where rattled out with ease, but overall the effect was easy and the show was – for most other people – a good starter to a much later evening. I hung around with my friend for a couple more hours and chilled out listening to the music, which thumped loud and indecently. It’s nice to hear some decent techno being played in the clubs again, though my dancing days are well behind me, and the club felt safe and clean, without the same level of aggression that often comes with UK clubs.
Was it shocking? No. Was it what I expected from Bangkok? Kind of. Was it fun? Yes. Will I go again? I’m not in that much of a hurry to travel to Bangkok to see something that I can get in Blackpool. But then who wants to sit in the cold and the gloom of a UK summer just to see a man I drag?