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Space of Complexity

A sensual journey to the karaoke in Amsterdam

Follow me to the Duke of Tokyo, enter a new world and enjoy a wonderful karaoke experience. Close your eyes and imagine that you are in a narrow street in Tokyo at this moment. You smell the grass after the rain, perfume from a passerby, and the Takoyaki from a shop at the end of the street. You hear the noise of music and the chatting from people going outside from the shops. Now, open your eyes and let the journey begin.

Text and Image: Siyang Dai

The moment I entered the Duke of Tokyo, the dimness of the light made it difficult for me to recognize the interior view. I could only hear the chaotic sounds of people singing inside karaoke rooms, different languages mixed together. People were laughing and screaming, but it felt as if they were far away from me. When I opened my eyes again, I found myself in the narrow, dark, and bustling streets of Tokyo.

Following the round lanterns hanging from the ceiling, I entered the bar area where the cabinet displayed a wide variety of Japanese sake. The bottles glistened under the pink light. The customers were sitting comfortably on the high stools at the bar, chatting about their lives. As I wondered where to go, I noticed my friend standing at the bottom of the steps waving at me.

'Are they all here?’

‘You're the only one left, come on in!’

Going down the steps of the bar, I entered the karaoke area. This is where the karaoke rooms were located, each with a lighted sign in front of it, named after famous cities in Japan. The corridor in front of the rooms was designed to look like Japanese underground shopping streets. Small advertisements and posters on the grey walls were wrapped in green climbing vines, and the old electric boxes were dimly lit in red light and seemed to have been given a new life.

Although the karaoke space was not large, I had the illusion that it was infinitely extended. It felt as if I were to follow the dimly lit paths and gone upstairs, I could be on the commercial block of Tokyo where it had just rained; puddles of water on the ground reflecting the neon signs with colours on the tall buildings, kimono-clad singers working hard to attract the consumers on the street, and hurried passerbys walking on the road with umbrellas in a constant flow of traffic. It was a magical experience. I had completely forgotten that I physically was in a karaoke bar in the centre of Amsterdam.

I opened the door of our room. The bright lights reflected from the light bulbs in the room shone in my eyes as well as on the colourful mosaic walls. This karaoke room had a long leather-red sofa with a jukebox, microphone, and monitor on the opposite side. Obviously, the microphone had already been in the hands of my friends, as proven by the unprofessional singing of the two people dancing behind me. I put down the coats and a birthday present for my friend, walked towards the ordering table, chose my favourite song, sat down, and waited for them to finish their song. Then, it would be my time to shine.

That day was to celebrate my best friend's birthday. Apart from me, there were four of our mutual friends in this karaoke room to celebrate her. The birthday girl had already started singing a famous song from the K-pop band EXO. Next to her was our dance lover, who’d taken off her jacket as soon as the song started and revealed a tight black halter. She threw the jacket at the applauding crowd on the couch and caused a frenzy of screams from the others. Not only the rhythm of the music, but her body movements, and our singing turned our karaoke room into a concert, but also the flashes of mobile phones and screaming that never stopped.

Karaoke brings us to places and times that are far beyond. As people born in the same era, my friends share common memories of EXO. As the screen played the music video of Wolf, all I could hear at that moment was the crazy screams from the six girls. Maybe it was because the pleasant air of the karaoke room made one's heart beat wildly. Despite the fact that I did not hear this song often, I could not stop being excited with my friends. The space that the karaoke room created is inclusive. Within this space of complex, identity is not important, whether it is the identity of the song or the identity of the person. No matter if you are the queen who keeps holding the microphone, responsible for applauding, or are the backup dancers who rush to the middle of the stage to start dancing when the music starts, everyone creates the definition of this space in their own way.

Just like the weather in Amsterdam, where the sky can go from being cloudy and stormy to the sun being out in a minute; the atmosphere in a karaoke space is also ever-changing. Karaoke can be happy songs with people laughing, or sad songs with people crying. We can never predict what type of song will come after the current one. As the K-pop song ended, the next song was the theme song of a romance movie. As the familiar melody started, the grievance of the protagonist with his low voice singing quickly took over every corner of the room. The six people who were on high-energy earlier instantly quietened down and our dancers switched to a modern dance style in response to the song. Along with the music video, we reviewed the highlights of the film and the birthday girl shared some stories about her first love. Although the first love didn’t end happily, it could still bring a smile to her face when she mentioned it. In Karaoke, the emotional catharsis has become an exclusive secret, only inside the space.

The two hours flew by. When the waiter opened the door to our room to remind us that time was over, we all looked like we couldn't get enough. Walking out of the Duke of Tokyo, I returned to reality as if what just happened had been a dream. The sky outside was grey, but the memory inside was golden. See, karaoke really has a magical power, as if everyone has superpowers. We can time travel, become a star, or even temporarily lose our memories. We all know that this room will embrace everything about us. In a space of complex, we are free to be ourselves, or anyone we want.

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