Welcome to the white side
WHEN YOU SEE hundreds of ghostly looking souls dressed in white heading through Central on Monday, you may be forgiven for thinking Halloween has come early. But there's nothing spooky about Hong Kong's first White Ball, one of the more ambitious and anticipated nights to hit the city's club scene in many a moon.
The White Ball concept - for which everyone dresses in white, and the more outrageous the costume the better - started in Montreal 10 years ago. Apart from creating a feast for the eyes, the ball has become a celebrated annual bash synonymous with over-the-top, hedonistic fun.
Party-goers in other countries have cottoned on and started to hold their own white-themed parties such as Sensation White in Holland. Now, Hong Kong clubbers can finally get a piece of the action, with so-called queen of hard house Lisa Lashes as master of ceremonies.
'The Montreal party is the best,' says Hong Kong promoter Trajan Maxiam, a White Ball veteran from Canada. 'They party from 9pm to midday. I hope to do something like this in Hong Kong. People are very excited about it.'
The original Bal en Blanc in francophone Montreal took place on Easter Sunday 1995 with a costume contest, attracting hundreds of party divas and drag queens from across Canada, and with part of the proceeds going to gay pride celebrations. Over the years it changed venue several times as its success grew and the event extended to White Party Week. By its 10th anniversary it had leading DJs Paul van Dyk, Armin van Buuren and Deep Dish on the bill and was playing to 12,000 white-clad revellers at the Olympic Stadium.
Party-goers put in a lot of effort, from white feather boas to head-dresses and bikini outfits that could have come straight from Rio Carnaval. There's also plenty of flesh flashed. The event has helped establish Montreal on the international club scene.
Hong Kong's first White Ball at Grappas in Jardine House's basement will obviously be a smaller affair, and some clubbers on internet message boards appear sceptical about the potential of such an event in staid Hong Kong. But organisers are promising to transform the restaurant into a spectacular venue with dancers on podiums to get people in the mood.
'We've spent US$10,000 on decoration,' says Maxiam, who is encouraging everyone to get into the Montreal spirit. 'The first White Ball was small like ours, but hopefully it will grow into something just as big.'
Maxiam says he's had many inquiries from gay clubbers familiar with Montreal's White Ball and is keen to get a wide mixture of people to the event. Perhaps unfortunately, it's not mandatory for those attending the Hong Kong party to wear white, but those who do have a chance to win prizes for being best dressed. In Montreal and Holland, anyone wearing anything but white is refused entry. 'A room full of people dressed in white with lasers and lights looks amazing, but it's not compulsory here because people may not have heard of the theme,' says White Ball spokesman Nick Willsher. 'The original White Ball is a massive event and everyone knows what they have to wear. Here people may not be as organised or prepared, but the more who do the better the event will be.'
Willsher, who runs the hkclubbing.com website, says he hopes the event will inspire other promoters to make more of an effort with decor. At the height of clubbing mania in Hong Kong a few years ago, organisers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making over halls and clubs, but the trend has disappeared of late.
'Promoters are never sure how many will turn up, so it's a lot of money to spend,' says Willsher. There's a lack of large venues for nights devoted to dance music genres such as trance, progressive house, breaks or drum'n'bass, he says. 'Some DJs who have played here recently have been disappointed with the crowds.
'What we really need is a venue that can hold 1,000 people and is available on a regular basis. These days every club would rather play hip-hop and R&B. Hopefully this event will put some creativity back into the clubbing scene.'
Maxiam says he tried to secure a bigger venue, but large spaces such as the Convention and Exhibition Centre and Hitec in Kowloon Bay were unavailable. 'It's frustrating, but it'll be a great night anyway,' says the Canadian, who hopes it will be the first of many local White Balls. 'If it's good then people will talk about it for next year. I'm on a mission.'
Lashes is a good pick to headline. Fresh from a recent tour of the mainland, the world's top female DJ will be playing her hard and dirty beats, and is no stranger to outrageous looks herself. Early in her career she specialised in the dominatrix look as she whipped crowds into a frenzy with her fast and furious sets.
The first female DJ to win a top 10 place in dance music bible DJ Magazine's top 100, the British DJ (whose real name is Lisa Dawn Rose-Wyatt) has performed at many of the world's top clubs, from London's Slinky to God's Kitchen in Ibiza, so she knows exactly what's expected for Hong Kong's first White Ball. She'll be supported by Hong Kong's veteran master of relentless beats, DJ Christian, as well as DJ Yin and Jason F.
White Party First Edition, Oct 10, 10pm, Grappas, Jardine House basement, Connaught Rd, Central, $240 (first 300 tickets, go to www.hkclubbing.com), $300, HMV. Inquiries: 9526 4407