La Sing Karaoke Bar is like the city's drain – a huge swirling force constantly pulling people back to relive their dizzying performances on its 10cm tall stage. We spent a night learning to love the spotlight with some of La Sing's more accomplished performers.
How to lose yourself to La Sing
It’s Friday night and CityMag has sunk a well’s worth of cranberry vodkas and has plucked up the courage to belt out Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ to a posse of loved ones and a room full of strangers.
It’s this writer’s first time at La Sing – the place where egos are tested and vocal chords know no restraint.
The purple screen with yellow stars comes on and our table number and song title is writ large for the entire room to see. We’re on stage and suddenly flooded with a disconcerting awareness of the physical nature of performing in front of a crowd. What about our idle hands? Is hanging them by my side a cool thing to do?
Kylie’s hypnotic ‘la – la – la‘ lyrics float on the flat screen above. A thrumming beat urges us to tap our feet, which floods confidence up to our fingers, we shift our grip on the microphone and start to sing.
At first the voice we hear over the PA system sounds like it’s being stretched over gravel, but slowly we become less stiff and more mercurial in our movement. By the first chorus, what was a wobbly newborn giraffe is an upright diva. There’re power stances and pointing, and although there’s a lack of musical talent, there is vigour.
The song is over. But instead of heading to the bar for a top-up, we race back to our table to thumb through the tattered encyclopaedia of pop-culture tracks for our next five minutes of fame.
La Sing Karaoke Bar is a zany venue covered in astrological décor on the cusp of the postcode 5000’s limits. It first opened its doors on Gouger Street in June 2000, which means it has staged performances from prima donnas and wannabe Bocelli’s for almost two decades.
The karaoke bar has a cult following and is, for many, the final act to any night out. But while it’s fun for the spontaneous singer, it also has a regular dedicated clientele.
La Sing’s Facebook page has garnered 239 reviews from both veterans and first-timers. One woman writes: “this place is like a second home… karaoke at La Sing is my best addiction,” while another adds, concisely: “great atmosphere, huge song choice”.
As we wait for our sophomore song to call us back to the stage, CityMag speaks with the regulars queued up for their own Minogue moment.
Owned by the happy-go-lucky Ung Ching, La Sing is open from 9pm ’til late every night of the week except Monday.
It’s a safe place for bridesmaids to belt their hearts out to Rhianna, or a stage for Motörhead enthusiasts to whip their hair and growl gratingly.
There’s also fully stocked bar and an Asian-inspired menu, with dishes like pad thai noodles and special fried rice being crowd favourites.
Unlike traditional Japanese karaoke bars, which sport private booths, La Sing has a stage where people conquer their favourite songs in front of the public.
Chin says over the years the venue has seen a change in demographic. Originally, La Sing was a space for the Asian community to let loose, but it now caters to a multicultural crowd.
“We welcome all walks of life,” Chin tells CityMag.
“People come because they like music, and performing relieves stress.
“They leave feeling happy, and people like the music.”
Due to popular demand – and the existing songbooks simply disintegrating – a discography of all La Sing’s available karaoke tracks is available online.
Kendrick Walter works in wealth management and has frequented La Sing three times a month for the last 10 years, and says performing at La Sing is like ritual for him.
“I even competed in Australian Idol, maybe in 2006,” he adds with a chuckle.
We found Kendrick bellowing ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ by Elton John centre stage at La Sing. With his eyes closed, he hit every note with unshakable precision and with the volume of a foghorn.
“I sing because it’s helped me build confidence, and I genuinely like to sing!” he tells us after.
“I also have formal training as a singer.
“But I come to La Sing because this place, it sparkles,” he says, adding “it’s a veritable institution and the staff love me here.”
One study from the epicentre of karaoke, Japan, strongly encourages karaoke as a means for businessmen to unwind and receive social gratification.
The study says being applauded from the people you’re with, unsurprisingly, boosts levels of self esteem.
Accountant Elise Schievenin has visited La Sing twice a week for the last two years, but not for confidence. Instead, she ‘Found Love In a Hopeless Place’.
“I also met my boyfriend here two years ago who works here,” says Elise.
“I was having a bad night, and he came up to me and we talked.
“He invited me to come again, and I kind of fell in love with La Sing.
“There’s nowhere in Adelaide quite like it.”
CityMag watched Elise sing Nena’s ‘99 Luftbaloons’ with perfect German fluency. After the applause she was swallowed by her friends to do shots of vodka.
As the night crept later into the AM, the stage cycled through renditions of pure karaoke gold; a throwback to Britney Spears’ crowdpleaser ‘Toxic’, during which groups of girlfriends focussed more on shimmying and less on musical acuity, and a 30-year-old guy, with his heart on his sleeve, performing U2’s ‘With Or Without You’ with gusto and tearful gazing.
Performers accentuate the physical gestures they use convey their song’s story with the resourceful use of surrounding objects. Microphone stands are wielded like swords, while silver stools help accentuate burlesque dancing.
CityMag‘s final song is Madonna’s slapper, ‘Ray Of Light’. It’s during this performance we realise how easy it is for someone to lose themselves on stage at this zany karaoke bar in the CBD.
Order a drink, pick a song and sing your heart out. Rinse and repeat.