Karaoke, okay?

Updated: 22 Jul 2009
Karaoke, okay?

By Rachel Jena

Karaoke has gone from sleazy to fun, so sing your heart out for a great alternative to the nightclubs in town.

You’ve probably experienced one of the following symptoms in the past: a mid-week craving for an outing to beat the office blues; lamenting the repetitious experience of nightclubs in the city; or, feeling the urge to release the secret  performer in you. If so, karaoke is your answer. Its earliest incarnations saw bulky equipment and a poor selection of songs (‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ anyone?), but the activity has since come a long way with a good variety of karaoke spots in KL to suit every need.

Karaoke, which literally translates as ‘missing orchestra’ in Japanese, gives your vocal chords a great workout, may help with performance anxiety, and is a fantastic alternative to nightclubs in KL, especially during weekdays. Another plus is that most spots close at about 3am, roughly the same time as your regular nightspot. I recommend avoiding the seedier places in town (the kind that mix business with pleasure), but do look up the following, more kosher, venues.

Karaoke boxes
The usual suspects in the city are Red Box (www.redbox.com.my) and Neway (www.newaykb.com.my). Both companies offer private rooms – or boxes, as they’re called – for patrons. Loosely, this means the tone-deaf are kept well out of earshot. On a brighter note, private rooms mean you can also sing as loudly as you want and dance in the privacy and company of your own friends. No more hustling for space on the dance floor and you are entirely in control of the songs on the playlist.

Red Box and Neway have outlets spread across the city, but rates vary between each one. General rules of thumb, however, are that rates are lowest after midnight, on Monday to Thursday nights and quoted fees are per head, entitling you to a certain number of drinks and access to the dinner buffet throughout your time slot. Neway offers additional discounts to its members, while Red Box practices a point collection system that offers customers the chance to redeem gifts for their many hours of crooning. Why don’t nightclubs offer drink coupons for accumulated hours of dancing?

In all, a trip to either of these places promises a good laugh and it’s a fair-priced night out. At Red Box (The Gardens or Low Yat Plaza), forking out the RM46++ fee on a Saturday night includes your contribution for the room, two soft drinks or beer and dinner too. The company also offers Red Box Ria (which caters to their ‘fellow Malay community’), Green Box (a cheaper alternative), and Red Box Plus at Pavilion (C4.01.00 & C5.01.00 Connection Level 4 & 5, Pavilion KL, 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL/03 2148 3322). 

The latter is the company’s Rolls-Royce of karaoke boxes, featuring 40 themed rooms, unlimited singing from 6pm-3am, dinner and a drink. All this will set you back RM60++ per head on a Saturday night. You can also book the private VIP rooms here that accommodate a maximum of 80 people. These rooms revolutionarily provide video game consoles alongside the regular karaoke equipment, so there’s something to do while waiting for your turn on the mike. Expect a total bill of four digits.

Too extravagant? Then consider News KTV. KL branches are located at Ampang Park (03 2161 2581) and Imbi Plaza (03 2144 3232) and rates go as low as RM20-25++ per hour for the smallest rooms. The atmosphere here may be much grittier but song selection is still fairly contemporary and adequate. And what’s great about News KTV is that room rates are per hour (you split the fee according to the number of people in your group) and they have a generous bring your own policy that extends to all manner of drinks and food. Your precious duty free supply can well and truly be put to good use.

Aim for the stage
Reckon you’ve graduated from singing in boxes? Your audience bored of your staple choice of power ballads? Then Palace Bar & Lounge in Cheras (28-G, Block N, Jalan 3/93A, Warisan Cityview, Cheras/03 9205 6280) may just be the place for you. It adopts the open concept of the karaoke bar, as popularised in the West, and is relatively simple. You make your song request on a slip of paper, hand it over to the bar, then croon your lungs out for all to hear and see. Intrigued, I tried it out with a friend one fateful Friday night and found the experience to be heaps of fun, though it’s obviously not for the faint-hearted.

Unlike the franchised karaoke boxes, you’re not required to pay a fee to sing, but simply purchase drinks (as at any bar). There’s a retractable stage here, screens positioned at various corners of the room, and large folders that contain a grand total of 23,000 songs in Chinese (various dialects), English, Malay, Hindi, Japanese, Thai, and Korean. It’s an eclectic selection and I even spotted songs from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ among the English tunes.

And, contrary to popular belief, karaoke bars aren’t simply for the inebriated. Palace Bar & Lounge sees serious performers come in to practice. ‘Owing to the superior sound system, we have developed a clientele who like to sing and there have been a number of professional singers who come to the bar. There have also been a number of participants in the Astro singing competitions who have used our bar for regular practice,’ says owner Dato’ Ong who is also setting up a basic course on wine and wine tasting at the bar.

The aforementioned superior sound system is one that has plus (+) and minus (-) six key capabilities, reputedly the first in the country. Yes boys, this means you too can croon a Whitney Houston tune.

But for those looking for a quick fix or the chance to practice a little before showing off their skills, there’s always the ‘karaoke jamban’ or ‘toilet karaoke’ at 1Utama and Sunway Pyramid, so called for their resemblance to public toilets. Gladly, this excludes the olfactory delights, but the moniker refers to the size and workings of these crooning cabinets. It’s only one ringgit per song and is perfect for nights out with a date or if your friends have stood you up.