- Tuesday 18 August 2015
- Jackson McInerney
IMAGE: NIGHTCLUBS ARE POPULAR AND EXTRAVAGANT IN SHANGHAI, BUT DANCING IS NOT FOR THE PATRONS. (DAVE TACON)
Walkley Award-winning photographer Dave Tacon moved to Shanghai because the city 'felt like the centre of the world'. He's been documenting the city's nightclub scene ever since, bearing witness to the fascinating decadence of a new class of young Chinese. He shared his photos and thoughts withBlueprint for Living.
Shanghai is the biggest city in a country undergoing enormous change. Glittering skyscrapers tower over crumbling colonial facades and hand carts are parked next to late model Lamborghinis. A new generation has been quick to embrace the consumer fetishism of the west and the nightclub is where that embrace enters a level of rapture.
In some ways, Shanghai's popular and growing club scene is a throwback to the city's past glories.
'It always had that reputation,' says photographer Dave Tacon. 'In the 1920s and '30s you had Paris, Berlin and Shanghai. I was looking to draw a connection to that time; the decadent aspect was something I was looking to document.'
IMAGE: DISPLAYING WEALTH IS A SIGN OF PRESTIGE. BRAND NAME CLOTHING AND LIQUOR IS THE CURRENCY OF COOL. (DAVE TACON)
At first glance, Tacon's photographs could be of nightclubs anywhere. It's all there: the bright lights, the drunken embraces, the outfits, the lingering gazes across the bar. Look a little longer, though, and you'll notice that none of the paying customers are dancing.
'Dancing is not really a priority there,' says Tacon. 'It's mostly about sitting at tables. They play a lot of drinking games with dice. It's all about conspicuous consumption.
'Sometimes people spend up to $60,000 on bar tabs. You hear stories of champagne wars, with one table trying to outspend the other. It's like a theme park of indulgence these clubs.'
The focus on consumption runs through Tacon's work. At one Shanghai club, when pricey bottles of booze are bought by patrons, a colour-coded light washes over their table to ensure no one misses who is spending big.
'Where ever you stand in the club you can see who bought bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label because there's blue lasers beamed down from the ceiling. They have red lasers for Hennessey,' says Tacon.
'They won't just buy one. They'll buy eight or 10. There'll be five or six people at each table and if they drank everything on it, they'd be dead.'
IMAGE: CHAMPAGNE IS A POPULAR DRINK IN SHANGHAI NIGHTCLUBS, DESPITE NOT BEING TRADITIONALLY FAVOURED BY THE CHINESE.(DAVE TACON)
Simply ordering a drink at the bar can have serious social consequences.
'If you have to get a drink at the bar you're a bit of a loser,' says Tacon. 'You're right down the pecking order. If you're really someone, you'll have a reserved table and some sort of pre-arranged deal for a dozen bottles of champagne.
'There's more champagne consumed in Shanghai than anywhere else in China. It's not really a Chinese drink. It's seen as an expression of sophistication, but generally the Chinese don't like drinking things cold because it's considered to be unhealthy. The drink is tart and they prefer sweeter things.'
But in the glittering world of the Shanghai club scene, consumption may have overtaken good taste.
Dave Tacon's photographs will be on show at The Lost Ones Gallery as part of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale from August 22.
Blueprint For Living is a weekly rummage through the essential cultural ingredients—design, architecture, food, travel, fashion—for a good life.