Interview: Leandro Ming – The Backroom

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Nik Addams talks to Leandro Ming, the man behind the city’s hottest new weekly gay night, about shaking up the scene and putting Hong Kong back on the map

 I’m always the one complaining that the gay scene in Hong Kong is boring,” says Leandro Ming. “There’s nothing to do or it’s always the same. And I wanna dance, you know? I want people to let it out.” While you probably won’t find too many Hongkongers disagreeing with Ming about the lay of the LGBTI landscape, there aren’t all that many in a position to do much about it. But he’s different. He’s the manager of subterranean Wyndham Street restaurant-slash-lounge Zafran, which gives him a golden ticket to start a new type of gay night.

“I just thought one day ‘why don’t I throw a party?’ – and so I did,” says Ming. Initially a monthly do, which started at Chinese New Year, the response to The Backroom was so good that the powers that be at Aqua, the hospitality group behind Zafran, asked him to turn it into a weekly event. Hundreds have been coming through every Saturday night, when the rear of the cavernous venue is transformed into a dark, strobe-lit, smoky den, complete with a separate entrance. Around the back, naturally.

Rather than Propaganda mark two, though, The Backroom is an ‘old-fashioned good night out’. When asked what makes it stand out from the pack, Ming instantly talks about the music. “It’s not boring commercial music,” he tells us. “I make sure I have themes as well. Every week is a different theme.” The nights range from diva performances and drag shows to hip-hop gigs. On May 14, The Backroom hosts its first white party featuring Hong Kong’s DJ Taki, fresh off his show at Songkran’s gCircuit closing party in Thailand, one of the biggest of its kind in Asia.

This also might be a nod to what Ming hopes The Backroom can bring to the local gay scene. “Hong Kong is a big international city,” he says, “and there aren’t spaces like this. Even for me, I’ve been here six years, and it gets boring. I want to get Hong Kong back on the map. Everybody goes to Bangkok and Taipei. Even Singapore has more [gay venues than Hong Kong] but I want people to come here. That was the idea at the beginning; to try to shake it up a bit and have styles of music that aren’t played everywhere else.”

Ming understands the market, too. Although this is the hospitality guru’s first foray into managing a club, in a former life he was a busboy at iconic Sydney venues the Albury Hotel and Midnight Shift. The sense of community that’s fostered in a city like Sydney is something that Ming hopes to emulate here. “The other clubs are all close by,” he says. “I want everybody to work with each other. That way, Hong Kong can really open up as a cool place to come, even if you’re gay.” This sort of camaraderie hasn’t always been a given in our gay scene, though. “Everybody was bitching behind everybody’s back,” Ming complains, “and look what happened – everything closed. I want us to work as a community, as it should be.”

Even before Propaganda closed earlier this year, the gay scene was already diversifying, most prominently in the form of smaller pop-up events around town offering alternative music for alternative crowds. At The Backroom, Ming is effectively creating different nights each week – but in a permanent location. As far as the future of Hong Kong’s gay scene goes, he says he’s more than willing to lead the charge. “We need to shake it up,” he insists, “and we can’t wait. With things like the Gay Games and Pink Alliance, it’s the beginning of something new, perhaps. And we need more than one bar. We need a few smaller ones. It doesn’t have to be big. One is boring for a big city like Hong Kong.”

The Backroom Every Sat, 11.30pm-4.30am, $100 (inc drink). B/F, 43-55 Wyndham St, Central, 2116 8855; fb.com/the-backroom.

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