The sound of change
Karaoke. A word that can invoke both Joy and excitement for some, but fear and loathing for everyone else. Despite the complete polarisation of opinion, when Japanese Karaoke was introduced to the UK in the 1980’s it became a hugely popular hobby and activity; to the point that It’s become almost an inseparable part of British life and It’s Japanese origins forgotten by many.
Karaoke’s popularity has dropped somewhat recently here at home — not so much in Japan. This comes down to the fact that, despite sharing the name; traditional practices associated with Karaoke in each country are vastly different.
That’s not to say an authentic Japanese Karaoke experience is not possible.
There’s a growing number of venues opening and moving towards traditional Japanese karaoke that is re-igniting Britain’s love for singing. To understand this change we have to look at Japan and compare how Karaoke is traditionally different in each country.
Let’s take a look.
You may be wondering at this point “How different can they be?”. I would say as similar as driving a car and flying a plane — because they both have an engine.
Joking aside, there is in fact a world of difference between British Karaoke and Japanese Karaoke; Its not just the experience that is dissimilar but also the practices behind the scenes. The key areas to look at are:
- Setting and choice of venue
- Song selection and availability
- Opening hours and convenience
Setting and choice of venue
Getting straight to the heart of the issue; where you go to perform Karaoke is the biggest difference. In japan you’ll find what are known as Karaoke boxes. These are private ‘boxes’ or rooms where you can enjoy the experience of ruining your favourite song in the reassuring presence of friends, family, and work colleagues — and nobody else. These are dedicated Karaoke venues often rented by the hour in a somewhat similar setup to a hotel.
That means there is no standing in front of complete strangers who may or may not be taking part. The nervous wait for your slot and the self-conscious performance are eradicated. And the inevitable groan and subtle heckling from onlookers as you choose ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ no longer exists. This may not be an entirely fair or accurate representation of the whole UK Karaoke scene, but it does highlight some of the aspects of Karaoke you may find in a pub or bar where you will most likely perform Karaoke in the UK.
A Japanese Box also features room service where you can order drinks and food; and a tablet-like device in which you control the entire experience from. Some may also offer a variety of instruments to accompany your performance. In short it contains everything you need to hide yourself away from anywhere between an hour and the best part of a full day.
Song selection and availability
The best part of Karaoke is being able to blast out your favourite song for all to witness, of course depending on what songs are available in their Karaoke form. This is where Japanese Karaoke has a considerable edge; a library of over 100,000 is common consisting of not just Japanese songs but English and Korean as well.
This is a far cry from the several hundred or even several thousand found typically in a UK pub or bar. Its not a meagre amount by any means and pools together the most popular songs that are most likely to be chosen anyway, as well as those that are most suitable for the setting.
It’s not hard to understand the disparity in numbers however, as Karaoke in Japan — and really the whole of Asia — is infinitely more popular and successful financially; consequently, more time, money, and resources are spent on Karaoke versions of songs.
It’s becoming common for Japanese artists to create a Karaoke version of a song, the same time that the original is being produced; as such, its immediately available along with the hype of the original release and fuelling the excitement for Karaoke. When it comes to foreign language songs, such as those in English, there’s greater demand and systems in place for professional Karaoke converters to create the versions needed.
Opening hours and convenience
No matter what city, town, or even village you may find yourself in the UK; chances are there is a venue that offers a Karaoke night somewhere close by. They are usually offered once a week at most places, as traditionally (unlike Karaoke boxes) there aren’t many dedicated Karaoke venues.
It’s a different story in the birthplace of karaoke however, as its popularity has facilitated the rise of thousands upon thousands of venues across the entirety of Japan. This in itself is very convenient for anyone wanting to sing their hearts away for a few hours; although, add in the fact that many of these are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and you begin to understand the paradise for Japanese Karaoke lovers.
Karaoke then suddenly becomes much more accessible to all manner of people: businessman can attend after work (which is common), students can attend after school, and friends can attend during the day for a catch-up. The price of Karaoke in Japan usually depends on how many people attend as it’s priced per person. As such, it is also increasingly common for people to attend Karaoke boxes by themselves known as hitokara.
Japanese Karaoke in the UK
Now that we have a decent understanding of what Japanese Karaoke is and how it differs from the UK experience, hopefully it is an activity that you may want to investigate further.
As traditional Karaoke in pubs and bars seems to be dying off, fortunately, they seem to be being replaced by more authentic Japanese Karaoke experiences. Many seem to be incorporating the ideas as mentioned above while others are presenting a hybrid of Japanese box styles whilst also offering bar service and public areas.
Either way, lets find out where you can now get a Japanese Karaoke experience closer to home.
We start off the list with the one of the biggest names associated with Karaoke boxes in the UK. Lucky voice has been noted to have consciously looked at the Japanese Karaoke experience and decided to bring an almost identical setup to the UK.
Private rooms, tablet-styled control, room service, the essentials are all here with a public bar area as well. Lucky Voice currently have four venues of its own operating in the UK, but you will also find its services in other establishments on this list.
Karaoke box is another company that has four locations in the UK. The difference between Lucky voice and Karaoke box however is that here there are a variety of themed rooms. This makes return visits a lot more interesting and generally adds to the fun factor on a night out.
Each Karaoke box venue is also fitted with a cocktail bar from which room service is also provided as well as existing alongside very modern décor in public areas. You can expect at least 10,000 songs at each of its venues as well as songs in different languages.
Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes
Don’t let the name fool you. Sure, bowling is part of its appeal but in reality, it’s a mix of activities — one of them is Karaoke. It offers up five Karaoke rooms that can be rented, but with a minimum of 2 hours. This is generally the minimum amount of time people spend doing Karaoke this way anyhow.
What is quite impressive is that on paper it ticks most of the Japanese Karaoke boxes: Open any day of the week, check, privacy and touch screen technology, check, and a vast number of songs over what is normally offered, check. It’s boasting over 30,000 which is a great selection. (It’s not 100,000 but you can’t have it all.) Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes could be a great place to go for a night of variety.
During my research into Karaoke, what I found surprising is that Scotland has history of being full of Karaoke enthusiasts. Supercube I feel is a testament to that.
With very contemporary styling, Supercube is the authentic Japanese Karaoke experience in Scotland. From a range of different sized rooms to fit your party to the song selection that is second to none outside Japan (50,000), Supercube should be top of the list for a dedicated Karaoke night.
It currently has three venues across Scotland, and all feature a drinks and snacks room service. This is alongside competitive pricing as well as a sophisticated touch screen that allows you to fully customise each song with effects and pitch changes. It really is everything you could possibly want.
Continuing the theme for great Karaoke, Sing City offers something a little different yet again. There are 6 Karaoke rooms to be seen here, but each has a unique theme based around a different city. No matter what room you pick, all are well appointed and higher spec than some others on this list. With a 10,000-song library and waiter service you suddenly have a good choice for Karaoke in Scotland.
Despite being a company based solely on a delivering a good Karaoke service it also has a bar and public lounge area outside the rooms if you want to relax in a calmer atmosphere for a while.
Bambu beach bar
Right in the heart of the Swansea city centre is a bar that does things a little differently. Apart from being decorated in a ‘Latin Tiki interior’ and a very themed experience, it houses some private Karaoke rooms.
These are powered by using Lucky voice software and peripherals, which is a good sign you’ll be getting a descent karaoke experience from a well-established company. It’s quote of over 1000 songs is slightly disappointing but there should be enough to cover most tastes; although, alongside some larger than average rooms, Bambu beach bar should provide a good Karaoke experience.
Tiger Tiger is a nightclub that has two locations across the UK: London and Cardiff. Both are slightly different; however, to the benefit of those in Cardiff, this Tiger Tiger has Karaoke rooms too.
Mixed in amongst themed party rooms throughout the venue, Lucky voice is once again providing Karaoke where it is needed. With a dark and sultry theme at work in the rooms, it’s a certainly a blend of traditional Karaoke room and the British nightclub in one; with an attached bar and 8000 strong song library it could be worth checking out if you want a bit of both.
Rounding off our tour in the UK, even Belfast is getting in on the Japanese Karaoke experience. Situated right next door to Queens University is a popular bar/nightclub/games venue. Undoubtedly appealing to a younger age range, Cuckoo doesn’t have a Karaoke room, it has a Karaoke Lounge.
This is a single private hire space, but its not just a box with some chairs and a tv in like some others, it’s a large, well-decorated and presented space suitable for a large number of people. Open every day of the week, it has touch controls, its own room service, and even a stage.
Karaoke is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but then you have to ask, what version of Karaoke have you tried? Is your experience limited to a typical Karaoke night down the local? or have you in fact been to a private ‘box’ — Japanese style? There should now be an understanding that the two are completely different in almost every way.
The authentic Japanese Karaoke experience is on the rise. To everyone who has either experienced a harrowing night out or has broken out in a sweat at the thought, I would say give true Japanese Karaoke a try before neglecting it altogether.