clubs Waikiki Lounge

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The Independent Culture
It's 11.30pm, about an hour or so into the first ever Waikiki Lounge, and one of the night's acts suddenly comes over all confessional. "Between you and me," he says, "I don't know what the hell this club is about." He shakes his head, "the most coherent answer I've had is that it'll be like walking onto a film set..." We look around. In as much as there's a lot of seen-it-all-before pouting going on, it's pretty much like a film set. The location, off Leicester Square, in the cavernous, dimly lit and vaguely gothic club Venom helps, of course. There's an oven- ready decadence. But we haven't yet set out on that "strange, delirious journey through the more absurd aspects of the 20th century" promised by our hosts, the Lunatic Fringe.

Things haven't exactly got off flyingly. First there was the oddly confrontational madame at the door. "It's about as far away from house music as my handbag," she snapped at one curious passer-by. Then there was the curtain-raising video nasty, a screening of Ray Brady's Boy Meets Girl, in which said girl tortures her boyfriend. Unfortunately boy had just begun to be overwhelmed by the cigarette fumes being channelled into his plastic headset, when flames started engulfing the celluloid. "Owing to some technical difficulties, we have had to interrupt your movie-viewing," the DJ purred, feeding in a selection from the Waikiki's alternative playlist: Piaf, Henry Mancini, Basil Henriques and the Waikiki Islanders.

So here we are, wondering what the club is all about, when I discover the club within the club. Standing by a door in the corner is Miss Kitty Kick-Box with a very tall transvestite entourage sporting red suspenders, ostrich-plumed headgear and false eyelashes. "I've just got back from Hollywood, where I spent three months shopping," Kick-Box says silkily. "I'm afraid that if you don't have a VIP ticket, you'll have to perform vile and unnatural acts."

A short while later, I am in a room lined with cushioned recesses, canopied by what look like Bedouin tents. Techno throbs in the background. Ali, a friendly transvestite, says that the VIP lounge is a "way of re-establishing a bit of elitism, a sort of return to the spirit of the Eighties". I make my excuses and return via the fluorescent canvas-and-foil Hawaiian beach, to where a man in a dinner jacket is standing motionless in front of what looks like a primitive radio. It is, in fact, the world's first electronic instrument, the theremin. He teases the aerial with slight hand gestures, coaxing out "Amazing Grace", and the theme from Star Trek. The onlookers look on in a B-movie trance.

The theremin seems to have an invisible effect on the nerve clusters that control sociability for, from hereon, the mood changes. A trio in sequinned minis dances on mushroom-shaped podiums and the dance floor fills with men in tuxedos and women in ballgowns. They boogie to the theme tune from Planet of the Apes and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang against a projected backdrop of black-and-white movie clips. "We want to see the films that don't get shown, hear the music that doesn't get played and dress up," says Waikiki stylist Rachel Van Asch. "We're not interested in parody like other alternative clubs. We're paying a tribute to a golden age."

And suddenly, it stops sounding like swagger. A young chanteuse appears and, against a low synth growl, sings a couple of Marilyn numbers, lending "She Acts Like a Woman" a menace worthy of The Crying Game. Murray, a bedraggled performance poet, drawls through a Soho satire in which a gay man turns heterosexual before launching into "Everybody's Taking Cocaine". "Oh less, less, less, less about you," he intones, "and more, more, more, more about me." Just as the Waikiki Lounge starts to wind down for the night you are surprised to catch yourself aching for more.

10pm to 3am, this Wed (fortnightly) at Venom, 13-17 Bear Street, London W1, pounds 7