Tokyo is a city of contrasts. Canned coffee vending machines sit outside hand drip coffee houses. Technological innovation reigns supreme but offices still use fax machines. VR amusement parks are housed in mega towers while people still message friends on flip phones. These contrasts bleed into the nightlife too. The city’s venues feature some of the best interior designs, PA setups, and most serious audiophiles in the world. So why is it not considered a club hub? And why are people not going out in droves?
To gather a little more insight into the rather enigmatic Tokyo club scene we spoke to local promoter YonYon. Making waves in Japan, and wider Asia for a few years now, as a party starter, DJ, tour manger, and J-Pop singer YonYon is the tireless figure behind some of the best parties and tours Tokyo has seen in recent years. She’s also just launched a new solo venture Bridge to keep advancing the Japanese music scene.
What’s your history in the Tokyo music scene?
I started organizing parties six years ago. It all started when I was in university and our enrollment ceremony was cancelled due to the great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. It was a devastating time for all, but at the same time, it was important to move forward, and raise our spirits. So together with some friends we decided to host an enrollment party ourselves, to encourage our friends, and to celebrate the start of a new chapter in our lives.
About 600 freshmen came to the venue that day and together we partied, enjoyed great music and built new friendships. This was the starting point of my life as an event organizer. I began working at Shibuya club Womb as an intern. During this time, EDM had already become the most popular genre in the Tokyo scene, however I found it really boring. As a result I started a party series under the name of ‘Feet Off The Floor’, focusing on underground music and indie artists (2012–2014).
While hosting parties, I also started my DJ career. There was a DJ booth at the apparel shop where I worked part-time. I practiced mixing after work and my more experienced DJ co-worker invited me to club as a warm up act. I played tech-house and deep house at that time, but everything changed after going to Seoul in 2014.
How did Korea’s music scene shape you?
I moved to Seoul for half a year as a university exchange student. The house music scene there was very small. Hip-hop however was mainstream in underground clubs. I listened to hip-hop every weekend while in Korea and little by little I started to gain interest in playing hip-hop myself.
Both the Korean and Japanese music scenes were very different and being able to understand them equally allowed me to develop a new unique DJ style. While in Korea, I had the opportunity to play in various clubs and meet many of the local promoters.
I was able to keep those connections upon returning to Japan and that’s what led to the creation of Bridge. Throughout the years we shared information on the music scene of each country as well as upcoming artists we were excited about.
Can you explain what Bridge is?
I am the founder and owner of Bridge. I became a promoter as a result of my constant back and forth between clubs in Japan and Korea. I myself became a ‘bridge’, bringing artists from Korea to Japan and from Japan to Korea and sometimes other Asian countries.
Bridge is a booking agent connecting foreign underground artists to Japan and Korea, like a bridge connecting cultures. Sometimes we also share the artists between other Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. It is based in Tokyo and we handle bookings, project-production, write about the Asian underground music scene and translate between English/Korean/Japanese. We will also have a music production project connecting foreign and domestic artists.
Why do you think it’s important to bring international artists to Japan?
The Japanese club scene has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Until few years back, there were many artists who aimed to play at Japanese clubs. However, as neighboring Asian countries become more active and evolve their scenes, the interest in coming to Japan is decreasing. In fact, the number of underground artists that don’t visit Japan for their Asian tours is increasing every year.
As time passes, those who used to club often become older and stop. Even people around my age and younger have stopped, or they simply don’t go clubbing. I think one of the reasons is that in Japan going to clubs is still regarded as a little taboo. In order to revive the music scene we have to actively introduce cool foreign artists to the younger generation. The music scene will not grow if there is no audience.
What’s most difficult about Japan’s live music/party scene?
Japanese customers do not dance and generally speaking the Japanese doesn’t go out to clubs. Clubs are mostly filled with tourists or foreigners living in Japan. On the other hand, the number of DJs in Japan is increasing while the audience is not. There are many venues and many DJs, as a result there are many events, but we need a more united community. In Japan it is difficult to cultivate a regular event and crew with fixed branding.
What do you think Japan does better than anywhere else when it comes to throwing parties?
There are many venues with great sound system, the latest gear and an excellent PA. I have played in many countries, but nobody can compete with Japan when it comes to venue setup. In Japan each venue, big or small, is properly equipped with a CDJ and mixer and operated by a professional PA.
What are your plans for the rest of 2017?
I am currently planning a party called Underwave. It’s a new party bringing the foreign underground wave to the Tokyo club scene. Details will be released soon. I’m also working on various projects as a singer-songwriter and want to independently release my own EP.
Who are the local underground artists we should know?
Trekkie Trax is a crew that I’ve been working with since I started Feet Off The Floor. They are an Internet label and creative group run in the same circles as me. They play in Tokyo, with the goal of transmitting various sounds to the world. Their music is cool and their live performances are incredible. They also have cool merchandise making them the hottest crew at the moment with great branding.
What are the best venues in Tokyo?
WWW is famous as a live-house, but from August they have opened WWWβ and will be increasing their events after midnight as a club. Their schedule lineup is really well selected so I expect them to bring fresh sounds that other clubs do not have.
Bridge are holding an event on August 21 click here for details.