“You like techno music too?” is an instant gateway to human connection that transcends culture, language and country.
Kindred spirits of the sound. In the first six months of being here I attended a handful of parties in Tokyo that were obviously mind-blowing (like most things when you first arrive in the metropolis) but they weren’t quite hitting that techno sweet spot I’d imagined. Was I asking Tokyo to be Berlin? Kind of. Naturally, I was coming up short. I’d found Womb and Ageha but I hadn’t discovered outdoor festivals nor had I found the kind of 5:30am events that only those who knew about things would know about.
I scoured social media pages, groups and posts relating to Japan’s electronic music groups, all of which seemed to point towards Japan’s youth shying away from going out, dancing curfews curbing Tokyo’s scene and ultimately that Japan’s techno culture was indeed dying. Apparently if I really wanted to experience Asian Techno I would have been better off in South Korea. My pilgrimage seemed bleak.
But just as I was about to leave the dancefloor as such, the beat turned into base.
Bonobo’s 2018 live set changed everything. The venue, crowd and sound hinted at that ‘sweet spot’ I’d been seeking. That wintery weekend saw me discovering an array of clubs that played the kind of techno I’d been after. I was on the right path and I’d been re-inspired. I continued my online search for outdoor events (as much as I love the club nothing quite compares with dancing for 6 hours in the middle of nowhere under the sunshine.) The weather warmed and with it brought an apparent rich line-up of outdoor festivals and events.
Rainbow Disco Club was the first of these to pop up on my tech-radar. After all that I hummed and ahed about going because wow, tickets are not cheap in Japan. A week before the event my dancing shoes got the better of me and I swiped my card losing to eat rice and pickles for the rest of the month. Looking back, I have not one smidgen of regret (except for the fact that I wish that the tent i took with me was indeed a tent and not a shade cloth. I made do.) The lesson; sometimes you have to throw the last of your yen and some South African Rands to the wind and just go. Shinkansen and all. I spent three days dancing in the sunshine and meeting people who all LOVED music. People were friendly and I danced out of there with a handful of new connections; a true experience of the Japanese music scene and a list of recommendations of techno clubs and events in Japan. I’d found salvation.
A couple of months later and a good number of events in between, I found myself at a local bar, talking about the festival I’d been to the week before. And guess what? Someone turns around, invites me over and proceeds to tell me that he’s a local techno DJ who doesn’t only know of DJ Nobu but happens to be friends with him too. I almost fell off my near-the-floor bar stool. In the middle of Japanese Alps I’d found a direct connection to the church of techno. I couldn’t help telling him that I’d almost considered leaving the country due to the apparent lack of techno; he proceeded to offer to teach my how to DJ and convince me that my ideas were completely incorrect.
After a year and half here I can finally confirm that there is indeed a scene (boo to all those on the net that wrote otherwise). It’s small. People know each other. The festivals are a mix of regulars and first timers – the regulars frequent the circuit and the first timers get leads. I got leads and began to frequent along with the regular frequenters, “ohisashiburi” became my favourite word. And after all that, here I was sitting on a bar stool chatting to someone from the inner sanctum.
So now that I’ve accumulated a little knowledge about the goings on here I figured it’d be worthwhile to counter the news on the inter webs by sharing it with those of you who might find yourself in Japan looking for a rave.
Buy passes in advance; more often than not things sell out really quickly (early birds sell out almost instantly) there are often some last straggler tickets but they’re usually the most expensive tier and sometimes don’t feature a camping ticket too. So unless you have friends attending; late notice admission ticket sans camping and parking could be problematic. So make friends and book early. Also, don’t forget your ID/passport.
Despite what they say; you can indeed bring alcohol and food into the venues. Most people arrive fully kitted out with Marie Kondo’d camp sites and kitchen-come-bars to match. Don’t bring drugs though. The police will get you; no exaggeration; I’ve seen it and it sucks.
An onsen is usually available. I haven’t seen shower rooms like those we have at South African festivals; but for the most part if the festival is longer than a night there will be an onsen facility very near or at the venue.
Don’t be a dick. This should be a given but wow I’ve seen some people acting like sh*ts dropping glass and groping girls. Leave that at home, it’s not a vibe at the club or under the skies.
Lastly general tips: bring portable chargers, good tents, towels, glitter, fairy lights etc. festival procedure as per usual.
My black book of festivals and clubs:
F E S T I V A L S
FFKT This year will be FFKT’s first festival after its change from existing as Taico Club. It’s a one night event in Nagano and promises to focus more on Asian Techno and electronic genres than the previous pop and European electronic focus of Taico club.
Rainbow Disco Club Rainbow Disco Club celebrates its tenth year this year. It’s a beautiful three day mix of house, techno and experimental electronic sounds. The stages close at midnight so be sure to get your dancing shoes on by lunch if you really want to make the most of it.
Rural Two nights of purist techno in the most scenic, remote venue in the middle of Nagano’s mountains. It’s a marathon not a sprint at Rural, start your day late and stay up all night.
Mindgames: The Labyrinth Much like Rural, this festival is low-key AF and I probably wouldn’t have known about it having not been to any events like it. It definitely didn’t come up from a simple google search. I’ve yet to attend but going on the other festivals and the apparent exclusive ticketing process I have to conclude it’s worth the extra yen.
Mutek Mutek is an international festival of digital creativity and electronic music. It’s hosted in various countries around the world with Tokyo being one of them. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend last year but this year it’s on my “to go” list for sure.
C L U B S
Ageha Probably Tokyo’s biggest club. A full on scensory overload but beware to check the schedule before going or you could land up at a basic EDM night or arriving at a closed club. It’s about an hour out of Tokyo so unless you have money for a cab, be prepared to stay until first train.
Contact Probably my most frequented club in Tokyo because it’s sizeable, hosts great DJs and happens to be near where I stay when I’m in the city.
Oath I haven’t been yet but it’s been recommended by staff at Technique Tokyo so I have no doubt it’s delivers the goods.
Bonobo Another one I haven’t been to yet, but again it comes highly recommended by those on the scene.
Vent I first experienced this club when Bonobo played his live set there last year. It’s intimate, the sound quality is great and it has the sense of musical exclusivity, expect the good stuff.
Circus I’ve found myself at this club more times than I’ve expected to and never once regretted it. Not as chic as Vent but they host both big names and up-and-comings. Lo-fi, techno, house are all on the schedule so pick the night that best suits your taste.
Mago I’m including this on the off chance that you find yourself in Nagoya. According to the people I met at RDC, this club seems to be the best place to find a house/techno fix in the city.
Alzar I’ve not yet clubbed in Osaka but Alzar comes highly rated and happened to host Amelie Lens last weekend so along with Circus Osaka, I’d have to recommend this venue.
S H O P
Technique Tokyo Tucked away near the Shibuya Crossing, this little shop holds within it an exquisite selection of electronic (mostly techno) Vinyls and merchandise. Select some vinyl, buy a beer and camp out at a record player station for a few hours.
If I’ve left anything else out that you’re aware of please feel free to comment and share your insight, otherwise meet you front-left!