In about ten years, Halloween in Japan has gone from a small foreigner-oriented Roppongi event, to a massive country-wide phenomenon. As far as Western holidays go, there are worse ones to import: any chance to dress up in silly outfits and go party it up with friendly strangers is good to take (the whole kids&candy part hasn’t really made it with the rest).

This year’s 31st being a Friday, helped reach unseen level of costumed street craziness in Tokyo.

Taking the title over skeevy Roppongi, Shibuya has now become a much bigger epicentre for Halloween revelry: I had never seen that many people in the streets there. Not during the World Cup, not during New Year’s Eve1, not ever.

Crowd was mainly Japanese, costumes were the usual declinations of sex, blood and cute cartoon characters. Usually all at the same time: from zombie sexy snow-white, to blood-drenched sexy teddy-bear. If originality was not always at its peak, the amount of effort (/money) put into it was undeniable. The bar-counter sociologists would have also noted a huge preponderance of group costumes.

Clockwork Orange in TokyoFor once, yours truly did put some efforts into that costume thing. The end result surpassed our expectations, mainly thanks to the magic of Internet shopping and Japan’s mind-blowingly fast delivery services.

We were expecting little recognition from the average Japanese Halloween partier (hell, even from the average mid-twenties Westerner), but figured the outfits would look weird enough as a group to make for a good costume anyway…

In fact, not only does Clockwork Orange has its fans amongst young hip Tokyoites, but the ones that are into it are really into it. Which lead to an uninterrupted stream of young Japanese devotchkas in various goth-y outfits stopping us, proffering their love for 時計じかけのオレンジ with much shrieking and asking for group pictures. You know you’ve been in Japan too long when you don’t bat a (long) eyelash at repeated mentions that Alex is sooo kawaii. Because nothing says cute, like cod-piece-wearing sociopathic rapist-murderers.

I expect there are now hundreds of pictures floating out there, featuring smily blood-drenched Japanese girls surrounded by creepily-dressed foreigners in vaguely threatening (and increasingly lewd as the night went on) poses. Which I realise sounds like the exact description of a Roppongi club on a Saturday night, but was actually a lot more wholesome (and fun) than that.

After spending most of the evening in the streets (and street-side cafés) of Shibuya, the late-night clubbing at Trump Room nearly felt dull by comparison: dark confined spaces probably aren’t the best place for watching cool costumes. But what wouldn’t a true droog do to dance on some Ludvig van, or whatever closest musical approximation they can find.

A jolly night all around and an unmitigated success. Except for the abuse of Milk Plus that lead to a rather tough morning the next day.

  1. To be fair, only very clueless foreigners still regularly show up there, clinging to the hope that there will be a countdown party. []

The Scooby Gang on the way to TaicoClub

This draft has been clogging Dave Corps’ backlog for ages. Now that it is no longer even remotely relevant, I figured it was about time to finish and post it.

Actually, one of the reason I did not rush to write anything of our brilliant TaicoClub weekend, was that James’ professionally-edited report of the event, more competent than I could ever hope to be, made this drivel even more redundant than usual.

Anyhow, James’ generous sharing of guestlist love was the reason I managed to join the gang at the last minute, long after hopes of snagging a late ticket on Yahoo Auction had all but vanished. The press passes also meant we could go monkey around backstage. But the front of the stage was usually a lot more fun.

The whole festival weekend was the usual tightly packed ball of musical awesomeness (check James’ review for the meaty details), with very few disappointments save for some lulls in the programming. I must be one of the rare few people who wasn’t particularly taken by Animal Collective’s performance, but then again, I have never been an unconditional fan. To be fair, I felt it was more of a casting error than a bad performance: largely non-danceable, experimental low-energy rock with all lights off, did not seem the best way to headline the night… But that’s probably just me.

On the other hand, morning headliner Ricardo Villalobos was just plain bad: once the fun of watching him peacocking his way around the stage subsided, all that was left was a rather uninspired set opening, with flat mixing and horrendous sense of timing (pro tip: that ‘kill bass’ knob is not magical… twiddling it at random against tempo does not improve the mix). There’s no doubt that he can be a very talented DJ, but on that day, he seemed a lot more interested in hanging out with his entourage and basking in fans’ adoration than actually playing music.

According to those who stuck around, his set ostensibly improved in the second hour (probably when whatever he was on eventually wore off), but we were long gone to the other stage for Pepe Braddock, who deserved a much bigger crowd, but did a very good job nonetheless (and whose greek amphitheater-like stage had the added benefit of nice expanses of grass under the rising sunshine).

All in all, tough to top Boredoms’ quasi-opening slot: 6 drummers, twice as many guitarists and a demented MC hitting with a broomstick what seemed a contraption made of a dozen electric guitar handles.

I must also apologise for having ever expressed doubt toward the ability of Josh Wink to do a proper daytime set (based on my memories of one seriously hardcore-beat set at Metamo 2008). The man turned up one hell of an awesome closing set: nicely blending harder techno and more melody-driven beats, and an overall awesome soundtrack for a sunny afternoon.

Last weekend was the Star Festival: a newly-minted, small-scale electronic music festival.

After a measly hour-and-a-half car ride (yay for local Kansai festivals!), Rei-the-man, Fanfan, Junko and yours truly arrived there early afternoon, somehow managing to be the very first car to enter festival grounds and probably not far from last to leave. In between: twenty-four (and some) hours of non-stop music, fun and dancing, the details of which shall remain safely out of the internets, just in case I do decide to run for public office one day.

But that still leaves room for a good ol’ festival acts blow-by-blow recount (don’t worry: more like this one than this one).

Afternoon

Getting us into our afternoon groove upon arrival, was friend of the gang Bayon, pushing his usual nice selection of techy and dubby house.
To be honest, I could have rocked it to east-Mongolian goa trance if necessary: just for the pleasure of dancing barefoot surrounded by forests and mountains on a warm late-Spring afternoon.

In a concerted decision, our entire carpooling group decided to retire to our majestic campground for a replenishing afternoon nap (that’s what happens when your breakfast consist of one onigiri and two large-size kirins).

Evening

Sleep, food and drinks later, we parked our funky butts in front of DJ Harvey: club music veteran that had faintly entered my radar in the past, but I had never heard live. Definitely one of the two best of the weekend. As with most of my personal DJing heroes, his set was a very eclectic mix of styles spanning the range from funk/disco all the way to hard techno, with healthy doses of electro in the middle. Highlight among the highlights: his epic set-closing 15 minutes of I feel Love (most likely the Patrick Cowley remix, but, erm, my notes for the evening are a bit blurry). A nice homage to the recently departed Queen of Disco & Godmother of Electro.

Aftermath was a little more hesitant, with time spent between stages, getting glimpses of DJ Nobu and mainly enjoying 80kidz‘s DJ set (more than 5 years since last hearing them at some tiny Shibuya club). Solid electro, as always.

The transition to DJ Aki around midnight prompted a hasty retreat to other stages where the music did not associate so closely with vivid memories of hoodie-wearing tweakers joylessly dancing in some damp East-end basement (sorry hardcore D&B fans, I love you but that Amen break’s gotta die).

Rest of the evening/night was spent in the vicinity of the third and smallest stage (“Chillmountain booth”), enjoying some damn funky grooves till late. Unfortunately, I have no idea who the two-three guys taking over the decks in succession were, and the official website’s section for this stage only gives artist names with no timeslot information.

Eventually, 3-4am was deemed as good a time as any for a retreat to our tent, followed by some attempt at sleep. Incidentally, the overall small size of the festival grounds (less than 5 minutes to walk one end to the other), while contributing a great deal to the brilliant atmosphere, made for very trying sleeping conditions: forget ear-plugs, it takes some particularly advanced skills (or lots of alcohol) to get to sleep when not one, but two booming basses are shaking the ground under your ears.

Morning

Early morning tunes and good vibes were also courtesy of anonymous DJs at the nearby Chillmountain stage (I woke up to some loungy downtempo female cover of 上を向いて歩こう, which is more than I can say about most mornings). As it turned out, sleep was a lot easier to achieve, lying on the grass under the sun in front of the stage, than up in our tent…

After some tasty Thai breakfast, courtesy of the Japonica booth, we got treated to a brilliant closing set by Calm: old acquaintance from way back and easily my favourite Japanese DJ. Hearing his very special blend of deep house, electro, soul, jazzy disco and the occasional true-to-form reggae track (among others: a beautiful downtempo cover of Minnie Riperton’s standard) makes it easy to see why he is a staple of day-parties across the country: his music is the perfect soundtrack for a shiny sunny day.

With an unprecedented hour of extra dancing, way past official closing time (if you’ve been anywhere in Japan, you know that even the most free-form, disorganised, hippie event will end on freaking schedule, not one minute after it is supposed to), we slowly packed our way back. An hour drive later (did I mention: yay for local festivals!), we were replenishing our energy in Kyoto with some kaiten-zushi before heading home for some much-needed quiet sleepy time.

A selection of random pics from last weekend’s Halloween party (guest photography credits: Aki, Cory & Yanmei).

Prize for creativity goes to Cory, who came as A Shower.

Prize for glamour icons was shared between Sona’s Audrey Hepburn and Anita’s Betty Boop.

On the witch vs. devil front, the battle was fierce: in the end, Tyana, Aki & Maja took Team Witch to victory by a slim margin against Jun & Yanmei’s Team Devil.

Rafa took a break from his busy Colombian import-export business to show his scarred face at the party (later enhanced by some strategically-placed white powder).

Roland and yours truly provided for some much-needed furry fuzziness and important life-lessons to the kids, courtesy of Sesame Hood’s favourites: Elmo and Cookie Monster.

Towering over the festivities and occasionally bringing chills down the spine of all guests present with his lugubrious laugh and transylvanian accent: Count Rei graced us with his presence (and gets extra points for being the only one ballsy enough to ride Japanese transports as is).

I really thought the highlight of the night was when that live ska band took the stage at 4am and proceeded to top the previous few hours of bouncy old-school dj beats…

Turned out something even more brilliant happened, an hour later, when the employee carrying the till from the door to the back of the club, dropped it, raining ¥1,000 bills and coins on half the dance floor: two dozen dancing club kids, stopping all at once, forming a circle, reaching for makeshift smartphone flashlights and helping to put every last piece of money into the box… rushing after the guy to bring him the last few coins found after he’d left.

Japan is awesome.