Fun fact: I barely go out at all when I’m here in San Francisco. I like my Xbox and HDTV waaaaay too much. But when in Tokyo – which is where I spent most of June this summer – I’m continually running around, bugging people if they “know of any events”, and hightailing it to whatever weird scene or place makes itself available. Case in point: Heavy Pop Vol. 16, a head spinning mix of crazy outfits, Anison delights, packed with assorted jpop and techno highlights.
Heavy Pop, organized by Ray Ochiai, is a regular club party event with strong ties to the Harajuku scene. To wit: a typical Heavy Pop event will see lolitas getting down with cyber kids, goths, decora, and other varieties of fashion monsters. While the event was open to the public, my invitation to Heavy Pop Vol. 16 came from a girl named Merupan I’d met a few months earlier at a gallery opening where artist Hiroyuki Takahashi’s work was on display. Turned out Merupan was an Anison DJ and was going to be spinning at Heavy Pop while I was in town. I looked at the flier below and figured I had to go…
Some other friends and acquaintances were on the bill, including Raveman, he of dark wave duo Aural Vampire, and The Lady Spade who have performed at Anime Maturi and whom I’ve interviewed before. So I shotgunned a sugar free Red Bull and made for a tiny dark club called HELL’S BAR in Tokyo’s Sangenjaya ward. Below is my video report on what when down….
My first impressions were: practically everyone seemed to know each other. Despite the various fashion and music tribes present at Heavy Pop, it was still a very tightly knit scene. This inclusive vibe is pretty rare. Subcultures can be extremely exclusive in Tokyo sometimes, and you’ll often know right away from glares and stares if you’ve strayed too far outside your boundaries, which tend to be even thicker than normal if you’re a wacky foreigner. But the denizens of Heavy Pop were totally open to whoever, or whatever, wandered in the door.
With a lot of mingling going on, the dancing and DJ-ing sometimes felt secondary to surreal socializing among the attendees and shop stall staff that filled the floor with spooky handmade goods for sale. The proceedings could be stop-start. Just as the music threatened to fully take over, the scene would switch to a fashion show, a live performance, a mini-birthday celebration complete with candles and cake. The vibe was slightly bittersweet throughout: the HELL’S BAR venue was set to close down for good after this event, even though Heavy Pop continues to be a thing, the vibe of something changing and coming to an end was palpable. The family feel reached its apex when everyone gathered together to take a group portrait to commemorate this installment of Heavy Pop. And hey, what do you know, I wound up in the picture as well…
So yeah, while Anison and otaku culture didn’t play a central part in the proceeding – aside from Merupan’s spirited DJ set – experiencing the underground eco-system of Heavy Pop was totally worth the trip.
Glowstick trails… anime themes at warp speed bpms… legions of cosplayers dancing and laughing in the dark… My heads-spinning summer of Anison (otaku-speak for “anime songs”) began last month in Tokyo with a visit to a club event called AniLOVE!!, which you can read about here.
And it was at AniLOVE!! that the gang there suggested that we check out another regular anison event that’s been active in Japan for nearly 4 years now… Anison Disco, a name which conjured up images of big afros, funky platform heels, and wide lapel shirts. While there was a giant mirror ball involved, it was a bit different from the Saturday Night Fever-like experience I was half expecting. For starters, Anison Disco is funny. Deliberately so. A pair of comedians from the famed Yoshimoto talent agency – most notably BAN BAN BAN Yamamoto who certainly cuts a striking figure in his tail swinging Frieza cosplay - are the main organizers of the event, and are backed up on stage by a gaggle of up-and-coming aspiring comedians. You’ll probably get some sense of what Anison Disco’s agenda is simply by looking at the quite intriguing staff pic below…
The Anison Disco event I went to was held on a Sunday afternoon at club WOMB in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward: a massive venue that’s a ground zero of sorts for music and DJ events of all genres (it is also home to “Asia’s largest mirror ball” according to some rumors / reports). I had seen the anison groove work its strange magic at the small club where AniLOVE!! was held… how would things turn out in a much bigger place? Watch the video below to find out!
First things first: the place was PACKED with attendees, as in “no place to move”. Most folks (both sexes equally represented, early to mid-20s seems about right) were in cosplay. Pretty much everyone had at least one glowstick to wave around wildly. All attention was centered on the stage where the Anison organizers held court, leading the wota dance moves, and putting on short “cosplay masquerade” skits based on whatever anime theme the DJ spun. People from the audience were welcome to jump on stage and do their thing as well, although groups of similar cosplayers tended to travel in packs, like the Madoka glowstick gang seen in the video, or the air swimmers from Free! in the pics below.
The result was controlled chaos; some degree of planning and professionalism was clearly at work behind the scenes. This was not a free-for-all: everyone was encouraged (in a very Japanese way) to follow the leaders, unify, and have fun together, resulting in a feeling not entirely dissimilar to the exercise portion of a particularly crazy morning kids show.
The one major goof in the Anison Disco experience was the near total lack of actual anime itself. As BANBANBAN Yamamoto explained to us, since this event was also being livestreamed to the internet, they opted to just spring for generic VJ visuals (other smaller Anison Disco events do include anime video though). Too bad… I can only image how much more crazier the event would have been with some opening and ending title sequences layered on top of the mayhem. Still, I emerged from WOMB sweaty and half-crazed by what I had experienced, wondering (as I am increasingly these days) why aren't more anime fans doing this kind of stuff outside of Japan. But no answers were to be found...my Anison summer still wasn’t over by a long shot…
At the bottom of the shadows cast hard by Nishi Shinjuku skyscrapers. Crawling somewhere in the direction of Donki to meet someone. Assorted superheroes pose on the walk ways or try to look busy in the cockpits of carrier vehicles flying overhead. Lost tourists and locals milling about in buzzed trance step. Empty office of the government of darkness where windowed light collects only in corners where it cowers in the presence of office chair. We never know what to do during the aches and pains of afternoon. Let the environment do the slow fade for you.
Sad chain izakaya moments in smoke like this. No one likely to take pictures of their food here. Can’t do better than the images on the oversized black cracked electronic tablet that doubles as the menu. Saves money, saves training, saves energy. Everyone slightly disappointed in here: with what job they wound up with, where they had to wind up eating because other places were too crowded, small greasy ceramic plates stacking up. Something has got to give. Y folds her wet hand towel into the shape of an erect penis that starts to droop the second we leave the table. S slaps a birthday balloon on the way out, evidence of some sort of “party” taking place at the table behind us. “Don’t touch me,” someone there says in wobbly-but-determined English to us as we pass, but it’s too late. None of us want to touch anything anymore.
Ok, so I spent last month running around being a maniac in Tokyo. Since time is valuable (it’s all we have, really...) I will spare you the dull details, like the flight, the hotel, the rain, the heat and just get to the good stuff. Expect more such reports in the days ahead as I sift through the wreckage of 30+ days and nights in the land of the rising FUN. And first up on the hit list is… AniLOVE!!
AniLOVE!! is all-night club event held monthly in Tokyo. Nope, I had never gone to an AniLOVE!! session, let alone been to the club where the event was held: a funky dark space called Ikebukuro mismash. All I knew before dipping in was that the DJs there spin nothing but anime theme songs and Vocaloid tracks. Cosplay dress code is (of course) preferred, but not mandatory … I found out about AniLOVE!! from friend, artist, and collaborator Hiroyuki Takahashi who routinely creates the characters on the AniLOVE!! fliers (see below) and seems about plugged into the Anison (anime song…) club scene as much as anyone I know.
I’d been to a few Anison events before in Japan, notably at club mogra in Akihabara which is pretty much purely dedicated to getting nerds to shake it to anime themes both old and new, idol music, and other otaku-friendly sounds. But I’d never seen anyone lose their mind there. By contrast, AniLOVE!! felt like a serious trip to the cutting edge of Japanese otaku culture. Although all the elements you would expect to find - even at a mediocre US con rave - were on display like DJs, anime freaks, cosplayers, and big screens playing anime footage – the dynamics were different enough to make me think that there’s something going on here. But before we go any further, watch my illuminating little video report! I shot it and edited it myself!
Although the clip is a little under the two minute mark, keep in mind that the level of manic energy stayed at exactly that frantic pace all-night long, from last train to dawn’s first light. When you get enough fans together in one place with enough music and enough glowsticks (I lost count at about a million), the anison groove is incredibly strong.
Traditionally, otaku culture can be a little segregated: cute cosplay girls occupy one side of the room, socially awkward guys habitate on the other, and rarely do the two meet in the middle (except for when the dudes bug the girls for photos). But at AniLOVE!!, both sexes appeared to freely mingled, socialized, boogied, and just plain got down on the same level without it being weird or anything. Good for everyone: the club, the event, the human race.
Most dance club events – even non-anime one – seem to have a vaguely pyramidal structure, with the DJ placed front and center where they are worshipped like a living god of sorts for the act of playing back pre-recorded music. Meanwhile, AniLOVE!! did things a little differently. They had the turntables, along with DJs (most of whom came in cosplay), placed off to the left of the stage. The main view was instead dominated by a big screen onto which non-stop anime videos were projected (usually opening titles). The stage was open: a free-zone. Anyone could jump on stage and act like a headless chicken, or create glowstick trails with their carefully memorized wota dances, or do whatever the heck they wanted. More places should do this! Why don't more places do this already?
Looking back, I can’t think of a single downside or bum note to the AniLOVE!! experience. They've got it all figured out. If someone outside of Japan could figure out a way to replicate this head spinning mix of anime, music, and people mingling with each other, they might actually find the makings of a bona fide global youth culture movement here. But for now a tiny underground club event somewhere in Tokyo has got the goods. Here are some links to help you follow the fun in real time:
Yet more concept art from my upcoming collaboration with artist Yunico Uchiyama. I write, he draws. I haven’t come up with an English title yet, but it will be called「パラノイア·ガールズ」in Japperknees. Characters Laura (left) and Larissa (right) depicting a second stage transition into Extra Dimensional Reality (EDR). Again, online later this summer….
Ok, time to announce my upcoming creative collaboration with artist Uchiyama Yunico. His pictures + my text = weird girls. We will start dishing it out on the web starting this August. Keywords: Mind Control, Paranoia, Hallucination, 1985. For people who have been around here a while, it will incorporate elements of my long-threatened Espionage Rejects stories and L vs. L. Go! Now! Suburban Surrealist Science Fiction! Fight! Please look forward to it!
Man walks into a charred wall, symptomatic of burning building. Blank slate concrete sky looking down on Shibuya-ku. I see monochrome, faded tones from hair products past, tank tops and floral prints. Talismans of ownership by evil organization Ordinary Fucking People, close affiliation with GOD, but uniformed inn stripes and check patterns, the rags they wear their psychological prison bars. I don't even have to look at the people on the train back to feel the gravitational pull of so many cheap computer bags, walking a pilgrim shoe gauntlet find a dark place but it is still high afternoon.
Monday night and you’ve dialed everything down to a crawl, Tokyo2. Streets populated yes, by nomihodai hustlers and club honey lips scouts, but most people out just wanna conbini real quick. Even GOD employees are holding back and have turned into open agents of Ordinary Normal Fuckers. Not much to do when you aren’t pulverizing yourself on food, on drink, on shop, on club, on park. And so these are the most desperate hours of all, when even ESPY lowers its guard and wonders what’s on TV, using the Overtones to surf the analog bands for something lively, finding only commercials and promos for other upcoming programs that never seem to arrive. I think someone here is supposed to relax, but our heads have been on fire a little too long.
Rust red sky containing actual rust for once raining down mad on random assortment of rooftops at odd harsh angles. I can only sit inside Casa Del Kita and watch it outside and wait for it to pass. A weekend void needing forever to be filled starts to yaw open, intending to swallow everything up: Pulverizing sound waves masquerading as music, steps leading down into some place weird and dark, desperate runs past LED signboards for cash, cables and energy inputs, armies of guys in black T-shirts marching into midnight streets, everything taking on the consistency of an ashtray with a foreign cigarette brand logo. Always raining, then not raining, in five min intervals. It keeps going on like this forever.
This is the meeting we have before the meeting just to meet and where we discover there is no fixed agenda. This is the committee for the committee where no is sure how all the money will be spent or who is going to split it. This is a drawing someone did of an idealized version of you that looks nothing like you because you only look like your makeup now. That was a free drink ticket you never threw away because you thought you might be going back but never did. The same holds now for a ten percent off discount coupon that has become emotionally unstable, here’s a sad little point card that feels unloved, a pile of yen coins in small denominations always feeling inferior to larger amounts. I can’t say why I secretly wish for all your collective failure, but yeah, I do.
Archery Bow Child (TCG) take a white capsule pill out of a foil pouch, promptly drops it accidently on the filthy floor of the Macrossnalds we are sitting in.
“Take it. It will keep you up”, she says in her fucked up, screwed up, weird mix of accents: Japanese-Okinawan-Engrish. It’s a test. It always is. To see if I’ll flinch, if I will fall over laughing, where my loyalties are, etc. But I’ve already made up my mind and I’m not going to take it. Archery Bow Child goes for broke, rips the capsule in half, and pour mysterious white power all over the tiny table we are sitting in. The people on other side of us (B-type male student head buried in portable game device, D-class female her life some kind of shit mobile game) are terrified and shocked in an utterly quiet vacuum of expression.
About a half hour before, there she is, stumbling out of the ticket gate…or at least trying to. Of course there’s a Passmo card that doesn’t work and she has to stop everything and recharge it, throwing a line of people behind her into a shotgun chaos spread. When she’s cleared, oh I dunno, 5 minutes later or something, she’s waving around a pair of fully functional green nunchaku, again, more brazen shit in public, begging for some kind of cosmic security system to shut everything down like it would if you or I pulled something like this. But it never does with her. Not giving a fuck, but not in a callous way; just a big kid who doesn’t know any better.
Counter-ESPY and others of that stripe spend endless dark months and days trying to figure out how to make a drop, how to evade full spectrum espionage, everyone looking towards the shadows by default because where else would someone be doing dirty work? But here’s Archery Bow Child: purple dirty New Balance sneakers, jeans she has had forever, nondescript top and hair, blending in on hand and on the other stumbling into the fast food joint and pouring hard drugs all over the table. Hard not to feel some kind of contempt for the sad ordinary people working there, eating there, killing time, killing themselves, pissing away their lives in this place. Old people making bad coffee, students with no future in hi-my-name is badges removing the fry net from the grease. What the fuck kind of world was created behind our back? “I can’t get a real job,” Archery Bow Child says, picking up on my thoughts, maybe seeing this very text here from some temporal vantage spot that ESPY has her in. It’s not an apology though. It’s just who she is.