Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Open and shut case? [a speculative rant on the significance of Yellow's closure]

I have mixed feelings about Yellow’s closure.

Yellow were responsible with providing rich tours for a lot of the North Atlantic innovators of house and techno. This is probably their greatest contribution to the culture. As mentioned in a previous post on ssgs, tours like these have provided Americans and Europeans with the opportunity to continue being lauded and ‘innovative’ while having the opportunity to make pots and pots of money, eat delicious food, and bang hotties. And hey, there's nothing wrong with that, is there? I bet we all wish we were getting (handsomely) paid to do the wild thang.

The soundsystem was excellent, but not as good as Unit’s (although about a million times better than anything in Oz), and the lineup always felt like a who’s who of yesteryear (with exceptions, of course). I’m glad it offered what was effectively a pension program for middle-aged has-been jocks, but… hmm, maybe it’s about time the place closed. And maybe it’s time some of those Detroit innovators sat down and produced a few decent, new records.

On this tip, I often also wondered if the club wasn’t supporting the old school to the detriment of the new? Perhaps Yellow’s ‘lil sister club Module fulfilled this other function, fostering smaller nights and giving a stage for up-and-coming talent – I’m not sure about the status of Module, but hopefully it will survive the closure of it’s big sibling. Who knows, maybe this will mean more talent and resources get thrown into Mod? Why do I doubt it...

Yellow was also the club in Tokyo where the Japanese inferiority complex was most apparent, a place where (with notable exceptions) it’s all about paying homage to foreign innovators, supported by the local imitators. Tours suffixed with the brand ‘Detroit’ would mean entry prices of up to 6,000 [almost 40 euro] for someone like Jeff Mills or the Three Chairs, with usual prices of 4,000 [25 euro] on Saturdays for whatever international, a price that would include a drink and the honour and privilege of sharing the dancefloor with about one hundred too many punters. Okay, so this is what guaranteed the comfy livelihoods of the artists performing, but personally, I got so jack of the crowds and prices on the weekends that I’d only go to midweek nights there (which is when the interesting stuff was on anyway).

Yellow’s proximity to the cesspit of sleaze that is Roppongi also meant that you’d get more GIs and sleazy people (Japanese otherwise) than anyone (other than a sleazebag) would ideally like. I came very close to needing to punch several motherfuckers (with big popeye arms and rude buzzcut heads) putting their paws on girls just trying to dance. Mind you, compared to the sleaze levels at Rex in Paris, Yellow is nnnnothing.

Unfortunately, this is not simply about the closure of ‘a nightclub’ – if only. To me, this is about the shrinkage of ‘free space’, and about the (in)security state cracking down on people expressing themselves and letting off steam in their preferred fashion. It’s obvious that Yellow were still making some money (how profitable exactly I don’t know, but…) so, like Maniac Love, it all comes down to ‘community pressure’ the existence of ridiculously draconian laws (no dancing?! what are you guys, Seventh Day Adventists?!) and the political mandate to ‘send in the bullies’. Giuliani pretty much did for New York’s nightlife in this way – it’d be a shame if the same thing happened in Tokyo.

It also shits me that you can guarantee that there’ll be no real protest about the closure. I know ‘passive aggressive’ is the Japanese way, but it gives me the willies the way nobody ever arcs up and riots in Japan. Anyone who’s ever been to a leftist/pacifist protest in Tokyo will know that you get encircled by riot police who ‘guide you’ through a set, controlled route. Meanwhile, right-wing sound-trucks trundle freely anywhere they like downtown, blurting out their infernal xenophobic rubbish. If such a thing happened in Germany or Australia, it would be international news. There would be a riot, or protests, or debate. In Japan, nothing happens. Recently, on a visit to the great shrine in Ise (Shinto’s holiest shrine) I watched as one such sound-truck, travelling in the transit lane reserved for coaches, was waved through by a police officer while citizens in the left lane were left to rot in gridlocked traffic.

What’s the connection to Yellow? To me, the closure is part of a larger strategy of crackdowns, supported by increasingly xenophobic/nationalist governments obsessed by ‘security’ (the functional, preventative, security organisation) backed by neighbourhood yuppies concerned by the effect the club has on the value of their real estate. And this is hardly a specifically Japanese problem. But importantly, we should be supporting clubs with an open door policy where late nights of licentiousness continue, unintimidated by all these fuckers. And without going into much detail, I know from frightening personal experience that the toilets at Yellow are under surveillance. The contrast with the Panoramabar couldn’t be greater – all the more reason to support it and other venues like it, including free parties, outdoor parties, informal parties, illegal warehouse raves and the like. Cherish the derelict spaces.

The alternative is increasing segregation, a world of invite-only clubs (full of jetset fuckers like Vincent Gallo, Sophia Coppola and their ilk), VIP rooms (and fucking laminates and lanyards – fuck off) and privatised party islands (serviced by local ex-fishing communities turned coolies). I don’t want to live in a world like this, full of velvet ropes, CCTV cameras and private security (on the one side), and squalor on the other. I don’t want to live in a world transformed into Lagos, into Johannesburg, into Miami, nor do I want to party in a club which is a microcosmic expression of this set of social relations. Whilst the closure of Yellow hardly makes this a reality (and I’m sure Tokyoites will be quietly creative and exploit the cracks in the wall), it’s but another link in the tightening, lengthening chain. Who’s being protected from what? And why?

The life of a club ends with its ‘closure’ – we need to think seriously about ‘openness’. It’s important that we work through the walls being placed between us and our spaces of expression... I say this in the same breath as I think, well, maybe it's always been thus with nigtclubs, and maybe the closure of this is no different and no more significant. Hmm.


Chris: Pete makes some good points, but in the process misses the point

I don’t necessarily disagree with most of the conclusions Pete reaches, but I don’t think Yellow’s closure is a good example of the issues he highlights. First, while Yellow was home to the techno and house heroes of yesteryear, it wasn’t quite the pension fund that Pete suggests. Many of the older guys are still very relevant – Carl Craig and Larry Heard to name two – and even those that perhaps aren’t producing much – Laurent Garnier, Francois K and Derrick May for example – these guys certainly have their place in the scene, even if it is just as excellent conduits for initiating the new and reminding the old. Second, especially since the Liquid Room departed, Yellow has been a hub for new sounds, as well as old – the exceptions are much greater than Pete allows for. To take an anecdotal example, the last four nights I went to at Yellow were (I think, and in reverse order) a Chaos party with Bruno Pronsato and Fumiya Tanaka, a rather odd dub night with Deadbeat and others, and two Real Grooves parties, one with Akufen and Adam Marshall, the other with John Tejada. The point is that Yellow has been catering for the old as much as the new. So basically, I don’t think there is much positive that can come out of Yellow closing. It is not addition by subtraction, it is just subtraction (especially if this results in more gigs being moved to hell on earth Womb).

My main disagreement, though, is that I don’t think Yellow’s disappearance is an example of the larger problem he sees with closure and securitization. The points he makes are all relevant to Japan, and elsewhere, but not to Yellow. Since our posts, it has come to light that the reason for Yellow’s demise is that the property has been sold and it is going to be redeveloped (while my other mnml ssg members have pointed out that the official reason may not be the ‘true’ reason, I see no reason not to believe it, especially when it fits). So it is not so much a matter of free spaces, but just spaces. And this is a problem I touched on in my previous post – it transcends Tokyo and is an issue for techno worldwide. As much as techno is being detached from the club environment (the prime example being the way we can happily listen to recorded livesets at home or on our ipods in situations completely different from their original consumption), the music is ultimately dependant on these dark, dirty places where we get together to share and dance to it. If anything, given how big the digital hit is to record sales, chances are, it is increasingly gigs that will keep producers producing. But worldwide we see clubs closing, with the biggest cause being gentrification – cities being taken over by middle aged and older people that have no time for what cities should ultimately be about. To take the example I know best, Melbourne’s scene – which was flourishing in the late 90s and start of the new millennium, really bottomed out for much of this decade, until the last year or so. And one of the main reasons, I’d suggest, is that quite a lot of the main venues (especially the Docklands which were lost to property redevelopment) disappeared.

Quite simply, we need the space to enjoy this music. I really think the pressures placed on clubs by property redevelopment and the changing nature of major cities is going to be one of the quietest, but greatest, problems techno is going to deal with. I am sure that one of the reasons Berlin is so central for techno is that in some ways it is an anti-city: it has so much open and free space in its very heart – rare indeed. Anyway, we will see how this all develops…

Enough of the heavy stuff (for now). Next post will be some more boat floaters and mixes we are enjoying, we promise!


  1. Hold your horses everyone. Does anyone really know the reason they are closing? As you point out the business is profitable. Could there be a solid business reason behind all this. Could it be they are just moving cause they found a better location that doesn't have pillars in the middle of the dance floor. According to the Yellow bulletin board, the rumour is they could be moving to the old Liquid Room. With every one has been lamenting the Liquid Rooms demise as a sign of one of the four horses of techno apocalypse - if Yellow were to move there wouldn't that be that mean we are back for a techno renaissance.

  2. Hmm, I'd like to believe it, but I'll believe it when it happens... ...anyway, this is all rampant speculation (on my part not least of all) so we'll have to leave it with a shrug and a question mark...

  3. Well, who cares about the (inevitable, but still there is a lot of work to do:_) gentrication of this shitty world? Tokyo is one of the richest places in the galaxy anyway, btw.
    All this only means the scene will be forced to go underground again - which is not the saddest thing in the world according to your article;-).
    If techno/ house/ electro, or whatever you want to call it, can't find a club that displays its splendours anymore, than its just straightout dead. Like punk. Full stop. And then we'll all be old farts...

    Here in Berlin, the times have changed dramatically as well. There may be spaces like the phantastic Panorambar or the outspaced Bar 25 (threatened by a rather forced close down btw). But most of the interesting small fringe parties are gone. The authorities have taken most of them out, and are pretty well informed what's going on in the scene. I've seen it myself while DJing here, it's like an interruptus, the crowd is just about to get off, and suddenly there is this square police guy in front of you, telling you to stop your set... well, I'm sure this would be much worse of an experience in Beijing;-).
    But ok, Berlin still is the world headquarters of electronic music for sure. Maybe they'd like to re-stage Yellow over here?_)

    Cheers, Zuckermann via

  4. re-reading some old post, isnt this so actual nowadays as well will all that GEMA fuss happening in berlin? it seems that history does repeat it iself.


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