Sunday, February 3, 2008
Tokyo Clubbing: Club Yellow, Sayonara
Some more sad news for electronic music lovers here in Tokyo. I’ve received an email from the promoter of one of Tokyo’s monthly techno events confirming that as of June 2008 the venerable Club Yellow will be closing its doors. Forever.
Yellow (actually called Space Lab Yellow, but everyone just knows it as Yellow) first opened its doors at the end of 1991. Located in Nishi-Azabu (not Roppongi, as is often and erroneously said) the club became known world wide as Tokyo’s bastion of house music, seeing regular visits by such artists as Francois K, Laurent Garnier, Theo Parrish, and Moodymann.
Yellow was more than a house club, however, regularly hosting techno events. Jeff Mills, Michael Mayer, Scion, Akufen, John Tejada, Derrick May, Derrick Carter, Steve Bug, Whignomy Brothers, Bruno Pronsato, DJ Zip, Lawrence, Cobblestone Jazz, Pier Bucci, Ellen Allien, and many others have graced the decks and laptops at Yellow. It is no exaggeration to say that the club was an integral part of Tokyo’s electronic music scene.
I have yet to learn the reason for the upcoming closure, but the promoter told me that it “has something to do with the government.” This comes as little surprise, as Yellow has long been targeted by the police, who randomly drop by to enforce Tokyo’s “no dancing” law. 2007 saw the police stepping up their attacks on Yellow, with several parties effectively shut down as the club was forced to close off access to the dancefloor.
(A very brief digression about Tokyo’s “no dancing” law is necessary here. That isn’t the law’s proper name, but I’m not an expert on Japanese law, and that’s what everyone refers to it as. Essentially, if an establishment has a dancefloor, dancing is not allowed between the hours of midnight and 5am, although I believe the hours were recently changed to 1am to 5am. An odd sounding law indeed, and from what I’ve heard it’s actually an anachronistic one. I’ve been told that the law was passed sometime during the post World War II American occupation as a way of keeping American soldiers away from dancehalls and the “women of the night” who frequented them. The topic deserves a proper post of its own – in fact it really deserves a thoroughly researched article – but for the time being this should suffice to bring readers up to speed.)
Tokyo’s electronic music scene has been diminishing over the past few years, with the loss of such legendary venues as Maniac Love and the Liquid Room (the new Liquid Room in Ebisu is essentially a venue for live bands) limiting the options for clubbers who are serious about electronic music. Yellow’s upcoming closure will draw the circle in even tighter, and may well be a crippling blow to the scene.
Yellow currently plays host to at least three major regular techno events: the monthly Real Grooves parties, Fumiya Tanaka’s Chaos parties, and Mule Musiq’s Kompakt nights. As of May, the Real Grooves events will relocate to Unit (the best remaining club space in Tokyo); where the other events will relocate to is currently unknown.
There’ll be more news as it comes - stay tuned to this channel.
Personally speaking, I’m shocked and saddened by the news of Yellow’s closure. It was a special place for me, being the very first dance club I was taken to when I discovered electronic music. (I remember Safety Scissors and Jake Mandell were playing that night.) It has been a key player in the scene here, and its loss will be enormous. With the police enthusiastically targeting clubs left and right (even Womb has been having problems lately) and major (techno) record stores such as Cisco closing down, I’m seriously worried about the future of clubbing and electronic music in Tokyo.
Chris laments: Something is Rotten in the State of Techno in Tokyo
When I heard the news that now Yellow would be shutting its doors, my initial response (once after I got over the initial shellshock) was to consider buying a plane ticket to Tokyo. Yes, the impending death of Yellow is that significant. There was understandable scepticism over whether we were making too big a deal over the Cisco Records closing its record stores and moving to a completely virtual presence. Fair enough, as many people commented people will keep getting their music in other ways, and the community of records stores is probably overplayed anyway. But now we hear that the best club in Tokyo - Yellow - is shutting down in a few months time.
To put this in perspective, when I visited in Japan in 2001, the 3 major and most central clubs in the Tokyo scene were the Liquid Room, Maniac Love, and Spaceclub Yellow. First, the Liquid Room left us, only to be replaced by the ultimate cocktease - a new Liquid Room, which looks and sounds amazing, but almost never has techno. Then came the slow decline and eventual death of Maniac Love. Yellow, along with Unit (run by the Liquid Room peeps), have since taken up the slack, with the vast majority of people worth seeing playing at either of these places. Yellow has been absolutely central to the techno and house scene especially since the Liquid Room's passing, with great djs and lives gracing its decks every week.
And soon, no more. Not only is Tokyo losing a crucial cog in the techno wheel, it is also losing an amazing club. Reflecting on the places I've been, the Liquid Room and Berghain/Panorama are the only clubs I've prefered to Yellow. This was a small intimate space with great sound and crowds that cared (unlike the dancefloor hell that is the awful Womb). I know I am not alone in these sentiments; I remember Laurent Garnier describing it as his second home (after The Rex) and Francois K saying something pretty similar. Hell, this is even where Richie chooses to spend part of his remarkably loud and silly '10 weeks of silence' (based on an eye witness spotting by one of the ssg crew).
So beyond us losing another great club (hardly a first), what exactly does the death of Yellow mean? Well I guess it depends on whether the Yellow crew setup shop somewhere less troublesome (they had been shut down repeatedly for breaking the incredibly stupid anti-dancing laws). Presuming they don't, Tokyo is suddenly left with a huge gaping hole - I'm sure Unit and Colors will pick up some of the slack, but what I fear is that the previous comments made by Pete, which appeared a bit too hysterical at the time, could be a bit more likely. His main point was not simply that these closures are bad for the Tokyo scene, but also that it has serious ramifications for many artists who use the huge payments from Tokyo stopovers to help support themselves during leaner times in Europe and elsewhere. To take a specific example, I remember talking to Jeff Milligan and he said this is exaclty what he does - a Japan leg lets him survive for months in Berlin and, also, importantly, makes him more willing to tour new places (like China and Australia in this case) for a much lower fee. So the point is, Yellow's death could have greater consequences, depending on how things play out.
Also, I think it is representative of a more general challenge that techno culture will face in the coming years. The increasing gentrification of many cities is bringing about more and more closures of clubs, or refusals to give licences for parties at warehouses and other spaces, plus less locations for underground/illegal parties. The environmental conditions that existed, and were so important, during the early decades of techno's emergence and consolidation are now under threat. Hell, even the authorities in Ibiza are cracking down on clubs. So to put it simply, how long can techno survive and thrive without the spaces and places to listen, dance and enjoy? Do we all have to move to Berlin? How long before things start changing there too? To my knowledge, I think Bar25 has now closed its doors for good because the area is being redeveloped, so perhaps things are already changing in Berlin too. So where are we going to go? Instead of asking "where's the after party?" we may have to start wondering, "where's the party?" Hmm. Not the best start to 2008...