Where: Small club in Iruma, a spectacularly unremarkable Tokyo suburb. Although the music is exclusively hip-hop and R&B, the place is aggressively decorated with fake Hawaiian masks and coconuts. There is a grass hut stuffed with three or four tables next to the dance floor.
When: Exactly one year ago, dead August heat.
Who: A few local English teaching Americans, some Japanese friends from work, a smattering of b-boys in Green Bay Packers caps and local girls wrapped and bowed in summer yukata’s, straight from the local festival.
What: I know it was hot, but this one wiry muscled guy was dancing stark naked in a circle of his loosely clothed friends, his bits and bobs jangling like a custodian’s key chain. Apparently this didn’t satisfy the terms of whatever bet he lost, because after a disappearance of a few minutes he streaks back in through the front door and does a dance that closely resembles an epileptic seizure, writhing on the floor with the possessed look of the ecstatically happy. Whatever was tugging the strings of his skeleton had a dark sense of humor, his right hand desperately trying to light his pubic hair on fire with a ten yen plastic lighter.
Where: Bordered by foreign embassies and bars cleared for patronage by the US military, swarming with hookah bars and forty dollar dance clubs, Roppongi doesn’t have the best rep. Originally designated as the official spot for US soldiers to drink, fight and pick up girls during the occupation, the place still has an Interzone kinda vibe to it, floating somewhere outside Japanese society but smack in the heart of Tokyo. This is the spot where English teachers, tourists and Marines go to get hustled by Nigerian guys flyering for dance-halls, strip-clubs and Russian hostess bars, where Western businessmen go to score coke and heroin, Japanese professionals go to slum it up with the foreigners, and foreigners go to pick up loose Japanese. Roppongi clubs sway from postapocalyptic warehouses raves to the merely expensive and sleazy watering holes; places where fun is engaged as more of an intellectual exercise of drink, dance, hook-up, and you can never really shake the fucking paranoia. Every few months my embassy sends out an email warning about some recent shooting or rape involving a US citizen in Roppongi, with the standard advisory to stay away from Roppongi or hold onto that passport if you do. (I don’t think the daily shuttle buses from US military bases are affected by these warnings.)
Right in the eye of all the money and sleaze the Lexington Queen sits like a cease-fire zone for Roppongi combatants, ambitions and aggression checked at the door, everyone equal before the 3000 yen entrance and free drinks all night fee across the board. They say this is where Leonardo DiCaprio dances when he’s in Tokyo, but the most famous people was a jazz drummer from Chicago touring Japan.
When: Last Easter Sunday.
What: Lexington Queen holds no pretensions on music or style: they spin anything that was ever in the top ten, with a lot of weight given to this week, last week and the week before. Last summer we shook it like a Polaroid picture to ahlay mohn but every once in a while you’d get ya freak on, you’d milk shake, or even rock like a virgin. Russian hostesses on their night off, import executives, Nigerian hustlers, export executives, professional ravers, English teachers, Korean students, Indian entrepreneurs, secretaries, waiters, b-boys, dealers, me. They say Sunday is the best club night in Tokyo, all the folks who have been busting their asses in restaurants and bars all week pulling the stops til the first train, just to crash and sleep past noon on Monday. Sometime after a string of slow dance tunes the DJ slipped in Smells Like Teen Spirit, miraculously transforming the dance floor to a bunch of thrashing males who had only danced to the song when they were a) thirteen, b) listening on headphones and c) prancing around their bedroom in their underwear. The girls all went to powder noses or refresh drinks while we moshed the dancefloor back to 1991. It might have been all those tequila sunrises, but I swear to god I saw Jesus there too, his body wrapped in white sheets, sweat loosening the glue of his beard, hair brushing his shoulders, makeshift cross propped in the corner while he crowd surfed.
Where: A three leveled, two staged, multi-barred labyrinth of a club in Ebisu, a neighborhood in Tokyo where the import grocery stores and fashion boutiques fight for space against the overwhelming perfume that stalks the streets, so thick you can almost bite it. Jet black interior, dividers and stairwells wrapped in a kilometer or so of thick gray steel wiring, H.R. Giger’s living room. The place looked like the abandoned spaceship from Alien, with just as many people. Beers ran up to \1200 (approx $12 US) for a bottle, your cheapest option was a \750 Corona or a glass of Miller for \700. I smuggled in a bottle of tea.
When: Last Saturday night.
Who: A friend’s electronica group, a slew of DJ’s intently scowling at their equipment, a smattering of bands too busy with their hair to bother thinking about the music, and several dozen of Tokyo’s rich and bored, grimly soldiering another all-nighter with no obvious enthusiasm.
What: Two buddies fresh and glistening from some tropical paradise wandering shirtless: pecs burned nut brown, eyes glazed opaque, hand-hewn djembe drums slung over their shoulders. They performed the needed public service of clenching their biceps for spectators and helping out the bands and DJ’s by adding an extra set of drums from the dance-floor. I had to flee to the corner just to make out the clicks and squeaks and beats from my friend’s electronica group, which was fighting a losing battle against the tribesemen who had seized the room with surfer charisma and bodies not natural to Tokyo.
Hand-drumming duo acts must be sweeping Tokyo clubs, just a few minutes later an exquisitely tailored set of twins wearing tuxedoes burst in with a flourish from their brass molded Greek dumbeks. They had a better sense of timing, their drums snapping brightly to the DJ’s for a minute or so, perfect rows of teeth smiling, then ducked out to dumbstruck faces and enthusiastic applause. The hippie brothers sulked off to a different level of the club.
I'll leave the Whys to you.