1.Prologue: Thoughts About the Future of Dance Music in Japan
When I started really getting into dance music around the late 2000s, the so-called “EDM market" in Japan had just slipped into a decline, while it was absolutely blowing up in places like South America and the rest of Asia.
The launch of outdoor music festivals (of American origin) like Ultra Japan in 2014 and EDC Japan in 2017, did seem to signal brighter times. But while these two festivals have largely been successful in terms of attendance, when compared to the versions held in the U.S. and Europe, they still have a long way to go before coming into their own.
Meanwhile, the Japanese club scene as a whole has been on the wane.
While the EDM craze that took over the world in the late 2000s and early 2010s was generally benign and uplifting, the scene in Japan has increasingly become about meet (meat) markets and drugs. Overseas, outdoor music festivals were places to get together with friends and lovers and party away with beer and cocktails, whereas in Japan they became gathering spots for sleazy recalcitrants.
This trend is epitomized in an incident in September of 2012, where an innocent clubgoer in Roppongi was dragged into a feud between hangure factions (hangure is a term that refers to loosely-organized criminal gangs that are distinct from yakuza).
While I would go to clubs in Shibuya, I completely stayed away from clubs in Roppongi, as it seemed that music had ceased to become the central, uniting element of the venues in that area.
In more ways than one, the incident in Roppongi killed the vibe of the club scene—not just in Roppongi, but in Shibuya, and as a whole.
And despite the Fueiho (風俗営業取締法、Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Act—some may know it as the “anti-dance" or “no dancing after midnight" law) being revised in 2016, there has been no end to nightclub-related trouble.
As an EDM (in the general sense) fan, I can only hope that Tokyo gets more clubs that are about enjoying the music and dancing, pure and simple.
2.EDM, liberally defined
EDM is short for “electronic dance music". In the most general sense, it encompasses all beat-driven electronic music made using instruments like synthesizers and sequencers. Synonyms include “dance music" and “club music".
This type of music has two defining characteristics: it is designed to make people dance in music venues such as a nightclub, and it puts the listener in a tripped-out state through the repeated use of a beat and/or musical motif. It is generally considered underground music, as opposed to mainstream music such as pop.
By this definition, EDM began around the 70s with synth-pop and disco; when disco died on the cusp of the 80s, dance music spawned in its place and grew in conjunction with rave culture through the 80s and 90s. It was chiefly popular throughout Europe, although there were key movements—mostly underground—that developed in cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Today, dance music encompasses such subgenres as electro, house, techno, trance, psychedelic trance, big beat, progressive house, drum and bass, and more.
When dance music started re-invading the globe in the 2000s, the music industry in the U.S. began aggressively promoting the scene using the term “EDM". In 2005, the Grammy’s created a category for the Best Dance/Electronic Album, which set the stage for a full-blown EDM takeover of the U.S. in the 2010s.
●EDM (in the liberal sense) albums that everybody should listen to
3.EDM, strictly defined
EDM, strictly defined, refers to a specific subgenre of commercial, mainstream dance music. The popular Japanese dance/vocal group Exile has made many songs in this vein:
This subgenre fuses pop melodies with hip hop and rap, all laid over a four-on-the-floor beat. The resulting music is not meant to make people dance; rather, it is a relentless beast tailor-made to invade ears and make people lose it in a stadium setting.
Subgenres of this type of EDM include big-room house, electro house, tropical house, and “brostep". The common factor shared by these subgenres is a reverence for the “drop"—the dance music equivalent of a pop song’s chorus. A drop comes after an instrumental build-up reaches a fever pitch and makes way for the bass and beat to hit the audience with the full might of a speaker’s output. Taken together, this recipe makes EDM radio-friendly, facilitating its takeover of U.S. airwaves in the 2010s.
Leading EDM producers include David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris, the late Avicii, Skrillex, Afrojack, and Martin Garrix. In recent years, EDM DJs/producers have a lock on the top positions in the annual “Top 100 DJs" poll conducted by U.K. music magazine DJ Mag.
●Mainstream EDM Albums
4.The Roppongi Nightclub Attack Incident
At 3:40 A.M. on September 2, 2012, nine men wearing ski masks forced their way into a Roppongi club called Flower. They made their way to the VIP room, beat one of the male guests with metal bats, and escaped on two station wagons. The man later died of his injuries.
Later, it came to light that several of the attackers were former members of Kanto Rengo, a defunct biker gang based in the Kanto region (the Greater Tokyo Area and its surrounding prefectures). Although the gang had disbanded in 2003, its former members had allegedly banded together and committed various crimes. Because their disorganized nature meant that they could not be designated boryokudan (organized crime syndicate), the members, who were largely unmarked by the police, had taken advantage. “Groups" such as these came to be known as hangure—loosely-organized criminal gangs.
As for the victim, a 31-year-old restaurant manager, it turned out that he was a regular at the club at which he was attacked. Later, it became clear that the attackers had mistaken him for somebody else. The victim had bore a resemblance to a top member of a rival criminal group to the Kanto Rengo.
At the time, hangure groups such as these were considered difficult to police because they lacked an organizational structure or central office. However, with the Roppongi club attack being the culmination of a string of similar incidents, the National Police Agency took action. Starting in March 2013, hangure were classified as jun-boryokudan (quasi-gangsters), who were less-organized but just as much a menace to society as boryokudan. Police crackdown ensued across Japan.
5.About the Revised Fueiho
For a long time after the end of World War II, Japan’s Fueiho (Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Act) classified entertainment venues that allowed their customers to dance—in other words, nightclubs—as adult entertainment establishments. That meant that they were only allowed to operate until midnight, and any venue that stayed open past that was breaking the law. In the 2010s, when police crackdowns forced a string of nightclubs to shut down, the industry started a movement to get the law revised, and in 2016 the government put in place new regulations.
Under the revised law, nightclubs that offered both entertainment and alcohol overnight were required to obtain designation as a tokutei yukyo inshokuten eigyo (nighttime entertainment restaurant operation). Under the new classification, businesses must keep an internal illumination of more than 10 lux (about the brightness of a movie theater before a showing begins), and meet a number of other criteria. Furthermore, they must be located outside of residential areas.
At the end of January 2018, the Metropolitan Police Department raided a club called Aoyama Hachi in Shibuya, and arrested the manager and two others on the grounds that the venue was operating as a late-night dance club without obtaining a license as a “nighttime entertainment restaurant operation". It was the first such bust nationwide since the amendment had taken effect.
In the ensuing weeks leading up to spring, about 20 small venues in Shibuya and Roppongi were similarly inspected by police. As police crackdown continues, there is still much that needs to be addressed—such as the vague definition of “entertainment" and expanding the areas where such businesses are permitted.
6.Epilogue: Why the Roppongi/Azabu Area is Home to So Many Meet (Meat) Markets (Based on an interview with BigBrother)
Since the turn of the millennium, the atmosphere of the Roppongi/Azabu area has changed greatly. Roppongi Hills was completed in 2003, and Tokyo Midtown opened in 2007—making Roppongi one of the city’s best-known business and shopping districts.
In the second half of the 20th century (specifically after World War II ended in 1945), the Roppongi/Azabu area was emblematic of the dark underbelly of postwar Japanese society.
Tokyo Midtown, for example, now stands where the Japan Defense Agency (now known as the Ministry of Defense) used to be located. Prior to that, between 1946, through the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco and all the way until 1960, the area was home to lodging facilities for U.S. military officers.
The Roppongi/Azabu area is also bordered by Reinanzaka in Akasaka, which runs adjacent to the American Embassy. As a result, the neighborhood became a place where Americans congregated. And as more and more embassies from different countries also started to settle in the area, more and more related facilities catering to foreigners started opening their doors nearby.
These included supermarkets catering to expats, such as Meidi-ya in Hiroo, National Azabu, and Nissin in Azabu-Juban.
There were also many dining establishments serving cuisines from around the world, and casual standing bars
Perhaps the most distinctive type of drinking venue was the hostess bar (what the Japanese would now call kyabakura—short for cabaret club). The standard of living in postwar Japan was significantly lower than that of Europe and the U.S., and so many expats were in Japan alone, having left their wives and children in the better living conditions back home. Roppongi’s hostess clubs catered to men who were single, and those who were in Japan alone.
Even after the land was returned to Japan and became home to the Defense Agency, the neighborhood’s reputation as a nightlife district only became stronger throughout the period of rapid economic growth.
Then in the bubble years, Roppongi was home to hundreds of such venues—from those that were purely about enjoying a drink with a hostess, to those that provided services that went beyond.
Roppongi is home to TV Asahi, and the adjacent Akasaka is home to TBS—two of Japan’s major television networks. As a result, the Roppongi/Azabu area became a breeding ground for talent agencies, agencies specializing in foreign talent, modeling agencies, and various companies doing entertainment and television-related work. Many struggling actresses, models, and other talent would work at said hostess bars (some essentially had no choice).
In the 1990s, the disco craze brought a new kind of club to the area—venues that were about dancing, pure and simple. Discotheques such as Maharaja in Azabu-Juban (1984-2007) and Velfarre in Roppongi (1994-2007), as well as clubs such as Space Lab Yellow in Nishi-Azabu (1991-2004), became the new face of the Roppongi/Azabu club scene.
Then in the 2000s, a number of factors led many hostess bars in the area to shut down. Budget reductions for television stations and the press and the rise of “herbivore men” and otaku. And the construction of Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown coincided with a cleanup effort to make the neighborhood more livable.
Also in the 2000s, as open-air raves became more popular, the closed atmosphere of a nightclub or dance hall seemed to suffer as a result.
Then of course, the Roppongi club attack incident and other similar incidents caused by hangure caused the public image of Roppongi’s club scene to hit rock bottom.
Nowadays, since the authorities have started cracking down on marijuana and the Fueiho has been revised, the Roppongi/Azabu area’s nightclubs (for dancing) have gradually regained their popularity—aided by a steadily growing number of foreign tourists.
However, there is one thing to keep in mind. Both the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills and the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo Midtown are operated by hotel groups funded by American capital.
In addition, the Akasaka Press Center, which is located by Roppongi Tunnel and the National Art Center, Tokyo, is a facility of the U.S. Army. The heliport continues to be used as the base of operations for multiple helicopter flights per day that go to and from Yokota Air Base and Naval Air Facility Atsugi (their route also takes them quite low over Yoyogi Park).
Apparently the flights bring in in personnel and supplies to the U.S. Embassy and the New Sanno Hotel near Tengenji. What’s more, they are not obligated to follow any minimum altitude requirements set by Japanese civil aeronautics law—meaning they are free to fly ultralow.
It is strange to think that all this still goes on more than 70 years after the end of the war.
Side note, during the Edo period, the Chofu Mori clan residence stood where Roppongi Hills now stands, and the Hagi Mori clan residence stood where Tokyo Midtown now stands.
MUSIC & PARTIES #005
Tokyo Night Life (3) On Roppongi/Azabu Afterhours Culture