Today's T-shirt slogan: "Milk In Action"
(need I mention that this was on the chest of an amply endowed girl?)
It's 5:28 on a Saturday morning and I'm waiting for my hair to dry --
always a great opportunity to catch up on correspondence and write
bizarre diary entries. The reason I'm still up at this ungodly
hour is, as predicted in last week's episode, the Talvin Singh
show I just got back from, so I suppose I'd better write a few
words about that.
The party was in Shinjuku's Liquid Room, which is probably Tokyo's
most famous techno club; needless to say, "most famous" rarely
corresponds with "best", and Liquid Room certainly doesn't hold
very true to the principles of the underground. Tickets are
always in the 3000-4000 yen range, steep even by Tokyo standards
(albeit not entirely unreasonable if foreign DJs are playing),
there's no re-entry once inside, and everything inside costs 500
yen; again, not entirely unreasonable, but to buy anything you
have to buy a minimum of 2 drink tickets valid only on that day,
and all drinks, even soda, come in tiny cups. (Except Evian,
where 500 yen gets you a whole small bottle, identical to the ones
sold in the vending machine outside for 120 yen.) As for the
venue itself, I was immediately reminded of Helsinki's Hype.
The main room's structure was identical, with a well-lit dancefloor
surrounded by a counter and bars for people-watching and even
video screens on the wall. The primary difference is that the
Liquid Room's dancefloor is by a conservative estimate 12x bigger...
by Tokyo standards it was an amazingly large area, especially with
the adjacent entrance/chill-out/bar/toilet rooms/passages added in.
Decorations were pretty minimal, but the main floor had the
requisite scanners, strobes, video projectors and massive arrays
of speakers -- one feature I especially liked was the subwoofers
under the dancefloor. Some of those low vibrations felt real
groovy! And on this sunny 32-deg-C-and-77%-humidity day, the air
conditioning was outright excellent. (Especially after climbing
the 14 sets of stairs to get in -- some sadist had blocked off the
And the music itself? Well, I had the chance to hear 4 DJs play,
and due to some bizarre conspiracy every one of them played only
horribly mixed utter pradesh during the first half-hour of their
set, and then much better stuff for the next half -- until the
next DJ started the cycle again. Chari Chari's opener was
(towards the end) nice, some classic jungle tracks and some
bizarre-but-funky Japanese rap-D&B tracks where, much to my dismay,
I realized that I actually understood some of the lyrics.
(Including today's title, "haadokoa honmono", which translates
along the lines of "[this is] the true hardcore".) Up next
was Cleveland Watkiss, who was again good but not extraordinary,
and then it was time for DJ Watkiss to metamorphose into MC
Cleveland as Anokha's Equal-I stepped in with Indian grooves.
I will admit that MC C.W. is the best MC I've heard to date, but
that's not saying much, and sometimes -- especially when he tried
to chant bits in Urdu (no joke!) -- he was downright annoying.
Unfortunately, the same could be said for most of Equal-I's and
Talvin Singh's set. The beats in the tracks were rarely dancy,
just loud and broken, and all the bits of folk music relating to
melody or harmony had been stripped out with just the annoying
chants and weird instrument snippets left. Most of the time the
elements simply did not fuse together. Quite a disappointment,
really, especially given the wonderful job they did on the
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan remix album (Star Rise on Realworld Records,
get yours today). But SR is mostly ambientish dubby stuff
while what they played was all hard breakbeat, at least after
the over-trebled-as-usual amplifier got around to it. The
volume was painfully loud at times and I regret not having
bought (or even found) new decent earplugs; right now my ears
are ringing just enough to let me know that I've just killed another
few thousand nerve cells in my ears.
Just the same, all in all, it was worth it -- even if I probably
won't go to another drum'n'bass party at Tokyo prices. Even
yesterday there were quite a few moments when the tracks would
really have needed a nice unbroken house beat.
Returning home in the morning was interesting. Liquid Room is
located in the heart of Tokyo's infamous Kabukicho, which, due
to Japanese discreetness, didn't look all that strange at
midnight when I arrived. The morning was a different story:
all shops were closed except a few fast-food joints and all
the porn/sex shops, every single one of which also had a speaker
system chirping out in a incredibly high-pitched voice about
telephone club X's new low prices and hordes of lusty kookoosei
waiting for your call or about the special massage services of Y
now for only 8000 yen/hour. In daytime the shops' displays fold
in and blend with their surroundings, but at night, with all the
"normal" shops shuttered, the only signs in sight were McDonalds
and nekkid women. The sidewalks were strewn with drunk, passed-out,
or thrown-out salarimen sleeping contentedly among the cardboard
apartments of the area's permanent resident bums. Only young people
were still awake, slowly drifting towards the station and the first
trains of the morning, but here and there a keen urban anthropologist
could spot the odd middle-aged managers with their teenage
"compensated dating" (enjo kousai) escorts.
Speaking of steamy activities, even lifting your finger has been
one lately, as the temperature approaches 35 and the humidity 80%.
Thankfully every place down to the smallest noodle joint is air-
conditioned, making life mostly bearable, but unfortunately the
ever inventive Japanese have yet to discover a way to air-condition
Tokyo itself. I, for one, wouldn't mind. Long-suffering residents
gleefully tell me that there are still another 2 months of this to
go and that the current humidity is nothing compared to what
Mother Nature will be dishing (ladling?) out in August.
My Japanese continues to improve, if not quite by leaps and bounds,
then at least by hops and stumbles. For the last few Japanese
lessons I have managed tolerably coherent 90-minute discussions
with my teacher, and for purely voluntary extra credit I've
so far managed to choke down 32 pages of Toyotomi Hideyoshi,
a Japanese "young readers" book chronicling the story of, surprise
surprise, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. When I started, reading a single
page per night was downright painful, but today I just read 6 pages,
including some complete sentences where I didn't need to consult my
dictionary even once. (Reading the story of a 16th century
general expands your vocabulary in odd directions: I can now say
useful things like "mercenary", "helmet", "spear" and "pledge
allegiance to your liege lord" in Japanese. I wonder if you could
recycle that last one as a pick-up line?) At this rate I'll get to
page 202 in 5 weeks; in English the same amount of text would take me
about 2 hours...
I've long since lost count of the earthquakes I've experienced here,
but becoming more familiar with what they feel like certainly
doesn't make life any easier. A play-by-play of the last one...
Scene: Yours truly sitting on his bed reading Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
door bed curtain me
<rumble> That had better not have
<klang> <rumble> ...an earthquake. Uh-oh.
<klang, klang> <rrumble> <shuffle> And it's a big one.
<rrr...> oh pleasepleaseplease...
<RRRR...> head for the doorway?
<...UMBL...> crawl under the bed?
<...e.> It's over?
<klang, <rumble> <shuffle> No such luck.
klang, <rumBLE> Is this THE BIG ONE?
klang> <RRRRUUMMBBLLEE> I'm too young to die!
<...> Was it?
<...r...r...> Was that?
This couldn't have lasted more than 20 seconds, but those are
very long seconds if you're in it, and especially when you notice
right at the beginning you have more than enough time to visualize,
somewhere far away (or right underneath!) strained land masses
grinding against each other, each rumble being a small slip.
The waves come and go, and the freakiest part is when a wave starts
building intensity and you're sitting there wondering how strong
will it get and at what point you should panic.
And on this cheery note... cheers!
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