Despite its voracious appetite for music, festivals have only started to become popular in Japan in the last decade or so. Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic are the giants in the field, but a number of smaller boutique events have cropped up to cater for the urban hippy movements. One such festival, Taico Club, decided to hold a second event this year recently, this time within a stone's throw of Tokyo rather than its usual mountain setting in northerly Nagano.
This artificial island of reclaimed land in amongst the heavily industrialized zone of Kawasaki was a world away from its usual lushly forested setting. It is a large multi-purpose "leisure park" by day, with a fake beach (swimming obviously not allowed), dotted about with sad landscaped shrubbery and open green spaces which reeked of poorly planned industrial regeneration. Adjacent to the Haneda Airport landing strip island, the space was surrounded by steel refineries and docks, and there was a constant stream of planes landing overhead and cargo ships coming into port. One enormous steel chimney stack towering over the site, belching fire all night, completed the effect of cartoon technopolis.
Photo credit: Andre Gifkins
The very real Japanese industrial slump here in the last year draws immediate comparisons to Detroit's own moribund motor industry. So it's no small surprise that the organizers looked to the Motor City for their headliners, with Carl Craig, Omar-S and an extra long morning set from Theo Parrish all on the cards.
Even though it kept the same one night format, with perfectly designed Function One setups throughout and typically seamless organization, the surroundings alone made it seem like a completely different event. The lack of camping and the proximity to Tokyo kept away all the usual urban hippy kids, and apart from the usual few irritating poi "practitioners," there was a much darker feel overall. (Not just literally—with the large space between stages only dimly lit by the twinkling factories—but also by the deeper sounds of the lineup with Sascha Dive, James Holden and Isolée all playing.) Adding to the effect were intensely strong bayside winds which would sporadically kick up mini-dust storms, for once giving the sunglasses-at-night crew a forgivable excuse.
The extra stage also meaning that they could neatly schedule the extensive line-up, with one devoted to moodier, minimal live noodlings, the centre stage for bizarre improvisational Japanese jam bands and the beach stage for the boys from Detroit to lay waste on. Omar-S came on quite early there, setting the tone perfectly for the rest of the night, starting with some soulful Chicago house then leading into more mechanical beats, including after a lot of EQ teasery, his now classic "Psychotic Photosynthesis." Definitely the best overall set of the night (if a little short), he demonstrated with ease how to juggle between the more euphoric house beat and colder techno without losing momentum.
Photo credit: Andre Gifkins
Over on the other stage, Plaid played a functional set of bouncy '90s Warp-style techno, which set the stage for Sleeparchive to unleash an effortless display of laptop minimalism. The sound was the best here in this slightly more enclosed stage, with Metzger's trademark oscillating synth lines and insistent drum patterns benefitting greatly from the crowd being cushioned in by his sound and making it much easier to get sucked into the full narrative. Most of the basslines were barely recognizable, and towards the end there was a long, phased sample of Margaret Thatcher quoting Assisi, "And where there is despair, may we bring hope!" which then spectacularly dropped into the familiar hypnotic beat of "Research," and finished up quite suddenly with a wail of defibrillating feedback—a jarring reminder at how swiftly the last hour had just rolled by.
Not many could have followed that up, so it was fortunate that legendary German minimalist Monolake was on hand with a new surround sound set he's been touring recently. What followed was another two hours of bleak sound manipulation, which showcased how his dub drenched sound seems as driven by the minute spaces in between as much as the actual thump of the kicks, the lows providing an expansive bed for the faint tendrils of polyrhythmic clicks and whirrs to occasionally drift in on above it all. Meanwhile, back on the beach, Carl Craig dropped his usual crowd pleasing Ableton driven set, motoring through classics like "The Bells," his own remix of "Kill 100," "I Feel Love" and ending on an extended edit of "Can You Feel It!" The crowd, at the very least, didn't seem to be complaining.
At around 4 AM with the sun just about risen, the main event, Theo Parrish, strolled on and did his thing for five straight hours. And what a thing. Omar-S had beautifully demonstrated a well rounded dancefloor driven set which combined deep house, Detroit techno and more soulful jazz sounds, but Theo took it to the next level. From Alice Coltrane-style galactic jazz, to hands-in-the-air euphoric piano house stompers, to jacking Detroit classics, he kept the crowd entranced with his track selection. He was locked in as well, head bobbing, with a permanent grin. Things got a little hazy around 8 AM though, and we were quickly transplanted from dancing on a beach in an oil refinery, to sitting next to a besuited early commuter on the metro.
Photo credit: Andre Gifkins
Ticket prices for events like this are comparatively very high in Japan, but like most things in Japan, aficionados (which is what they are, techno not being as part of the cultural landscape as much as it is in Europe or some of the US) are perfectly willing to pay more in exchange for certain guarantees, i.e. consistently fantastic systems and stellar line-ups. Tokyo's nightlife has been under massive pressure these past few years, with closures of legendary clubs like Spacelab Yellow and the constant fear of licensing trouble by random police crackdowns. Events like this, however, can hopefully continue to flourish until Tokyo undergoes another resurgence of the techno and house scene like the one that took place in the late '90s.