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Make it a countdown to remember

by Mark Jarnes

In Japan, New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated at home with the family. For many it is a somber — if not sober — experience. Yet over the years Japan has firmly placed itself on the world map as a major stop-off point for some of the biggest names in the electronic music scene, and looking at what’s in store for beat lovers come the final weekend of 2011, there is no doubt many will be tempted to slip out of the house and usher in the new year with their friends on the dancefloor.

As is the case every year, the majority of countdown events will inevitably be taking place in Tokyo. We start with the superclubs, and first up to bat is a party at Sound Museum Vision (9 p.m.; ¥5,000; www.vision-tokyo.com), one of the capital’s newest venues. Detroit-born luminaries Derrick May and Jeff Mills will be the only DJs spinning that night, an exciting prospect for any techno buff. Those who prefer a more eclectic night of dance music should head to Unit (9 p.m.; ¥2,000 [¥2,500 after 1 a.m.]; www.unit-tokyo.com). The venue, which will operate more as a live-house than a club for the night, will host Yokohama-based Luvraw and BTB and their funk-infused hip-hop numbers, and fresh fare from their newest album, “Hotel Pacifica.” Other notables on the lineup are trip-hop innovator DJ Krush, Eye from the noise-rock collective Boredoms, summer festival favorite Altz and leftfield-disco pioneer Kenji Takimi. Womb (9 p.m.; ¥5,000 [¥4,000 after 12 midnight]; www.womb.co.jp) will be hosting Philadelphia’s Josh Wink playing his trademark acid-house and techno tunes. Supporting him will be some of Tokyo’s finest, in the form of DJ Aki, Satoshi Otsuki and Kikiorix.

Some unlikely venues will also be welcoming revelers to spend NYE within their walls instead of with the folks watching “Kohaku” on NHK. Big names in the Tokyo house and techno scene such as The Labyrinth resident DJ So, Raha of Ooooze, Shotaro Maeda and Aosawa will be playing at restaurant/bar-turned-club Legato (10:30; ¥4,000; www.legato-tokyo.jp). Taking the spotlight however will be Dave Twomey, aka Tr nch, with his signature dub-heavy techno soundscapes, and Laurent Novatin, one of the brains behind the refreshingly diverse Redbox and Rainbow Disco Club series of parties. Mado Lounge (9 p.m.; ¥5,000 [¥7,000 at the door]; www.ma-do.jp), atop the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, will offer something more on the jazzy side of the musical spectrum with performances from Shacho (meaning “president” in Japanese) of the awesome Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, Masanori Morita of Studio Apartment and local rapper-hero Shing02.

On a slightly larger scale, party promoters Electronic Tribe (9 p.m.; ¥5,800 [¥7,000 at the door]; www.electronic-tribe.com) will again be bringing a plethora of talent to the halls of Ebisu Garden Place, which has become their annual NYE venue in recent years. Names to note from the international circuit are house-music pioneer Francois K., Bristol-based Rob Smith aka R.S.D. and Nick The Record, whereas turntablist extraordinaire DJ Kentaro and the ever-popular Towa Tei will represent the local scene in a party that is shaping up to be as musically varied as it is quality.

Over in Kansai, the city of Osaka will be overrun by a huge holiday collaboration made up of The Star Festival team and label Bud Music (times vary; ¥3,500-¥4,000; d-sport.info), spanning two days and taking place at multiple venues. Make sure to catch the full ensemble of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions taking center stage at the cabaret-style Universe, along with the energy-infused Kingdom Afrorocks and their afro-beat take on latin jazz and rock, and DJ Baku. Live-house Akaso, on the other hand, will offer a great selection of dance music, with DJ Krush unusually performing a techno set that is not to be missed, Germany-based DJ Koze and Lawrence, as well as local techno frontman DJ Nobu.

For those who are in the Chugoku region, the countdown party at Yebisu Ya Pro (10 p.m.; ¥3,000 [¥4,000 at the door]; yebisuyapro.jp) in Okayama is one to note on the calendar. The club has brought in some of the most exciting names in the electronic-music scene this year, including Mixmaster Morris, Mark E and 6th Borough Project. This year, and rather fittingly, Theo Parrish will be leading the countdown festivites. Parrish was the first-ever DJ to spin the turntables at the venue in July last year. Supporting Parrish on the night will be Yukke and the Yebisu Ya Pro All Stars.

All said and done, the party of the night will undoubtedly be the New Year’s Eve installment of the Freaks Festival (9 p.m.; ¥7,800 in advance, which includes a DJ Harvey CD [¥6,000 at the door with no CD]; www.freaks-fes.jp) taking place at the massive Differ Ariake in Tokyo. The theme of the night will be “One night, one stage, one DJ,” with Los Angeles-based living legend DJ Harvey manning the decks for a mind-blowing eight-hour gig. Starting his career at the tender age of 13, the revered DJ and producer has continuously refined his sound over the years, comprising hip-hop and garage-influenced acid-house and disco. His set is sure to be a treat for the ears of any music enthusiast — electronic or not.