Japan’s club scene continues to divide itself into smaller niche events like cells undergoing mitosis. Each new party differs slightly from the others and together they cater to almost every genre and micro-genre imaginable; if it has been blogged about, then there’s a night for it.
This new state of affairs has been a challenge to many organizers and promoters, but monthly event Waradise Garage seems to be bucking that trend, pulling in a diverse crowd for the past five years. Its premise: domestic content only.
“We mostly play 1970s and ’80s Japanese, disco-influenced music that even the locals have never heard of,” says Kazunao Nagata, a veteran in Tokyo’s dance-music scene and the man behind Waradise Garage. He mentions that the name itself is a play on the legendary Paradise Garage venue in New York.
“Our crowd has grown over the years,” Nagata says. “We have a lot of young people, and women outnumber the men.” Nagata adds that the gender imbalance is particularly refreshing compared to the all-male crowds that populated the techno events he used to attend.
The DJ says the secret to Waradise Garage’s success is wamono, a term for Japanese oldies, a genre that has been increasing in popularity. The interest isn’t limited to Japan either, Nagata says record collectors overseas have been buying up old Japanese albums and that has led to rising prices.
Nagata, 47, says his appreciation of domestic content is something that has come with age.
“There’s something unrefined about the sound. If you listen to wamono, you can hear that the artists are trying to imitate sounds that were popular in the West, but what’s fun to me is that they aren’t really pulling it off,” he says with a laugh. “When I was young I thought that wasn’t cool; now I love it and never make fun of it.”
Another aspect of wamono that appeals to local fans is something many English speakers may take for granted.
“The fact that people can understand the lyrics is important,” Nagata says. “It’s something you don’t normally experience in clubs. Most vocal tracks are in English so you just focus on dancing, but with wamono you start thinking about the lyrics. People have told me that if they don’t watch out, they might start crying on the dance floor.”
Waradise Garage isn’t the only wamono party in Tokyo — it competes with Groovy Wamono Summit and other smaller parties every month. However, Waradise does particularly well averaging a crowd of at least 200 each month. It helps that the regular DJs — Chinbantei Goraku Shishou and Yasuo Nakamura to name but two — are very skilled. The night I attend, the guys behind the decks seamlessly mixed 7-inch enka records into idol-pop hits such as Kyoko Koizumi’s “Fade Out.”
“The most important thing about Waradise Garage is that we mix records really well,” Nagata says. “All the DJs who play have a background in club music, whether it’s house, techno, or hip-hop, and we make sure that you can dance. When older wamono collectors DJ, they end up trying to impress crowds with their expensive record collections — and they’re terrible DJs! We play records from the ¥100 bin.”
Waradise Garage takes place at Shinseikai in Roppongi, Tokyo, on March 25 (11 p.m. start; ¥2,000 at the door). For more information, visit waradisegarage.blogspot.jp.