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Taicoclub’s role in Japan’s electronic music scene will be missed, so catch it while you can

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Special To The Japan Times

When I interviewed Taro Yasuzawa this time last year, he didn’t let on that he was about to pull the plug on the event he’d been organizing for the past decade. A few weeks later, it was official: Taicoclub, the plucky all-night music festival that debuted in 2006, will be marking its penultimate edition this month before bowing out for good in 2018.

It’ll be a shame to see it go. Held at a leafy mountain park in Nagano Prefecture, Taicoclub has been a regular highlight on the music festival calendar, partly by virtue of its peculiarity. It’s a 24-hour party that isn’t just about dancing, with a catholic booking policy that finds space for Warp Records stalwarts and underground techno DJs alongside homegrown pop acts who have scaled the upper reaches of the Oricon charts.

On paper, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. When we spoke last year, Yasuzawa said that Taicoclub’s lineup had been a tricky balancing act, and was getting harder to maintain. He complained that younger music fans weaned on automated YouTube recommendations were proving less eager to step outside their comfort zones. In his view, the gulf between the Japanese and overseas music scenes was widening.

If Taicoclub’s choice of domestic artists — which this year includes recent chart crossover success Wednesday Campanella and breakout hip-hop star Kohh — can seem a little tame in comparison to its overseas contingent, Yasuzawa said this was partly a reflection of differences in the market.

“In Japan, there’s a huge gap between the artists who are getting attention and the ones who aren’t,” he told me. “Overseas artists have a lot more opportunities to get noticed, even if they’re making the same kind of music (as their Japanese counterparts).”

It’s a familiar refrain: the barrier between the musical mainstream and the underground is less porous in Japan than in many other countries, with little middle ground between the two. A promoter is faced with the choice of booking domestic artists with more mainstream appeal, or accepting a sizeable cut in attendance — a lesson that the now-defunct SonarSound Tokyo festival learned the hard way.

There are smaller boutique events in Japan that are doing an excellent job of bringing together top-flight domestic and international electronic acts; The Labyrinth, Rainbow Disco Club, Rural and The Star Festival all come to mind. But these events cater to more niche demographics and operate on a smaller scale than the 10,000-capacity Taicoclub. The smaller events couldn’t afford the booking fee for someone like minimal techno don Ricardo Villalobos — who was once a Taicoclub fixture — even if they wanted to. This has knock-on effects for the whole festival economy. It’s a frustrating paradox that, if you want to see the most adventurous Japanese acts sharing a bill with international artists of an equal calibre, you’re generally better off going overseas. Is it any wonder that so many of the most talented folks here end up moving to Berlin?

Taicoclub’17 takes place May 27 and 28 at Kodama no Mori in Nagano Prefecture. For more details, visit www.taicoclub.com. Sound Off is a series that focuses on issues related to the music industry.