OSAKA – It’s December and small flocks of young, creative-looking types are making their way to a shipyard in Osaka’s Namura district. Tucked among an expanse of otherwise drab warehouses there is Creative Center Osaka, and tonight is “Hot Docks 2,” an art and music spectacle.
Upon arrival, several things are soon worth noting. Admission is free, drinks are free, and there are Dutch artists painting alongside their Japanese peers on a 360-degree indoor wall. Pika, from the bands Afrirampo and Acid Mothers Temple, is drumming noisily in an adjacent room. Performance artist Taniuchi Ikko is pouring paint all over himself, and DJs are spinning mellow tunes in the main room. The event is an impressive testament to the diversity of the city’s creative palate.
Among the organizers of the event, though, one individual in particular stands out. Dreadlocked and bespectacled, projecting digital illustrations on the wall at the center is Yasumichi Miura, known to most people here simply as “Colo.”
The 37-year-old artist and VJ is an expert organizer, a skill he’s likely honed by putting on shows throughout Osaka for the past 10 years — including the one in Namura. However, most of the action takes place away from the dockyards and closer to the city. Colo is based out of a vibrant complex called the Misono Building in Osaka’s central Namba district.
He got his start in 2002 with an event called “Flower of Life,” a dance party where creative spirits such as Altz and Eye (from Boredoms) deejayed psychedelic-tinged house tracks to the accompaniment of digital projections courtesy of Colo’s VJ duo Betaland.
“It wasn’t just local people,” says Colo, referring to the migratory nature of the event at its peak in the mid-2000s. “People from Tokyo, Nagoya and Hokkaido were coming out. There was this real movement of party people. Recently, though, that scene has slowed down and people aren’t moving around so much.”
Prior to 2010, when police began to ramp up enforcement of fuzoku antidancing laws, parties would run as late as noon the next day, safely tucked away in one of two cavernous basement clubs inside the Misono Building. While Colo’s all-night Flower of Life parties concluded last year, his connection to the Misono Building continues.
The building has been at the center of Osaka’s nightlife since the 1950s —transitioning from cabaret and big band to disco, techno and dub. Looking at old photos of events on display during a January exhibition at Colo’s Galaxy Gallery, it’s difficult not to feel a little jealous of the city’s more carefree past. Massive afternoon pool parties, late-night dancing in the basement, a plethora of small bars on the second floor, and a sauna above that — it has all been a part of life under the roof of the Misono Building.
Colo does his part to help continue this legacy. In addition to putting on events at clubs Macau and Universe, he also runs his gallery, an art store called Clazy Market, and the bar Pratas. Just down the hall is his office, where he works on organizing projects under the name Cosmic Lab. Over the years, Cosmic Lab has expanded to host an increasingly international roster of events that has included shows for electronic-music party Low End Theory, hip-hop label Stones Throw, and Sunday afternoon dance party The Do Over —which are all from Los Angeles.
The idea for Cosmic Lab came in 2008 when Colo embarked on his yearly retreat to the counter-cultural Burning Man festival in the United States. He took a few extra days to hang out with noise band Boredoms in Los Angeles, who were then preparing for their now famous 88 Boadrum performance, which featured 88 drummers. Colo spent his evenings voraciously consuming Los Angeles’ music scene, and that led to ideas for new events.
“(My first party) Flower of Life was a lot of house music and psychedelic trance,” he says. “Recently, house music isn’t all that interesting to me, so instead I’m reaching out to beat makers, like the ones in LA, and I’m trying to hook them up with people in the domestic scene.”
Now when Low End Theory musicians such as The Gaslamp Killer and Nocando come to Osaka, they are joined on stage by local talent such as Ryuei Kotoge and DJ Tell. Japanese artists such as Tokio Aoyama participate in live paint sessions, and Colo directs an impressive visual feast that includes stage design by his creative partner Oleo. So while originally a Los Angeles-based event, Colo transforms the party into something uniquely Japanese.
He mentions a handful of creative groups in Osaka who are presently organizing dynamic events, with the collective A Hundred Birds and electronic label Day Tripper (with whom this writer has worked with) among them.
“There’s a large variety of music happening in Osaka, but they are all smaller communities,” he says. “In Tokyo, there are so many people, so each genre is clearly established without any crossover. Osaka is not as big, but not that small. So, there is potential to shuffle these communities. And from that, I think Osaka can develop a new original culture.
“At Burning Man, I was really surprised by the range of people who were there, everything from bankers, doctors … and even what looked like homeless people. I think a large spectrum of people who gather at the same place is an important part of an event. I’ve been (to Burning Man) 10 times and I really respect that aspect of the culture. That kind of do-it-yourself event is not something you can do all the time, but for one week a year everyone comes together and creates a kind of utopia. I think that attitude is great.”
Colo starts talking about a new event he’d like to put on in the spring, “I found this really good new place.” While he’s not too clear on the details yet, he expects it will be a mix of music and visual art. As a VJ and gallery owner, it’s not hard to understand the emphasis Colo places on aesthetics. And considering the mix of art and sound at the Hot Docks 2 event, we can only hope a new venture will be bigger and more interactive.
“I want to connect dance and electronic music with visual art,” he says. “I want to make a new type of visual installation with all the artists from the Flower of Life days.”
Colo will VJ the Osaka leg of the Todd Terje Japan tour on March 21 at Triangle. He will also provide visuals at the Nagisa Music Festival on April 29 (details to be announced). For more information on Cosmic Lab, visit www.cosmiclab.jp.