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Just a few years ago, when Yoichi Nakamuta was on a business trip to New York, he stumbled upon an unusual designer item: Go-Go Drink, a natural herb soda or energy drink. But it wasn’t just the intriguing blend of tropical herbs and roots it contained that caught his attention.

Two bar men pose with the namesake drink on the bar.

The can was created by Douglas Lloyd, one of Gucci’s main designers. The logo and graphics are the work of New York illustrator Michael Economy, the father of Kiki, the cutsie-pie mascot with a flame-orange bob and hot-pink mini dress who adorns the can.

In Japan, “genki drinks” are usually the domain of a very unglamorous demographic: the over-worked and typically hung-over salaryman. But Nakamuta could sense Go-Go Drink’s potential in a different market segment — Japan’s ko-gyaru (young girls). He returned armed with samples and gave his staff the task of marketing the drink in Japan.

Producer Hirofumi Takei (top, right) lounges, while Shingo Star (below) lays down the beats.

One initial hurdle was clearing the way for the drink’s more obscure ingredients. Like the herb guarana, for example, not well known to health ministry bureaucrats — and perhaps just as well, as it is attributed with the same physiological action as caffeine and cocaine. Or gotu kola, from eastern India, reputed to increase mental clarity and longevity. Compared to these, the ginseng and vitamin B6 it contains seem rather mundane.

Rather than distributing the drink through Japan’s retail network, Nakamuta’s team decided to open a bar. The result was Go-Go Lounge TYO, a cozy little DJ bar in Harajuku and Go-Go Drink’s official outlet in Japan.

The interior was originally conceived of as Kiki’s private room. Though evidence of knick-knacks and toys to that effect still fill alcoves here and there, for the most part Kiki’s small white-walled boomerang-shaped room has become home to a growing network of baby DJs — mostly boys, as befits cute ko-gyaru.

Each month, Go-Go Lounge hosts a variety of events, some of which, like Jelly Beans on the first Saturday of every month, have already celebrated their first anniversary. Most nights it is impossible to predict what kind of music you will hear. Every DJ mixes it up within one set. Electronica follows hip-hop. Drum ‘n’ bass follows disco.

“If someone wants to spin we’ll always give them an audition,” says Go-Go Lounge’s manager, Ryota Tani. “And if we like what we hear, we’ll book them.”

And so it is that live wires like Hirofumi Takei, an up-and-coming music-video producer, scouts DJs for his regular Hong Kong Garden event on the last Wednesday every month. He installs talents on the turntables like Shingo Star, who launches into his set with Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire,” or Masaya Nakahara, who let’s it rip with an obscure punk track by The Saints. But where they go from there, one simply never knows.

What I do know is that Action Drink Japan, the offshoot of Nakamuta’s company responsible for Go-Go Drink, has already registered a record label. In addition to the Go-Go Cocktails on the menu, music is also a part of the company’s mo’ genki marketing plan.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.