In the late 1970s, a club called Tsubaki House opened on the fifth floor of an office building on the southwest corner of Yasukuni and Meiji streets in Shinjuku. At a time when disco was still the rage, Tsubaki House was one of the few venues in Tokyo doing something different.
Though it was located five floors above street level, the bands and DJs who performed there were at that time firmly underground. I saw Pig Bag and Cabaret Voltaire play there in the early ’80s. If you know those bands then you’ll understand the level of obscurity I’m talking about; if you don’t, then you’ve just confirmed it.
Tsubaki House also gave a lot of local talent their first break. DJ Kensho Onuki hosted his first London Nite event there 26 years ago. While other DJs were still spinning hits from “Saturday Night Fever,” Onuki and his friends started playing straight-up rock and punk songs and, consequently, earned themselves a cult following among alternative-minded Tokyoites.
When Tsubaki House closed, London Nite kept going and it is still is, even now. For the last 10 years, the party has been held at Club Wire in Shinjuku, which, oddly enough, is located on the other side of Yasukuni-dori from where Tsubaki House used to be. But unlike Tsubaki House, Club Wire is (appropriately enough) located underground in a basement, deep beneath Hanazono Shrine.
The space that Club Wire occupies also has a history. This unique temple location first opened as a lounge-style nightspot at around the same time that London Nite launched at Tsubaki House. Raphael Sebbag from United Future Organization used to spin Latin music there before acid-jazz had even been heard of.
When the current owner took over the space 15 years ago, he restyled it as a dance club, calling it Milo’s Garage. Though not a gay club, it became popular with many of the people from the nearby gay district of Shinjuku 2-chome.
A few years later, the owner decided to reopen it as Club Wire. And in stepped Onuki and crew to give it hardcore credentials of a different kind.
After a decade of Friday nights at Club Wire, London Nite recently dropped a notch in the schedule to a Tuesday evening. But as one generation moves on, another is always ready to move in and take over.
DJ Duck Rock, one of my current favorite turntable talents, has started hosting a new party at Club Wire every Thursday night. Duck’s new Twist events have only scored a humble pre-weekend time slot, but I would have given him Onuki’s old Friday-night spot.
As his name suggests, Duck is into rock. He’s also a master of mixes and mash-ups, meaning that he takes some of the same old rock and punk classics that Onuki plays and pumps them up with a dance beat or layers the sound by splicing two or more songs together. Electro-rock, as this style is known, is not exactly new, but it is breathing new life into old songs.
“I take rock and twist it around, make it weird. That is Duck Rock,” says Duck Rock.
The Duck’s first unofficial gig as a DJ was in 1989 at Hayao Mastumura’s first Nude Trump store in Koenji. (Matsumura now owns several clothing stores and a couple of bars, including Piano, in Shibuya). That night, 40 to 50 people jammed into Matsumura’s then tiny shop with drinks they bought at a convenience store. His first official gig followed soon after at Boogie Boy, a non-gay bar in Shinjuku 2-chome, a short-lived but very hot spot because of the music played there. Though he only managed to go to Tsubaki House once before it closed, he has been a guest DJ at London Nite three times at Club Wire.
“When I was a teenager, I read a review that Onuki wrote about a Queen album. Then I met him. He was like a god to me,” says Duck.
I know that a lot of Japanese of Duck’s age feel the same way. Ever wondered why there are so many punk bands in Japan? I suspect that Onuki and his London Nites were a big influence.
But time moves on and for now, it seems, Duck Rock is riding a new “mix and mash-up” wave.