by Don Crispy
With turntables trumping guitars and Japanese DJs winning
international contests, there's no lack of turntablists
in Japan. But when high school kid Ko Kimura was making trips
from rural Gifu Prefecture to play Tokyo clubs back in the
mid-'80s, he was one of a few pioneers.
"At the time I started to play house, most people thought
it was cheesy because house superficially sounds the same
as Eurobeat," says Kimura over coffee in Aoyama. "It
was difficult to explain that house is a kind of soul music."
Kimura, whose career dates back through the fabled Gold of
the early '90s to seminal clubs like Picasso, says
that a 1987 trip to New York awakened him to the power of
house. "It was then I realized that house is a hardcore
kind of dance music. First I went to Nell's, but then
I thought this is not what I wanted: too yuppie. So I went
to the gay clubs after asking around at record shops. Then
I realized that this is what I was looking for, but it was
a bit scary as it was all men. I was probably the only straight
or Asian guy there."
With the explosion of dance culture in the early '90s,
Kimura became a fixture at places like Gold and Yellow, where
he has held his Kool parties on the last Saturday of the month
for seven years now. But Kimura says the spread of club culture
has taken some of the fun out of his job. "Back then,
DJs played all kinds of music: I used to spin rare groove,
house, R&B, all in one set," he recalls. "But
now DJs specialize by genre."
Kimura also notes the impact of the bursting of the bubble
economy on Japan's club scene. "In the last
few years it's become difficult to get sponsorship,"
he says. "Only a few guys can survive by organizing
parties; most do it as a hobby. Now in Japan it's really
tough. Even if someone has talent, they can't succeed
To put himself in a better negotiating position, Kimura founded
the management company Futique ten years ago. The company
is one of the leading players on the Japanese club scene,
and recently hosted UK superstar DJ John Digweed, whose Bedrock
label Kimura represents in Japan. "Pioneer, which owns
the Bedrock catalog, asked me to put together a Japan edition
for the series," he says. "Even though I'm
influenced mainly by US house and Digweed is known for more
trance-y stuff, recently he plays deeper stuff, so our sets
worked well together."
As one of Japan's most respected DJs, Kimura gets plenty
of fresh vinyl sent to him, but the DJ still hits Shibuya
shops like Cisco for new material. "Most of what the
record labels send me is garbage," he scoffs, lamenting
the lack of good new vocal tracks. "If they have a
nice track, they don't need to promote it. It sells
Meanwhile, Kimura says he's still got plenty of DJing
left in him. "Last week I went to the last big gay
party at Liquid Room before it closed. As I listened to classic
house tracks, it brought back great memories from the past.
I really noticed how a DJ can make people happy. I thought
if I can continue to make people happy then I want to DJ as
long as I can."
Kool@Yellow, 1/31, 10pm, ¥3,000.
En@Air, 2/12, 10pm, ¥1,000. Tel: 03-5784-3386.