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Thursday, July 7, 2011
TCY Radio aims to revive club scene
m-flo's Takahashi to unify dance-music fans
By MIKE SUNDA
Special to The Japan Times
Aside from being one half of successful J-pop duo m-flo, Taku Takahashi is also one of the most established DJs in Japan's club scene. So when Takahashi talks dance music — people listen. Just as well, as that's exactly what he's doing with his latest project, the online station TCY Radio.
"(French electro DJ) Mustard Pimp, who recently visited, asked me a good question: 'Why are there so many good producers in Japan yet the club scene is worse than Korea's?' " says Takahashi. "While the club scenes in other Asian countries are getting bigger, Japan's is just getting worse."
Takahashi thinks the main problem is exposure, or rather, the lack of it. Something TCY Radio hopes to remedy.
Although still in its beta stage, TCY Radio currently boasts three weekly shows. Friday night's "Eklektrik" broadcast presented by Takahashi and his longtime friend and colleague Takeru "John" Otoguro, features all genres of dance music. While Otoguro focuses mainly on mixing the tunes, Takahashi, who speaks fluent English, takes care of most of the MC duties, switching between Japanese and English (sometimes even combining the two) with all the verve and confidence that you'd expect from someone who's used to the limelight. "I'm still doing m-flo, but TCY Radio is totally different. I want people who like electronic music to forget my (pop) image and just get into it and find out what's happening," he says.
"Eklektrik" is supplemented by Japan's only drum 'n' bass show, "Localize," on Wednesdays, presented by MC Cardz and Tetsuji Tanaka, as well as a third show, "Wickedpedia," which debuted last week, and is presented by the duo Gunhead and FYS aka Bingo (under the name "Habanero Posse"), two flag-bearers for Japan's nascent Moombahton scene.
Three shows a week may not sound particularly game-changing, but such has been the success of TCY Radio so far (unique listeners now regularly hit between 2,000-3,000) that its next big step comes at the end of September, when it will go "official."
"We're going to be broadcasting all day from Monday through Friday, with all sorts of programs that are mostly based around electronic music," says Takahashi. House, techno, dubstep, reggae and hip-hop are some of the genres that he lists off. It's a significant expansion, especially considering their humble beginnings.
"At first it was just me, John and my staff — three or four people. We made the jingle from scratch and used regular musicproduction and DJ software that's not normally used for radio shows. We didn't have any money so we used MySpace as our homepage," says Takahashi. That was over three years ago, when TCY Radio wasn't streamed live, but rather released as a series of prerecorded podcasts.
Takahashi cites British radio stations BBC and Rinse FM as providing inspiration. Of the two, Takahashi claims to listen to the BBC more often. However, it's Rinse FM's origins that provide more of a resemblance to TCY Radio. Like Rinse, TCY's roster consists mainly of regular club acts, rather than specialist made-for-radio DJs, which makes for a refreshingly organic do-it-yourself aesthetic. "We really respect Rinse because they started out as a pirate-radio station, and so did we in a way," says Takahashi. "But now we've cleared out all the legal stuff, which is another reason why we're going official."
The recent switch to live radio came about when the team hit upon new London-based broadcasting website Mixlr, which Takahashi says offers superior audio quality compared to many of the available alternatives. "The sound quality on Mixlr is just phenomenal, and that's crucial for dance music. With lots of music it's important to hear the lowest sub-bass sounds, for instance — that gives it its edge."
In the three years prior to that, the team had experimented with various methods of broadcasting, including using the Ustream software that live-streaming website Dommune has since popularized. And like Dommune, which sticks to a weekday-only schedule to avoid clashing with "Tokyo's music ecosystem" (as founder Naohiro Ukawa told The Japan Times back in January), TCY Radio also encourages its listeners to go out to nightclubs. Friday night's "Eklektrik" broadcast runs from 9 p.m. till 11 p.m., during which Takahashi and Otoguro provide a roundup of the coming weekend's standout club nights across the country.
"Honestly speaking, the Japanese club scene is getting stale. Ten years ago it was much easier to get people to come out and party, but nowadays lots of clubs are having trouble getting people through the door," says Takahashi, highlighting a link between radio and clubs that has all-but disappeared in Japan in recent times.
"At the moment, clubs are the only place you can listen to dance music. Twenty years ago, when you turned on the radio in Tokyo there were lots of dance-music shows at midnight on weekdays. But the economy crashed and they disappeared. Now there's so few, almost none outside of Tokyo. It's not good for the music industry or the culture".
Both Takahashi and Otoguro are speaking from experience as they talk about the hardships facing club promoters in Japan. Takahashi's "Tachytelic" club night, now a regular fixture at Shibuya club Air, predates their venture into radio programming by several years, during which time they've welcomed big-name guests such as Calvin Harris.
"There are lots of overseas artists growing and becoming famous, and at the same time their prices are going up. We want to get them over to play but because no one knows them it's hard to get a decent turnout and not make a loss," says Takahashi. It's a Catch-22 situation that also affects homegrown Japanese talent.
"Abroad, young producers will get hyped up and then they'll have the opportunity to remix big-name artists. Since I started out with m-flo, I still have the stability of offers from major labels and producers. That doesn't happen to young DJs because they don't have a lot of fans. I thought creating a radio station that plays their music would help gather existing dance-music lovers.
"We're not trying to make something to replace the club scene. On the contrary, we're trying to encourage people to go to clubs and have fun. We want to perpetuate a cycle — go clubbing, listen to TCY Radio, and talk about new music. It's already starting to happen; kids are discussing our shows and the music they hear on social networks. In that way, dance music is entering their lives."
If TCY Radio continues to grow, especially after it goes "official,"' then there could be more kids in the future who might not see Takahashi as one half of m-flo, but as a dance-music kingmaker of sorts — a role he might actually prefer.
TCY Radio broadcasts can be heard at http://block.fm/program/tcyradio.html.