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Thursday, July 14, 2011

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Virtual venue: Takeshi Natsuno, managing director at Dwango, explains the features of Nico Nico Douga's new Nicofarre venue. ALEXIS WUILLAUME PHOTO

Website Nico Nico Douga goes live ... house


Special to The Japan Times

Online video-sharing website Nico Nico Douga has become a popular place for young Japanese to check out new music. Now imagine stepping inside the site to experience those tunes live.

That's the feeling you get when you enter Tokyo's newest live venue, Nicofarre.

"We wanted to create an interactive musical experience where reality and virtual reality become blurred," says Takeshi Natsuno, managing director at Dwango, which runs Nico Nico Douga. With a decor consisting of the Internet, LEDs and augmented reality (AR), Natsuno has come pretty darn close.

For fans of record label Avex Trax, the name Velfarre may ring a bell. The popular nightclub closed Jan. 1, 2007, but has been revived as a "next-generation" live-house.

"The difference between Velfarre and Nicofarre," he says, "is that Velfarre was physically bigger, but Nicofarre is much more far-reaching."

Located in the middle of Tokyo's Roppongi district, the walls and ceiling of the main hall are decked out with massive LED screens, creating a 360-degree visual experience for the audience. The entrance and bar area, as well as the staff uniforms, follow a black-and-neon-blue motif, an intentional nod to the 1982 sci-fi film "Tron."

With the use of AR, the altering of real-world environments on screen by computer-generated imagery, Web surfers watching the action from their laptops will see an altogether different scene than those who are physically present at Nicofarre. Bands will play virtual instruments, J-pop idols will perform with anime characters — they'll even be able to see hearts or lightning-bolts fly out of a soloist's guitar similar to scenes from the film "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World."

What makes this venue special however, is the level of interaction between those at the club and the online viewers. Those watching online can type in comments that are then scrolled in real time on the wall-screens of the main hall, which creates an uncanny sense of connection between the two audiences. The fact that comments are displayed live adds a daring element of freedom, as there is no way to control what is written and therefore put up for all to read.

Although the venue's concept has virtually unlimited potential, what could hold Nicofarre back is the video quality. Being a large-scale setup, the spaces between the individual bulbs make the images indiscernible when standing too close. And judging from opening-night headliners, K-pop boy band Tohoshinki and local J-pop phenomenon AKB48, it looks like the club is not courting the usual live-house or clubbing crowd. Musical tastes aside though, the venue is undoubtedly at the cutting edge of "live" entertainment in Japan, and is well worth checking out.

Nicofarre opens to the public on July 18. The venue is located at 7-14-23 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. For more information, visit www.nicofarre.jp.


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