Tapping into Tokyo's Underground
Cutting through the noise, certain local creatives are striving to make sure the cultural landmarks that influence and inform their experiences stand tall. We teamed up with adidas Originals for the launch of their ‘Home of Classics’ pack to explore the spaces a new class of young Tokyoites are forging that are helping shape the cultural landscape of the city. Together, we link up with singer, illustrator and DJ Yuki Matsuda for a trip to Orbit Bar, experiencing a more low-octane way to club within a nightlife scene known for its frenzied energy.
Orbit stands out for resisting the M.O. of clubbing in Tokyo, notable for having one of the more lively nightlife scenes compared to other major Asian hubs. In contrast to the hyperactivity of the Tokyo cityscape, these locales offer opportunity to revel and recharge at a more relaxed pace. Clubbing in Tokyo has an elusive and extensive history; many house and techno stalwarts emerging in the early 90s resided in the city. Japanese heavyweights such as Fumiya Tanaka and Soichi Terada are now global names in minimal and house.
“Against the backdrop of heavy labour, boltholes such as Orbit function as the perfect chill-out zones”
However, things are changing and the club scene in Tokyo looks set to evolve. Japan used to be subject to restrictions on the kind of entertainment offerings that were available: venues faced size restrictions if they wanted to allow customers to dance. As recently as 2016, “anti- dancing” laws (fueiho in Japanese) were in place to curtail any festivity after midnight. The clubs in the city - now afforded more freedom - offer vital opportunity for submersion away from the rigidity of Japan’s notoriously intense work culture, where 80 hours of (usually unpaid) overtime a month is commonplace. Against the backdrop of heavy labour, boltholes such as Orbit function as the perfect chill-out zones.
Despite this, the Tokyo nightlife scene had been considered fairly inaccessible, mostly owing to the language barrier (information in English can be outdated or incomplete) and because of the transient nature of many of the bars, clubs and other venues. Things come and go quickly here. Yosuke - the owner of Orbit - agrees that you have to come to Toyko “with a clear sight of what you want” and warns of the dangers of “aimlessly fooling around. You gotta have a sense of purpose to fight off other desires swirling around town”
"Come to Tokyo with a clear sight of what you want"
In opposition with the scene-at-large, Orbit’s approach is a little more low-key. Yosuke says “the people in Tokyo are always hectic. I want them to relax here”. The floors are carpeted, and guests are asked to take off their shoes before entering. This ensures that it “feels more like a home”. By refiguring the rules for a club night, Orbit have been able to broaden their horizons and offer opportunities not often seen in your run-of-the-mill venue. Yuki was drawn to Orbit for this divergent approach: she says her mindset is always geared toward “being original...you have to be unique”. Going against the grain of Japan is not always easy: “you have to be ordinary and do the same thing as each other, but I like to do things that nobody else does”. In Orbit, Yuki and her peers are able to resist the norm and feel a little freer. The underground feel to nightlife can be conducive, as Yuki tells us. She was able to meet friends and other industry heads who shared the same passion for electronic music thanks to the dedication of certain spaces in promoting these sounds between them.
Orbit further challenges expectations by taking the focus is taken off dancing - “this is not a dance club” - and onto other forms of sensory experience. Japanese outputs of techno and house are known for their synth-heavy texture, and a ghostly or dream-like sound permeates through much of the production output. Orbit nods to this both with its name, the setting and the kind of nights that appear here: it regularly runs nights involving modular synth shows, Ableton hands-on workshops for music production, and ambient DJ sets. Located in Tokyo’s Sangenjaya district - known for its quaint, tree-lined streets - Orbit aims to provide an intimate oasis of calm for revellers. The relaxed vibe and downtempo sounds may surprise tourists, but as Yuki reminds us: “Tokyo has so many layers”
The relaxed vibe and downtempo sounds may surprise visitors, but as Yuki reminds us: “Tokyo has so many layers”
In a culture that, until recently, kept its electronic music scene to the very depths of the underground, venues like Orbit are helping to redefine nightlife with its brand of chilled-out party going. With the archaic curfew now lifted, Tokyoites like Yuki have the chance to both recharge and rebel from the potentially stifling power of the city. For Yuki, her Tokyo means you have to pursue a meaning that's personal and unique: “Tokyo is everything, but nothing unless you feel like you have something to prove your worth”.