In the second part of an #itchysilk exploration by our deputy editor Alice Preat, she delves further into Tokyo. In this exploration she captures night time Tokyo and chills with the towering figure of one of the hottest djs in town –Vulgar. Vulgar introduces her to hip-hop (Tokyo style), takes her to clubland Tokyo and illegal jams where the police loiter with malicious intent.
It’s me again. Now that I’ve given you a quick overview of our Tokyo project, let’s get into the real stuff, shall we?
What’s interesting about Tokyo is that you’ll often have a lot of trouble finding the underground, the weirdos and the subversive groups when you’re actually looking for them. The otaku and the like are usually on the surface, and easily recognizable, thus not so hard to find, but as soon as you want to get into the really weird stuff, it’s quite the struggle.
For instance, within this project, I had thought of doing something on the Chicano community in Tokyo, but never found a way in, despite having some contacts in some already pretty narrow groups and communities. In a simpler sense, it’s also nearly impossible to find bars – or virtually anything you’re looking for – when you look for it in this city, seeing as everything is hidden, stacked up in buildings with no way of knowing if you’re about to walk into a bar or a pet store.
As with many things in life though, the best opportunities often show themselves when you least expect them, and that’s precisely what happened here. Some of my French friends were in Tokyo earlier this month, and we were all going out for a night of partying on the town, in Shibuya -of course, because where else?
On our way to karaoke, we hear loud music and of course start to follow the sound -as you do – until we get to a little alleyway by a tunnel, right in the heart of Shibuya. There’s a tall, tatted, blue-haired man with a grill dancing behind a deck, playing funky tunes, while a couple dudes are freestyle-rapping in Japanese. A bunch of people are dancing around them, foreigners and Japanese alike, and it’s a really great atmosphere. I’d never really seen anything like it in Tokyo – I’d obviously been to clubs, bars and spoken to a couple of people who were more into the underground scene, whether it be musicians or visual artists, but had never heard of free street raves in one of Tokyo’s busiest neighborhoods.
As I watch this pretty intimidating man show off his dance moves with a smile on his face, and the people around him jumping around in excitement, I start talking to some people, and learn that his name is Vulgar: he’s at the head of a hip-hop “label” that isn’t really one called Illeffects. I also learn that they throw illegal bloc parties a couple times a month, and that he generally refuses to play club gigs.
Eventually, the cops show up, without really saying anything. Some of Vulgar’s crew members alert him, and he instantaneously turns off the music and ducks down. After a couple minutes of standing around, the cops leave, he starts up right where he left off, and the show goes on.
A week later, I find myself back in the narrow, dimly-lit alley way. This time, I’ve approached Vulgar on Instagram beforehand and told him about Itchysilk and the project. He’s down to talk to me. I dance my ass off, yet again, as my eyes scan the crowd in an effort to better understand the social make-up of these illegal bloc parties. Mostly foreigners as it turns out, but a few Japanese attendees and a whole bunch of expats and Japanese-Americans.
Meanwhile, as the rappers freestyle and the people cheer, he spits out funky tunes and hip-hop classics. This time around, I get to talking with two foreigners, cameras in hand, who look like they know him. They’re journalists from France Television who originally came to Japan for a documentary on temples. After happening upon Vulgar and his crew, much like I did, they decide to change their angle and follow them around for three months instead.
They tell me about their experience with them, the “label”, the music, and mention to me that they’re not just a hip-hop label, but also a biker gang called the No Future Krew (or NFK for short). He says they don’t want to discuss that, and indeed when I ask Vulgar about it he asks me to delete the question. I won’t say more though, as I have now formed a friendship with Vulgar, but let’s just say I’ve never met a gang member as friendly as these guys were.
As I return to a third street party a couple weeks later, and get to know Vulgar a little better, I find I’m still having just as much fun, and so are the crowds. He doesn’t speak too much English, but just enough so that we can have conversations, and he turns out to be one of the sweetest people I’ve met during this whole trip — which is rather surprising considering his appearance, which might put off a few people at first. He gave me the sweetest goodbye gift, taught me some Japanese, sneakily paid for our drinks, and took us to a great bar by his party spot.
I’ll be writing more on the various subversive and underground groups I’ve come across in Tokyo in upcoming feature pieces, but this particular crew struck me as being truly one of a kind. At these parties, foreigners and locals alike found a place where they could all unite and be their weird selves freely.