Japan Tour 2011: Part 1, By Gomez Comes Alive

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, October 31, 2011 12:56am | Post a Comment

Sundaland Cafe, taken during my set

A few weeks ago I went to Japan. This was my third time in Japan and my second as a DJ. The first time I went it was in 1994 when I played bass briefly with the artist, Beck. The second time was in 2006. It was for a Chicano/Japanese cultural exchange with the band Quetzal and the writer, Luis J. Rodriguez, author of one of my favorite books, Always Running. Each trip was a different experience. The Beck tour was a straight-up rock tour, with nice hotels, chauffeurs, backstage food & drinks and on occasion, girls waiting in lobby for the bands. The second time was about experiencing Japanese Lowrider culture and how the much Chicano culture and Japanese culture have influenced each other. It was honor to be in the company of Luis and Quetzal on that trip and I was honored that I would be asked to attend. In Los Angeles and even in my own community, most of us feel like we have to bend over backwards just to get a gig. To say that the Japanese have been very good to me is an understatement.

This time around I was to play in three different shows. The biggest by far was an opening DJ set for the legendary
Joe Bataan. The budget for this tour was much smaller then past tours. There was to be no hotels and I took the train to most places. My friend Shin Miyata, who has released several of my albums on his Barrio Gold/Music Camp label, was my host for the tour. We stayed at his apartment while he tended to Joe Bataan, who also has a few albums on Music Camp.

When I arrived in Japan it was a Thursday afternoon. Shin was there to pick us up. I came with my girlfriend, Joanna. We waited another half hour or so for Joe Bataan to arrive. Together, Shin drove through the rush hour traffic of Tokyo, which makes L.A. traffic seem like nothing. Joanna and I were lucky were in good company. Joe Bataan and his wife are the nicest people and Joe was full of great stories. Once we got to Shibuya, where Joe’s hotel was, we met up with a man that we come to know as Willie-San, a percussionist from Japan that at one point studied and played with Tito Puente. With his long hair, he looked part samurai, part 80’s Salsa musician. Shin told me he was a total bad ass on the percussion. He definitely looked it.

We went to eat but I don’t remember much of it. I hadn’t slept much in the last 48 hours and it was starting to catch up with me. Eventually, we went to Shin’s apartment in a town called Chofu, located in the western end of Tokyo. Chofu could be compared to suburb of Los Angeles but it definitely had its own flavor. There were very little traffic or cars and most of the people, young and very old, got by on bicycles. Lucky for us Shin had several bikes so that we could ride whether we needed to get around in Chofu. It was one of my favorite things to do while I was there.

My first gig was the following evening. It was an after-hours gig in Shibuya. Most gigs either start very early (starting at 5pm) or they are after-hour gigs. Since most of the city takes public transportation and the train stops from midnight to 5 a.m., you either have to shut it down early or keep going until the trains run again. The night, called Pachamama, started at 11 p.m. at a place called
The Sundaland Café, a venue not much bigger than a one-bedroom apartment. My host was a DJ that called himself El Parrandero, which roughly translated from Spanish, is “a partier” Sundaland was definitely a party. I played with most of Tokyo’s finest Latin DJ’s, including El Caminante Okamoto, DJ Suda, El Shuffle, DJ Matsumoto, Amemiya from the Caribbean Dandy crew, DJ Papa-Q and El Parrandero himself. All the Japanese DJs had deep playlist and I enjoyed them immensely. They really got me amped to do my best.

Here, they don't hang the DJ, they hang the MC!

As a whole, the night was pretty crazy. We rode our bikes to get some food and to catch the train to the gig. You have to pay for overnight bike parking in Japan much like you would a car in the U.S. It costs roughly five U.S. dollars each to park our bikes. By the time we got to Sundaland, it was crowded and most people were already lit. I spoke to some very nice people and some very drunk people who offered me drink after drink. I passed them off to my girlfriend and our friend Miho, who was our guide that night. Miho works with Shin at Music Camp and although she works for him, that company is just as much as hers as it is his. The dedication she has to her work puts the hardest worker in America to shame.I can’t believe how much their small two-person operation does! Anyhow, the drinks kept coming. There was an MC doing shout outs while the other DJ’s were on. It sounded like he kept saying, “Yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeeeeyah” every other sentence. I don’t speak Japanese, but I’m pretty sure he was saying, yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeeeeyah, followed by the DJ’s names. Then some people in the crowd decided to take the MC’s shirt off, then his pants and soon his boxers. It started to look like a gay beer bash on a Sunday afternoon in West Hollywood or The Castro.

Man down!!!!

That should have been an indication that the crowd was real drunk.” One guy kept messing with me most of the night. I don’t know if he didn’t like me or if he wanted to mess with me cause I was an outsider, but it started to get to me, especially during my set when he started to put his hands on the mixer and grabbing my hands as I was try to mix. Just when I was getting to my boiling point, El Parrandero, (The Party Guy) took him aside and I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened to him, I don’t care what happened to him, but he was gone. Now it was time to get busy with my set. I decided to play only vinyl on this trip. I’m not a vinyl purest and I have Serato, but I figured I could play deeper cuts on wax that the other deejays wouldn’t have. I cursed the vinyl every time I had to carry it on the plane and trains, but when it was time to play, I was glad I brought my records. The people at Sunaland seemed to dig my Cumbia records especially.

Bad ass conga player from Orquesta Copa Salvo

After my set, a band came up. They were called Orquesta Copa Salvo. They were very talented and loads of fun. It was Japanese band that played deep Latin Funk, Salsa, Boogaloo and Bolero covers, sung in Spanish. Most of the people in the club spoke Spanish. Since I don’t speak Japanese I found it easier to communicate with people in Spanish rather than English. Many of the people at the club grew up in places like Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where there are many Japanese living there. Some had jobs in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Some had traveled to Cuba and hung out in the barrios in the U.S. Whatever their story was, they developed a great love for Latin American culture, its people, music, language and food. The night was a reminder of what they experienced and what they missed now that they were back in Japan. I hope I was able to remind them of what they love about Latin American culture.

At five in the morning, it was time to go back to Chofu. I gave a few shout outs on the mic in English & Spanish and we were off. At the train station, we saw all the party zombies waiting for the train to get home. Some were club kids, some looked very wasted. Some of the couples looked like they hooked up for the first time. Most people were still in their business suits from the previous day. I bet all were happy it was now Saturday. We still had to ride our bikes back to Shin's and it was starting to rain. The ride was pleasant though. A cool misty rain while the sun was rising. Miho took off at record speed and we did our best to keep up. Neither Joanna and I have ridden a bike in a while. Twenty minutes later, we were back at Shin's and ready to call it a night.


Relevant Tags

Quetzal (7), World Music (146), Japan (42), Beck (19), Luis J. Rodriguez (2), Cumbia (38)