I Went To A Game Music DJ Show

West of Tokyo, about 10 minutes away from Shinjuku via the Chuo Line, is Koenji, a neighborhood called the coolest in Tokyo by many a magazine both foreign and domestic. This is thanks largely to the hood’s amazing bar and club scene. Take a stroll down any of Koenji’s dozens of sketchy-looking, but entirely safe, sidestreets and you’ll come upon any number of hip clubs and pubs, each with their own unique flavor and style. Want to eat hot dogs and down American IPAs? Koenji has bar for that. Want to watch YouTube videos of 80s hip-hop and play darts? Koenji’s got you covered. Want to dance the night away with otaku while rocking out to killer game music jams from the 80s to today? Apparently Koenji’s the place the for that now too.

Not far from the station, right by one of the area’s many fantastic record stores is Yakusyu Koenji. It’s a tiny bar that isn’t just unassuming by its rather drab storefront, it’s downright invisible. From the street, all that you can see is a barren, rather rickety staircase, devoid of all decorations save a single Spider-Man toy. And to be honest, things don’t get much more interesting at the top of the stairs. A wobbly, unfinished wooden bar, a solitary metal bench, a DJ nest tucked away in the far corner is all that catches the attention upon entering.

But once you get accustomed to the dim lights and order a (surprisingly strong) cheap drink, the bar’s character starts to make itself clear. Is that an aquarium with a lizard on the bar? How did they manage to find a Tower of Druaga poster and frame it? Why is that Daytona USA arcade ad get stuck up near the ceiling? And is the owner playing Darius on a laptop running MAME?

Yakusyu Koenji might not advertise itself as a game music bar, but at least once a month it certainly is, with DJs both professional and amateur coming out to drop the hottest game music tracks. And while they’ve been doing this for a few months now, tonight marked a special event – their first “all analog” night. All the game music being spun tonight was actually being spun, on vinyl.

A DJ by the name of xevi kicked things off, and while he proclaimed himself to be an amateur spinning for the very first time tonight, his show seemingly went off without a hitch. The meager crowd of 10 or so, mostly salaryman-looking types who no doubt call Yakusyu their after-work hangout, clearly enjoyed his set that incorporated some 80s-era J-Pop mixed in with the game music.

But it was Tenshu who really kicked off the night with his set, a stunning collection of crowd-pleasing classic from games like Contra, Final Fantasy VII and even the NES version of Goonies. A lot of what he spun early on was from new releases of old soundtracks, such as Mondo’s Contra III release or Data Disc’s Shadow Warrior re-issue, but soon he was diving deep with classic cuts from vinyl of the era, such as the Hudson and Tecmo Game Music albums that were put out in the 80s by Yellow Magic Orchestra’s GMO game music label. For many, seeing these records, let alone getting the chance to hear them, was treat; many of them go for hundreds of bucks online.

Tenshu closed out with a cut from the Galaxy Force soundtrack (another one worth a mint) before he let DJ Fukutake up on stage to take over. This was supposedly the first professional DJ of the night, and while the previous amateurs behind the decks certainly showed their technical proficiency on the bar’s beat-up but reliable set of 1200s, Fukutake came prepared with a collection of game music that wasn’t only rare and fun to listen to, but much-more dance-friendly as well. Sure, he kicked things off with some Mario-themed tracks that, while fun to bob your head to, didn’t exactly get the now-growing audience of close to 20 moving and grooving. But soon after he started playing obscure tracks from his collection of bootleg mixes culled from games like Dr. Mario, Street Fighter II and Sonic The Hedgehog. By the time he laid down a sick hard house remix of Bubble Bobble theme, the crowd was losing its (now quite drunken) collective mind.

The good times continued after he wrapped up, but I didn’t want to miss the last train so I had to bail. By the time I was calling it a night at close to 11, the minuscule pub was starting to spill over with a much more diverse selection of hipsters and party-goers starting to mingle about with the more conservative, and dare I say, otaku, members in attendance. Many of them even attempted to chat with me. While their English was often just as bad as my Japanese, we were able to bond over the mutual love of the tracks being played, nostalgia serving as a conversation starter even when we both thought conversation would be nigh impossible.

A wonderful night, one so good it almost makes me want to learn how to work a mixer and showcase my own radical collection of Nintendo jams. I bet I could drop a mad beat to the Balloon Fight theme yo.

 

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