I’m a pretty quiet person. My favorite Friday night pastimes vary wildly from staying at home to read a book, to staying at home to watch Netflix. My husband doesn’t understand it; I mean, who wants to spend Friday night somewhere the drinks are cheap and you can choose which songs to skip, amiright? But as much as I love my books and my cheap wine, I have a serious weakness for clubbing. I can have fun even at the most boring clubs, but if the music is good and I have space to dance, the experience is transcendent. I discovered my love for clubbing at the dearly departed Velfarre, but found my clubbing true love in AgeHa.
AgeHa is widely regarded as one of the best clubs in the world. With three dance floors, a pool area, and two dance tents (all playing different music!) plus two huge bars and a bevy of food trucks, it’s like a temple to electronica and hip hop. Welcoming both huge international acts and smaller local DJs to perform, AgeHa is an unmissable part of the Tokyo music scene.
I searched for a suitable night to visit and to my excitement found that DJ and producer Nakata Yasutaka would perform one of the nights we were in Tokyo. Nakata produces some of the best, most popular electropop and EDM in Japan. Although his acts aren’t well-known in the States, even a newbie Japanese music fan would recognize his projects: Capsule, Perfume, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. There was no way I was going to miss it.
After a long second day in Tokyo, only Jeremy was willing to forsake sleep for adventure. The music was already pumping when we arrived on the huge main dance floor, but the atmosphere had the lethargic quality unique to a club freshly opened for the night. We explored the club, letting each musical style wash over us. We stopped in one of the tents to dance to some EDM, but the energy was still low and we didn’t have the fortitude to bootstrap it. We decided to go get drinks while we waited for the energy to build, then headed back to the main floor.
We finished our drinks just as the music was starting to warm up, coaxing us down to the dance floor and into the crowd. The DJ changed, and with him the tone of the music. While the music before had been enjoyable, now it was great, and getting better by the minute. We cut loose, melding deeper into the crowd. My curiosity got the best of me, so I leaned over to ask a fellow dancer who was spinning the set. To my surprise, it was Takahashi Taku, one half of m-flo and one of the most famous hip hop producers in Japan. His set that night was a combination of original work and remixes—including a fantastic take on Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s “Rewrite”—that spun a web around us and pulled us deeper into the crowd.
After several fantastic songs, Taku waved goodbye and a new change came over the music. When this DJ stepped up, I didn’t need any help identifying him. It was Nakata Yasutaka.
The crowd screamed and cheered, rushing to the front, but Nakata paid us no mind as he slipped on his headphones. He was here to turn electric signals into vibrations of air detectable by and pleasurable to the human ear, a musical Dr. Manhattan. He was far too dispassionate to let something like crowd appreciation get to his head. Tonight, he had music to play.
He settled into the booth, letting the last vestiges of Taku’s set curl around the room like smoke, then cleared the air with a foundational beat. He built the music layer by layer: a spark of treble, a touch of bass, more percussion, a defined melody, and suddenly the vocal track crackled distorted through the music: the familiar tones of Toshiko, Nakata’s partner in crime in Capsule. It was “CONTROL,” from the album “CAPS LOCK,” twisted and mixed to fit the master’s purposes. After a few minutes it merged into something I knew better: “Ninjaribanban” by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, but once again twisted, distorted, and rearranged. When the song was done the music pulled back, revealing a skeleton of basic, boring beats. But before the energy could fall an inch, Nakata kicked it up again, pushing the bass forward and spinning it into a melody before Perfume’s lovely voices filled the space with “Spring of Life.”
Through it all, the energy grew. Everyone sang and danced as though overcome with the Holy Electro Spirit. On stage, Nakata continued to ignore us, the stern god presiding over the frenzied festivities at his feet, acknowledging our presence only with an occasional wave of the hand to indicate that the frenzy must be whipped higher. Eventually “Spring of Life” died down, making way for an equally infectious mix of “Mottai Night Land.”
As the music washed over me, I could feel myself reaching the stage of electro-enlightnment, but before I could transcend, Toshiko suddenly took the stage. The DJ set was now a live CAPSULE performance and we puny disciples were thrown into ecstasy. I thought it would be impossible to get closer to the other dancers, but I was wrong. I was carried to the stage as though by a riptide. Our hands thrust in the air, we pled with Toshiko. Save us! Intercede for us! Nakata won’t acknowledge us. Give us a sign! Give us a glance! Give us your love!
Saint that she is, Toshiko gave us all the love Nakata had denied us. She made eye contact, she waved, she danced, she sang, she smiled, she laughed. She crested the wave we had formed and pulled us as close to her as atomically possible, melding us with the steel guard rails. Having heard our prayers, she began to playfully pester Nakata. She nudged him and he ignored her. She pouted; still he ignored her. She gave us a playful glance, then held her mic out to him. He turned his head away. She grinned at us, then offered it again. He turned away again, diligently pressing buttons and holding a hand to his headphones. Impish, she grinned and pushed the mic slowly closer, inching toward him. When the mic was so close I was sure we’d be able to pick up his breathing, he turned to look at it. He stared at the mic, letting the music hang and repeat untended for moments that stretched and reverberated. Finally he opened his mouth, took a small breath in… And turned his head, shaking it, as though confounded that he actually considered engaging us when there was still music to be done.
Toshiko laughed, but didn’t pester him again. For we pathetic mortals on the floor, it was good enough that Toshiko had done her best, that we had her love even if we couldn’t have Nakata’s. He played song after song of Capsule’s discography, Toshiko singing along, but after the initial excitement of seeing Toshiko and her antics pestering Nakata, all I remember clearly is “World of Fantasy” and its ringing line “I feel free.” I had reached my clubbing Nirvana, melting into the sea of human consciousness around me, pouring myself into the pool of collective euphoria on the dance floor.
After minutes that stretched to uncountable infinities, Nakata suddenly looked up, staring into space. He squinted, then took off one pad of his headphones. He nodded in time with the music, a tiny smile growing on his lips. He took the other pad off, nodding more passionately and getting into the music a little, the smile growing to a dorky grin. He looked like a man who’d found a perfect, luminous pearl. He turned to Toshiko and smiled, then finally – finally! – looked down at us, appreciating his work. We screamed and raised our hands to him. A beer appeared in his hand as in conjured self-congratulation, and he raised it to us. He grinned again and took a sip, pulling off the headphones and swaying to the music with us. We pulled him into our eletro paradise and danced for the last halcyon minutes, then he and Toshiko were ushered off the stage and a new DJ ushered on.
With that, the spell was broken. Although I’m sure the new DJ had many fine qualities, it suddenly hit me how hot I was, how impossibly exhausted. I disengaged myself from the crowd, sweating, limp, barely able to climb the stairs away from the floor.
Jeremy and I found one another somehow and wandered outside to sit. Behind us, another DJ’s music washed over us in a humid cloud; before us, Tokyo Bay sparkled back the colors of the city’s unending light.
Have you ever been to AgeHa? Love Japanese electro and hip hop? Share your experiences and love in the comments!
Address: 2-2-10 Shin-kiba, Koto, Tokyo 136-0082
Get there: AgeHa is convenient to Shin-kiba Station (Keiyo, Yurakucho, and Rinkai lines). To reach the club from the station, exit (there’s only one) and turn left, following the road that moves perpendicular to the station away from the rail lines. Stay on the left-hand side of the street. Within 500 feet, you’ll encounter a bridge; cross it. AgeHa is the first building on your left once you’ve crossed the bridge; you can’t miss the huge “Studio Coast” marquee lights.
Alternatively, there’s a free shuttle bus from Shibuya to Shin-kiba Station. It runs at least once an hour from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. and the shuttle back to Shibuya Station runs at least once an hour from midnight to 5 a.m. The benefit of the shuttle—besides the low, low price of free—is that you can follow others on the shuttle to the club once you arrive if you’re nervous about getting there yourself. You can find the shuttle timetable here.
Tickets: Ticket prices vary depending on the acts on a given night and are posted on the schedule (in the leftmost column on the More Info pages), but tend to range from 3000 to 4000 yen (~$30-40 USD), which usually includes a ticket for a free drink. You can purchase tickets at the box office the night of the show. I don’t know of any way to pre-order tickets without getting a VIP or party reservation (but if anyone out there does know, let me know and I’ll update the post!).
- Bring your ID. AgeHa is a 20 and over club and you must show ID to get in, so bring your passport or some other official ID (e.g., Alien Registration Card). Even a 30 year-old like me had to show it, so don’t think you’ll get a pass on this requirement just because you’re no longer a nymph.
- Dress appropriately. This is one of the best clubs in Tokyo (and the world); they won’t let in people wearing clothes that are ill-fitting, dirty, or otherwise unsuitable to the atmosphere. Go with usual club attire.
- Bring change for the lockers. Those who club regularly know, but for the uninitiated: it’s vital to store your stuff (all of it!) before going into the club. I made the mistake of wearing pants without pockets, so I had to bring my clutch in with me. It wasn’t unmanageable, but it would have been nice to have my hands free. There are tons of 300 yen (~$3 USD) lockers outside the club, so lock up out there.
- And while we’re at it, wear something with pockets! Chances are decent you’ll get a drink ticket with your admission, and you’ll probably want a little cash to spend on food. Have some way to bring it in with you.
- Don’t buy drinks. The downside of AgeHa is the drink prices: 1000 yen (~$10 USD) for something simple as a rum and coke! Better to get a couple drinks before you go; I recommend anything you can buy in a convenience store. (There’s a 7-11 on the way from Shin-kiba Station; I’m just sayin’.) Bear in mind that you won’t have as much fun if you’re trashed, so drink responsibly.
- Don’t worry about earplugs. Unless you have a medical condition, you probably won’t need them. The sound at AgeHa is well-balanced, and even standing close to the stage you won’t walk out with ringing ears.
Based on my diary entries from November 8, 2013.