Tokyo community radio: pirate radio spirit rekindled in Japan

From The Electrifying Mojo in Detroit, which played a pivotal role in the development of what would become the city’s eponymous techno sound, to Slimzee mapping the earliest sonic grounds of grime in London, radio has held a prominent place in the progression of electronic music, arguably more than other sounds due to the centrality of the DJ mix as a musical form within the genre.

Around the world, the volume of online stations dedicated to niche and not-so-niche electronic music, at large, is staggering – from The Lot in New York to Red Light Radio in Amsterdam and beyond, the options. listening are not lacking. Japan also has its fair share, with Block FM, Dublab, Wrep, and AbemaMix, among others, offering varying degrees of specialization, professionalism, and commercial intent.

Meanwhile, the local institution Dommune, although not strictly speaking a radio station, has done a lot to initiate the use of video broadcasts in this area (although many stations identify themselves as radio, the extent to which they conform to traditional notions of format varies).

But despite the plethora of stations and platforms in Tokyo, the city still lacks a unifying force that brings together and expresses its underground scene in the style of London’s NTS or Rinse FM. These stations enjoy a high degree of familiarity with electronic music fans not only in the UK capital but across the world. The lack of such a setup in Tokyo is manifested by the fact that many Japanese rising stars in the electronic music scene have no consistent outlet or, for various reasons, are forced to look to stations overseas. .

Tokyo Community Radio (TCR) bridges the apparent divide, joining a host of other East Asian online stations that have sprung up in recent years, all adopting the nickname “community.” Such is the need for this type of platform, at least two similar stations are being considered, although no concrete plans have yet been announced.

“I started TCR because in Japan there is no place for local and international talents to communicate and show their skills, as I have seen in Europe and Asia”, explains Rika Hirota, alias Licaxxx, founder of TCR. “I wanted to create a place for this to happen.”

Launched on February 7, TCR explicitly espouses an independent and DIY pirate radio philosophy, even if it has moved away from the illegal broadcasts that define this medium. But while Japan has a little history of pirate radio stations and so-called mini FM – stations that use a deliberately weak signal to avoid the need for a license – it’s a culture that doesn’t. not the same type of presence as elsewhere in the world. Hirota, for example, says she grew up listening to J-Wave, but was influenced by the concept while listening to DJ Gilles Peterson.

“I like the spirit of pirate radio, which is different from all commercial music (stations) in Japan,” she says.

As per most of its Asian counterparts, TCR broadcasts through Facebook Live, albeit without the green screen background favored by many others, with shows almost every Thursday alternating between local teams CYK, NOS and Kaitai Shinsho, as well as the strange special guest. to mix together. It’s a simple, no-frills setup, but one that matches the values ​​of the resort. Currently, the music leans heavily towards house and techno, although Hirota says there are plans to expand the tenure in the future – the station described itself as “gender agnostic” in its statement. ‘opening.

This approach has the merit of simplicity: streaming is easy to set up, no website is needed, there is an audience built into the platform, and no legal streaming license is required. It also allows the station to operate in a copyright gray area – proper licenses are expensive and complicated – with comparatively weaker enforcement than traditional radio, although this is by no means something that the music industry ignores.

In turn, such configurations bring an element of freedom.

“If I host a show on AM or FM, we’ll have more pressure to play something, or not to play something,” says Shintaro Yonezawa, aka DJ Sinta, half of the grime DJ-producer duo Double. Clapperz, who did the occasional show on Block FM and also appeared on UK platforms such as NTS, Keep Hush and the now defunct Radar Radio. “We have more freedom on Internet stations. “

This international experience has given Yonezawa a window into what’s possible with these platforms, and he laments the lack of regular slots for most DJs – many shows are based on a visiting international guest – as well as the lack of archive in almost all cases, inhibiting the reach of the music.

“What I experienced with these (British) platforms, when I played on these radio stations, is that they are international, they are well organized and they also offer a lot of opportunities other than just broadcasting, ”he says, noting how some also run record labels or manage artists, thus increasing their impact. “And then they work better with brands than Japanese radio stations.”

Despite the relatively low overhead costs, running a station, especially one with ambitious programming, is not a cheap endeavor. At the extreme, Radar Radio recorded a loss of more than £ 1.3million (190million yen) in a single year – it was mostly funded by Mike Ashley, one of the wealthiest people in the world. UK – while Berlin’s community radio was forced to close in February. After failing to secure additional state-backed cultural funding, Shanghai Community Radio, meanwhile, secured outside investment and also turned to soliciting donations from listeners.

Working with brands is another form of funding – NTS has already partnered with Uniqlo, for example – but the fragility of this type of underground music corporate sponsorship was underscored on April 3 when Red Bull announced that it ‘he would shut down two of his main musics. operations, including its online radio station, at the end of October.

“Currently we have a low budget production which is made possible by a lot of people (like friends) who give of their time and energy to make this all happen,” says Hirota, saying she hopes to collect more. money in the future by hosting streams. clubs and other events. “We’re not looking to make big profits, but we need some income to make it all happen. I think it follows the spirit of pirate radio.

To listen to Tokyo Community Radio, visit

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About Walter J. Leslie

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