An Insider's Guide to the Best Garage Nights in Tokyo

Koki Tamura and co.
Koki Tamura and co. | © Kaoru Kawasaki
Lucy Dayman

Navigating Tokyo’s garage, psych and underground rock scene is a difficult feat. Language barriers, countless venues, and knowing where to go and who to see is close to impossible. The best way to get around is to seek advice from someone in the scene.

We asked local music promoter Koki Tamura for his tips on some of the best garage rock venues, parties and bands to check out in Tokyo. A young veteran of the scene, Tamura has spent the past four years bringing some of the city’s best underground acts to the stage. Through his regular party ‘Folk’ and less regular party ‘Can’t’, he’s crafted a tight-knit community of live music lovers and psych obsessives. These are some of his favourite nights.

The enigmatic Koki Tamura in action behind the DJ decks

1. The Room

Bar, Japanese

Maybe a little too well hidden, tucked down some stairs below street level, a short stroll behind Shibuya Station is where you’ll find The Room. It’s a dimly lit, cozy wine bar with a selection of drinks as diverse as the acts that take the stage. For Tamura, this venue is his first point of call, and home to his regular experimental live music event ‘Folk’. The Room takes their music as seriously as they take the drinks menu: “Their cocktails are phenomenal because the fruit they use for their drinks are freshly squeezed before the opening everyday,” explains Tamura. It’s also a great place for solo travellers looking to make new friends. “On top of that,” Tamura notes, “the hospitality is fantastic, you could absolutely go there by yourself and have a wonderful time.”

2. Three, Shimokitazawa

Building, Music Venue

Three is one of Shimokitazawa‘s most popular and legendary live music venues. It’s no small feat given the neighbourhood’s world-class reputation for being one of the trendiest, music-loving neighbourhoods in Japan. A labyrinth of passages connects bars, band rooms and the outdoor area – getting lost inside is likely, but that’s part of the fun. The venue hosts a cross-section of bands playing everything under the sun; however, garage is definitely one of Three’s staple genres. Given the number of bands featuring on a weekend setlist, the shows start early (6pm), so don’t turn up late.

3. Liquid Room

Music Venue

If you’re chasing some of the city’s bigger name local talents and recognisable indie and garage names, the best venue to check out is Liquid Room in the trendy neighbourhood of Ebisu. In terms of atmosphere, this venue is more focussed on putting on a killer live show than hosting barflies, so you’ll probably be ushered out of the venue after the gig to make space for the nightclub crowd. However, in terms of sound and stage set-up, it really doesn’t get much better than an intimate venue like this.

4. Ruby Room

Nightclub, Bar, Japanese, Pub Grub

Sticky floors, clusters of people milling outside cigarettes in hand, a relaxed international staff and dark corner couches, Ruby Room is a quintessential late-night party hangout and a killer live music venue to boot. Tucked down a hilly laneway just off Shibuya’s main drag Dogenzaka, this cozy band room typically hosts local rock, garage and indie bands in the earlier evening and party DJs as the night rolls on. If you want to see what the local underground talent in Tokyo really looks like, Ruby Room should be your first point of call – it’s accessible, cheap and a whole lot of fun.

5. UFO Club

Music Venue

Punk, rock, indie, noise, metal and garage, if it’s loud, a bit weird and raucous then you’ll find it at UFO Club – an iconic Koenji live music mainstay. The venue is named after a legendary London venue that hosted the rise of the psychedelic and garage scene in the 1960s. Although sonically the Tokyo namesake strays a little from its predecessor, if you stroll through the doors any night of the week, there’s a likely chance garage rock will be on menu.

6. Can’t Party

Bar, Japanese

A party rather than an actual venue, Can’t is a like a travelling circus of psych and garage rock run by Tamura and his loyal crew of music obsessives. The party runs on no clear schedule, making it tricky to catch. But if you are in town when it’s on, you certainly can’t miss it. A collective of some of Tokyo’s coolest partygoers, Can’t goes beyond just being a live music event. They collaborate with visual artists, DJ and VJs to craft a complete psych, garage and old-school rock ‘n roll odyssey. The party regularly hosts shows by underground international legends, too. For more information on upcoming events follow the event’s Facebook page.

7. Galaxy

Bar, Japanese

A little slicker than most underground live music venues, the minimalistically designed Galaxy in Shibuya is one of Tamura’s favourites and has been a regular home to his Can’t party events. It’s also hosted a number of shows by his favourite psych-garage bands Mirror Moves. “In the Tokyo band scene, these guys are known to those in the know. Their live show is sharp-edged, both cool in attitude but hot in energy. The oppositional elements of their music are always coexistent; that’s why their music is a lot like Tokyo’s live music attitude.”

8. DOM Sound Studio, Koenji

Music Venue, Yoga Studio

A three-minute walk from Koenji Station is DOM Sound Studio, a ramshackle collection of rooms that’s far more than just a live music venue. It’s part rehearsal studio, part party room for hire, and super cheap live music hub most weekends. What’s happening here depends on the party host that rented out the space for the night, but there’s a pretty strong chance that the night you visit, there will be some form of garage rock taking precedence on the main stage. Since it’s technically not a bar, many events also have a very relaxed BYO alcohol policy.

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