Interview With Katoman from Tokyo Nightspot – Beat Cafe
This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)
Nightlife can define a city. Music, fashion, art, business, and alcohol all mixing together into a powerful culture cocktail. People blowing off steam after work mix with the night owl scenesters as we all search for genuine human connection. I think that is what we all miss most during this time, the human connection.
A well-known spot for bands touring Japan, Beat Cafe is unlike any bar you will find in Japan. To get there, you have to take a walk up love-hotel hill in Shibuya and then down an inconspicuous staircase. If you didn’t know about it, you probably would never find it. To open the door, you need to pull on the mop that hangs on the door in place of a doorknob! Inside is a dive bar aesthetic, a TV that plays the same 1980s music videos over and over, and Katoman, the manager / DJ that gives this place its unique vibe.
On any given night you will find locals and foreigners mingling together to the perfect mix of music and drinks. The clientele ranges from a list of stars and celebrities to office workers looking to release some stress. It is one of the most non-pretentious bars you will find in any city.
As with many bars, restaurants, and nightspots, Beat Cafe is fighting for its’ survival during the Covid-19 crisis. The lockdown in Tokyo has taken a toll on so many places and many won’t survive. I just can’t imagine Tokyo without Beat Cafe, as the city would be greatly diminished without places like this. Beat Cafe has launched a Kickstarter to try to raise funds so they can hopefully ride out this storm.
Interview with Katoman from Beat Cafe
DM: Beat Cafe is a very special place. There is something about it that just makes you feel welcome as soon as you arrive and I think that you have a lot to do with that. Can you give us a brief history of Beat Cafe and how you got started there
Katoman: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Yes, welcoming my friends and great customers is my pleasure at Beat Cafe. Beat Cafe opened in 2006. It’s been about 14 years. We moved to our current location in January 2013. I have worked there since we opened.
DM: You have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music from so many genres that spans decades. Many nights we would be sitting at the bar and ask you an obscure question like – Who played drums on Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’”? You always seem to have the answer! Does this come from being a DJ for so many years?
Katoman: Jeff Porcaro! TOTO! Is that right? Haha. I’m a music nerd from when I was a child. I used to listen to a lot of radio programs. I used to write every music chart I heard in my notebook etc. When I was at University, I was involved in the production of a radio program called “College Chart”. I also used to work as a music importer, distributor, and at a record shop as a DJ and music writer… I think I have music knowledge because I have always been involved in music.
DM: Beat Cafe is well known by bands that tour in Japan. On any given night there will be musicians or crew members hanging out from bands from all over the world. How did it become a favorite spot for so many touring musicians?
Katoman: Maybe it’s because I used to work at a record shop and had my own music label and a booking agency. My music friends would tell their friends and by word of mouth, people started to come.
DM: There is a sign on the computer at the bar that says, “Sorry No Request We know You Are A Good DJ”. What is the story behind that?
Katoman: We used to take music requests from customers a long time ago. But we stopped it because we couldn’t work especially when the shop was crowded and we couldn’t keep the Beat Cafe vibe. Then that sign was born. It was “Sorry No Request, You’re Good DJ” originally. Many people love that.
DM: With so many interesting people coming into the bar, there must have been many very special nights there. I have been lucky enough to have been part of a few! Are there any stories that you can share?
Katoman: I really have countless great memories. Probably one of the most intense memories of mine is when everyone at VANS OTW hung out at Beat Cafe for a few days in September 2010. Eric Elms compiled photos and released a ‘zine called “FEEL THE BEAT” This book is a great documentary of that week. It’s still amazing for me.
DM: Tokyo has been locked down for a few weeks just like many other cities around the world. I know it has been very hard for many bars and restaurants. What is the mood like? Do you get a sense that people feel that things will return to “normal”?
Katoman: It’s opening little by little. But the government continues to ask for self-restraint from nightspots like bars, clubs, etc. Because of the “corona shock”, there are many people who are limiting their enjoyment, so I don’t think it will return to normal anytime soon.
DM: For all bars in Tokyo, there is a 9 pm closing curfew in place, which makes it almost impossible for Beat Cafe to open. The party doesn’t even really get started there until after midnight! So you made the decision to start a Kickstarter campaign to try to help cover the bills until the curfew is lifted. How has the support been so far?
Katoman: Yes. It’s difficult for many bars… The same applies to clubs and live venues. The current situation is that there are no prospects for reviving night culture. Crowdfunding was a last resort because I didn’t want to do it. But the reason why I chose Kickstarter was that Beat Cafe is a place where there are many overseas customers. I needed a famous overseas crowdfunding system. Kickstarter is an “ALL OR NOTHING” crowdfunding system that requires you to reach your target goal before you can receive the money. I thought that this would be a good system for us and I wanted to make this project a success with our past, present, and future customers.
At the moment we have reached 80% of our goal. This is overwhelming. We have to make this project successful.
DM: What is the first song you are going to play at Beat Cafe when you reopen?
Katoman: Maybe a Prince song like “Let’s Go Crazy” or “1999”. Maybe any Phil Collins song like “In The Air Tonight” Haha. This will not be dramatic. Any song will be fine, just like a regular night at Beat Cafe. We just want to keep this place going years and years.
DM: Thank you so much for taking the time for the interview. Beat Cafe is a special place and Shibuya would not be the same without it. I can’t wait to be sitting at the bar and order an Imo-Shochu and talk baseball with Gensho and listen to great music from the 80s with you! Stay safe my friend!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)