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Noisey

We Went to a Tuna Beheading Party in Tokyo

Maguro House is the latest in a wave of parties matching Japanese food with dance music, and it's undoubtedly the strangest pairing yet.

by Alisa Yamasaki and Mike Sunda
Jan 4 2016, 8:25pm

Maguro House founder Afromance

Whether it's a doner kebab in Berlin, chicken-and-chips in South London, or pizza in Brooklyn, the post-club snack is an essential ritual. But what if you could get your sustenance right there on the dancefloor?

Not content with having the most Michelin stars of any city across the world, Tokyo is now bringing restaurant-quality fare to its nightclubs, with the food itself as the headline booking.

Tokyo's gastronomic clubbing craze kicked off in 2012 with Techno Udon, which today brings in over a thousand punters a time, each stepping barefoot on noodles to the steady march of a four-four beat. The event was conceived as a clever response to Japan's infamous fueiho laws, which restrict dancing in clubs and bars. "If police come to crack down on us for dancing, we can say, 'We're just making udon!'" Shinri Tezuka, the event's main organizer, told the Wall Street Journalin 2014.

The idea has since spread to Macho Mochi Night, upcoming in January, where people will celebrate the New Year with a most traditional combination of rice cakes, bodybuilders and EDM. Even Dixon couldn't escape from the gourmet boom when he played at Womb in Shibuya in December; the Innervisions boss found himself competing for attention with freshly made nigiri, served by a sushi chef straight from the second room's DJ booth.

Maguro (the Japanese word for tuna) House is the latest in this wave of events matching Japanese cuisine with electronic music, and it's undoubtedly the strangest pairing yet. It recently packed out the 500+ capacity Club Asia—a venue in Tokyo's Shibuya neighborhood that's known for hedonistic foam parties and respected regular events like bass music veteran Goth-Trad's Back 2 Chill night. Given Club Asia's often off-kilter reputation, it made perfect sense that it should host a night that included live fish evisceration, go-go-dancing sushi chefs, and a terrifying tuna-headed, fin-fingered dominatrix who we later found out had lovingly handcrafted her entire outfit. All this, backed by an equally panic-inducing soundtrack of screeching electro.

Afromance

"I thought about making it an EDM party, since that's what audiences seem to like the most, but I stuck to what I wanted to play: house," said Kagoshima-born Afromance, the organizer of the night. Slurping down a bowl of fatty tuna and chugging a bottle of sake, he told us about the origins of the party with earnest pride. "I was watching a TV commercial for [sushi chain] Sushiro, and I suddenly had this burst of inspiration that house and sushi would work well together," he explained. "At some point I'd like to do "Sushi House," but this is the first step so we're going with Maguro House. Maguro Techno, Maguro EDM... it just doesn't work. It had to be house."

Despite his emphatic championing of house, the reality was that the evening was mostly full of anthemic EDM tracks such as "I Want You To Know" By Zedd and other Ultra-esque bangers in that mold. The closest anything came to authentic house all night was a spin of Cheryl Lynn's classic "Got To Be Real" in the second room, which ended up clearing the floor rather than reeling in any discerning disco-heads.

When you play a disco track and clear the room

"It was a solid mix of Japanese and Western music," remarked one partygoer named Rachel from Australia, perhaps taking our line of inquiry far too seriously given that we'd just witnessed a girl in a Jason Voorhees mask redline the mixer nearly to the point of speaker destruction. "It was good," her friend William sagely chimed in, whilst packing up his belongings as quickly as we'd let him.

Regardless of any musical misfires, all was forgotten when the star of the night showed up, carried onto the stage by three talented chefs from a restaurant called Taikochaya, its scales glistening under the light of the disco ball, eyes watery in anticipation of its impending beheading. With the violent electro still banging in the background, the sushi chefs held up their special steel knives to a screaming crowd. Suddenly all the elements combined to become a full-on sensory assault: the stench of tuna mixed with sweat and second-hand cigarette smoke, EDM build-ups merged with confused shouts.

The tuna decapitation

"A troop of tuna can only swim forward—if they stop, they die," the MC on stage shouted with fervor, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of bloodlust; the audience, too, embracing their roles in the massacre, forced themselves forward into the barricade, desperate to get their 3000 yen's [USD$25] worth of fatty maguro. We reached peak tuna craze as the sushi chef slowly lifted the severed head up in the air to unanimous cheers, which only died down once he'd finished slicing his way through the rest of the fish.

Sushi preparation

Tucking into the tuna backstage, we couldn't help but be impressed. Fresh, rich, and melting in the mouth, it was some of the best maguro either of us had ever eaten. It was a communal moment of calm as all the night's disparate performers sat there, dining together: DJs, go-go dancers, photographers and club staff, all taking a moment of calm after the madness. Meanwhile, the oversized papier-mâché tuna head, now severed from its owner, watched over us ominously from a nearby table.

Taikochaya chefs

As they say in Japan, you can't fight on an empty stomach. Or in this case, dance. And what better dish than fresh cuts of tuna to cleanse the palate after a night of Jager shots and Marlboro Reds? Unless, of course, you don't eat fish.

"I brought all of these guys here but I don't eat fish, I just came for the party", said David, another one of the many Australians present, while three of his friends gleefully took the opportunity to try and shove cuts of fish into his mouth. And there you have it—pescaphiles and pescaphobes all brought together in harmony under the house that Jack built. Somewhere, Larry Heard is smiling wryly.