Hong Kong DJ who 'majored in partying' is all for work with play
Nightclub impresario Taku Hirayama, of Oma in Central, is at a career crossroads
Although Fukuoka native Taku Hirayama studied international law at university, his current lifestyle speaks of the unofficial "degree" he passed summa cum laude: partying.
"I majored in that," he says with a high-speed, deep trill of a laugh that is now recognisable to anyone who has passed through the doors of Central club Oma.
As music director of the venue (formerly Midnight & Co, and before that, Yumla) in Hong Kong, Hirayama is a familiar face to those who seek out the space's signature sounds of minimal techno, house and dance - he's easily spotted either behind the decks embarking on 10-hour marathon sets or bouncing around the tiny but vibrant rooms, mixing with music lovers.
His affair with music began in Fukuoka, a place famed for unctuous pork broth ramen and the two-level club Kieth Flack. "A lot of people say it has the best sound system in all of West Japan," Hirayama says proudly.
It was there that he first encountered a professional mixer at the age of 18; before that, he was used to the crackle and pop of vinyl in his living room.
Invited by a friend to play, Hirayama was given a 45-minute slot in between band sets. "I just played my top tunes and felt like I had a fever the whole time," he recalls. "But the really good kind. I didn't really know what I was doing and made so many mistakes, but afterwards the manager came up to me - that was my first meeting, in the club."
From there, Hirayama became a resident DJ, soaking up the long all-night sets that traversed from techno to jazz nova to acoustic until the early morning hours. He moved to Hong Kong for the first time in 2006, to work for his uncle at a fur and garment company. "My uncle told me I should learn English and experience life in another country," he says.
So by day, Hirayama traded furs, and by night, he hung out at a spot he just "happened to go to one day": Yumla. It was there he met many of the friends and musicians he collaborates with today. "This city is incomparable for the music scene, especially when you start with a small place like I did in Japan - everyone is nice in Fukuoka, but Hong Kong is so different. It was a shock, but in a good way."
After a year of rote office work, however, Hirayama quit, suddenly at a crossroads with himself and his life - and to add to that, his father was in poor health. He booked his ticket back to Japan.
"I told myself, 'I'm going back to help my family'. But for the three years I went back to Japan, I could not change my lifestyle - I just partied all the time, same as I did in Hong Kong," he says with a self-deprecating laugh. "However, there I learnt even more about music, about acoustic sounds."
Hirayama finally decided he had to knuckle down and work a full-time office job to save up, but his plan was foiled when the owner of the Central club re-named Oma turned up on his doorstep.
"He wanted me to come back to Hong Kong and help him with his business. We had dinner at my place with my parents and had a long talk," says Hirayama. "By the end of it, my parents told me, 'Try again'. I think for them, they could see that I could be more successful in Hong Kong than in Japan."
Oma has been operating for a little more than a year now and has become the leading club in Hong Kong's underground electronic music circuit. With regular local DJs such as Ocean Lam, Arun R and Basil Tam forming a tight network, Hirayama feels it's possibly the right time to move away from micro-managing the venue and to let the music - and the people behind the music - speak for itself.
"I want the DJs to make it their own, to start running their own amazing nights and parties," he says. "Recently, I had a head injury that meant I had to stay home for a week. I just spent the time listening to ambient music and really thinking about what I want to do, how I want to be … I want to do something new, different.
"I've started to make more music, learn some new programmes and start from the basics again. I've been putting beats together, sampling this, picking up tunes, and in those moments I totally forget about time. But it's been like the very first time again, playing music."
Hirayama has a spate of music tours coming up this summer, including stints in Tokyo, Moscow and Europe. His experimentation with music extends to vinyl, his first love, and his next mission is a rather practical one: to cull his iTunes library of 60,000 songs. "How can I listen to so many in a lifetime? I want to strip down, shape up."
Listen to Taku Hirayama's mixes at soundcloud.com/taku-hirayama