Whenever music legends are honored at award shows and for lifetime accolades, there will often be tribute performances of artists who were inspired by the honorees, covering the guest’s own songs (Strange reference, but think of Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson doing Stairway to Heaven for the remaining members of Zeppelin during their Kennedy award a few years back.) The performing artists often cite terror of what their musical heroes might think of their renditions. Well…, That’s kinda how I feel as I’m about to write about Chee Shimizu, a musical institution of Tokyo, who has performed countless DJ sets, curated endless music for his own label and the labels of his peers, collaborated with so many global artists, authored highly-beloved books about music, and introduced an entire generation of music lovers to sounds they might not have otherwise heard …oh yeah, and who is the very friendly proprietor (along with his lovely partner Kanako san) of “Physical Store: Organic Music + Planet Baby.
Now while Chee is very well-known in certain circles (just Google him), I can’t say he’s a hero of mine …yet, simply for the fact that I’ve only met him half a dozen times (and that I’ve sadly never seen him DJ) however, I have gleaned his vibe and a bit of the healthy adoration he gets from the music-loving community that surrounds him, that I’ve witnessed first hand for myself, or read about online, or just sensed. The guy has an undeniable charisma, and yes, a hero quality about him.
Now I will never be able to do Chee any amount of journalist justice in such a short spotlight, but I ask you to check the photos of his very cool and eclectic record shop and bar. It’s packed to the gills not only with highly interesting music, but with an elegance in so many details, that always comes back to music: acoustic treatments all over, delicately calibrated speakers (I’m guessing with hand-designed crossovers), noise suppression cable filters, nice turntables, amps, and phono stages, a smorgasbord of very high-spec cartridges, rotary mixer and so on, all of which makes for an incredibly excellent listening environment (and great music-listening events like one featured in the photos from a few weeks back.)
Speaking of “music-listening,” I believe the listening bars that Tokyo has become quite famous for recently were here long before Chee came onto the scene, however, I suspect (just a guess) that he is part of the reason they have become so popular over the years and are now almost ubiquitous and synonymous with refined Tokyo, and I think it stems from this deeper notion of “music listening” and “listening parties” which is not exactly as obvious as it sounds. Chee has been hosting, week-after-consecutive-week, “listening parties” where the focus is really, truly, deeply, about coming together to LISTEN to music. The distinction to make from another DJ event is that it’s not necessarily about music to groove to, to socialize to, to hear (or ignore) in the background. It’s about actively listening to music, maybe a communal version of the intentional ritualistic listening experience that the turntable and vinyl record almost demand of us when we are at home, listening by ourselves. This little nugget really got me thinking deeply about listening to music.
I had one question for Chee regarding this when stopped by yesterday for a Coke, and his response was absolutely golden. I have to share. I asked “Chee, when people come to listening parties, do they REALLY listen, or do they talk and socialize?” he said “Both. But when they talk I don’t care. Cuz there is good music in the air.” Okay fine. You’re now my hero.
I really encourage you to find out more about Chee (so much press online), visit his Organic Music (and visit Kanako san’s very cool select emporium of art, music, fashion, accessories, teas and sweets, and more – It’s really cool – and right next door – Planet Baby!) And don’t wait to dive into some of Chee’s DJ sets, many of which are online – I link some below! Or grab his book…
Thanks Chee (and Kanako!) Looking forward to my next visit!
More Tokyo Record Style on the way!