Hey, You’re Cool! Bae Tokyo
"In Japan nobody really knows what feminism is"
In just under a year, Bae Tokyo has managed to make waves across Asia through informed party life and deeper networking. Originally founded by Jayda B as an all-inclusive ‘girls party’ in Atlanta, the move to Tokyo aligned the required stars to bring her and YonYon together so they might realize a mutual goal. As a team, they established a brand that emerged as a female creative agency providing a platform for female artists to express themselves without limitations. Acting as part booking agent and part promoter, they’re seeking equality within a club scene that doesn’t even comprehend the concept of feminism.
We met up at a cafe located in the backstreets of Harajuku—a fittingly cool part of town, with endless hip retailers and well-dressed patrons—for a late afternoon chat. With the experience of Tokyo’s nightlife still fresh in all our minds, we discussed the problems of pioneering new culture and sipped away hangovers with green tea.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
JAYDA B: I’m a DJ and radio host living in Tokyo from Atlanta. I started DJing only two years ago around the same time I started Bae in the U.S. I went to school in Tokyo, so I moved back to Japan after starting Bae and met YonYon and we started doing it together.
YONYON: I’m a DJ and singer-songwriter, but I’ve just started producing too. I’m from Korea but I go back and forth between Tokyo and Seoul. I started my own parties at Club Womb in Tokyo a few years ago before I left to study in Korea. When I got back, I decided to make a female-focused party with a friend of mine who was a club manager, but then I met Jayda and started working with her instead.
So you started developing Bae soon after meeting?
JB: It was early on. It had already happened once in Tokyo before we met and it was OK… But the dynamic of how parties work in America versus in Japan are totally different. During that first party, we strictly followed the dynamic I had used in America because it was just so true to what we wanted for the brand, to highlight girls specifically. That really didn’t work here. The party scene goes all night here, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. until the first train. And the venues are so big, so you have to have a lot of people and that wasn’t how the first one went.
But then we met and YonYon was already doing an all-female lineup party with somebody else and the timing was really good. she was already booking girls so we just decided let’s do this together and make the party you’re working on big, because I already have a brand and similar ideas.
How many DJ’s do you work with?
YY: So many! Maybe 30.
JB: We’ve worked with over 30 but our team is really small. Our management team is just me, YonYon and two other girls. And we just got our first intern! It’s moving so fast but still slow. So many people outside of Japan are becoming more and more interested, so we’re trying to find ways to incorporate other girls.
YY: International girls.
Inclusivity globally, not just Tokyo.
JB: Inclusivity from abroad too because we’ve met so many really amazing girl DJs and just other people interested in finding out more about what we’re doing and who genuinely wanna help and be a part of it. Plus on the tour, we collaborated with other girl groups too.
How was the tour? You went to L.A…
YY: Yeah: L.A., Singapore and Korea.
What were the differences between the three of those?
YY: Maybe I can explain about Korea. The country has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world. About a year ago, in one of the busiest districts in Seoul, a woman was murdered in a public bathroom near Ganagnam station solely because she was a woman. It was a hate crime. This led to national memorial services, marches and protests against misogyny and many women became more eager to learn more about feminism. However, the general public still is not very fond of feminism.
JB: Each country that we went to, their struggles are native to their culture and the country. In Singapore, the girls we worked with from the Attagirl crew are really pioneering feminism there.
In my opinion, I didn’t really think there was an underground scene there, so it was interesting to go and work with those girls and talk more with them because what they’re doing is really unique. Sort of the same as what we are doing here in Tokyo, raising awareness for unity and inclusion. But that’s so tough, in Japan especially. In Korea, people are more educated about it so they’re more aware and have a stronger opinion, but in Japan nobody really knows what feminism is.
YY: It’s the difference of character between Japan and Korea. In Japan, people don’t want to say their own opinion out loud.
JB: Yeah, but in Korea everybody will tell you how they feel! Nobody says anything here.
Did you experience any of their struggles while you were out there?
YY: We had some problems in Singapore. We played at two places, first at Blue Jazz Cafe and we could play whatever we wanted, but the other place we couldn’t. They wanted to keep the atmosphere very generic. Old hip-hop and Billboard chart style.
JB: It was weird because YonYon went first. The club managers were really mad and asked us to change our music style. We’d never experienced that before… It was a learning experience. Maybe we should just be better prepared in future but we went into it expecting to do what we want, so by the time it was my turn I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t have anything that they wanted. Even some of the DJs before us were literally playing the same tracks but the management didn’t care, they just wanted to hear that style of music.
YY: The audience liked our music though.
When it comes to bringing these artists over here, what’s your aim?
JB: Our aim is to connect these girls from around the world who share similar goals and ideas. It’s the reason we wanted to do the tour in the first place, just to kind of self-promote and learn more about what everyone else was doing in other places.
What about L.A.? I saw you performed alongside Princess Nokia and even hosted a ramen party in Little Tokyo!
JB: I think L.A. was our favorite! L.A. was amazing just because everybody is so chill there. It’s America, so it’s a little more diverse, so there’s just a bigger community of black, white, gay, straight… All these different types of people, versus in Japan and Korea. It’s more diverse in L.A. so people are more aware and open to learning more about it and hearing about our issues and why we have them. In Japan, we literally have to explain what feminism is and start a conversation about it.
You’ve each got bae names. How did that get started?
JB: Initially it started from the very first Bae party in Atlanta. It was a means of promotion for the girls; something fun and cute about their personality, an alter ego thing. Now it’s grown into something more and everyone wants a name!
What are your bae names?
JB: Kawaii Bae. I’ve been back and forth from Japan my whole life so it’s kinda something that feels like an extension. Kawaii is such a big part of Japanese culture so I just thought I should be Kawaii Bae and nobody else! It doesn’t really go any deeper than that.
YY: Mixture Bae. For me, my life is so mixed. I was born in Seoul but I moved to Japan when I was 1. I go back frequently to learn the language and the culture, so my culture is mixed. My music style is also a mixture, I play all music styles from techno, house and hip hop, UK grime, etc… I play what I want so that’s why it’s my name.
What’s it like at a Bae party?
JB: We just moved to a new venue so it’s gonna be a totally different experience for us than what we’ve been used to. It’s a bigger space and there are a lot of elements that we’re trying to figure out. It’s supposed to be an experience and not just a party. We’re trying to figure out different ways to incorporate more community aspects.
Any advice for girls who want to set up something similar?
JB: I think at least for me everything that I’ve been doing or wanted to do I kinda had to do it myself. You really can’t expect anybody to say, “Hey, here’s this thing, go for it!” Whatever your passion is, I would say you just have to stay really consistent. Just be genuine and you will eventually find people who appreciate your art and genuinely want to help you because they realize that you are doing something authentic.
YY: We have social media now. If you don’t have people near you who can help you, expose what you want to do on a blog or social media and you can reach people. The most important thing is branding, just saying, “Hey, I want to do this!” is not enough. Not at all.
JB: Unfortunately, branding is still like a major part of how everything works, at least in this industry, but most others too.
YY: Presentation. If it’s good, someone will help you.