Sabi Takahashi and Takeo Yatabe: Form, Inc.

Back to Contents of Issue: May 2003

"We create concepts. That's our real job, because the marketing agencies don't know what young people think or want"

28 year-old Sabi Takahashi, who earned a degree in advertising from New York University, became head producer of Shibuya's Womb nightclub in March of 2000. He quickly rose to the top of his trade, generating big business with what he calls a "total" club concept.

Takahashi met his Womb co-producer, Takeo Yatabe, in New York in the late 1990s. Yatabe was studying for a business degree at Baruch College, but found the time after-hours to join Takahashi in staging multimedia parties at Twilo, which at the time was New York's biggest and hippest nightclub.

While working as an intern with the Hokuhodo Advertising Agency -- the second largest in Japan -- during his final year at NYU, Takahashi came up with the idea of using club culture to promote leading edge Japanese fashion and technology brands, including Sony, Issey Miyake and Final Home. He successfully promoted this club marketing concept at Twilo during the 1999 New York Spring Fashion Collection, and went on to become the first Japanese producer of regular nights at the Manhattan club.

In New York, Takahashi also became a de facto agent for state-of-the-art Phazon sound systems.

He negotiated the installation of a Phazon system at Womb, and was then approached by Womb management to run its nightly operations.

In three short years, Takahashi and Yatabe have not only turned Womb into the one of the most popular dance clubs in Tokyo, but they have also established a new ground zero for youth culture marketing. Targeting pichimasu (between mass and underground) culture, the Womb producers developed a marketing consultancy -- Form, Inc -- which is attracting the giants of corporate Japan by giving them access to a cutting-edge market demographic: urban youth.

"We create concepts. That's our real job," says Yatabe. "Nike [sponsors at the 2002 soccer World Cup] wanted us to do a release party at Womb outside of their agency, because the agency doesn't know what young people think or want. We combined sneakers with music and software [called 'Life' photo cinema] that won a design award." Life is now being further developed in collaboration with Apple Computers and was showcased at Womb's Tokyo Technology Culture Party at the end of March. At the event, techno kids rubbed shoulders with the chairman of Apple Japan.

With companies from Calvin Klein to Kool, the cigarette brand, paying in excess of JPY10 million to sponsor a night at Womb, Takahashi and Yatabe are not only providing corporations exposure in the club, but are also giving them a detailed PR strategy. Womb's audience, for instance, complete detailed questionnaires each night about their habits and preferences -- which means clients get access to invaluable market research.

Bringing Japanese clubs into line with their more established counterparts in Europe in the US has demanded what Takahashi calls "quality control." This extends to the sound system, the world class DJ line-up and Womb's art director, who has worked with everyone from Christian Dior to Louis Vuitton and Burberry.

"We were the first club in Tokyo to employ a professional art director," says Takahashi. Like the rest of the multimedia cast of fashion, music and technology experts contributing to Womb's total club concept, Womb's art director, Kei Nihingi, is "very cool and totally professional," notes Takahashi.

For all their marketing savvy and business acumen, Takahashi and Yatabe's success is largely attributable to the fact that they understand the rudiments of the global club sound. Both are musicians who remix and produce records -- under the name, Tech Riders -- and thus have been able to understand how to meld the subtleties of underground music culture with corporate market imperatives.

"Through being DJs and producers, we make networks and meet other DJs and musicians; it's more natural," says Yatabe. "We can approach artists as musicians rather than conventional businessmen. They can relate to us." With their international educations in business and advertising, Takahashi and Yatabe are in a unique position to fully exploit an emerging nexus between dance music culture and corporate marketing. They say that their total club concept is still in its infancy -- but you can already see the flashing strobes at the end of the tunnel.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.