Once a month on a Thursday night, you can find Del Martin and Greg Hignight darting back and forth between the DJ booth and front door at Little Tokyo's Second Street Jazz. Dressed in fashionable yet unassuming black, they stand out from a crowd decked out in poufy dresses, candy-colored wigs and gloves that look like neon bear claws. It's because of Martin and Hignight that L.A.'s newest Japanese pop culture–loving club kids have Tune in Tokyo to call home.
"We wanted to give a platform for music that wasn't being heard," says Martin. "Music is universal, you don't have to understand the language it's being sung in."
Martin, who grew up in Hawaii and moved to California to attend college, learned to DJ at '90s Britpop club Café Bleu.
Hignight, originally from Denver, was a J-pop fan and the art-show director at his hometown anime convention.
The two met years ago through Hignight's brother and bonded over their love of the nightlife. When Martin decided to launch his own party, International Pop Conspiracy, he asked his club buddy to handle J-pop deejaying duties. By October 2008, IPC was coming to an end, and in its place came Tune in Tokyo, a party that was intended to be a one-off but turned into their signature event.
The differences between the two promoter/DJs is what makes the party work. Martin was deeply entrenched in L.A.'s indie club scene, a regular at spots like Part Time Punks and M/R/X. He knew how to promote to the underground and how to give it an air of cool. Hignight worked at Anime Jungle/Cure Shop, Little Tokyo's hot spot for music and fashion. He had the insight on a burgeoning scene surrounding the neighborhood.
"There are people who are into Japanese street fashion and are inspired by it and they only have a convention once a year where they can go and dress up," says Hignight.
They found an 18-and-over venue and quickly cultivated a following of music fanatics and extreme fashionistas. But Martin and Hignight didn't just start a club, they created a hub for a subculture that previously only existed online and at anime conventions. It's a scene where references to TV, video games, music and fashion all overlap to form something unique to L.A. nightlife.
In less than two years, Tune in Tokyo has become a launchpad for DJs and bands who have found inspiration on the club's tiny dance floor. Hignight calls it the "Toonami generation," a nod to Cartoon Network's influential anime block that ran from the late '90s through much of the last decade.
Both agree that there's a new youth culture on the rise now that the fans of shows like Sailor Moon and Pokémon are young adults.
"This is the anime generation, they're looking to Asia," says Martin. "That's the next wave."