When I first met Jun seven years ago, he was just another one of the hundreds of struggling minimal DJs living in
The transformation began a little over four years ago at the karaoke complex where Jun was working, cleaning the rooms and bringing jugs of beer in to drunken groups of young people hour after hour. One night, as he was delivering a drink up to a box on the fourth floor, a customer asked him if he would help him by singing the backing harmonies on Extreme’s ‘More than Words’, a notoriously difficult number. Apparently, Jun’s singing was so impressive that the customer, who happened to be a well-connected ex-gangster, instantly dubbed him ‘The Master’, then demanded his mobile number, pressing him into service for the most difficult songs. ”I could hardly refuse,” Jun explained, “it might have been dangerous. So I just went with it. I agree that it’s a strange way to find your career.”
After three months, Jun was able to quit his official position at the karaoke complex, as his client list, as well as the range of services on offer, dramatically increased. “I suppose you could say that I quickly became a ‘box artist’,” he offers, trying to explain what has become his full-time, professional role, and a strange one, even by Tokyo standards. “These days, I am on call twenty-four hours a day, like a doctor. I provide a full range of services. Of course back-up singing, but also track selection, booth-minding – and also private services."
Jun seems cagey when I press him about what he means by ‘private services’. “It’s mostly just counseling. You know, girls who have broken up with their boyfriend, they rent my services in the box. I just talk to them, we sing a few songs… sometimes it gets a bit heavier, it’s true, but I am called the Master, so… If I fail to provide a satisfying experience for my clients, then my reputation would be called into doubt. I have to be prepared for anything.”
In the past year, Jun’s ‘box artist’ services have become so popular that he has taken on three junior staff, and is now even considering creating a full-time office – in a specially designed karaoke booth, naturally. “The original concept was always based on the idea of me delivering my services to people personally, like pizza or call girls” he explains. “But the success has proven that there is a demand for people who can provide entertainment in this way. In the same way as many successful DJs open their own club, I want to open my own box… To me, it’s no different to DJing – actually, it’s much better. I would never go back to playing minimal and struggling like that. As a box artist, everybody listens very carefully to each of my songs. My selections are always respected. If people ask for a request, then I can fill it, of course. Some fans even bring their own recorders and make bootlegs. I get much more attention this way. To me this is the future of DJing in Tokyo.”