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Photographer Nick Haymes

Kawaii sleaze: photos that capture Tokyo’s new wave of club kids

Adorned with fluffy bunny ears and ball gags, Nick Haymes documents Tokyo’s emerging, glitter-filled pop club scene

In his new project, photographer Nick Haymes documents the emerging “experimental pop” scene taking shape in the streets of Tokyo, mostly found in the collaborative KyunDesu X Subculture Party club events.

Having started visiting Japan as early as 2006, this collection marks Haymes’ first project outside of the US. “It wasn’t until 2019 that I seriously began working on a more solid project with the help of my friend Taka Arakawa,” he tells Dazed. During his travels to Japan, he became aware of a “culture shift” happening among Tokyo’s youth, where it seemed like they were embracing a bolder, more individualistic sense of style. “There was a point when you never saw kids with tattoos out there [and now] they are becoming far more commonplace,” he explains.

It was at a Kyundesu X Subculture Party club event – a “perfectly seamless crossover” between his friends Tyler Shepherd and Gannon Baxter’s LA–based Subculture Party and Tokyo DJ N2’s KyunDesu collective – that Haymes saw this shift first hand.

“[I] often spoke [to Shepherd and Baxter] about how what they were doing in Los Angeles [with Subculture Party] would be perfect for Japan, given that there are many Japanese cultural influences that penetrate their scene,” says Haymes. This, paired with Shepherd and Baxter’s deep childhood admiration for anime and their “long time dream to go to Japan”, resulted in the collaboration with the cybernetic, glitter–filled world of N2’s KyunDesu.

Tokyo’s subcultures have historically acted as a resistance against Japan’s restrictive beauty and style norms, and N2’s Kyundesu scene aims to empowers a new “diverse” and digitally ‘tapped-in’ generation. By mixing Tokyo–based styles, like Gyaru and Harajuku, with more western expressions of ballroom, y2k, and fairycore, the scene takes its own “cultural references, [and] warps and owns them stronger than ever”. 

Through this collection of images, Haymes captures the “intimacy, honesty and love for living” of the KyunDesu scene – shedding the modest, and innocent depictions of the kawaii with mesh bodysuits, ball gags and phallic imagery. “I think Japan is not how the west perceives it,” Haymes explains. “There’s a vibrant, and more visually and stylistically active youth culture in Japan than there has been in quite a few years... It certainly does feel new and fresh when experiencing these parties.”

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