The last three straws
“Bring me the money now!” He was shouting at me like he was trying to see if he could make me piss myself. He almost did. Before I had teamed up with his company, I had no idea they were part of Tokyo’s Israeli mafia. Hell, I didn’t even know there was an Israeli mafia in Tokyo until I was standing in an empty field on the brink of being murdered by one of its representatives.
Our company, Groove Kitchen, was a small operation run by three people. We wanted to increase the scale of our events but did not have the manpower to do it. The guy who I worked with was usually an ass but on this occasion, he was especially keen on making the event happen. He loved Okinawa and had always wanted to do something there. I had a few local connections to help with logistics but we didn’t have the knowhow to handle everything. It would be our first try at doing a three day show outside. That’s why we looked for help.
The organization we teamed up with was well known for producing successful outdoor events. The company no longer exists but I won’t say the name here or any of the names of the people involved, just in case. We approached them to do an event together with the promise that we would fund it and split the revenue after we had recouped our initial output. We made it perfectly clear that we had financial resources but were inexperienced and needed the expertise of their organization to make the event go smoothly. I am laughing now as I type this because I found out later, they were not experts at all.
That event was one of three major happenings that turned me sour to the business of event production and artist booking. The first was when our money was stolen by the manager of a famous artist who was due to headline for us in Tokyo. It was standard practice at the time to send half of the payment in advance and the remainder after the show. About a week or so before the event, we received a call from the artist himself, not the manager, asking why we hadn’t sent the payment. We were dumbfounded because the payment had been sent months ago. We were all set to go. The package had been sold to clubs in several cities, each of them had spent money on promotion. That phone call put us in a very precarious place. The whole ecosystem of the business depended on trust and balance. The clubs and event promoters trusted us to deliver the artist as promised and we depended on the venues to buy the package. The total cost of flights, hotels and fees was split between several buyers, without whom we could not sustain our business. With only a week to go, there was no way we could cancel. We had no choice but to send the money again. We were told the manager ran off with the initial cash and blew it on cocaine but I think it was a premeditated scam.
The second incident happened when another artist, who ironically is still a friend of mine, was booked to play a seven date tour with four shows in Japan, one in Singapore, one in Kuala Lumpur, and one in Seoul. Again, just over a week before he was due to arrive, he contacted me to say that he wanted to cancel everything. I almost fainted. The sudden cancellation would have meant my professional suicide because the delicate balance of trust would have been destroyed. Somehow, I at least got him to agree to do the Tokyo, Singapore, KL, and Seoul shows. The money that would have come from the other three venues was gone and I could no longer afford to accommodate the two musicians who traveled with him. I had to put them up in my small apartment and leave them there as I went to work. They slept on the sofa and the floor. It was terrible for them and my professional pride. There was nothing I could do. I had already lost thousands of dollars of my own money just to keep it afloat. If Tokyo fell it would have been the end of my career.
He did the Tokyo show but it wasn’t the best. The artist was anxious and hasty. It showed in the performance. Although the place had a descent sized crowd, the Tokyo venue was not entirely pleased. They demand quality but they could tell something was missing. After the show, the main artist and I continued on to Singapore and KL. Those shows were fantastic. He delivered the goods as promised. The problem came with Korea. That date was one week away. The original plan was to lay low in Singapore for a week then hop over to Seoul. However, as soon as the gig was done the guy insisted that he had to fly back to the States to take care of “some business.” As you can probably guess, he never returned.
The day he was supposed to get on a plane for Seoul we received a call from his manager telling us he couldn’t make it because of a leg injury. I arrived in Seoul with the rest of my staff. I was supposed to meet my dear friend and DJ at the venue. He was the one who had arranged for them to buy the booking. When I got to the event, the organizers had made a massive banner and hung it outside the venue. It read, “Although we are great fans of the artist and have shown him the deepest respect by booking him into our event, he has no respect for us and has shown it by his decision to not show up.” The Koreans looked at me with deep hate in their eyes. There was nothing I could do.
After the event, the promoters demanded that the artist immediately repay the money he had been advanced. Again, the ecosystem I had spent many years building was in danger of collapse. Experience had taught me there was a high probability that the artist would vanish with the money, never to be heard from again. The only hope I had of preventing this was to fabricate a story. I called his manager and explained that the Koreans were pissed (That part was true). I told him that they do not forgive this kind of behavior (that part was also true). I warned that the event he skipped out on was backed by the son of Seoul’s most notorious mob families. “You can do what you want but I was told they were sending someone to the US to find you and make you pay. These guys are vicious. I don’t want to see you get hurt.” (That part was pure BS. There was no Korean mob). “They don’t scare me. I will pay when I am good and ready!!” That was the response I got but the money was returned almost immediately.
The third incident brings me back to the beginning of this story. There I was in a desolate field in Okinawa facing my final horror. The Israelis had brought an entourage and disrupted everything. The brother of the main mobster took the van that was designated for picking the artists up at the airport and did not return with it until long after he was supposed to. When I tried to stop him, he gave me a look like he was going to shoot me dead before saying, “Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am!!” There was nothing I could do to keep him from taking the van. In another example, we were selling drinks at the event to increase our profit but we didn’t make any money from it because all of the mobsters and their friends drank all the inventory and refused to pay.
The event lasted for the weekend. On the second day, the head mobster came to me and said, “We have to talk.” He said it in a very serious tone so I started to get nervous. “Ok. Let’s talk.” I said. He responded, “Not here. Come with me.” He started to walk away from the event towards a dark area where there were no customers or staff. I felt like he was taking me somewhere to put a bullet in my brain. When we were far enough away, he began to shout. “Where is my money!!” I had no idea what he was talking about because I had made a deal with his business partner and not him. I didn’t even know he existed till a day or two before the event. I explained the terms of our arrangement and how the money would be divided after we recouped our cost as per our contract.
He gave me the same look his brother had then said the same thing his brother had. “Do you know who I am?!” I had never been more sick of hearing a catch phrase as I was in that moment. I didn’t care who he was, a contract was a contract. I was not about to just hand over the money to him. I stood my ground and prepared myself for violence. “No, I can’t do that. Your company had an agreement with ours. After we deduct our expenses, we will split the profit. I don’t give a shit about who you are or what you are going to do to me, I am not bringing you anything until after everything has been calculated.” His face got harder. He stared at me for what felt like a short eternity. Then his face changed and he said, “Fine. When this is over, I want you to bring me the money immediately.” I really don’t know how I walked away from that with a clean pair of shorts.
After the event, we calculated all of the money as promised and delivered what was due. The mobsters had departed right away leaving the business associate and their staff behind to stay one more day. Later that evening, someone in their crew slipped into their tent and stole all of their money and plane tickets. It was a disaster. My guys and I had been busy cleaning up the venue and preparing for departure so we had an alibi and were not implicated in the theft. I have no idea how they got back to Tokyo, nor did I care. I was just glad it was over.
After that event, I had come to the realization that I did not want to be used and abused like I had been. It was the last straw that turned me off to booking international artists and setting up tours. I loved the life, but I didn’t like the assholes that went with it.
(the photo is completely unrelated)