Daydream Believer

Mickey Tachibana dreams of a museum for electronic music

Although it's world famous, the Drum Machine Museum isn't exactly the most high-profile arts space. In fact, you can't even see the structure from the street. The museum -- along with owner Mickey Tachibana's home -- resides a couple doors down from the lurid Market Street Cinema, sharing a loft complex with other small businesses such as Star Rock, Big Horse Inc., and Ghirardelli Engineering. Of course, even the word "resides" is misleading. These days the Drum Machine Museum lives online at Tachibana's synthesizers and electronic rhythm-makers have been boxed up and stored away in another room, in order to make space for the "Whitebox VIP Lounge."

"Whitebox" is an experimental multimedia performance held once a month in Tachibana's loft. During the shows, electronic experimentalists such as Meatbeat Manifesto cohort Mark Pistel, laptop provocateur O.S.T., and ambient tubaist Tom Heasley perform with video artists like Warren Stringer and Siren, while five "Whitebox" staffers film the proceedings, and Tachibana edits the clips in real time. When the event's over Tachibana presents the two dozen audience members with a new document of what they just saw. Call it cinéma surréalité, with a tweaked-techno soundtrack.

Tachibana wasn't always this hip. Back in the early '90s he was a self-described "middle-class manager," content to play golf, chow down at nice restaurants, and go shopping. He didn't even know what techno and house were, let alone listen to them. Now, big-name artists like Air and Tortoise stop by his apartment to visit, and the electronic elite line up to play 15 feet away from his spice rack. Meanwhile all Tachibana wants is to fulfill his dream of a real, honest-to-goodness museum for electronic music.

Akim Aginsky


Tickets are $7. For information about how to get invited, contact Mickey Tachibana at m or call 503-0477.

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Tachibana came to San Francisco in 1994 when Tokyo-based desktop publishing software company Koyosha Printing put him in charge of its first U.S. office. Though he'd been in bands throughout his teenage years -- playing what he calls "Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple kind of things" -- he wasn't into music when he arrived here. "I [was] not playing any kind of music in San Francisco; I play golf," Tachibana says with a laugh as he reclines in his loft with "Whitebox" Technical Director LX Rudis and House Manager Emiko Lewis.

Tachibana doesn't look the part of a business executive. He's got blond streaks running through his unwieldy mop-top, and his jeans and T-shirt are considerably rumpled. He looks far more like a laptop artist than a high-salaried salesman -- although now he's a bit of both. His transformation came about because of the hip 22-year-olds who worked under him at Koyosha. "They are always listening to techno -- you know, Orb, Orbital, Future Sound of London, Squarepusher," Tachibana explains. "Those sounds were totally new to me; I'd never even heard those names before."

In order to communicate better with his younger staff members, he started buying techno albums and leaving them lying around the office. Before long, the resulting conversations turned into an obsession.

After purchasing his first synthesizer around 1997, Tachibana took to visiting the many synth-themed sites on the Web, checking out the different instruments available. There he discovered the drum machine, the device that laid the groundwork for most hip hop and electronic music. Tachibana began acquiring used units, for as little as $10 or as much as $200. Eventually he was spending up to $1,500 a month.

In early 1999 he encountered a hitch: His source of income dried up. Koyosha changed its business model and requested that Tachibana return to Japan to take a new position there. Much to the company's surprise, he refused. "I'd just started getting going here," he says, "and my green card application was just approved."

So, 14 days after being let go, Tachibana formed Drum Machine Museum LLC, which he hoped would someday grow to include an event hall, record and equipment store, library, gallery, and recording studio. (He even drew up a floor plan.) When large donations didn't start pouring in, he put up his Web site, which featured photos, manuals, and beat samples for each of his half-dozen machines. He also designed a logo for the museum and plastered it on T-shirts to sell through the site. But the profits weren't sufficient to balance his continuing drum machine purchases. "My income is rapidly going -- pffftt-- down," he says, using his hand to imitate a plunging graph line.

Deciding to work on his museum model, but on a smaller scale, Tachibana contacted several small synth and drum machine manufacturers overseas to see about distributing their wares. Swiss company Technosaurus agreed, and others followed. Soon Tachibana had a booming business on his hands, dealing with shops and musicians. Gear sites like wrote about him; word spread among artists the world over. When groups such as Tortoise, Spiritualized, Critters Buggin, and the Nortec Collective toured the Bay Area, they'd go by Tachibana's loft in order to play with the enormous number of machines scattered about.

"You just don't see this kind of equipment anywhere," LX Rudis says. "And to have a chance to go hands-on with it ...."

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