Meet Benjamin Tarquin, one of the creators, and star of the “HAKATag CLAPS” video – if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this and check it out now! The video is a fast-tempo tour and guide to many (lesser known) shops and spots in Fukuoka through the eyes of Ben. He’s better known as one-third of YAK Films, a successful YouTube channel with over 780,000 subscribers featuring top international urban dance groups. But before YAK, Ben was an international student at Kyushu University. Read on to find out why Ben keeps coming back to Fukuoka.
In Japan: On and off for 5 years
Identity: YouTuber and one third of YAK Films
Welcome back to Fukuoka!
And congratulations on the Hakata-tag video, or is that HakaTAG?
Yeah, it’s kinda hard to pronounce actually, it’s like HAKATag. At first I thought it was Hakata-tag too, but, HAKATag, yeah. HAKATag Claps. Thank you.
There’s so many things we want to ask you, but you know we have to start at the beginning; can you tell us where you’re from and how you came to Fukuoka?
I grew up in California to a French father and American mother. And I went to high school in California until I moved to France for my higher education. When I was young, I told my grandmother that I wanted to draw comics, and she’d always laugh. That ambition seemed to get more and more unrealistic as I got older. The safe route was architecture. I went to a design/architecture school in Paris for five years, and in my fourth year I decided to go abroad. So a friend of mine that I was in class with was like, “Hey, why don’t you go to Japan? I’m applying for the thing right now and you have to turn it in a week” and I was like, okay, might as well try that. I did, and I got selected.
And what year was that?
That was 2007~2008. And actually, Fukuoka was not my first choice. I chose Kyoto first, but that year, the exchange was canceled. My second choice was Fukuoka, which I had never heard of.
And which university?
Tell us about your early days in Fukuoka.
When I arrived we were super welcomed among the students. Surprisingly, there weren’t too many foreign students in the department I was in. There was maybe like a handful, so a couple from California, I think, two others from France, and a couple from Italy.
Which department was this?
This was kankyou sekkei, environmental design or just design in general. I wasn’t in the Hakozaki campus, I was in the Ohashi campus, which was smaller. They used to call it Geikodai. I was told there was a kind of Geikodai pride, so when you say that’s the campus you went to, people would say “Oh, Geikodai!”
You’re one of them now – right?
Exactly, exactly. So I was blessed, I would say. I mean the campus was perfect scale, and the housing was ten minutes away by bike.
When did you start making videos?
At the time I had always been making personal videos and just kind of putting together things with a good friend of mine in the States. So even before Fukuoka, even before Paris, I had been touching cameras and video cameras and stuff. Little did I know that I would be doing that in a full time in a few years, but basically I had entered that creative sphere through music and design. A couple of my buddies from the Bay were working at a youth center and they were teaching video, and working with dancers that were coming to the youth center. It was a place for kids to go after school and learn different skills. Video, photography, life.
Together they had started their own YouTube channel called YAK. Because they were friends of mine, everytime I’d go back home, from France or from Japan, I’d help them out or collaborate with them and just produce. This was just for fun, just a hobby – you know YouTube started in 2005 and this was like 2008. There was no monetary program, there was nothing like that. Because I make beats I would provide them with songs and send it to them. I’d also help them out with logos or flyers or anything that was design-related. That was kind of my forte since I was learning that in school. And the music is a passion of mine, so because they were making videos we were close in that respect as well.
After my year in Japan, I went back to France, graduated, got my diploma in architecture. Only when I went back to the States did things start to get serious as far as the video work. We started getting, I guess more private jobs, you know people asking us because they’d see our videos online and be like “Oh, did you guys make this? Can you guys do that for our event?” We’d go to different gigs, events, get invited to different places. Combine that with our French-American roots, me and one of the other guys – when we would travel to France to see family, we would of course continue our work there. We started meeting dancers, getting invited to dance events overseas.
So that was the very beginning of Yak?
That was Yak, yeah.
YAK from left to right: Yo, Ben, and Kash.
Tell me more about Yak. Who’s Yak?
It’s the three of us. And like I said I kind of joined through the music. One of the other guys is a dancer, Kash, and then the other, my close friend, Yo, he’s like the main videographer of the group. He’s the one who’s always doing the research, being the first to hop on new cameras and technology. We meet more dancers by going to events with Kash, and then obviously the videos can’t be made without music… so that’s where I would come in. It’s like a perfect triangle. From then on, we started getting more and more gigs. At first just for pocket money, we would film concerts and make recaps and things like that. At that time local networks would contact us like “Hey, do you guys want to come to this concert? Do you guys wanna film this? You guys wanna interview these people?” So we would put together these little pieces and either post them on our channel or sell them.
This is in 2008?
The channel actually started in 2008. That’s when it was created. But it didn’t really pick up until 2010 when we got approached by bigger networks and they were like, “We want you guys, Yak Films Channel to be a part of our network. We’ll provide you whatever you need as long as you continue making videos” So to us we were like, oh my god. I had an architecture job in the Bay. They were working at the youth center, still. It came to the point of, well we can’t do everything. We have to make a choice. That’s basically when we made that choice. We went full time. We had a couple of bigger gigs that we weren’t used to, throwing a lot of money at us. We were like, yeah, we need to get on this, focus. I need to stop taking days off from my work. One of the other guys was like, yeah I wanted to quit anyway, let’s do this.
Were there any big names or clients you can mention around this time?
Our first big gig that came around 2010 was Adidas in Paris. Through another ad agency, they contacted us and were like, “We want you to make a video online using dancers for these shoes, with technology that we will produce” and we immediately said, “okay”. That was basically when all three of us dropped everything and lived in Paris for three months, which I was used to already since I had been living there. We produced the visuals, picked the dancers and made the music for the project. That was pretty much the first big project that snowballed other projects.
I want to jump back to Japan, because it doesn’t sound like you’re in Japan.
It’s a bit complicated because as soon as we had that gig in 2010, we started traveling immensely. We were around the States, we were in Europe namely France and Germany. We were going to Asia as well. I was pretty much waiting for the perfect opportunity to go back. Architecture was in the back of my mind in the sense, like it was looming on me. I knew I had that back door to go to but the way things were going, it was more likely for me to go for dance than for design at this point. Sure enough, we tried to make that work. Korea was contacting us and Japan was contacting us, so naturally I was the first one to say yeah, we should do it, let’s go. I took advantage and came back to Fukuoka twice, like a couple of years after. We got invited back by Sony Music Japan to work on a DVD project called “One Shot” and that was pretty big for us, too.
So you’ve spent a fair amount of time in Fukuoka since your first year?
I was in and out, it wasn’t full time. And it still isn’t really full time because I travel a lot- i’m usually here in spring and then in fall kind of thing. So summer and winter I’m usually back home from traveling around. I try to be here when the weather is cool.
YAK’s latest video, shot in Shanghai.
So not just Japanese gigs but working in other parts of Asia?
Right. So just to kind of fill in the blanks, from 2010-2012 I was actually living in New York with the others, with my crew, the two other guys. That was ideal for us in the sense that we had a lot going on in Europe. We would hop over to Europe, to France, come back to New York, and then go to California. New York was kind of the middle ground. When I got the opportunity, when things started picking up in Asia, that’s when I was like, ok I’m just going to go to Asia and set my headquarters in Fukuoka because that’s what’s most familiar to me. For many reasons, it seemed like the right choice as far as rent prices, the comfort, the people that I knew here. And can’t forget the little things, biking everywhere, the food, the fact that the airport is close by- I could easily hop to Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, China. You know, quick one hour, two-three-four hour flight. It seemed to make sense for me.
As a city for creators, people like yourself, what’s it like?
I would, in my humble opinion, compare it to a place like Berlin. Like it’s a place that you know has had its history, had its difficult times, but it’s changing, right, it’s developing in different ways. The rent is still cheap, it’s still affordable to be there and to do what you want to do and live a comfortable life. To me, Fukuoka is kind of like that. I don’t want to be spending half or more of my paycheck on a nice apartment. I don’t need that right now. And I don’t even think you can find that here, unless if you really try. If you really spend your money on a nice place, sure, but you can have a decent place, and live your life, eat, you know, under ten dollars.
And other people like that. I mean if a city gets too expensive, the artists get priced out.
Right, right. I mean, as an artist, you know, you need to be able to pursue your passion and be able to live, right. You can’t be living on the streets, I mean it’s not La Boheme anymore. But I think you can achieve that balance here.
I imagine most of your clients are not in Fukuoka.
As far as local gigs and local jobs it’s just starting. Actually this HAKATags video came to me by surprise. My good friend working for Dice Project, he’s the one who kind of pitched it to me. I’ve always wanted to do something like that for Fukuoka because there’s this kind of foreigner pride in me that wanted to do something for this city that gave so much to me that I want to give back to. If you’re talking about art, I feel like there can never be enough art. I feel like there should be more opportunities for local artists or more. Street art, things like this. I’m Just talking on like a visual perspective but I think, yeah. This city has a lot of potential. It’s bubbling, it’s kore kara.
Let’s talk about HakaTAG Claps. Tell me about it and how did it come about?
Like I said before, because my friend who works for Dice, he, in their design office, they work on a range of different things, including architecture, including design, graphic design, things like these. Real estate. And I sometimes I use their office just to edit or just to work myself, which is very nice. They’re kind enough to allow me to work there whenever I want. And I told my friend, let’s work on a video, like if you ever get something like a promotional video opportunity, you know who to come to, let me handle it. He’s seen my work, he’s always pushed my work online, on social media and stuff. So it just seems like it was going to happen sooner or later.
I had this idea of doing a kakure guide kind of thing. Because we would always go together to these really small obscure places that were delicious or that were super friendly, had super friendly staff and I’m like, “man, people need to see this! How come this is not bigger? This is amazing.” So we came up with this first-person view idea. We chose a different path, made it more personal. I grabbed a GoPro and some other tools that were handy for me. Then I tried to make it filled with action, start my day off and then end my day, so day to night type of thing. We storyboarded it, more or less, and then it took a little over a week to actually produce.
Then they were like, “we like that first-person concept, but maybe we can add something more, even more Fukuoka, add some culture in it.” They knew I was a beatmaker so I told them that maybe I can make the soundtrack for it and they offered to add “Hakata tei ippon” (Hakata claps rhythm) to it, which was very difficult. But after many tries, we settled on that rhythm.
Any plans for Part Two?
We were talking about that, actually, even in the midst of making it. The list was really so long. Yeah, why not, I’d love to do a part two, and continue the journey.
Getting back to Yak, what is next? Where is Yak going?
We’ve been with our YouTube network for a while now, and we started getting more opportunities as far as clearing high-profile music. At first, we were known for using more underground music and pushing underground artists so we’d contact artists, beatmakers around the world, collaborate with them and make music. Same thing with dancers. Not necessarily the most known dancers but Yak has been a staple. If you’re a dancer on the come-up, and you have a Yak video, it’s a good look for you. Same with music. And now we’ve had the opportunity to work with more mainstream music which is a good look for us as well because we can get more attention and get more music video opportunities.
So right now we’ve been focusing on bigger events, bigger gigs in general. We still do those. Selecting our gigs a bit more, which is nice. We still say no to a lot of projects. We can say no, we have the luxury to say no. But we’ve wanted to create a – I don’t want to say a bigger team because it’s always been us three, but kind of create little chapters. Yak chapters. Start teaching and start creating local groups of filmmakers to show them how, what we do, how we do. Get dancers to film themselves and start creating channels. We’ve been working on – it sounds convoluted – but we’ve been working a lot on solo gigs as well.
Each of us have been doing our own things and contributing to Yak as well. We’ve had Yak rolling and we have our own things going on wherever we are. One of us is in New York, one is in California, and I’m here in Japan. We kind of have a foot in the scene but then a foot outside of just dancing, which is nice.
Anything else happening?
We have an event that we hold every year, like a Yak battle. It’s called “Yak to the Bay” that we do every year in Oakland. And it’s a family-friendly dance battle, on August 19th in Oakland. We kind of took a break last year and we’re bringing it back this year bigger and better. More people, merchandise, but still keep it local. So that’s interesting because our three elements that we spoke about is really implemented during that.
And you’re in charge of the music and design?
Right. Those three elements come together for Yak to the Bay. I’m DJing, Kash is hosting, and then Yo will be filming it with some of his students, helping out. We’re also working on our own app. It would be similar to the YouTube app but only Yak content. And it’ll have exclusive content and exclusive things that you only get through the app. We’re hoping to release that by this year, hopefully by the end of the year.
Check out more of Ben’s work and YAK’s videos below:
• HAKATag CLAPS | The Deepest Fukuoka City Guide
• YAK’s most recent video shot in Shanghai
• Video made by Ben in Tokyo with Japanese dancers
• One of YAK’s most popular videos. Les Twins!
It’s our pleasure to introduce the many interesting non-Japanese living in and around Fukuoka. If you know of someone whose activities might be of interest to other readers, please let us know.