October’s column dealt with an issue that I’m still ambivalent about, namely the pay-to-play system in place throughout most of Tokyo’s live scene. On the one hand, it’s obviously shitty to make bands pay for the privilege of appearing onstage, especially since more often than not, there’s no one there to see the gig. However, it’s also pretty easy to understand why venues make the bands pay, since more often than not there’s no one there to see the gig.
It’s not just that though. I think part of the reason Tokyo manages to produce so many wonderfully messed up, completely uncommercial bands is down to the fact that they all know there’s no chance of them ever making any money to begin with, so their attitude is just, “Fuck it, I’m going to make whatever the fuck kind of music I want since I’ve paid for this shit.” It’s a well-known phenomenon among indie and punk musicians that if you dangle a bit of money in front of them, they’ll sell out before you can say Billy Idol, so I half wonder whether or not it might just be better for the whole scene to keep them in poverty. Obviously this view is not shared by many of the musicians I know, and I suppose ideally there should be some kind of medium that can be reached.
One friend of mine pointed out that the situation with audience might be improved if venues could arrange themselves in a way that makes them more friendly to casual audiences who might just want to drop by for a drink. That seems like it could be a positive step towards getting better crowds at shows and reducing the reliance on the bands themselves to cover the costs. Perhaps another column dealing with ways of making venues more inviting might be an idea for the future.