Instrumental no wave/krautrock trio Nisennenmondai were playing at the Neutralnation festival this year so I took the opportunity to get an interview with them for The Japan Times, which you can read here.
What’s going on in this piece is a weird inversion of the usual interview feature process, where the writer supplies information to the reader, while the band members illuminate those facts with opinions, ideas and stories. However, where a band are cagey, introverted or unfamiliar/uncomfortable with interview scenarios (or more likely in this case where the questions are simply bad), there aren’t those killer quotes to hang an interview off, so we’re left with the situation where the quotes are delivering rather dry, biographical or factual information, while the writer is wringing enthusiasm out of the gaps.
Actually, that’s part of the job of a writer in a way: To work a musician’s comments into a narrative that explains and reveals aspects of what they’re about. It’s just that here I think the contrast between the content of their comments and mine lays that aspect of the process bare. Of course since the hook that I hung this narrative off in the first place was the inherent contradictions of the band, this contrast is at least appropriate if nothing else.
Actually, there were a couple of interesting comments that came out of the interview that had to be cut out because they diverged a bit from the story I was telling. On the subject of women in rock, Sayaka Himeno, the bassist, admitted that she felt the fact that Nisennenmondai were an all-female group might have helped them to get attention, but also that she felt this kind of attention and interest was kind of unacceptable in terms of the way they prefer to be perceived. She also suggested that the issue of women in rock seemed to be something that was more of a concern in Europe or America than in Japan, or at least that it was rarely if ever brought up as an issue here.
Now this might just be down to politeness and people not wanting to suggest, “people only like you ’cause you’re girls,” but it’s an obvious fact that while men are still a majority, women are far better represented in rock music in Japan than they are in the West. I think that saying Japan is more advanced in terms of rock equality is a bit of a dangerous conclusion to draw, because I’ve heard from some music people that when you get into the power dynamics within bands, the men may tend to assert themselves more, but generally I’d have to agree that it seems like less of an issue. You certainly find more female sound engineers at venues in Japan, although again, the power dynamic between band and engineer is more like that between customer and waiter in Japan, rather than the employee/boss relationship that exists in much of Europe, so again, that doesn’t necessarily mean women are getting more authority.
Of course for an all-female band like Nisennenmondai, that’s irrelevant, and in the end, I decided it would be pretty cheap and a bit insulting to the band to use that as a hook for the interview. It’s interesting as a general point for further investigation though, since it’s something that lots of people I know have observed bu that few people have really studied in much depth.