Diary of a Japan tour part 2: March 13th at Yokohama Shicho Shitsu2

The second night of the tour was in Yokohama. This was really a pet project of mine since there are a lot of bands I really like in the area and I thought a small show there would be a nice warmup before the more demanding travel requirements to come.

Shicho Shitsu during soundcheck

Shicho Shitsu during soundcheck

Yokohama is a weird place for gigs really, being just a little too close to Tokyo to really have the full sense of being a different place, but just a little too far to be worth travelling to of an evening. This was partly intentional on my part, since after the opening night in Shibuya, I was keen to channel as much of N’toko’s Tokyo audience as possible into the closing night at Higashi Koenji 20000V. I worked with a local Yokohama musician, Kouhei Itou from the bands Servals and Come To My Party to book the show, since I didn’t know the lay of the land as well as he, and we settled on the lovely Shicho Shitsu2, the Yokohama arm of a venue that also has a branch in Tokyo. Kouhei agreed to play with Come To My Party, and I booked one of my favorite new bands, Sayuu. Local experimental/improv weirdo Kitsch Hitori Gakudan completed the live bill, who I’d been keen to get since more than any of the other artists on the bill, he not only lived nearby but was at least a semi-regular feature on the Yokohama/Kanagawa scene.

CDs sold in garbage bags

CDs sold in garbage bags

Things started to go wrong a couple of days before the show, when a flu epidemic that had been sweeping the country claimed Kitsch Hitori Gakudan and ruled him out of the gig. It was helpful in a way because it shifted the start time of the event later, but it meant we were relying rather more on friends than we’d hoped. The next problem was a vicious storm that hit the Yokohama coast on the afternoon of the event, ruling out any but the most dedicated visitors. I’ll spare you the suspense here and just say outright that four people showed up, which in addition to the six musicians, two DJs and two venue staff gave us a grand total of 14 people in the room.

This is the sort of thing that’s a disaster in Tokyo and any venue where you’re paying the venue a rental fee. Fortunately we weren’t, which meant that the event turned over into something else: that special kind of atmosphere where everyone there knows they’re trapped in a situation that’s now only going to go as well as they make it, the peculiarly intense camaraderie that only really happens in the face of utter disaster. The battering rain, harsh winds and apocalyptic skies outside just emphasised the welcoming warmth that existed inside.

Scenes from a Chinese ballet

Scenes from a Chinese ballet

Shicho Shitsu in Yokohama is part live venue, part art studio, part used clothes shop, part record store, part bookshop, part cafe, part bar. Wandering around the venue, you find different corners devoted to different things, all of them in their own way fascinating. I was able to pick up a book of Chinese communist propaganda art for ¥500 and spend a few minutes browsing a comic book series about the adventures and scrapes of a porn actor.

Sayuu

Sayuu

The venue is better equipped for acoustic or at least relatively gentle sounds though, and Sayuu had to fight a valiant battle against a constantly sliding bass drum throughout their set. Given that their music was channelled almost exclusively through the onstage amps, however, they were able to control their sound and sounded great. They’re a duo who seem to thrive on awkwardness and discomfort, wither eschewing or else subverting through their delivery most of the standard inter-song pleasantries that most bands in Japan feel compelled to engage in. The only thing I can remember them saying was telling me to get out of the way of the camera they’d set up. What they did do that was of more value than a thousand tedious stories about ramen they ate or funny things that happened to their dog last week was stick around and pay close attention to all the other artists performing. A genuine interest in music and sense that they’re part of the event even when they’re not onstage is a precious thing in a band.Sayuu: Yellow Hate (Live at Shicho Shitsu2 — note the moving bass drum)

N'toko

N’toko

N’toko had no access to the amps and had to rely on the PA instead for his entirely electronic set. This meant it was considerably quieter than Sayuu’s performance as the PA staff, always wary of complaints from neighbors and visits from police kept volume to a minimum. In order to make the set work the best way it could, N’toko and the staff had arranged to set up his gear on the floor rather than the stage, so he was performing with audience on both sides of him, on the same level as them, fostering a sense of intimacy that would hopefully counterbalance the lack of the viscerally of noise. He’s a versatile performer and was able to re-jig his set to focus on the more experimental, less dance-orientated tracks, and it worked.

Come To My Party

Come To My Party

Come To My Party are a poppier concern than Kouhei’s other band, the behavior, more psychedelic Servals, and they were more comfortable playing a quieter set in the first place. Clearly heavily influenced by the indie rock and synth-based dreampop elements of Supercar, but with less of an urge to rock out like a stadium band, they brought the live music to a close in a way that was both pleasant and better than the word “pleasant” makes that sentence sound.

One curious point about Yokohama when compared to the far better-attended Shibuya gig the previous night was in CD sales. Shibuya resulted in a grand total of zero, while the closer interaction between artists, closer attention people seemed to be paying each other, and sense of everyone being in something together meant that there was more action on the merchandise table after the show. The venue staff too seemed to be genuinely interested in what people were doing there, and ended up stocking a few of Call And Response Records’ CDs for their small record store corner. It’s a pat truism that there are no such things as worthless gigs, and it’s of course nonsense — there are terrible gigs that benefit no one and should never have happened — but where the people involved are interesting, musically curious people who get what each other are doing, there’s always some value that you can get from it. In a wider sense, this is an argument for infrastructure and groundwork. The best venues are the ones where the staff have a musical vision, the best local scenes are the ones where there are organizers and cultural curators willing to do the work of sorting and filtering music according to something more than raw numbers — it’s what I’ve tried to do in my ten years of activity in the music scene, and when the rails I’ve helped lay down can allow an event to trundle along relatively painlessly when it’s gone horribly wrong from a commercial perspective, that gives me a little glow of satisfaction, not necessarily of a job well done, but at least of a job operating on the right principles.

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2 Comments

Filed under Features, Live, Live reviews

2 responses to “Diary of a Japan tour part 2: March 13th at Yokohama Shicho Shitsu2

  1. Hey Ian,

    These tour reports are pretty cool and I always like to hear about the actual planning of gigs in Japan because it’s something that’s kind of uncommon for English language writers to write about…well, it is a tour in Japan so I figure not many people have done it to write about it anyhow.

    Anyway, two things that I thought were noteworthy. First is the storm, because I remember quite fondly a pretty nasty storm hitting Okayama while I was there and it was the day I was slated to see mothercoat again (the first time was at this HUGE show that went for hours and had bands in the double digits. I saw mothercoat and just went home afterwards). I doubt anyone showed up to that show either except for myself (then again, almost all the shows I went to consisted of me and maybe one other person) but I remember how the live venue was not sure if they would open or not and they of course joked about it during the MC all the time. It was nothing compared to the monster typhoons that came around before on this island, though.

    Also, the genuine interest in bands with other bands on a live roster is pretty intriguing. I thought there was some honors system or some unspoken rule about it which is why you only sometimes see other bands come out for each other during sets. If it’s just them not being interested (which is what I had a hunch it was) then that’s a bit disheartening. I saw a few gigs where a few members of a headlining act would pop into the audience to catch the other local bands which I always thought was commendable. Now that I think about it, that show I saw in the typhoon, and probably a lot of the other small gigs I attended, had that kind of atmosphere where the performers and the audience kind of just blended together because the audience was almost nil and I never could tell who was in a band or not. Those were usually the best kind though, but I always felt a little disappointed with the house so empty.

    That really is an awesome looking venue. I gotta stop by there sometime.

    • Sometimes bands are just tired, especially if they’re on tour, sometimes they head out to get food, sometimes they have friends who’ve come to see them so they hang out outside, in the stairwell or at the bar chatting to their friends. It’s more common for less well-known or younger bands to watch the other people on the bill because they’re more likely to be looking to make connections, and yeah, often the bigger or more senior the band is, they more arrogant and entitled they act towards the other people who are working to make their show fun. In any case, they’ve taken a decision not to bother with the other bands at the show. No reason why they should stick around to watch all the other bands, and I’d hate for it to become a point of principle that bands who don’t do it get shit about, but it definitely makes for a better atmosphere when they do.

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