Nagoya was the first night really and truly on the road. N’toko had been able to get a Japan Railways travel pass so he could use most of the Shinkansen lines freely for a period of two weeks, which would see him through the worst of the travel, but as a resident of Japan, I was disqualified from such cost-saving niceties, which meant I had to bus it. Now for my North American and continental European friends I realise that a six hour road journey is just what you do to go and buy pretzels, but it’s a long journey for a Brit. It’s also the cheapest way to get to Nagoya, so that’s what I did. Other cost-saving measures included both of us cramming into the same hotel room, quite against the hotel’s rules. Usually you can sneak in and out easily, but this hotel was more vigilant than most. We managed it, but not without some suspicious glances. Net cafés are another option, but for two people, the difference in cost was negligable so the hotel won out — anyway, suffice to say that cost nearly always trumps comfort.
Nagoya is still kind of new territory for me. I did a show there in early 2013 with one of my favourite local bands, Pop-Office, I went there in my capacity as Zibanchinka’s label manager in 2012, and in 2011 N’toko played a quiet Wednesday night there at which I wasn’t present. The 2013 show had a bit of the atmosphere of a holiday booze cruise from all the visiting musicians from Tokyo and Fukuoka, which was huge fun but I didn’t come out of it feeling I’d made any real inroads into what was happening locally. N’toko’s previous show had been a pretty low-key event but he came away from it with some of the recordings that formed the basis of the track Nagoya off his new Mind Business album.
There are good reasons why Nagoya should be a good home away from home for Call And Response Records though. Local indie record shop File Under Records has been very good to Call And Response over the past few years, selling more CDs for me than every Tower Records in the country combined. It’s closer to Tokyo, so there is more two-way musical traffic between the two cities than any of the other places I deal with, and Nagoya-based music journalist Toyokazu Mori of the web site Cookie Scene is the only person in the Japanese language music press who’s ever paid even the blindest bit of attention to what Call And Response does.
My local hookup this time was my friend Joe, a.k.a. Japanese noise musician VVDBLK (pronounced “vivid black”), who organises shows under his A Ghostly Ghost Productions moniker. He and I talked quite a bit before the show to make sure we were on the same page about how the event should be, what sort of acts, good places, etc. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is: as the Yokohama gig showed, if everyone’s on the same page, things go off OK regardless of how many people show up. If there are people left thinking, “Why am I here? What’s this even about?” you’ve lost. I sent Joe the link to N’toko’s album and talked a bit about the other places he was playing and the kinds of bands he was playing with. As I had throughout the promotion of Mind Business, I emphasised the industrial and EBM aspects of N’toko’s music, which aren’t necessarily the most obvious ones, but I’ve found through trial and error that with their combination of electronic and underground sensibility they’re the ones that are most likely to get organisers thinking about him and conceptualising his position in the right way. Cookie Scene’s review of the album was massively helpful in this regard because it had instantly latched onto the parallels with 80s industrial music and used that as a framework for its analysis of the record (I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Cookie Scene write the best, most detailed and most intelligent music reviews in Japan, and not just because they’re nice to me!)Rock Hakaba
It turned out that one of the musicians N’toko had worked with on his previous visit to Nagoya played in a noise duo with Joe called ONOBLK, so that sealed the deal that this was a show that we could make work. He brought in one more band, Rock Hakaba, some DJs from the local underground event Boredom (not to be confused with the live event Tokyo Boredom), and then Joe and I completed the DJ lineup.
We settled on Bar Ripple for the venue. It’s a small venue, but one of the coolest places in Japan, so I was thrilled (the bar name has been immortalised in Knew Noise Records’ excellent Ripple compilation album of Nagoya bands). It’s not ideally equipped for loud electronic music though, which led to some quite intense messing around with the equipment beforehand in order to give N’toko’s sound the requisite boost. There was going to be no low-key intimacy tonight: he needed to be loud. The owner of Ripple had none of the squeamishness many bar owners have about letting things get noisy, so he, Joe and N’toko managed to re-organise the sound, putting much of it, including the vocals, through Ripple’s vintage amps, creating a raw, scuzzed-up punk sound.
As I say, it was necessary. ONOBLK put in a loud and by the end utterly thrilling noise-improv set, while Rock Hakaba did thirty minutes of really quite exceptional psychedelic skronk in what felt at the time like a sort of Rocket From the Tombs vein. In the end, whatever difficulties it put N’toko through (his lyrics were indecipherable amid the fuzz and skree of his set), it had the visceral power it needed to follow what had gone before.ONOBLK: full live set at Bar Ripple on March 15th
My first DJ set was hampered by problems with my own equipment, with an external sound card that I was using for the first time, and by the second set, I was too easily distracted by two or three separate conversations I was having at the same time as playing. Basically, if I was hoping to impress people with my DJ skillz, I failed. On the other hand, the fact that I was involved in so many conversations throughout the night meant that I’d succeeded at least a little in forging connections with the scene there. It was also a genuinely thrilling and exciting night. The owner of Ripple, who I gather is a legendary figure in his own right, was fiercely into the stuff that was going on, and several people I knew, either in person or online, were there. The musicians I spoke to were very cool people, and all-in-all lots of credit to Joe for getting everyone together. It was fun, the music was great, and more than that, it felt like progress.