Diary of a Japan tour part 8: March 22nd at Kagoshima Word Up!

So Fukuoka was marvellous as it always is, and the next stage of the tour was Kagoshima. This wasn’t the most logical choice of destination, the city being as it is at the opposite end of the island and with another gig up in Saga, not that far from Fukuoka on Sunday. However, the schedule of the venue in Saga and the event they had planned for that day dictated that Saturday was the only day we could easily do Kagoshima, which meant an expensive train ride for us and four painfully long car journeys for Futtachi.

It was also by this point at the part of a tour where you start to be able to smell your shoes walking about town and just generally feel a bit mouldy and unpleasant, something which no amount of deodorant seemed to be able to dispel. Even the death of my jeans and their swift replacement with a fresh pair from Uniqlo did little to alleviate my discomfort. This after only three or four days on the road. How bands tour the United States in a van for weeks on end, I will never know. Yuck. Anyway, my wife had joined us in Fukuoka for the show last night and she was coming with us to Kagoshima, so we splashed out and took the Shinkansen.

Scene Queen: Futtachi's Iguz Souseki at the non-more-punk Kagoshima Word Up!

Scene Queen: Futtachi’s Iguz Souseki at the non-more-punk Kagoshima Word Up!

The venue in Kagoshima was a punk bar called Word Up! with a heavily insulated and soundproofed back room rather like a miniature version of a British pub venue, and I was surprised to see playing in the background a DVD of Tokyo punk bands featuring the quite wonderful Elekids, whose vocalist Canan I know personally and now plays with the equally brilliant Compact Club. The owner of Word Up! is a hardcore musician himself and has connections throughout the country. These people who not only play music but also organise and create infrastructure are crucial to keeping music and creativity alive in smaller or more remote towns.

Kagoshima has always had a pretty strong local punk and hardcore scene though, and what Iguz from Futtachi is trying to do is a little more difficult than that. She seems to be trying to create from the ground up a more open-minded, musically cosmopilitan scene that could perhaps be comparable to the alternative scenes that exist in places like Fukuoka or parts of Tokyo. I thoroughly support her in this endeavour, which is one of the reasons I was so keen to take the tour so far out of its way to do a show in Kagoshima in the first place. There are interesting and creative musicians there, but not many, so concentrating the signal the way she is trying to do is crucial. The willingness of the punk scene to open up its unfrastructure to such events is great, although in a town of that size (Kagoshima has a population of over 600,000, but as live music scenes go in Japan, that’s small) it’s probably just as much an economic necessity — scenes like that need to coexist in the same live spaces to survive. In any case, it would be interesting if this sharing of ground could also lead to some cross-pollenation rather like the kind of scene you get at my home venue of 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu in Koenji, where the border between the punk and alternative scenes is quite porous.

The first band were Dew, who were another of those progressive/post-rock type bands of which we’d encountered a few on this tour. There’s so much of this stuff in Tokyo that it doesn’t really register, but once you step out of the seething metropolis, this music really means and represents something quite different and I find myself listening to it in a slightly different way. I’ve been to Kagoshima several times for events and bands like Dew really stand out in the context of the Kagoshima music scene. In this way, it’s important to realise that applying the same rules and standards that you would in Tokyo is meaningless here. Dew offer something special. The lack of much of a scene around them making similar music, however, might also have the effect of limiting what they do by forcing them to play to the limited attention spans of audiences not tuned in to their style. There were moments in their set where they hit an almost spacerock groove and should really have driven that home ruthlessly, droning over it for six more minutes, but they simply stopped before they could reach a really transcendent moment. They were good, but I kept wishing for more.Dew: Deus Ex Machina

Taison is another local rapper. As I said previously, really all rappers should be local rappers, and Taison is the real deal. Where KenVolcano in Kumamoto was very much a party rapper, Taison is a poet. He was playing with a live backing band, which perhaps suggests he’s an artist who likes to improvise, but in many ways he would have been served better by a more minimal musical backdrop. He has played with electronic and turntablist backing musicians as well, and I’m pretty sure he could hold up as a compelling performer with just his voice alone. He was well matched with N’toko, with whom he shares a cynical, socially-conscious worldview, and his lyrics frequently dealt with local Kagoshima society. As I said before, I thoroughly endorse this sort of thing.Taison: On The Road

Futtachi were playing in their full four-member incarnation, meaning the music was completely different from last night. They hadn’t been able to soundcheck so their sound was scuzzy and fucked up, but then their music is scuzzy and fucked up to begin with, so all it did was bring out their inner garage rockers. This was more familiar ground for me, having seen them perhaps three times in this form, but it was a welcome reminder of what a brutal powerhouse of a band they can be.Futtachi: Siam

N’toko was well-served by the tiny, black room, and credit again has to go to Iguz for putting together a diverse lineup that nonetheless led the audience neatly towards N’toko’s performace at the fulcrum of the night. Taison came onstage with him at the end and initiated a bout of tag-team freestyling, which is something that really shouldn’t work when neither rapper can understand what the other rappers are saying, but somehow the good vibes carried it. It’s also worth noting that Taison had clearly done his research and was ready to greet N’toko with a few choice phrases in Slovenian. Given that no one in Japan knows where Slovenia is and I’ve seen N’toko described variously as being from Slovakia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan, this little bit of geographical and linguistic research was commendable.

With the tour now chugging along very nicely, finances just covering necessary expenses, and constant heavy drinking obliterating all of those benefits, we were looking forward to an epic show in Saga. More on that to come.

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