Category Archives: Live previews

Interview: The Bathhouse Show

For those of you in Tokyo tomorrow (Saturday, February 13th), I recently did an interview with Ella Krivanek and Dorothy Siemens, who have put on this fascinating looking free art and music event at an abandoned bathhouse. The event features Melt-Banana and Hikashu, who are two of the best bands in Japan, as well as relative newcomers The Fin and The Boys Age, so get on down there early and check it out.

Here’s the interview in The Japan Times, so please check that out.

Because of the limited space, there was a lot of fascinating stuff that I just couldn’t include. Obviously as a music writer, the musical aspect of the event was the angle that I approach this from, although the event is clearly designed so that the art and music interact conceptually in various ways. As the person in charge of the music, I was particularly interested in some of what Siemens explained about how the music functions as art and how the borders artforms can be crossed, subverted or blurred.

“I was interested in getting bands that bridged a certain gap between art and music,” Siemens explained, “Koichi Makigami from Hikashu also works as a sound artist, and Melt-Banana have broken a lot of barriers – there’s a juxtaposition there in the whole descriptor of ‘noise music.’ Meanwhile Boys Age make music out of their bedroom – it’s very DIY and it’s very immediate.”

In the context of my travels around Japan and my interest in the relationship between music and the place in which it happens, this event touched on a lot of themes that I find interesting as well. I remarked on the way smaller towns and more remote areas push different kinds of stuff together that would never usually interact in Tokyo, and how this often leads to more interesting, unexpected or imaginative work as a virtue of necessity.

“The most exciting projects have taken place outside Tokyo,” agreed Krivanek, “There’s a side of it that says because there aren’t as many spaces, people have to make do with sharing space, but the other side is that they have the opportunity to do that because space isn’t nearly at such a premium, so you can rent physically bigger buildings. And people who are slightly weird in the countryside are drawn to one another regardless of whether they’re all fine artists or all musicians or whatever.”

There is also a sense that through this approach, it might be possible to point a way towards a new way of thinking about and doing music and art in Tokyo as well. In the music scene especially, I get the impression that some of the structures, like the live house system, are fraying at the edges, with people increasingly looking to alternative spaces to perform.

“There’s a need to look at new ways of doing things and beak out of these rigid structures of ‘this is how you become an artist or a musician’,” explained Siemens, “There are people who get sponsorship from galleries or sign to a major label, but that’s not the majority of people. It’s an opportunity to start a discussion in Tokyo about how we can do this in a new way, how we can create a new community of artists and musicians that support each other here in Tokyo.”

As Krivanek adds, “In terms of an intersection between fine art and music, I don’t think either that’s a new thing or something to be afraid of.”

This also brought to mind one of my pet concerns about music, which is the way that as it loses its value as a commercial product, it increasingly seems to be becoming subservient to lifestyle accessories and fashion, when really it deserves respect and consideration as an art in its own right. Perhaps aware of the near-Satanic position that one particular kind of goods holds in Call And Response Records demonology, this point kicked off a little exchange that made me chuckle:

SIEMENS: “There are so many of these lifestyle-branded bands that come with the pins, the t-shirts, the mechandise…”

KRIVANEK: “The tote bags!”

SIEMENS: “We have this opportunity to pull music back into this conversation of exploring it as a fine art”

All of which I absolutely agree with (even if they were taking the piss out of my irrational disdain for poor, innocent tote bags a bit).

Another related point we discussed was the way they decided to keep enough of a separation between between the musicians and fine artists, so that each has the space to be considered in their own right rather than as simply a soundtrack to the art or a visual accompaniment to the music. However, Krivanek and Siemens are intrigued by the possibilities this juxtaposition might open up in terms of what visitors take with them from the music into the art and vice versa when travelling between areas. In any case, like I say, if you get a chance, check out the show.

The event page on Facebook is here, or on Tokyo Gig Guide here.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo addendum: Planning an event and timetable

In my posts over the past ten days I’ve gone through all ten of the bands performing tomorrow (September 27th) at my party to celebrate ten years of doing events in Japan. However, booking the bands isn’t the whole picture. In between bands, there are a few DJs spinning tunes, which can sometimes be a thankless job in events like this where the sound of bands setting up and eking out what they can of a soundcheck can overwhelm most of what the DJs are playing, but it’s nevertheless an important job, helping to keep the mood of the event going and where possible linking one act to the next. DJing this time is James Hadfield, with whom I’ve been running the monthly party Fashion Crisis for more than five years now. Also commanding the decks will be eclectic DJ team 3TE1, a.k.a. Haru and Kaname (the name is a pun on K-pop group 2NE1 and is pronounced “thirty-one”), who will be joined by Kyushu-based friend Emix, who has herself DJed at a couple of my events in Fukuoka.

The other big consideration is the timetable. This is by far my least favourite part of any event, but here’s a bit of insight into how the process works. First up there’s the noise limitations of the venue, which means live music needs to be done by 10pm, and related to that, there’s the fact that no event ever stays on schedule, so there needs to be at least 30 minutes of slack built into it. Very few bands are ever really happy playing first, and the earlier the event starts, the more people there are who you’re going to disappoint. One of the big reasons I’ve had in forming my own band is to have someone to put on first, thus sparing the sad eyes and pointed expressions of, “Oh, that’s a bit early…” from bands. Thus, Voided By Geysers are opening the event, playing a short set right at the start. Since Tropical Death Metal are just starting out and finding their feet, and nearly all their members are also in VBG, they’re on next to minimise changeover of equipment. After that, I’ve tried to balance the louder and more low-key bands so the sound doesn’t become too repetitive, and I’ve tried to space out the Kyushu acts as much as possible. Considering the audience is another thing, and having a rough idea of how big a crowd each band will bring I’ve tried to space out the bands with the biggest followings too, to give the other bands the best chance of catching new listeners. Then there are individual issues. Jebiotto and Futtachi have new CDs out, and this event is at least in part a release party for them both, so I shifted them more towards the end of the bill; Hyacca are notoriously difficult to follow, being both devastatingly intense live and these days really quite popular, and singer Hiromi Kajiwara needs time to switch characters from her more refined role in Miu Mau, so they still play last; and then Nakigao Twintail will be completely new to most people, plus they’re playing their final show, so I tried to give them the best chance of playing to a packed room.

The big challenge for me as an organiser is to mitigate any disappointment the earlier bands might feel by making sure I personally get as many people along right from the start. It’s a good bill, and there’s been fantastic support from some of the participants, so I’m uncharacteristically optimistic in this instance. Anyway, here’s the timetable:

3:00 Open
3:20-3:35 Voided By Geysers
3:45-4:05 Tropical Death Metal
4:20-4:45 Miu Mau
5:00-5:25 Usagi Spiral A
5:40-6:05 Mir
6:20-6:45 Macmanaman
7:00-7:25 Futtachi
7:40-8:05 Nakigao Twintail
8:20-8:45 Jebiotto
9:00-9:30 Hyacca

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 10: Nakigao Twintail

For the tenth band in this roundup, I’m going to talk about Nakigao Twintail again. I only discovered them last year, and they’ve already split up twice by my count (soon to be three times if we’re to believe them in asserting that this next show is to be their last), but in a way all the chaos and uncertainty around their existence is a reflection of their essential appeal.

When Ryotaro and I started work on a Japanese indie zine last year, it was Nakigao Twintail’s lyric, “Yamete yaru! Konna band yamete yaru!” (from about 11:00 in the video below) that inspired us to name the zine Quit Your Band! and that trashy, anarchic negativity sounded utterly thrilling to us amid Tokyo’s pose and poise. One commenter under my initial raving exposition of their virtues dismissively referred to them as a “second rate local punk band,” but then exploring the musical value in much depth feels like missing the point with something as explosive, wilfully ephemeral and pointedly unformed.Nakigao Twintail live at Fukuoka Graf, 2013

When I first wrote about them, it was in the context of idol music, and Nakigao Twintail embody the wild, hyperreal, theatrical presence of idol music at its best but at the same time the live band format allows them to be genuinely spontaneous in a way that the rehearsed and choreographed world of idol music can only attempt to simulate: Their career isn’t tied down to a management contract, their music isn’t tied down to a backing track, and their performance isn’t tied down to a pre-rehearsed choreography. This isn’t just to make a banal point that rock music is better than pop — for a start, I seriously doubt the band members really understand the difference between the two — it’s that this particular rock band are better pop than pop: their music is disposable, their performance is a rush of raw, if often bizarrely-directed enthusiasm (check out vocalist Kanami exuberantly yelling out the name of mass murdering Tokyo underground gas attack cult leader Shoko Asahara about 12:30 in), and the whole package wraps you up in the moment and at the end spits you out, breathless.

9/27 flyer (Nakigao Twintail version)

Nakigao Twintail say farewell (again) with their own version of the 9/27 anniversary event flyer (designed by guitarist Konatsu Yamaguchi). You can see the full event details on the Call And Response Records blog here.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 9: Hyacca

I’ve written extensively about Hyacca before, including posts here, here, here and here, so I’ll keep this relatively short except to say that they’re one of the best bands in Japan, an incredible live act, and always a treat to have on the bill at one of my shows. They embody all of the qualities I look for in an artist, mixing something accessible with an anarchic sense of unpredictability and a refreshing disregard for doing things the “right” way, be that adhering to pop conventions or adopting the posture of vacuous, Rockin’ On Japan-style, festival-ready designer indie.Hyacca: Uneko

Vocalist Hiromi Kajiwara will also be taking part in the September 27th anniversary event as part of Miu Mau, and the contrast between her role as Miu Mau’s refined avant-pop guitarist and Hyacca’s agent whirlwind of unmoored chaos is part of what appeals to me about having both bands on the same bill.Hyacca: Hanazono

Hyacca will be headlining my anniversary event on September the 27th, and there are very few bands I’d risk putting on after them.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 8: Jebiotto

Along with Futtachi, the other album I helped release this past summer was Jebiotto’s synth-punk party monster Love Song Duet. This album was in some ways the mirror image of the Futtachi album. Rather than something avant-garde that gradually reels you in with its hidden accessibility, Jebiotto’s music comes on accessible and then sets to work sabotaging itself. It’s pop music played by people who don’t know how to make pop music.

Jebiotto are one of the most fun bands on the Tokyo live circuit and a group I’ve been friends with for a long time before this release. I first encountered vocalist Madoka (Madca) back in the early days of my event and label through this marvellous punk band she was in called Inkakugoten (“Clitoris Palace”, which remains one of my favourite band names ever) and then I discovered Jebiotto a few years later through the live venue 20000V, which in its old location near Koenji Station became my favourite venue, and which in its new Higashi Koenji location is playing host to the anniversary event that Jebiotto and the other bands I’m writing about in this series are all performing at. Matt Schley’s short documentary about the band is a 100% accurate depiction of the group’s personalities and the band’s ethos.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 7: Futtachi

In addition to commemorating ten years of me putting on events and parties in Japan, the show on September 27th is also partly a release event for the bands Jebiotto and Futtachi, whose albums came out on my Call And Response label last month. With all that in mind, Metropolis magazine were generous enough to devote a double-page spread to an interview with me and a short rundown of five of my favourite Japanese albums. This interview gave me a good opportunity to think a bit about what my philosophy with the label and my events was, and I think the key quote is:

“I love music like Futtachi’s, that takes something avant-garde and draws you in; or Jebiotto’s, that takes something really pop and sabotages it.”

What I describe as the “tension between discord and harmony” is what I keep coming back to. People are so used to thinking of themselves as consumers who should be served by musicians, and that can make them lazy listeners. The (true, actually) idea that pop music is just as deserving of critical attention and praise as “serious” music can seep through into a state where we unconsciously start judging pop and underground by the same standards, allowing ourselves to write nonsense about the supposed subversive nature of pretty mundane pop (yes, guilty, although I do usually try to express that strictly in the context of pop), or slipping into the Internet-assisted habit of skimming through a few seconds of a new indie or underground track on Soundcloud and picking up or dismissing it based on its immediate appeal.

Futtachi in one of their incarnations are a thrilling heavy psychedelic rock band, and songs like Kaiko no Oto (from Call And Response’s Dancing After 1AM compilation), Siam, and their version of Sabbath’s Paranoid are top class freakouts. However, their first CD, Tane to Zenra, takes a different, more minimal approach. It is an album composed on a single thirty-minute track, Kako wo Omou Monoga Mita Yume, and it’s not something designed for easy access. It’s something you have to meet halfway, but which is accessible enough to then reel you in. Performed live as a stripped-down guitar and keyboard duo, this material was mesmerising, and on disc it’s hypnotic. The short, edited sample here is just a teaser:

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 6: Voided By Geysers

In a series of posts that is already characterised by its self indulgence and mitigated perhaps only by the neat, round number of this particular anniversary, this latest post in the rundown of bands at my events’ ten year anniversary party pushes the envelope of egocentrism back still further, featuring as it does, a band I perform with and which has no value to a reader of this blog in any way, having nothing to do with new Japanese music.

Voided By Geysers are a covers band devoted to the work of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices, a band almost no one in Japan knows and even fewer care about, and who even in America split up for the second time just last week. If someone else had a band like this, I wouldn’t cover them on this blog and I’d be a bit offended and uncomfortable if they asked.

Or would I? Well, part of the appeal of the idea for me was that it was not only a covers band, which is pretty much the lamest thing you can do in the indie/underground scene, but also that it’s a covers band of someone who’s completely obscure in the Japanese music scene. The sheer pointlessness on multiple levels of the project made it impossible not to do, and that makes me smile. There’s also something about GBV’s scrappy, unpolished, error-ridden approach to music that puts it at odds with pretty much all Japanese music. In the studio, we actually practice making mistakes with members deliberately switching bits around or missing cues just to keep the others on their toes and ensure we can deal with it if things go wrong or if someone is suddenly swept up on a wave of whimsy during the performance.

The other members of the band are Shingo, Sean and Ryotaro from Tropical Death Metal, with another guitarist Carl Freire, who has played a few of my events solo and contributed to the Valentine’s Day Sabbath/Paranoid download compilation (which VBG also contributed a second-take drunken rehearsal studio run-through to), and who is old friends with GBV’s late-90s Cleveland lineup, even to the point where he was able to solicit tips on guitar arrangements from Doug Gillard himself. Shingo and Ryotaro have until now alternated on bass, but for our very brief fifteen-minute (I couldn’t really justify longer) opening set, they’re both playing, with Ryotaro stepping into his more familiar role as guitar god, bringing us closer to the originals and giving us an extra gear to kick into on songs like Motor Away and Postal Blowfish.

Here’s a clip of us with Shingo on bass and me just out of hospital with a titanium plate in my arm and a head full of painkillers. The songs are (in order) Teenage FBI, My Valuable Hunting Knife, Kicker of Elves and Hot Freaks. I don’t know what’s going on with the blue guy.

Back to proper bands later.

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