Category Archives: Live previews

Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 5: Tropical Death Metal

The newest band on the bill for my ten year anniversary event (September 27th just in case you forgot, kids!) is also one of the bands I have the most deeply rooted relationships with: Tropical Death Metal. The show on the 27th is their first ever performance, but all members are or have previously been involved with projects connected with or related to things I’ve done, so perhaps the best thing to do would be to go through the group member by member.

Guitarist Eugene Roussin has recorded for Call Ant Response twice as part of the magnificent stoner rock trio Human Wife, producing covers of electro idol trio Perfume’s song Game and most recently Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

Bassist Shingo “Rally” Nakagawa you should already know through his past life as a member of The Mornings, whose debut album Save The Mornings! was my album of the year in 2011 and their song Fuji featured on Call And Response’s 2012 Dancing After 1AM compilation. Nakagawa and The Mornings have since parted ways, but a second Mornings album is due to come out very soon and Nakagawa has been active with another band, the drum machine postpunk/mutant disco of Han Han Art, who also contributed a cover of Paranoid to Call And Response’s free Valentine’s download compilation.

Drummer Sean McGee is active in a number of bands, most relevantly for the purpose of this blog the post-rock band Henrytennis, although he is a familiar face in a number of Call And Response-related projects either as a member or guest musician, including his own solo project which is currently in the works.

Lastly, the band’s other guitarist Ryotaro Aoki has been all over the place. I recently wrote about his new project Looprider on this site, he appeared on three tracks on my Sabbath/Paranoid covers compilation, he produced the Quit Your Band! zine with me, and Japanese indie fans with memories that stretch back a few years will remember him from the terrific Kulu Kulu Garden.

Tropical Death Metal then is the work of these four musical hired guns — Call And Response Records’ version of the Wrecking Crew, Swampers or Funk Brothers — and it’s obviously very exciting to have them debuting the material they’ve created together at my event. The band have recorded this demo as a taster.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 4: Miu Mau

Another band with roots in Kyushu who are playing at my ten year anniversary event on September 27th are Miu Mau. I know Miu Mau through guitarist Hiromi Kajiwara, who I’m familiar with through through another band she’s in, although both drummer Miwako and keyboard /vocalist Masami both have venerable backgrounds in the Fukuoka music scene too, with Masadayomasa and Coet Cocoeh respectively. With Masami now living in Takamatsu, the group is split between different islands, but they continue to write, record and play together.

In fact, Miu Mau are a band who I’ve never quite been able to believe my luck that I’m able to book, because they really should be huge. They have great tunes, a sophisticated sense of style, and they’re female (which in this idol-obsessed pop cultural environment is marketing catnip). But perhaps due to their geographical remoteness or the relative connectedness of their scene, they’re an oasis of fabulous pop, somehow out their on their own.

Which like I say is lucky for me, because in a lineup that leans so much towards noisy, energetic things, having something so purely but idiosyncratically pop gives the whole experience an extra edge of excitement and interest.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 3: macmanaman

The part of Japan I have the strongest connections and know most about outside of Tokyo is Kyushu, particularly the city of Fukuoka, and one of the bands who exemplifies my experience of the Fukuoka music scene is Macmanaman.

Like yesterday’s band, Usagi Spiral A, Macmanaman are an instrumental band who deliver progressive or post-rock elements with a punk-influenced approach, with Usagi providing the sole live mix on Call And Response’s first compilation in 2005 and Macmanaman doing the same on the most recent compilation in 2012. However, where Usagi are all about pummelling you with brutal, pounding noise, Macmanaman come at you with music of frenetic, dizzying complexity, played at breakneck pace with a staggering level of technical skill. Both bands are equal in intensity, but their differing approaches are something I’m really excited to see together on the same bill at my ten year anniversary party on September 27th.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 2: Usagi Spiral A

One of the first bands I ever worked with in Japan was Usagi Spiral A. They are a band I don’t think I would have had the context to really get if I’d seen them even a year or so before, but my budding love of Krautrock and my increasingly noise-tolerant explorations into postpunk and no wave gave me the tools I needed to appreciate them, and through Usagi Spiral A (the “A” is pronounced the Italian way, as in “Serie A”) and by extension a whole world of other noisy alternative artists like Panicsmile, Tacobonds, and especially bands like Kuruucrew, who Usagi still resemble in many ways. These days, Usagi’s live performances are fewer and further between, and they never really released anything other than one solitary live CD/R and a track for Call And Response Records’ debut release, the 1-2-3-Go! compilation, a track which epitomises the band’s fusion of no wave noise and motorik rhythms. One welcome addition to the band now, however, is new guitarist Matsuoka, whose scratchy, freestyle Contortions doodles and stabs add an extra layer alongside Usagi leader Ryo Kokura’s wall of pummelling ferocity. Matsuoka himself is an important figure for me personally, being formerly of the wonderful no wave band Elevation, who remain to this day one of the best bands I’ve ever come across and were a massive inspiration to me when first getting into the business of organising my own shows.His As with everything in this series, Usagi Spiral A are playing at my ten year anniversary party on September 27th at Higashi Koenji 20000V/二万電圧.

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Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 1: Mir

I started writing about music in Japan in 2003, at that time focusing on overseas bands and only gradually increasing my coverage of Japanese music to the point where it became exclusively local (seriously, I don’t write about overseas music on here so stop sending me your fucking emails). After one year of gradually feeling my way into some loose understanding of how the Japanese indie scene works, I decided to start promoting my own events, and in September 2004 I put on my first show, at Higashi Koenji’s legendary UFO Club. On that night, the bands were The Students, a brilliant, wonky, technically inept but wonderfully imaginative off-kilter new wave/punk-pop trio; Do the Boogie, a garage-punk band who later found some degree of fame as The Fadeaways; Buchibuchi2, a quirky alternative band with elements of Pavement and Fugazi and a disorientating sense of humour; and Mosquito, a frankly marvellous psychedelic alt-pop band. This September on the 27th, I’m holding an anniversary event at 20000V (二万電圧), also in Higashi Koenji and just down the street from the UFO Club, with ten bands, drawn from some of my favourite musicians here in Tokyo and from Kyushu, the region of Japan that has given me some of my happiest musical experiences. Details are on the Call And Response Records blog here.

Koenji vs. Kyushu Pop Festival

Koenji vs. Kyushu Pop Festival

So, in an act of further arrogance and self-promotion, for the next ten days I’m going to be making daily posts about the bands playing at this event. Many of them are connected with Call And Response Records so you may find me going over familiar ground here. I’ll keep things short and sweet as much as possible. The first band I’m going to talk about then is Mir, because when I think about why I’m still doing this stuff after so long, Mir represent so much of what draws me back again and again: Their complete disregard for professionalism in the pursuit of art in its purest, most direct expression; their unashamed love of music and willingness to not only wear their influences on their sleeves but shout them from the rooftops, while at the same time remaining utterly distinctive in their own right; their fusion of the sweetest pop with utter cacophony and chaos. I released two of their mini albums and as I’ve said this before, Mir are a barometer of taste for me — if another band likes Mir, that’s usually a safe guarantee that I can work with them.

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Strange Boutique (November 2013)

My latest Japan Times column talks about the Tokyo Boredom event, which did a two-day extravaganza in Taipei alongside a bunch of Taiwanese bands this September, and which is gearing up for its next Tokyo installment on Saturday night in Shimo-Kitazawa.

It was all done from a very Japanese perspective, and I think it would have been interesting to get input from bands on the Taiwan side of things to see what influence or inspiration they feel they’ve got from Japan. Still, it’s good to hear of Japanese music actually having a tangible effect on musicians in other countries. It’s pretty obvious from listening that Hang in the Air had some influence from bands like Six O’Minus and Arakajime Kimerareta Koibitotachi E, for example. Mochizuki from Groundcover.’s comment that the scene there seems to have grown up a lot was interesting, although obviously when you’re talking about underground scenes in huge cities, it’s not always easy to put influences like that into perspective — Tokyo Boredom (and probably its counterpart in Taiwan) represents a very small fraction of what the music scene here is about. That said, comparable scenes influencing each other should be the norm in Asia, and this sort of international cooperation and willingness to exchange influences feels to me like a very positive thing.Groundcover.: io

Like any event run by a bunch of friends and scene insiders, Tokyo Boredom can seem a bit cliquey to outsiders (I’ve been involved in the scene for about ten years and have dealt with nearly all the Boredom bands in various capacities, but a lot of these guys go way further back with each other), but despite this, or perhaps because of this, there’s always a great sense of community within the show.

Also, some people have criticised the event for being to narrow and delivering too limited a range of music. I get the impression that the organisers recognise this and make an effort to broaden their horizons, but perhaps as a side-effect of the way the scene’s structured I think their capacity to offer a wider range of music is limited. I regularly try to book bands from different facets of the Tokyo underground scene together and it never really works: people simply won’t go to gigs unless everyone sounds the same. Add to that the fact that all the Boredom bands play in more or less the same circles, and their contact with different stuff (and more importantly their audience’s contact with different stuff) is limited. The truth is that they do a pretty good job of mixing things up within the restrictions of how the Tokyo (things are different in other cities) underground scene is structured.Subterraneans (including intro by Kaita Tanaka from Worst Taste)

Going back to my point about international cooperation, I’d just like to add as an addendum that these sorts of ground-level networks are exactly the sort of thing the government should be assisting. Touring overseas is a pretty much guaranteed money losing enterprise for underground bands. Big labels and name acts can afford it already, but ground level is where the real creative connections are made, and it’s a place where a small amount of money to assist bands with travel expenses could reap enormous cultural benefits in the long run.Milk

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Live preview: Shinda Shinda Shinda (June 15th 2013)

A bit of self-promotion this, as after a long break and some touring, I’m back to organising reasonably regular live events in Tokyo now. I tried a small show at the lovely Art Bar Ten last month, which went off so spiffingly that I’m planning to make it a regular monthly thing from August, so now I’m ready for something bigger and louder, at my favourite venue in Japan, Higashi-Koenji 20000V (Ni-man Den-Atsu).

There’s a bit of a story behind the venue. 20000V or 20000 Volt was a famous punk venue in the lower basement of a building on Koenji’s Pal shopping arcade. It catered to hardcore, alternative and noise bands, while the slightly smaller Gear on the upper basement floor was more orientated towards pop-punk and garage bands. The booking manager of 20000V was Hayakawa from punk legends Kirihito, and when he left, Ishida from Firebirdgass and Mochizuki from Groundcover. took over, maintaining the uncompromising spirit of the place. On the second floor of the same building there was an izakaya called Ishikari-tei which had the most awesome staff and stayed open until 10:00am every day, so that’s where you went after the gigs finished down in the basement.

The trouble came in October 2009, when a fire at Ishikari-tei gutted the building and killed four people, including two staff. It made national news and was a terrible blow to the local scene. I was friendly with one of the waitresses, but she was in Paris at the time with a dance performance group and I don’t know to this day who the people killed were. I don’t want to know.

Fortunately, apart from a small amount of water damage, 20000V wasn’t harmed, but the owners, SOS Group, decided to close it and Gear down anyway. One suspects they’d been looking for an excuse to shut it down for a long time, and this gave them the chance they’d been looking for. The team who ran the venue were a close-knit crowd, who worked together brilliantly. They were widely respected in the local scene and had a lot of loyal bands and events, but the decision was final, 20000V was shut down and they were out of their jobs.

So obviously, they did what any right thinking punks would do and they opened up a new venue just across town near Higashi-Koenji Station. They got a new sound system that was even louder than the one they’d had before, and this time they would run it themselves. SOS Group refused to let them use the name, so they called it Ni-man Den-Atsu (the four kanji literally mean “20000 Volt”) and lots of people who know the venue’s history still call it by its old name anyway, as they should. Anyway, it’s a venue I’m very close to and where whenever I can, I try to do shows there (the Penguin House on the north side of Koenji, where my wife and I had our wedding party, is the place it shares space in my heart with).

So this Saturday, June 15th, 20000V is where I’m organising my show, which I’ve put together in collaboration with the band Jebiotto, also veterans of the original venue. It’s named “Shinda Shinda Shinda” as a pun on the high school girl rock band movie Linda Linda Linda and the Japanese for “Dead Dead Dead”. I put the full details up on my label’s blog here, but here are some clips previewing the bands who are playing.

First up, there’s the brilliantly named I Know The Mouse, a young band who if they have any web presence at all, I’ve been unable to find it. They’re an instrumental guitar and synth-based band, whose demo shows elements of new wave and krautrock, but to find out more, you’ll just have to go and see them.

Then there’s Jebiotto, another synth-based band. Time Out Tokyo describe them as a “scrappy indie-disco trio“, but they’re heavily postpunk influenced too, with a sense of rhythm focused on dancing, but with an approach to playing that emphasises energy and enthusiasm over technical perfection. The vocalist Madoka has an alarming habit of screaming “Rape me!” at the audience at inopportune moments during the set (she’s a Nirvana fan) and making everyone in the room feel deeply uncomfortable, but she’s also a charismatic, brilliantly frazzled frontwoman.Jebiotto: Beat End

Probably the best-known band on the lineup is Kuruucrew. Mostly instrumental, although they have been known to yell stuff over the top of their music from time to time, their music falls into a couple of patterns, both characterised by extreme noise and a high level of technical skill. Firstly, there’s rhythmically diverse, stop-start avant-garde rock, and secondly, there’s repetitive, groove-orientated psychedelia, heavily influenced by krautrock and I suspect also by genre-defying 70s oddities like This Heat.Kuruucrew live

Mir were one of the reasons I started Call And Response Records in the first place. Their music is fragile and beautiful, but shot through with a kind of anger, intensity and desperation that carries over into their live performances, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. I’ve seen them play sublime sets, but I’ve also seen their gigs collapse into drunken incoherence, tears, violence or all of the above. Watching Mir live is like watching a man put his head into the mouth of a lion. If he survives, the joy is tempered by a huge sense of relief, and if he doesn’t, it’s horrible, but hey, you did just see a guy getting his head bitten off by a lion. It’s always an experience.Mir: Machiawase Basho wo Kimete Yokou

Mir used to be a more rock-orientated three-piece but they’re currently down to a synth-based core of the twin male and female vocalists, whose onstage relationship is often quite a fraught thing. The tension that often exists between them is reflected in the music, which often plays out in the form of duets that set Yoko’s sweet, glacial female voice against Kyohei’s emotional, often tortured, yowls of alienation.Mir: Ya Ne Mogu Bez Tebya

Finally, there’s Hyacca, who I’ve written a bit about recently, and who are another of the reasons I started Call And Response. They’re another band who make use of multiple vocalists, although they have a more obvious frontperson in Hiromi Kajiwara. One of their great talents is in taking something musically quite complex and making it into something that feels very natural and accessible, never losing sight of the fact that what they’re making is fundamentally dance music.Hyacca: Stress / Sick Girl

Sorry for using this space to big up my own projects at the moment, but in the end, this blog, my label and my events all come from the same place: the need for a forum to shout about bands I think are worth listening to (and since most of my readers are based in the United States, it’s probably only on this blog that most of you will be able to hear these bands anyway). There’s more of the same coming next month as well, with another five bands playing on July 13th, this time at the Penguin House, so forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

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