Category Archives: Live reviews

Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo: Autopsy

A short afterword on my ten year anniversary event this Saturday gone, and a big thank you to everyone who took part.

My band Voided By Geysers (west Tokyo’s finest Guided By Voices tribute band) took the stage at 3:15 with Carl playing Tobin Sprout for a version of Ticket to Hide, with Ryotaro donning Mitch Mitchell’s cloak in gradually building up a squall of feedback and noise as the song locked into its closing mantra of “It might get louder”. By the time we’d kicked into A Salty Salute, there were already people with their fingers in their ears, and the sound just got bigger as the night went on. Miu Mau’s refined, sophisticated pop boomed out of the PA, while Usagi Spiral A’s brutal kraut-noise panzer assault was one of the most heart-stoppingly joyous things I’ve heard in a long time. By the time Hyacca closed the show, the sound had reached a level of earsplitting intensity. 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu has a reputation as pretty much the loudest venue in Tokyo, but I’ve never seen it like this before – it means the engineers were excited.

Tropical Death Metal were fantastic on their stoner-prog-punk-metal debut, while Mir’s krautrock-sampling icy noise pop was expertly chilled. Macmanaman played a frenzied whirlwind of a set, Futtachi played out half an hour of eerily compelling psychedelic improvisation, Nakigao Twintail said their farewells in characteristically off-kilter and unhinged fashion, and Jebiotto proved themselves matchless in their capacity to make rooms bounce. The attendance was terrific and 20000V’s staff were brilliant as always. Next year, I’ll be trying to move on and get the next ten years rolling in a way that looks to the future.

Koenji vs. Kyushu Pop Festival 2014

Some blurry, lo-res camera phone pictures from the night (you want hi-res, you should have been there on the night!)

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Diary of a Japan tour part 11: March 29th at Higashi Koenji 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu – FINAL SHOW

20000V goes by the name Ni-man Den-atsu now in its new location for contractual reasons, but true believers know what it's really called.

20000V goes by the name Ni-man Den-atsu now in its new location for contractual reasons, but true believers know what it’s really called.

The final date of the tour was a show I had organised myself with the help of Tsuchi from synth-punk lunatics Jebiotto. As the final show, and as the official Tokyo release party, this was one I needed both to go off with a bang and bring in a properly big crowd. The shows leading up to it had all been good one way or another, most of them had been fantastic, and some of them — in particular the secret show at Koenji Ten, the Friday night in Fukuoka and the wonderful little show in Takamatsu — had been truly, truly sublime experiences. I was nervous.

Doing the opening night on a Wednesday in Tokyo and doing the only other Tokyo show as a secret gig had been in part an attempt to ensure that the greater part of N’toko’s audience was funnelled into this one show, and the decision to space out the two openly promoted shows at opposite ends of the tour was an attempt to avoid Slovenian rap fatigue in audiences and make sure as many people from the first date came back for the final one.

In terms of the bands, I had hoped to get a reasonably well-known name on the bill, but that’s a dangerous area. Once you start trying to book “name” acts, you’re paying the bands in addition to the venue — yes, I’m one of those shitty promoters who doesn’t always pay bands — which often means given the limited size of the venues and the limited reach of underground music anyway, you’re forced to increase the price for the people who do come rather than radically increase the audience. At best it’s a balancing act, where you have to book the right bands together with the “name” act because “name” acts rarely do anything to promote shows themselves, which means the way they bring benefit is more through acting as a booster to the other bands playing. Put simply, any audience Melt banana will bring themselves will likely be cancelled out by the cost of paying Melt Banana to play, but more Jebiotto fans will come if Melt Banana are on the bill. This can work, but it also means that you’re paying one band simply for being themselves, while you’re not able to pay other bands who are actually the ones whose fans are making the event such a success. I’ve been willing to do this in the past, but only for the right band, and this time round, I just couldn’t find the right band, so instead I went with people I liked and trusted, crossed my fingers and hoped.

The balance of artists was just about perfect for what I was trying to do though. Jebiotto were down from the start, and their brand of manic, synth-based punk/new wave was ideal, feeding into N’toko’s industrial side while at the same time anchoring the event in venue 20000V’s underground punk ethos. Tsuchi from Jebiotto brought in Dubideb, a techno-industrial noise duo featuring Ataraw Mochizuki from Groundcover. (also the manager of 20000V) and drummer Yana from Numbs, who also plays support drums with Jebiotto on occasion. It was the first time I’d seen them, but they blew the room apart from the get-go and were probably N’toko’s favourite band of the entire tour.Mukokyuu Kakokyuu Shinkokyuu digest (intro by YMO)

Takashi Nakayama, punk rock god.

Takashi Nakayama, punk rock god.

Next was Mukokyuu Kakokyuu Shinkokyuu, a postpunk/new wave orchestra in a definitively Japanese mould, taking cues from the Plastics and P-Model. The band’s leader Takashi Nakayama had worked with me before through his previous bands Skyfisher and Labsick Man-machine Remix, but Mukokyuu Kakokyuu Shinkokyuu was him at his best, all hyperactive pop melodies delivered with fierce, postpunk intensity, with added balloon animals.

Tommi Tokyo from group A.

Tommi Tokyo from group A.

group A were one of the first bands I booked for the show, and they were nervous before going on. They have a tendency to strip half naked and paint themselves white onstage but both members had needed to rush to the venue from other engagements and in the process had forgotten some of their stage gear. They went on in pants and t-shirts like primary school kids who’d forgotten their gym kit, and put in the most furious, raw performance I’ve ever seen them do, vocalist Tommi Tokyo channelling Genesis P Orridge at his most intense. When a band relies on a constructed stage image, that image can often become armour behind which the band hides, and I think that’s what happens a bit with group A. Here, clothed, they felt more stripped bare than they ever had naked.Jebiotto: AxNxC

Tsuchi from Jebiotto: Pop Zeus

Tsuchi from Jebiotto: Pop Zeus

Jebiotto might have had a hard time following such a powerful set, but they always have something in reserve and threw themselves into their set with reckless abandon, getting things whipped into a frenzy that peaked during N’toko’s headlining set. Where he could easily have done an encore in Takamatsu but shied away from indulging himself, here he let it all out and sent the room wild in a way that compared with the tiny, cramped experience of Koenji Ten on the 16th but which he carried off this time with a much bigger crowd. Throughout the tour, he and I had been binging on standup videos by the British comedian Stewart Lee, and through his work, deconstructing the art of performance to the point that by the end of the tour, N’toko was eager to start incorporating Lee’s lessons into his own shows. You could see that a little in this show, where he started his set by pre-narrating what he was going to do with his set, trivialising and diminishing the tricks he was going to play before hitting you with them every bit as effectively as if they had been delivered to you blind. At the end of the set, he started a song using an unfamiliar beat before sighing and saying, “Oh, you all know what song this is going to be,” flicking a switch and letting it turn into his theme song of sorts N’toko ne Obstaja. There are a lot of themes in common between Lee’s comedy and N’toko’s most recent Mind Business album, in that both artists play this slightly confused-seeming satire of themselves, seeking to reject and place themselves above commercialism and mocking themselves for having this attitude, and in both their work, there’s a sort of carefully constructed desperation of someone frantically pursuing relevance but not quite being able to make it work.N’toko: Minor Celebrity

So it was a bigger success than I could ever have hoped for and despite all the amazing shows that had preceded it, it was the highlight of the tour and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. There’s an enormous pleasure in setting up an event and then sort of hitting “play” and seeing it roll along on its own wheels, like seeing a child walk for the first time or watching a meticulously constructed arrangement of dominoes tumble in sequence. It left me exhausted though, not wanting to do another event for the forseeable future. It was so good, I just wanted to stop there.

It also meant time had come for counting out the costs and income of the tour. After taking into account all transport and hotel costs, deducting some of my wife’s and my costs in Kyushu that came under “family holiday” expenses, we had come out of the tour with a small profit. This is obviously absolutely nothing in commercial terms: my 50% share of that profit is what I might drink in one evening while on the road, and N’toko’s share accounted for perhaps 10% of his plane ticket, but there was something psychologically satisfying about having gone through eleven gigs in the Japanese live house system and taken out more than you put in, even if that figure can only be gleaned from calculations that operate within severely constrained parameters.

Modest, qualified success.

Modest, qualified success.

Still, that was for a three week tour with one solo musician and a tour manager. I occasionally get mails from bands wanting to tour or sell their music in Japan, and I used to politely explain to them that I wasn’t a big enough operation to help them. Now I just ignore them, and this is why. Take that modest, qualified success, make it a band of three people and that figure immediately becomes an enormous loss — all that we achieved on tour in March evaporates upon contact with anything resembling an actual band.

That doesn’t detract from the wonderful feeling of achievement that came from pulling it off though, and in particular from the incredible people who made it happen. Tomo from Style Band Tokyo, DJ Rally, Kouhei from Come To My Party/Servals, Joe from VVDBLK, Eric and Julien from Lo-shi/Tententen, Ryota from Kumamoto Navaro, Harajiri from Fukuoka Utero, Iguz from Futtachi, Yoshida from Rag-G, Masumi from Miu Mau/Coet Cocoeh, Tsuchi from Jebiotto and Mochizuki and Ishida from 20000V. To that list, we could add Ayako and many others who I don’t even know, who designed flyers and helped promote the shows, plus more than a hundred musicians, some of whom had their own staff and drivers, nearly all of whom worked unpaid or for minimal fees to do something simply because it was artistically valuable. I salute them all.

Thank you!

Thank you!

 

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Diary of a Japan tour part 10: March 27th at Takamatsu iL

Death disco at "Noise café" Takamatsu iL.

Death disco at “Noise café” Takamatsu iL.

The final date on the road in this tour was Takamatsu. To be honest, I didn’t even really know where Takamatsu was when I booked it other than that it was in “Shikoku somewhere”. At the beginning of March I had helped organise a Tokyo release party for the Fukuoka new wave indie supergroup Miu Mau, and during the post-gig drinking session I had suggested, probably rather aggressively, that it would be lovely if the group’s leader Masami (a.k.a. Coet Cocoeh), now a resident of Takamatsu, could organise a show for N’toko there towards the end of the month. I promptly forgot about it, only to receive an email from her a week or so later saying we could do a show at a very cool little bar called iL.

DJ Masami

DJ Masami

Now since N’toko had a rail pass, this was no big deal, since he could just hop on the Shinkansen to Okayama and take a relatively short train from there across the water to Takamatsu, but it meant more planes and other expenses for me. The first thing I did was plunge into attempts to get a show in Osaka again to see if we could make a couple of nights in the region out of it. I’d had a gig in Osaka tentatively planned, before the organiser suggested doing it in Kyoto instead and then announced that actually she couldn’t do it at all, so I’d taken that as a message from the heavens that it wasn’t to be. Still, if we were going to be in the area, I figured it might be worth looking around again, so I spoke to Club Noon, where some of my friends had done shows in the past. They seemed amenable to doing something, but it was pretty clear they expected me to shoulder the burden of promotion, and without someone well connected with the local scene there on the ground I decided against it. Better to do nothing than to do something poorly organised and promoted.

Kotetsu: manic

Kotetsu: manic

And the show Masami put on in Takamatsu once again reinforced the benefits of someone who understands your music and ethos, and knows both the local scene and what they themselves are doing. iL was a tiny place just off the side of Takamatsu’s vast, kilometres-long roofed shopping arcade, but it was immaculately organised and put together. The venue had brought in a powerful sound system to ensure N’toko’s music played out without a hitch, Masami very kindly ran home at one point to get her own keyboard stand when things looked like they might get a bit complicated, and the DJs she booked were massive fun. Masami’s own stuff tilted towards postpunk like the Slits and New Age Steppers, while Oka took a smoother, more sophisticated tack and Kotetsu careered between a manic selection of Japanese new wave, latin, pop and curios that I couldn’t place if I tried. For my own set, I played the same basic stuff I usually play at Fashion Crisis, but since I was playing in front of a completely unfamiliar crowd edged it more towards the poppier, more uptempo stuff in an attempt to keep people’s attention.

The interesting thing about playing here was the way that people really seemed to be listening. Usually when I play, there are a handful of people coming up to me saying, “Hey, what’s this?” and a lot of people just having conversations with each other and not really paying attention, so soundtracking those conversations and dropping in enough weird or interesting stuff to keep anyone else interested is more or less what I think my job is. In Takamatsu, nearly everyone seemed to be sat, listening intently — not dancing or asking me questions, just sat there with their ears tuned into everything I was doing — which made it a bit of a weird experience, although not by any means a bad one.

N’toko played his usual 30-minute touring set, and could really have played double that time given the reaction the crowd gave him. The sound was superb and in the tiny, narrow room with the crowd surrounding him on three sides, it gave the performance a dynamic feel that isn’t really there when you’re on a stage, facing the audience behind a barrier, either physical or metaphorical. N’toko is a performer who laps up attention and I think he finds it psychologically impossible to ignore part of the audience, so playing to a 180-degree spread of people like this, he was constantly aware that wherever he was playing to, there was someone behind him and this made him mobile at all times.

Ritsurin-koen

Ritsurin-koen

So the party ended up being one of the highlights of the tour in its own right, and since we were only there for one night, I’d booked a late flight back in order to do some sightseeing. Takamatsu was the only place on the tour where we really did any sightseeing, and it was fascinating. The shopping arcade is a thing of wonder, a vast roofed enclosure apparently 2.7km long that took us nearly to the famous Ritsurin-koen, a glorious garden that was so absurdly, fastidiously beautiful that we both kept bursting out laughing at it.

Takamatsu castle grounds

Takamatsu castle grounds

Takamatsu is this:

Takamatsu is this:

At the other end of the shopping arcade was the castle ruins and the seafront, where we chilled for a few hours, and even the station concourse was lovely. In fact even the airport was lovely, with the souvenir stall in the departure lounge serving locally brewed ale on tap. I realise that this is becoming more like a travelogue than a rock’n’roll tour diary, but seriously, Takamatsu is really, really nice city. Anyway, the gig at Takamatsu joined a growing list of other amazing shows that set the bar absurdly high for the final night of the tour, back in Koenji tomorrow, and as the day went on, the fear continued to rise that my own cherished event that I had tried so hard to make the highlight of the tour would fall short of the mark.

Takamatsu seafront

Takamatsu seafront

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Diary of a Japan tour part 9: March 23rd at Saga Rag-G

The final date in Kyushu was at Rag-G in Saga. I’d been here once before, when Zibanchinka supported Bo Ningen in 2011, and both the town and the venue are interesting places.

One of many decidedly odd buildings left over from another age and largely colonised by the local sex industry.

One of many decidedly odd buildings left over from another age and largely colonised by the local sex industry.

When travelling in Kyushu, the step-changes in economic growth and reconstruction of the various cities can make each stop seem a bit like travelling ten years further back in time. While Fukuoka looks more or less like the present day (and the Momochi area is outright futuristic), Kumamoto feels more like the 1990s, with a familiar enough atmosphere, but lacking some of the glitter and glitz of the 2000s. Kagoshima is like a faded 1980s theme park, with the bright, brash, plastic bubble-era storefronts and building artifices bleached and dashed by two decades of volcanic dust. Saga then brings us back to the ’70s. On a Sunday afternoon, the town is deserted. You can walk from the station to the venue fifteen minutes away almost without seeing a single person, just passing hostess bars and brothels shuttered for the daylight hours, the whole town bathed in a sort of orange light giving it a sense of a permanent sunset. Signs advertising Coca Cola and other well-known brands showed no sign of having been changed or moved since they were first placed there decades ago, which makes a striking contrast to Tokyo where such retro ephemera is diligently collected and arranged to create a perfectly curated designer’s-mind facsimile of the past. N’toko turned to me at one point and said something to the effect that it was like India after being hit by a neutron bomb.

Saga Rag-G

Saga Rag-G

Saga is also crisscrossed by hundreds of tiny streams, giving it the impression of a run-down toytown Venice, and it’s on the corner of one of these streams that Rag-G sits, opposite a really quite beautiful temple, with an open space and seats laid out in front of it. Sitting outside was really so nice that it felt like an enormous hassle even to go inside and listen to the music, the only thing ruining the atmosphere being the grindingly repetitive blues music chittering away out of a portable CD player by the venue’s entrance (one that Omi from Futtachi swiftly replaced with some avant-garde guitar improv CD he had with him).

There was a panda wandering around outside for some reason.

There was a panda wandering around outside for some reason.

Keeping a live venue open in a small town like Saga is a different challenge to running a venue in a competitive environment like Tokyo. In big cities, rent is a big constraining factor in the size of a venue, and basically means that a small venue will always only have small bands. In Saga (population about a quarter of a million), there are only a couple of live venues to serve the whole city, so they have to be able to accommodate anything, from tiny underground shows to washed-up old stars, and encompassing a variety of genres. Rent on the other hand is not constrained so much, which means that Rag-G is a phenomenally large venue by the standards of most larger cities. The smaller size of the city, however, means that it’s difficult to support underground or experimental music in such a space without doing, as they did at this show, an all-day event with about ten bands playing.Johnny Ohkura Daijin: Yasu Megumi no Theme

It’s a fascinating lineup though, with N’toko and Futtachi both present and correct again, the latter performing in their minimalist psychedelic duo incarnation, and an interesting mix of local and nearby bands joining them. Headlining was Johnny Ohkura Daijin from the band Suichuu Sore wa Kurushii, who’s a Koenji local that I’ve known for a long time and who was by coincidence playing the same night. He’s one of those singers “you have to be Japanese” to really get, rattling through a series of folk-punk tunes with funny lyrics and just generally tilting along the tightrope between music and variety performance. It’s the kind of thing I always find much easier to take in a small room.

Saga is close enough to Fukuoka that it's pretty easy to visit and several Fukuoka mates came. DJ TKC and Iguz from Futtachi were partying in the street well into the evening.

Saga is close enough to Fukuoka that it’s pretty easy to visit and several Fukuoka mates came. DJ TKC and Iguz from Futtachi were partying in the street well into the evening.

I can’t pretend to even remember many of the bands who played that night, but Yaoyoloz were superb, and Hakuchi are one of my favourite bands right now. One interesting fact I picked up recently is that the word “hakuchi” (meaning “idiot”) is on the list of words banned by Japanese TV, so when the band’s drummer Ann, who is an omnivorous, oddball teenage musical genius in her own right, recently appeared on local TV, they weren’t allowed to say the name of her band. Given that Hakuchi is also the Japanese title of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (from where the band took their name), it makes you wonder what literary discussions on Japanese TV are like, with one Russian friend of mine suggesting, “Today we will be discussing Fyodor Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and <BEEP!>” (I prefer to imagine the censorship effect as a comedy sound like a swanee whistle or a cuckoo clock).

Kanami from Nakigao Twintail: too cool for school.

Kanami from Nakigao Twintail: too cool for school.

Also attending the show were four members of another great Saga band, the quite amazing Nakigao Twintail, who split up last year. The drummer, bassist and two guitarists were present, so after Hakuchi, they commandeered their equipment and played a couple of songs themselves. Now given what an impact they had on me when I saw them in Fukuoka in 2013, this was a special moment for me, since I thought that one occasion would end up being the first and last chance I’d ever have to see them live. Given its impromptu nature and their limited gear and setup, their brief set was less the furious garage-punk explosion of their full band sets and more a chaotic, dadaist disassemblage of rock’n’roll. I’m not sure what sort of musical endeavours any of them will end up engaging in in the future, and it could be horrible, but there’s still enouch childish nonsense in what they do that it’s fun.Hakuchi: Suttoko Dokkoi

Iguz from Futtachi finds a psychedelic flower shop.

Iguz from Futtachi finds a psychedelic flower shop.

N’toko had to work his way through some sound difficulties, perhaps as a result of being the only electronic act on the bill, but after some furious mucking about with the wires and some cajoling from me in my asshole manager hat, things got pumped up to the necessary volume and enough of the cool people there stuck around to watch him. Futtachi had no such technical issues and perhaps even more than in Fukuoka their minimalist, industrial-psych was hypnotic and utterly compelling. Shiro-Boshi were a pretty good indie rock band from Fukuoka, while The Amber Tortoise had the best bandname of the evening.

It was also exhausting, and by the time the post-gig food and drink started winding down, N’toko and I were both dead on our feet. A few days rest beckoned before one last gig on the road, way out in Takamatsu, a place neither of us had ever been to or had any image of, and which I’d accidentally booked while drunk a few weeks previously. It was in the hands of good people though, so what could go wrong?

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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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Diary of a Japan tour part 7: March 21st at Fukuoka Utero

After the Thursday night DJ party, we were ready to kick off the weekend with a live show at the same venue. This was perhaps the show I’d been most looking forward to on the tour, partly for the reasons I outlined in the previous entry in this tour diary (Fukuoka is always an enormous amount of fun, and it’s great to hang out with friends there) and partly because of the bands.

As I’ve said before, I always keep in contact with Harajiri from Utero over the lineup, and make suggestions where there’s something I think is relevant, but at the same time, I will nearly always defer to his judgment when it comes to booking. He knows my events and my artists well enough by now to be able to choose bands who fit the sound and the vibe I’m looking for, and he’s also eager to constantly introduce new people into the mix, which ensures that through my roughly twice-annual events there, I’m able to keep a step ahead of most other people in Tokyo when it comes to cool music from Kyushu.

There was another reason why Friday was a big one for me as well, because it was the day that my friends Futtachi from Kagoshima would be hooking up with us for part of the tour. Futtachi is the new band that Iguz Souseki formed after the implosion of Zibanchinka, and their first recording was a song they did for Call And Response’s Dancing After 1AM compilation. They’d also contributed a track to my recent Black Sabbath Valentine’s covers project, and Iguz and I had been working on plans to put out their first full album through Call And Response. Futtachi are a psychedelic band, but grounded in garage-punk roots which gives them an earthiness and directness that lots of other psychedelic bands lack. They operate on quite complex principles though, with the band existing in four different incarnations depending on which members are present, all of which play quite different music.

The recordings they had done for me had been of the group’s four member incarnation, Futtachi’s most common touring incarnation is a duo of Iguz and guitarist Omi, and Fukuoka was the first chance I’d had to see them. Based around a slow, minimal, throbbing rhythm loop, Iguz wails hypnotically over spectral guitars and droning keyboards. It’s psychedelic but it teeters on the brink of industrial, insistently coaxing you into a hallucinatory, nodding trance. It’s an amazing sensation when you see a new band do something that just plows you away, but it’s something else when someone you’ve known and admired for years does something totally unexpected and completely brilliant. You’re knocked sideways not just by the surprise, but also by the fact thay you’re able to be surprised. Futtachi were astounding.

The first band up, however, were Escape From New York, a sort of progressive/post-rock band of a sort that you get a lot of, especially in Tokyo, but nonetheless a very good example of the form. They don’t have much in the way of recordings but you can get a bit of an idea from this rough-edged demo from Soundcloud.

The Perfect Me were another very good, young Fukuoka band. A difficult band to describe, they’re essentially an avant-pop band, with elements of postpunk, a little something of Animal Collective to them, and a bouncy, almost Madchester party vibe. If that isn’t very helpful, it could be that after a month, my memory is a little foggy, but I remember being mightily impressed. Their recordings are a bit more low-key and lean more towards the postpunk elements of what they do, with Joy Division, Fad Gadget and Wire jumping to mind, but it really has to be stressed how much fun they are live.

AmrFas is the current preferred spelling of Amorphous (the illogical English spelling was probably causing problems for their Japanese fans), a dance-pop duo who had played with N’toko on his previous Fukuoka tour. They’re one of those bands you suspect would be dreadfully fashionable and end up playing exclusively in cafes and boutiques with other bands who sound exactly like them if they lived in Tokyo, but being in Fukuoka they’re often forced to play together with punk, post-rock and other assorted noisy fuckups, which I’m going to suggest here is definitively a Good Thing. The multiple layers of sound they employ gives their music a richer, more textured feel than the Tokyo boutique bands they sometimes resemble, which is perhaps partly the result of being forced to stand alongside other bands on their music alone and not just the quality of their wardrobe and rolodex. They also helped balance out the lineup to place N’toko closer to the centre ground in a lineup that inclueded at the other end the furious funk-punk of Accidents In Too Large Field.

N’toko’s set was probably the best show I’ve seen him do in Fukuoka. In the past, he’s struggled with the sound system a bit, but the venue seems to be getting used to him now and he was able to hit as hard as any punk or post-rock band. With the almost industrial throb of Futtachi and the richly layered electronic pop of AmrFas already burned into the audience’s minds alongside the more conventiopnally guitar-structured bands, he was positioned in just the way I had hoped he would be on this tour, and being his third visit to the city, there were a growing number of people there who knew him. It gave that warm feeling of making progress again.

Accidents in Too Large Field are local legends and they blow the roof off pretty much any show they play. They’re one of those bands who whenever I meet them, they always seem to be looking at me sidelong with this mocking twinkle in their eyes, as if everything I do and say is hilarious and deeply uncool, so I’m always torn between the conflicting urges to hug them like brothers or punch them hard in the face. There’s something of that in their music too, mixing these joyously funky dance beats with music full of discord and aggression. They drove the audience into a crowdsurfing frenzy, as you might expect from a crowd many of whom had been charging around piggyback at the same venue the previous night over not much at all really.Accidents In Too Large Field: Nonfiction Rakka

I was DJing again, this time alongside TKC from macmanaman, one of my favourite DJs and an old friend from back when he was with the wonderful Ruruxu/sinn. With none of the technical problems of the previous night, it welt off pretty well, and playing between bands allowed me to come off whatever the previous band had been doing and then work my way towards the kind of thing I knew the next band would be playing.

One of the best nights of the tour so far, I was worried it had set the bar impossibly high for subsequent shows, but neither of us were complaining. By this point, we were more or less breaking even on hotel and travel expenses, although the next few dates would see us exploring more challenging ground in towns without the musical heritage and scene magnetism of places we’d played so far. But then what kind of progress would it be if we were just going over the same ground again and again?

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Diary of a Japan tour part 6: March 20th DJ Party at Fukuoka Utero

Fukuoka is by far my favourite place in Japan outside of my adopted home in the Tokyo suburb of Koenji. It’s not so much for the town itself, although it’s a lively city, a little more spacious and les hurried than Tokyo, with an buzzing central shopping district in Tenjin, a nice fashion district in Daimyo, a scary nightlife district in the Oyafuko-dori area, a beautiful park in the castle ruins and nearby Ohori Koen, a neat little shopping street district in Nishijin, and a fascinating and weird reclaimed seafront development in Momochi. Other towns have similar things, but Fukuoka does all these things a little bit nicer than most. The main reason I love Fukuoka is just that I know a lot of people in the music scene there, there are lots of great bands, and the people in them are generally really friendly and easygoing. Whenever I go there, it’s always a source of great regret that I can’t stay longer, and it’s always the highlight of any Kyushu tour for me.

Last year when I was talking with Seiji Harajiri from the live venue Utero about plans for my next tour, he suggested I come down a day early and we do a free DJ party on the Thursday night before the main gig. I have no doubt this was largely because of the difficulty in getting audiences out on weekday nights, but since N’toko usually stays in Japan for longer and spreads out his live shows, interspersing them with DJ gigs, often at my Fashion Crisis event in Koenji, it felt like a nice interlude in the tour for me as well.

I mentioned in the last post about how while Kumamoto has always been good to me, I’ve also always felt a bit of distance. One way I experience that most strongly is when I’ve played there as a DJ. The reactions to songs just doesn’t quite match the reactions those same songs usually get in Tokyo, so it’s difficult to judge the right thing to be playing. At most of the events in Tokyo I take part in, if people don’t know a song I’m playing, they come up to me and ask. In fact, that’s how you know you’ve got the balance right: if no one’s asking you what you’re playing, it means your set was too obvious. It sounds snobbish, and it can be sometimes, but as a rule, it just means people are curious, eager to find out about new stuff, and confident enough in their own knowledge and taste that they don’t feel self-conscious admitting when they don’t know. In Kumamoto, no one ever asks. Maybe it’s a cultural thing and they’re shy to interrupt, maybe it’s a self-conscious thing about seeming ignorant in front of a visiting DJ, or maybe they’re just not interested, I don’t know, but I’ve never felt quite right. The only time I’ve ever got a noticeable reaction from a crowd there was when I played the (excellent) song Fire by K-Pop quartet 2NE1 after Bo Ningen’s set.

Party time

Party time

Fukuoka on the other hand has always been a pleasure to DJ at, especially Utero. The crowd there reminds me so much of the little scene we have around us in Koenji in their behaviour, listening and drinking habits. They’re not just curious when they don’t know something, but they’re enthusiastic when they do know something, which makes it a really fun atmosphere to play in. Usually I’m just playing between bands, so having a proper set together with N’toko and local Fukuoka friends was just a great opportunity to draw out our stay in this great city.

As with many of the most fun events of the tour, I talked it through with the local organiser first, and based on my experience with Fashion Crisis gave him some suggestions about what kind of schedule would work best. Since the room would probably only fill up gradually, giving each DJ an hour split into two 30-minute sets seemed like the best option. Sometimes if you have a DJ playing dance music, it’s better to give them a single, longer set, but certainly when most of the DJs are playing indie and punk music to audiences who are primarily live music audiences, it’s best to treat the sets the same way as live sets and aim for a similar attention span. I also gave him a list of the Fukuoka DJs I personally liked and he talked over his own recommendations.

I didn’t know some of the people he put on, but the variety was about right to keep the night interesting and to prevent it falling into a rut of too many people mining similar record bags. I was particularly stoked that he was able to get Hajime Yoshida from Panicsmile to DJ. I saw him DJ a few times when he lived in Tokyo and he was always an interesting selector who I’d tried to get at Fashion Crisis before, so now that he was back living in Fukuoka, I was eager to get him involved. to-ya is the drummer from the excellent z/nz who I’ve had play at my events in Tokyo before, while Harajiri himself played under his nom de disque 100hip.

To be honest, my first set didn’t go brilliantly. I was still getting to grips with the soundcard and DJ software on my laptop (no way I was lugging a pile of CDs and/or records around Kyushu with me for five days) and I was having problems with popping that disrupted things at one stage. Yoshida was playing a mix of vinyl and CDs and had problems with the balance at first as well, although the way he divided his two nostalgic sets between old underground music, including (quite movingly actually) a great track by his friends Bloodthirsty Butchers (whose leader Hideki Yoshimura died unexpectedly last year) and a retro J-Pop set. It was handy for me too that he divided things along those lines, because it left me free to play the stuff by Wire, The Feelies and Stereolab that I might otherwise have worried he was planning on playing.

Sleep time

Sleep time

One thing Utero did that no bar in Koenji would ever be stupid enough to try was set up an all-you-can-drink offer, giving people six hours worth of unlimited booze for ¥2000. Even on a Thursday night, the result was lively, with people alternately riding around on each other’s shoulders and collapsing elegantly on the bar. Given the way DJ events in Tokyo are often so closely demarcated by genre or scene, it was great to play at something that fit so closely with the combination of nerdy musical depth and anything-goes genrecide that I’ve tried so hard to cultivate in my own parties. After the solid organisational competency of Kumamoto the previous night, it was also a welcome blitz of unstructured mayhem before the big event at the same venue on Friday.

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