Category Archives: Live

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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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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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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