Servals are a relatively new band, formed as a spinoff from Yokohama’s still extant but recently less active Come to my Party and trading in a slightly harder, more driving take on the older band’s Supercar-influenced indietronic pop. /99 is a desultory dream pop disco, drenched in minor chords, with the same melancholy atmosphere of loss and longing, like someone at the moment of realising they are in a dream, desperately trying to stave off the morning. Just five more minutes, it seems to be saying from within the duvet of synth swirls, as the metallic blue-grey of the urban morning seeps through the curtains.
Tag Archives: Come to my Party
The second night of the tour was in Yokohama. This was really a pet project of mine since there are a lot of bands I really like in the area and I thought a small show there would be a nice warmup before the more demanding travel requirements to come.
Yokohama is a weird place for gigs really, being just a little too close to Tokyo to really have the full sense of being a different place, but just a little too far to be worth travelling to of an evening. This was partly intentional on my part, since after the opening night in Shibuya, I was keen to channel as much of N’toko’s Tokyo audience as possible into the closing night at Higashi Koenji 20000V. I worked with a local Yokohama musician, Kouhei Itou from the bands Servals and Come To My Party to book the show, since I didn’t know the lay of the land as well as he, and we settled on the lovely Shicho Shitsu2, the Yokohama arm of a venue that also has a branch in Tokyo. Kouhei agreed to play with Come To My Party, and I booked one of my favorite new bands, Sayuu. Local experimental/improv weirdo Kitsch Hitori Gakudan completed the live bill, who I’d been keen to get since more than any of the other artists on the bill, he not only lived nearby but was at least a semi-regular feature on the Yokohama/Kanagawa scene.
Things started to go wrong a couple of days before the show, when a flu epidemic that had been sweeping the country claimed Kitsch Hitori Gakudan and ruled him out of the gig. It was helpful in a way because it shifted the start time of the event later, but it meant we were relying rather more on friends than we’d hoped. The next problem was a vicious storm that hit the Yokohama coast on the afternoon of the event, ruling out any but the most dedicated visitors. I’ll spare you the suspense here and just say outright that four people showed up, which in addition to the six musicians, two DJs and two venue staff gave us a grand total of 14 people in the room.
This is the sort of thing that’s a disaster in Tokyo and any venue where you’re paying the venue a rental fee. Fortunately we weren’t, which meant that the event turned over into something else: that special kind of atmosphere where everyone there knows they’re trapped in a situation that’s now only going to go as well as they make it, the peculiarly intense camaraderie that only really happens in the face of utter disaster. The battering rain, harsh winds and apocalyptic skies outside just emphasised the welcoming warmth that existed inside.
Shicho Shitsu in Yokohama is part live venue, part art studio, part used clothes shop, part record store, part bookshop, part cafe, part bar. Wandering around the venue, you find different corners devoted to different things, all of them in their own way fascinating. I was able to pick up a book of Chinese communist propaganda art for ¥500 and spend a few minutes browsing a comic book series about the adventures and scrapes of a porn actor.
The venue is better equipped for acoustic or at least relatively gentle sounds though, and Sayuu had to fight a valiant battle against a constantly sliding bass drum throughout their set. Given that their music was channelled almost exclusively through the onstage amps, however, they were able to control their sound and sounded great. They’re a duo who seem to thrive on awkwardness and discomfort, wither eschewing or else subverting through their delivery most of the standard inter-song pleasantries that most bands in Japan feel compelled to engage in. The only thing I can remember them saying was telling me to get out of the way of the camera they’d set up. What they did do that was of more value than a thousand tedious stories about ramen they ate or funny things that happened to their dog last week was stick around and pay close attention to all the other artists performing. A genuine interest in music and sense that they’re part of the event even when they’re not onstage is a precious thing in a band.Sayuu: Yellow Hate (Live at Shicho Shitsu2 — note the moving bass drum)
N’toko had no access to the amps and had to rely on the PA instead for his entirely electronic set. This meant it was considerably quieter than Sayuu’s performance as the PA staff, always wary of complaints from neighbors and visits from police kept volume to a minimum. In order to make the set work the best way it could, N’toko and the staff had arranged to set up his gear on the floor rather than the stage, so he was performing with audience on both sides of him, on the same level as them, fostering a sense of intimacy that would hopefully counterbalance the lack of the viscerally of noise. He’s a versatile performer and was able to re-jig his set to focus on the more experimental, less dance-orientated tracks, and it worked.
Come To My Party are a poppier concern than Kouhei’s other band, the behavior, more psychedelic Servals, and they were more comfortable playing a quieter set in the first place. Clearly heavily influenced by the indie rock and synth-based dreampop elements of Supercar, but with less of an urge to rock out like a stadium band, they brought the live music to a close in a way that was both pleasant and better than the word “pleasant” makes that sentence sound.
One curious point about Yokohama when compared to the far better-attended Shibuya gig the previous night was in CD sales. Shibuya resulted in a grand total of zero, while the closer interaction between artists, closer attention people seemed to be paying each other, and sense of everyone being in something together meant that there was more action on the merchandise table after the show. The venue staff too seemed to be genuinely interested in what people were doing there, and ended up stocking a few of Call And Response Records’ CDs for their small record store corner. It’s a pat truism that there are no such things as worthless gigs, and it’s of course nonsense — there are terrible gigs that benefit no one and should never have happened — but where the people involved are interesting, musically curious people who get what each other are doing, there’s always some value that you can get from it. In a wider sense, this is an argument for infrastructure and groundwork. The best venues are the ones where the staff have a musical vision, the best local scenes are the ones where there are organizers and cultural curators willing to do the work of sorting and filtering music according to something more than raw numbers — it’s what I’ve tried to do in my ten years of activity in the music scene, and when the rails I’ve helped lay down can allow an event to trundle along relatively painlessly when it’s gone horribly wrong from a commercial perspective, that gives me a little glow of satisfaction, not necessarily of a job well done, but at least of a job operating on the right principles.
One of the advantages net labels have is that because money isn’t the same issue that it was, they can afford to take a more relaxed and eclectic approach to the artists they select, with less of the ruthless honing and focusing in on specific types of artist and cultivating specific audiences in real, physical live spaces. The Web allows them to float more freely and catch their audience more passively. Still, the online environment naturally acts as a kind of filter in itself, and where punk labels thrive in the alcohol-fuelled, claustrophobic intensity of small live spaces, the audience for a net label is more likely to be found surfing the web, semi-conscious at 2AM, so it’s natural that the sort of music a label like Ano(t)racks gravitates towards is suited to that listening environment.
Ano(t)racks are a self proclaimed twee pop label, and there’s nothing much on this compilation to dispute that, with the exception of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s vampish, defiantly lo-fi Fanaticalia. Built around a riff that Patrick over at Make Believe Melodies rightly identifies as having been stolen wholesale from The Kinks’ You Really Got Me (to be honest, something that iconic barely counts as stealing now; like the chord sequence from Hang on Sloopy, it’s surely public domain by now) it makes occasional diversions into Rolling Stones territory but fundamentally, like much of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s self-titled debut album, released earlier this year and sure to be one of Japan’s albums of the year come December, its closest cousin in terms of construction is Can, with the way the music slips and slides over the disorientating rhythm and the emphasis on trancelike repetition.
Eschewing the lo-fi approach and emerging as genuinely lovely indie rock songs as well as highlights of the album are The Fin.’s Floating in the Air and Come to my Party’s Paraffin Lover. I can sense a distant echo of Frozen Years by British pub rock legends The Rumour in the former somewhere, but more than that, it’s simply a pure rush of sentimental, timeless guitar pop comfort food. The latter also provides some tunespotting opportunities for new wave geeks, with the main melody reminiscent of Echo and The Bunnymen’s Bring on the Dancing Horses, although sonically it has a lot in common with Japanese turn-of-the-millennium alternative rock, in particular Supercar (and particularly the song Aoharu Youth), with its mixture of shoegaze, synths and electronic beats. Ghostlight’s Koi no You na Uso also harks back to the turn of the millennium like a more laid back, lo-fi take on Quruli’s C’mon C’mon.
There are more low-key, acoustic numbers such as the gorgeous Coastline by Genki Sakuradani and the quirky, banjo-based 1940s cabaret jazz of Annie the Clumsy’s Gold Crescent Moon, as well as the beach pop of Superfriends’ How True My Love Was and the decidedly Lennonesque blues of Slow Beach’s closing Surfin’ Day and there’s really not a duff tune among the eight tracks on offer.