Tag Archives: Futtachi

Top 20 releases of 2014: Intro

Given that here we are in a fresh new year, it feels appropriately perverse to spend the majority of January wallowing in the backwash of 2014, in a painstakingly detailed series of posts counting down this site’s (by which I mean my) top twenty albums of the year. As with last year’s, I could have made this list much longer, and there’s a lot of superb stuff left out, but since the most important part of compiling a list like this is the filtering and pruning that goes on before the list is completed I resisted that temptation. Before getting stuck in with the actual list itself, however, there are a few things that I want to get out of the way, and a few that I just think are interesting and worth discussing a bit.

Firstly, the usual caveats about what isn’t on the list. I took a pretty liberal interpretation of what constitutes an “album” (which is why I phrase it as “releases” in the title) that includes any EPs with three or more songs, or in theory less if the music is sufficiently expansive and developed (progressive or psychedelic bands will sometimes release a single extraordinarily long track and call it an album, and I generously grant them my permission to do this).

I don’t include my own Call And Response label’s releases in my list, although for reasons I’ll come to later (and will probably develop in more writing I do over the year) there are actually some broader problems related to this due to the changing nature and environment of music journalism. This means Jebiotto’s Love Song Duet and Futtachi’s Tane to Zenra are instantly disqualified even though they are both brilliant, and Lo-shi’s Baku is also disqualified since it is due for a limited vinyl release through Call And Response Records very soon. I also didn’t include the magnificent and utterly ridiculous Black Sabbath covers album that Call And Response gave away for free on Valentine’s Day. Great stuff, but I wouldn’t know how to rate them relative to the other great stuff that came out this year, and including them would get in the way of the authoritativeness and impartiality for which I know I am famed.

One of the other things that happened this year was that Call And Response started distributing CDs by bands unconnected to the label in a limited fashion. Those CDs are eligible for inclusion in the list. I realise it’s a bit of a fine line, but if I love something enough to recommend it through my store, it stands to reason that I love it enough to recommend it on these pages and vice versa. My role still remains an essentially passive one in this instance, so I trust readers of this site not to whine about conflict of interest. As the roles of blogs and labels (not to mention organisers and suchlike) as curators of particular streams of musical taste increasingly converge, this line is an increasingly difficult one to maintain, and I’m feeling my way through it based primarily on what feels comfortable for me. It’s an unscientific process, but I’ll get there in the end.

Of course there were a lot of terrific releases that didn’t make the list because I either didn’t hear them or the wind of my whim at the time of compiling the final twenty was blowing in another direction, so Teen Runnings, Mukokyu Kakokyu Shinkokyu, Compact Club, Chiina and many others can still hold their heads high despite the shame of not making the golden twenty this time.Chiina: Syllabus

I’m going to draw this out to tedious length with (hopefully) daily posts tackling each of the twenty releases I’ve selected one by one, with the first post in the countdown tomorrow, so keep your eyes on this space and wonders await.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Features

Strange Boutique (December 2014) – the year in music

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s end-of-year review time, and as usual my Japan Times column took on the task of trying to find new ways of describing the same stuff that happens every year. For those of you who’d rather not read the full 1500-word piece, it goes something like this:

  • Music industry still broadly in decline
  • Record companies still suspicious of online music and streaming
  • Advertising and tie-ups increasingly more important than actual sales
  • Korean music doing better than Japanese music abroad
  • AKB48 not as popular as they were but still pretty much the biggest thing out there

The way I chose to look at it this time round was from the perspective of what some of the key events or trends of the year tell us about who music is really being made for.

With a group like AKB48, there are a lot of intersecting factors at play as they balance the need to please a number of different masters. As one of my always charming commenters was helpful enough to point out, Google Trends isn’t the only, or the best, measure of something’s overall popularity, and of course their sales are still sky-high. Oricon’s recently-published year-end charts give the group all of the top five singles and the number one album in terms of CD sales, although this figure is fishy as well given the marketing gimmicks that surround CD sales in Japan. The top 40 CD singles was dominated by three organisations: Yasushi Akimoto’s AKB family, the Johnny & Associates boyband farm, and perma-tanned, goateed, twats-in-hats boy band Exile. All these acts boost their CD sales with marketing gimmicks aimed at their fanatical core fanbases, and it’s interesting to note that the only act from outside this axis of evil to make the top 40, comedy “air band” Golden Bomber, released their own song in a plain white case with no extras as a protest against this sort of gimmickry (or/and as a gimmick in itself).

What I was looking at in Google Trends was the general, casual interest in AKB48, in particulat the spikes that occur in June every year around “election” time. This is the time people who otherwise wouldn’t care much about the band but have a mild, general interest in them and are generally favourably inclined towards them are more likely to have a look to see what’s going on with them. Throughout the year, point by point, the figures are about one third of their 2011 peak. This doesn’t affect sales because these people never bought AKB CDs anyway, but it does affect advertising. Anyone living in Tokyo these past few years would have noticed the diminishing visibility of the group on billboards, and as a colleague of mine recently pointed out, advertisers have even resorted to labelling the group in adverts so that people know who they are – something usually reserved for new acts the ad agency has hooked up with the tie-ups as part of its deal with their talent agency. But then the turnover of band members ensures that AKB48 are perpetually a new group, and this is the core of their problem for advertisers in 2014: everyone knew Atsuko Maeda, Yuko Oshima, Tomomi Ito, Mariko Shinoda and maybe a couple of others, but people nowadays would struggle to name any of the current lineup.

In terms of my question about who music is for, where AKB48 fans have been successful is that by their enormous expenditure on the group, they have retained a degree of ownership over them. This idea of ownership is perhaps key to the success of the whole idol format: the fans, by their exercise of obsessive degrees of purchasing power, are able to keep the groups “for them” rather than letting them slip entirely into the treacherous hands of advertising. It’s extreme and a bit mad in its degree, and far more focused on “character” consumption than on music listening, but taken in isolation, the principle is admirable.

Looking over at the iTunes charts, we see a very different picture, with a more diverse selection of acts and far less in the way of idol music (as I say, idol otaku aren’t music fans, they’re machines for consuming character goods) but it does serve as a timely warning of what awaits us if the idol boom were to suddenly die. In three words: One OK Rock. In another three words: Sekai no Owari. I have nothing to say to that other than yuck. We can blame the music industry for feeding people shit, but sooner or later, music audiences have to just take responsibility for their own awful taste.

One thing I didn’t have space to mention in the context of the growing prominence of the “national interest” in the use of pop music was Ringo Shiina’s NHK World Cup theme, which was accused in some quarters of being unnecessarily nationalistic. Now I’m not sure what that means in this context – football is pretty much the one arena in which you get a free pass to be as jingoistic, flag-waving and borderline fascist as you want without damaging your liberal softie cred – but given the Abe government’s ongoing efforts to stack NHK’s board with historical revisionists and ignorant propaganda stooges it bears keeping an eye on. As for Shiina herself, who knows? Her whole aesthetic is based around the fact that she loves Japan a lot, and that’s part of her appeal. A bigger problem with the song is that it was a really rubbish song.

In any case, the fact that the government are now openly and explicitly mobilising pop culture to promote their agenda, from the relatively benign Olympics-related let’s-make-ourselves-look-good-for-the-guests stuff to the full-on militarist AKB48 join-the-army-spread-dreams-to-the-world ad campaign bears scrutiny. What are the criteria behind who gets Cool Japan money? If you’re taking that money, have you read the small print? Do you fully understand what other agenda you might be unwittingly hitching yourself to? This may seem a bit paranoid now, but no pop culture exists in a vacuum, and if pop music is being recruited to serve the state, it matters a lot what the extent of the state’s agenda is. I’d feel much more comfortable with Cool Japan is it was completely out of the hands of the government and in the hands of an independent arts council.

Of course indie music is the main purpose of this blog, and 2014 was a particularly fine vintage for music that no one either within Japan or without is ever going to care about. I wrote a bit about this for The Japan Times earlier in December as part of its albums-of-the-year roundup, and I repeated myself using slightly different words as a small part of Néojaponisme’s own year-end roundup. I shan’t go into detail here because I’ll be going into it in painstaking album-by-album depth next month in my personal 2014 top twenty countdown, but particularly for indiepop and fucked-up junk/postpunk/skronk there was a bumper harvest to the point where whittling it down to a mere twenty discs has proven a painful and difficult exercise.

One of the booms in the indie scene this year has been what I tend to dismissively call “funny bands”, with comical and/or performance-orientated acts like Dotsuitarunen, Nature Danger Gang, Guessband and others being ubiquitous. Partly I think this is the flipside of idol music in that if we see indie as a degraded mirror of mainstream entertainment, where girls are pretty idols while men are comedians. As a result, the indie scene subconsciously mimics that format so on the one hand we get Seiko Oomori and on the other we get Triple Fire.

This rise of owarai-type acts like these is something I’m ambivalent about in that on one level it cheapens the indie scene by making it qualitatively not significantly different from the mainstream, but on the other hand, just as I’d listen to AKB48 any day over terrible, “serious” J-pop bands like Kobukuro and Ikimono Gakari, these theatrical, comical indie bands and performers are infinitely preferable to the tediously earnest, sterile technical virtuosity of professional on-stage wankers like Toe.

In my own musical projects, I can pronounce myself largely satisfied with what 2014 gave me. I celebrated the ten year anniversary of my first event with a thrilling Koenji Pop Festival at Higashi Koenji 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu which was probably the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. The venue is notoriously loud to begin with, and when the PA engineer gets excited, he tends to gradually push everything up and up as the night goes on. By the time headliners Hyacca stepped up, the walls and floor were shaking and the whole experience was just one of sheer, earsplitting rhythmical noise. For me at least in a good way.

Earlier in the year my Call And Response label put out the album Mind Business by Slovenian rapper N’toko, which remains one of the releases I’m proudest of and perhaps the most coherent recorded artistic statement the label has ever put out. I released it on iTunes, probably for the first and last time of anything on my label. I have nothing in particular against Apple, but given what a non-profitmaking venture Call And Response is, iTunes is just not a marketplace where I feel comfortable doing business or able to justify the time and energy. There’s no pot of gold at the end of the online rainbow, just an increasingly grubby race to the bottom in terms of prices and returns. While I enjoy the convenience of online music as a consumer, as a label owner I prefer to deal with customers and vendors in person, even if that means a vanishingly small number of them. The N’toko tour in March confirmed a lot of those feelings for me, and while it had its ups and downs in terms of crowds, there were far more ups, and experiencing it all in person was its own justification and reward for the effort putting it all together took.

Other releases I put out or helped put out over the course of the year were February’s free compilation 「チョコくれるのはいいが・・・、何を企んでるんだぁぁ!?!?」 featuring 21 different bands covering the song Paranoid by Black Sabbath. I will hopefully top that for completely stupid and pointless free covers projects by the end of next year or at most the year after. The summer also saw the albums Tane to Zenra by Kagoshima psychedelic band Futtachi and Love Song Duet by Tokyo synth-punk trio Jebiotto. Both of these are albums that would on their own musical merits certainly make it into my personal top albums of the year list if I admitted Call And Response releases for contention in those things, but I don’t so they won’t.

There’s already plenty to look forward to next year, with Extruders and Sayuu/Sa Yuu planning new albums for early in the new year. Going a little more mainstream, Capsule have a new album due out soon, albeit alarmingly EDMish judging from the sounds currently emerging from chez Nakata. With Call And Response Records entering its tenth anniversary year, I personally intend to be a busy bee putting out a string of truly horrible releases lab-grown to be the opposite of everything popular in Japanese music right now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Features, Strange Boutique

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!)

Leave a comment

Filed under Call And Response, Live, Live reviews

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Call And Response, Live, Live previews

Ten Years of Live Music in Tokyo Part 7: Futtachi

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Call And Response, Live, Live previews

New Call And Response releases from Futtachi and Jebiotto

After months of too-ing and fro-ing, gathering materials, putting together and checking documents, sending out futile emails, and making stuffloads of mistakes anyway, my Call And Response label has two new albums out on the same day. In both cases, rather than being put together and put out by me solely, the releases were carried out in collaboration with the bands themselves. In theory, this offered a compromise between self-releasing and doing an actual label release in which everyone benefits, although in practice, it’s hard to tell to what extent that’s the case. The feeling you get at opening a box of CDs fresh from the manufacturer and seeing the physical product finally there and existing at you in all its glory is still the greatest feeling you can get as a label guy though.

Futtachi: Tane to Zenra

Futtachi: Tane to Zenra

Futtachi are a band I’ve been working with since they began and before even that through vocalist Iguz Souseki’s previous band Zibanchinka. They’re a psychedelic band whose music varies depending on which collection of members happen to be working together, from fierce, heavy rock at one extreme to this first album Tane to Zenra at the other. Based around Iguz and guitarist O-mi’s iteration of the group but featuring all members on the recording, it features a single thirty-minute track built around a throbbing, almost industrial beat and layered with spectral, kosmische sounds and effects. Watching Iguz and O-mi perform live as a duo on N’toko’s last Japan tour back in the spring, the material that now features on this album was spellbinding. As a half-hour track, it’s hard to provide any audio material to hear the album from, but there will be some sort of digest or edit up at some point to give you an idea. The physical CD is available via the Call And Response store here, and I’ve blogged a few other places where it’s available (including iTunes) here.

Jebiotto: Love Song Duet

Jebiotto: Love Song Duet

The second release of the day is Jebiotto’s Love Song Duet. With Jebiotto, the challenge of recording the album was in how to get a popular live band, whose appeal is to a great degree based around their unpredictability and general scuzziness, across on record. Added to that is the fact that most of the songs themselves are built around synth parts and melodies that are clearly coming from a much poppier place. So what do you do? Do you emphasise the scuzziness and make a lo-fi album that fans will at least understand as the same band they enjoy so much live, or do you try to make something that works as a pop album and accept that some of the raw energy of the band will be lost in the sheen. You can see these contrasting pressures in the way the recording credits are shared between Takaaki Okajima, who is a proper pop producer, and Yuichiro Kusaba, who is an engineer at legendary Tokyo punk venue Ni-man Den-atsu (20000V).

I think the balance worked out superbly, and makes Jebiotto a really fun band to write about. Some of the little journalistic turns of phrase I’ve used over the past couple of months to describe them include: “three punks who set out to be an 80s stadium band but got lost somewhere between Dan Deacon and Sonic Youth,” “like Bon Jovi wrapped in tin foil, falling down some stairs,” and “like TM Network in a washing machine with some rocks.” These sorts of phrases are the stock-in trade of music writers everywhere and once you break them down, they’re quite formulaic, but when you’ve got a nice image and a band that really suits it, they can be really fun descriptive tools. Again, the physical CD is available from the Call And Response shop here, and I’ve blogged a few more places here (no download release yet, but a Bandcamp is in the works). You can also listen to a couple of the poppier tracks from the album here:

We did something a bit fancy with the Jebiotto album by making an EP of remixes, featuring tracks by Nature Danger Gang, DJ Memai and Ataraw from Groundcover. as a free gift for people buying it from Disk Union, which was new territory for me. With Futtachi, I’m still hopeful to get some sort of live disc as a promotional extra for one of the indie record stores who’s been nice to us. As usual with any new releases, the time leading up to and around the release is fraught with stress, pressure, and usually edged with disappointment as ambitions and dreams give way to harsh realities of a local market that seems to be both shrinking and coalescing around a model for selling indie music that I both dislike on an aesthetic level and disapprove of on an ideological level, but in any case, we’ve done it now and no one can take that away from us.

Both Futtachi and Jebiotto are playing next month on September 27th at an all-day live extravaganza at 20000V along with many other friends of the label to celebrate ten years since the first Clear And Refreshing live showcase, so as one font of anxiety starts to dry up, another emerges. The cycle continues.

1 Comment

Filed under Blogs, Call And Response

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Features, Live, Live reviews