This is not a story of Arthur Rimbaud, a formerly poet who abandoned literature before the age of 20 in favor of a vagabond life that took him traveling extensively to three continents before his death from cancer just after his 37th birthday. This is just a story of my brief debut trip to Tokyo last month, visiting its independent scene to be mulling over how such scene could be fostered well in one of the most capitalistic cities in the world in the following days. As an independent record label owner, I was taught it was ethically imperative to be on the opposite of the capitalism. But saying Tokyo capitalistic doesn’t mean I hate it, I love what I saw there. Contradictions fit me, I’m not to be trusted, you’ve been warned.
I repeat, I love what I saw there!
Rimbaud was typical of a young man whose life was also characterized by contradictions: a teenage rebel who mocked small town conventionality, only to run back to his mother’s farm after each emotional crisis; a would-be anarchist and yet spent his adult life as an energetic capitalist operating out of colonial Africa. A good many times I have been seeing myself as no different. Hence the title.
So, in a parallel universe, Rimbaud visits Tokyo.
The actual story predated the trip by almost two years. It begun with a young kid’s interview with a Japanese band called Texas Pandaa on his blog. The kid’s name was Azam and he was also in a band called Paraparanoid. At the time I was running a weekly radio program called Outerbeat, I became interested to invite them to the radio in order to talk about Japanese independent scene later, shoegazing in particular. This was the show that started it all for us. A more detailed story on Azam’s blog.
Consicely put. With the help of Yusuke of Cruyff In The Bedroom and Nadehiko of Texas Pandaa, I was able to visit Tokyo and played two gigs with my label’s band, Brilliant at Breakfast. I tried to keep notes. This is what I can remember about the gigs, the venues and bands I saw.
October 18, 2012
One Night Tokyo Gig | Texas Pandaa, Brilliant at Breakfast (from Indonesia), Honeydew, Bertoia, 4 Bonjour’s Parties | Koenji-HIGH
Koenji-HIGH is a live house, probably the most popular amongst all live houses in Tokyo. It looked small from the outside because it’s actually placed underground. The house could take estimatedly 150-200 people. The schedule is dominated by local bands, although international touring acts do occasionally stop by too. Nadehiko said the venue is mostly used for punk gigs. I then saw the monthly schedule on a flyer. I recognized some shoegazing gigs such Japan Shoegazer Festival, Total Feedback and Some Candy Talking were also scheduled there on that month. It came as no surprise for me, Hata Yusuke the leader of Cruyff in The Bedroom arranges major events at HIGH. Earlier that month, Ringo Deathstarr played there as well.
4 Bonjour’s Parties started off the show. The 8 piece indie folk band was probably the most serious act around on that night. Their numerous instruments and their ability to play more than one (they swapped instruments between songs) fascinate me. They happened to be featured on Vincent Moon’s Take Away Show as well.
The show continued with Bertoia. I knew the shoegazers not long ago. It was from Twitter the name appeared, when I randomly asked people for suggestion. And it didn’t take long too before I fell in love with their sounds.
Honeydew came as the third performer. The married couple K-Go and Junko have been good friends to me. They played cool 90’s influenced alternative rock and the most rock-ish performer that night.
I didn’t watch them until finish because I had to help Brilliant at Breakfast with their prep. The Yogyakartans played 6 out of 10 songs from their only album. You can watch their full set on Youtube.
Texas Pandaa coming later and closed the show. It was the second time I saw them live, one was in Yogyakarta back in 2011 when we arranged a small Indonesian tour for them. They have been fantastic friends to us since. I will never forget the moment when Kaz and Mikiko accompanied us at the airport on our arrival waiting for the first train to start again.
There was a merch booth at the venue where I bought Honeydew and Bertoia’s tees.
We had an afterparty. All the bands were joining. I forgot to mention if there was a small bar at the opposite of the stage. Free flow drinks for 1,000 Yen, not too expensive even for us, but I tried not to get too tanked up because we still have another gig tomorrow. We had nice chatters with everyone: Mai, Shokk, Takumi (Bertoia), K-Go, Junko (Honeydew), Haitani, Tomo, Miwa (4 Bons), and also with Yusuke and Shige (Cruyff). It was a night to remember.
What really surprised us was that we received a fee from our performance there. This is surprising because I know the cost of renting a live house can be substantial and often creates a pay-to-play situation for too many musicians.
(from upper left, clockwise: 4 Bon’s Okapi Horn, Cruyff’s Hacanatzkina, Bertoia’s Modern Synthesis, Murmur’s The Afternoon of Marble Design)
We managed to catch the last train, we took Shobu-line and alighted at Okubo Station. We took a walk to our hotel and said good night to everyone. Couldn’t wait for the next journey.
October 19, 2012
Thee Boot Party #8 | Brilliant at Breakfast, Mitsume, It Happens | Shibuya Echo
Back to the time I was looking for another gig for Brilliant at Breakfast. I asked Sumire from Twee Grrrls Club whether she could help. The result was Thee Boot Party #8. Echo is a cozy little club somewhere on the 2nd floor of Shibuya. It is an excellent place for improvisation and experimentation as it has a small, but decent room and sound system. We took a walk from Shibuya Station to Echo. All I knew about the venue was that my favorite musicians such Dylan Mondegreen and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ever played here before. It was a pleasure to be given the chance to play at the very same stage with someone we really look up to, really. Kaz, Mikiko and Nadehiko came later on. Surprisingly we met our friend Uci from Sharesprings, a noise pop group from Jakarta I really like. She was apparently on a study in Tokyo, good luck to her. Uci joined Mellonyellow when they supported Texas Pandaa in Yogyakarta.
Unlike the previous gig, this one started quite late at night. It Happens were the first amongst three. They were very shy yet had a nice jangly tunes that reminded me of bands like Dream Diary. The second performer was better by far. They’re called Mitsume and they played good synth-based pop songs that got stuck in my head for days. We had a talk later on. Then the Brilliants ended the party. But it was not really ended because there were DJs keeping the party on. They played classics such Another Sunny Day and new releases like Alpaca Sports as well. The feeling was good. Everyone was dancing to the music, hanging out, drinking beer and getting all excited about pop. That night it became more than apparent to me that there is a thriving and enthusiastic pop community in Tokyo that stretches far beyond that of in Yogyakarta. It would be a perfect gig if they also sells records and/or merch.
We had lots of laugh with Yojiro from Mitsume, and someone called Dynamite Ichikawa. Everybody said if he looks like me. He played in a band too, and gave me the CD, it’s called The Weddings. On the back of its cover I saw a Casiotone with a K-Records sticker attached.
(Dynamite Ichikawa. Does he really look like me? Ah well..)
We left the party when it was about the time the first train coming. We stopped awhile at the infamous Hachiko statue in front of Shibuya Station and taking pictures. The legend has it that a dog named Hachiko was waiting there for 10 years for his master to come back. I wish the pretty interpreter girl at Asakusa Station would too.
October 20, 2012
Roaming the city: Tokyo Tower, Senso-Ji Temple and Tower Records
This was our last day in Tokyo. Nadehiko and Kaz picked us up at our hotel at noon. We checked out early and took a train to Tokyo Tower. I had been wanting to see Tokyo Tower from the beginning, because I saw it a lot on Anime and Manga. There’s a bigger and newer tower called Skytree, though, but Tokyo Tower is essential. It’s like remastered edition of a classic album: technically better, by far, but less essential.
We then led up to Asakusa by train. Just like other big cities, smart phones are massively popular here. But unlike in Singapore, I saw quite a few adult women and men spending their entire train ride typing on their smart phone: either sending messages, playing games or watching video. It is considered rude, though, to talk on your phone in indoor public places, and most people honor that. I’m not talking about teens, by the way.
You can read all about Senso-ji Temple on Wikipedia, I found nothing really interesting here, apart from this. Left one, amazing smile.
We stopped by Tower Reords on our way back to the hotel (That legendary Tower Records!). Interestingly, CDs were alphabetized by the artist’s first name. There was no grouping by genres. So I’d find Norah Jones next to Northern Portrait. Thing that interest me more is that I didn’t see any credit card machine there. Apparently the relationship to cash as opposed to credit is much stronger. People prefer cash in Japan maybe because it is safe to carry large amounts of cash.
You know what? I accidentally found a real Brilliant at Breakfast’s CD on the display! That’s what! Well, I know there are a few stores that will take almost any album that any musician puts out. But most just list it in their catalog, and don’t actually put it in stores. And I never thought a huge and legendary chain like Tower Records would actually put a tiny band like the Brilliants in store. So it was really a pleasant surprise.
Time elapsed very quickly. Mikiko and Asako joined us for dinner. We then took some last pictures in front of Shin-Okubo station, where we’d head to Haneda Airport and said goodbye to the Pandaas and also to Japan.
Mata ne! (so long!)