Tuesday 18 September 2018

Getting fresh

Last Saturday saw a couple of CAR bands stepping out live on opposite sides of Tokyo, so I headed out east to Akihabara to see synth-punk trio Jebiotto in the afternoon, who were playing a memorial event to the melodramatic, ultra-glam synth-kayokyoku nonsense of Techma, who died suddenly and unexpectedly a couple of summers ago.

I wasn’t particularly close friends with Techma, although we certainly knew each other, and he had played at one of my events many years ago. Tsuchi, the guitarist from Jebiotto, was a big fan though, and you could tell he was affected by it, so it was nice of the organisers to invite Jebiotto to play the event. Most of the lineup was composed of Techma’s old friends going back 20 years, though. When I started going to Goodman regularly around 10-12 years ago, I was a late arriver to a scene where the network of friends and relationships was already established, so the party was very much about people who are now deeply immersed in middle age wrapping themselves up in memories. Obviously, as a memorial to a dead friend, it was entirely appropriate that a powerful sense of nostalgia hung over the event.

I didn’t stay long though, because over on the other side of town, at the new venue Jam in Nishi-Eifuku, Tropical Death had an event, so I dashed over there as soon as Jebiotto departed the stage.

Actually, Jam isn’t strictly a new venue, since there was an old Jam in Shinjuku that closed down several months ago. The new venue feels like a completely different place with different staff, a different system, a totally different layout, and much bigger. It really just felt like the owners, rehearsal studio chain Rinky Dink Studios, were just leveraging the brand and reputation of the old venue for a completely unrelated venture.

What Tropical Death seem to have been aiming for with their event, entitled “Fresh off the Boat”, was to try to point a way forward, looking for a way of breaking the sense of stalemate that can pervade the Tokyo music scene. They were joined as co-organisers by Fukuoka post-rock band Macmanaman, whose bassist Takeshi Yamamoto also plays guitar in Sea Level, who put out the excellent album Dictionary (Handwritten) through Call And Response in July. The Sea Level release party and the Macmanaman/Tropical Death show last Saturday had a few things in common, in that they both sought to mix electronic and more conventionally “rock” music (sometimes within the same band, as in Paris Death Hilton's explosive electro squalls), and put varying emphasis on DJs as an important part of the overall mix of the event.
 Of course “freshness” and “youth” aren’t necessarily the same thing, and I think we ought to be wary of conflating them. Young musicians produce some of the most derivative music out there, and it can take a long time for them to really find their own voices. Still, as we get older, we tend to bring a crowd of our contemporaries with us, and breaking through generational boundaries should be part of keeping a scene lively.

Breaking through national boundaries should as well, so having the excellent Escuri from the Philippines playing, both solo and as part of a session including turntable-noise maestro DJ Memai, and members of progressive rock collective Musqis and Kansai-based art-punk band LLRR, was great. That said, I get a lot of emails from foreign bands asking for my help with their Japan tours, and, while I do listen to everything people send me, my main priority is still finding new local bands I can form a long-lasting relationship with. As a result, most of the overseas requests that land in my inbox fall by the wayside.
With the release of the first Velvet Ants album, Entomological Souvenirs I, tomorrow, I’ve naturally been fretting about that a lot too, sending out emails to record stores, media and suchlike. As I’ve mentioned before, getting taken seriously by record stores is a painful and usually futile struggle, but the only way that situation is going to change is if people actually go to stores and buy the stuff we (and other small labels like us) release. You’re helping keep record stores alive, and you’re also helping keep a vital lifeline open for artists and labels to reach outside their immediate circles of friends or the quid-pro-quo circle of purchases that goes on among musicians themselves.

If you’re in Nagoya, where the Velvet Ants are from, File-Under Records is a great record store and is I think the only place in town carrying the album. In Tokyo, my distributor tells me Disk Union ordered it although I have no information on which specific branches. Hopefully, there will be a couple more outlets soon.

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