I was out on the east side of Tokyo again on Monday, meeting up with Julien “Vieux Ralouf” from ambient/post-rock/electronic duo Lo-shi and doing some meandering urban exploration, fuelled by a couple of beers from the convenience store. It took us through the neighbourhoods of Minowa, Uguisudani, Ueno and then finally Akihabara, where there was a show at Club Goodman that evening.
Julien’s co-conspirator in Lo-shi, Eric “Gotal” Fournier moved to Tahiti in July, putting the band in a kind of uncertain place, so ever since then, Julien and I have been recording hours upon hours of synth- and theremin-based “punk-ambient” jams at The Boathouse (my house in Koenji) under the name Citizens Of The Eternal Psychic Strasbourg (just Strasbourg for short). The name is a kind of reflection of the precarious, unmoored state of existence we find ourselves in, firstly as foreigners in a country like Japan, but also more generally as kind of spirits in the immaterial world. Much of what goes on in the Strasbourg sessions is jokes, juxtaposing the pretty-bordering-on-cheesy sonic textures of the music with samples from an eclectic and nonsensical range of sources. At the same time, though, we’ve been watching videos of Iain Sinclair’s discussions of the psychogeography of London and thinking about how that applies to Tokyo — in particular the idea that while each generation has typically left their mark on the fabric of the city, the culture created by the internet age doesn’t carve itself into the physical matter of the city in the same way. Perhaps the two of us, sitting in my living room, making electronic music and stealing samples of old TV shows and adverts off YouTube, are an embodiment of that issue.
Strasbourg itself is a strange city, nominally French but also deeply Germanic, and that dual nature is what attracts us to it. A lot of the work I’ve been involved in recently seems to touch on this sense of being in-yet-not-in, in terms of identity. I did a bunch of interviews with musicians on Call And Response early in 2018 with the idea of synthesising them into a semi-fictional documentary script about the relationship between artist and audience. Whether that comes about is anyone’s guess, but when I was writing the script, it became clear that there was a subsidiary theme of making art while dislocated in some way from the culture in which you’re making it. Bands like Looprider and Tropical Death include musicians who are either Japanese people who have been raised for part of their lives abroad or foreign musicians who have moved to Japan. The members of Lo-shi are both French musicians who moved to Tokyo. I’m another immigrant, of course, and throughout the interviews, it became clear that this sense of being in-yet-out influenced the way many of us use music in order to construct a sense of belonging for ourselves, artificial as that might seem.
The show at Goodman was an interesting lineup, featuring a mutual pal of mine and Julien’s, Marc Lowe — another dislocated foreigner, from the USA via Fukuoka, who was delivering his synth-based, industrial-flecked art-rock dramatics to a Tokyo audience for the first time. There were also excellent sets from noise duo Apocalypto, operatic indie songwriter Mamoru from Nhhmbase, postpunk/post-hardcore agitation from bahAMaba, and theatrical noise from Drugondragon.
The following night I was DJing at a very nice little venue called Varit. in Roppongi. Now Roppongi is one of those places it’s usually pretty difficult to get my friends to come out to, not because it’s a difficult location exactly (although there’s a pretty good general rule that anywhere inside the Yamanote Line rail loop is kind of uncool) but because Roppongi has such a bad reputation for attracting all the worst kinds of people. As I say though, Varit. is a very nice place and I always have a lot of fun DJing there.
I was joined this time by Tsuchi, guitarist from synth-punk trio Jebiotto, and my mate Fidel 500. There wasn’t much of a crowd — even the organiser had to pull a sickie, and a lot of people shied clear in fear of the typhoon that had just destroyed Osaka — but we’ve experienced enough of these ill-attended stormy nights that we know how to make our own fun. I forgot the splitter cable that I usually use to DJ off my iPad (I know DJing vinyl is cooler, but when I can bring 600 albums with me in one little slab of plastic, there’s no comparison) but Tsuchi introduced me to his elaborate-looking DJ controller and it was a lot more fun to use than I was expecting. I took a tour through Nick Lowe, Haruomi Hosono, Throbbing Gristle and ELO, which Tsuchi then blasted into oblivion by opening with a one-two whammy of Bon Jovi followed by more Bon Jovi. Fidel’s set was a hyperactive power blast of indie-rock mega-choons interspersed with weird samples. The other DJs there were pretty eclectic as well, but the best thing was just seeing everyone getting interested in what everyone else was playing, seeing people looking around the room and figuring out how to surprise, trip up and delight the other people there. It was another sparsely attended night, but I think we did a lot with a little.