The next big thing on the Call And Response calendar is the event Tropical Death are organising at the new Jam in Nishi-Eifuku. I met up for some yakitori in Koenji with bassist Shingo and guitar/vocal Eugene last week, along with visiting Filipino sound artist Escuri, who’s staying in Yokohama for a couple of months to do a sort of artist residency.
One of the things we talked about was the perennial issue that dogs event organisers: what order to put the acts in. There are often unspoken assumptions that certain bands by virtue of seniority get the sweeter spots, and you risk offending them if you drop them below a newer band on the bill. At the same time, though, if you’ve got bands travelling a long way to play, you don’t want to bury them in a quiet slot.
There’s also audience behaviour to consider. If the event’s an all-nighter, it’ll likely climax somewhere around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and then fade out towards the end, but if it’s an evening event, it’ll tend to build to a climax right at the end.
Then there’s the kinds of bands on the bill. At least chez CAR, we try to avoid putting bands who are too similar on back to back. Especially if a band is doing one thing in a particularly intense way, you’ll often want another band to work as a palette cleanser between them and anything else slightly similar.
Finally, you have to consider all the annoying but inevitable requirements bands themselves will drop on you, insisting that you organise the timetable around their job schedules, or members booking other gigs with different bands on the same day and trying to juggle both shows.
Talking to Tropical Death, the bands at their event seemed pretty cool about what times they played, so it was just a case of shuffling the pieces round like Tetris pieces or a tile game until the picture looked right. However the lineup ends up going, it should be a pretty sweet event anyway, with post-rock lunatics Macmanaman coming down from Fukuoka, local electro-punk-noise duo Paris Death Hilton, progressive rock collective Musqis, as well as the man Escuri. A chaotic-looking agglomeration of artists are going to do a jam session as well, which is usually an absolutely horrible idea, but hey, it might be good this time.
The Fashion Crisis event on Friday the 7th was weirdly well attended, partly due to our buddy Comicbook Sean (not to be confused with Sean Drums and Indiepop Sean) celebrating his birthday at the same event. It passed through several party stages, including karaoke with a random weird old guy we picked up in a bar, and ended with me and Julien from Lo-shi flaked out on my sofa, listening to Deserters’ Songs by Mercury Rev and making bold, nonsensical pronouncements about the death of music.
Naturally Saturday was a write-off, while on Sunday my wife and I let some fashionable young musicians use our house as a photo studio (we have a cinema screen and projector, so they were able to do funky things with video projections). Listening to these kids and their promoter buddy talking afterwards was educational and a reminder that even the faintest connection to the music industry proper puts you in contact with a very different world to the basement-dwelling underground scene that’s my normal. They’d casually drop the names of popular record labels or bands whose names are jokes to most of my friends because their world seems so inaccessible. One of them asked me what sort of music I’m into and I said something contrarian like, “In an ideal world, all music would sound like a cross between This Heat and Red Transistor.” They just blinked at me and changed the topic.
There’s a very visible change that happens when music steps into the “music industry” sphere (which includes larger indie labels as well as the majors) and you can see it in the fashion and music videos. You can tell when a band isn’t choosing their own clothes anymore, and often what happens is that suddenly everything in their videos is either in slow motion or shot with all fast cuts with that high-contrast, metallic sheen and maybe a wind machine. It looks like total garbage.
One of the musicians was getting bombarded with offers from record labels and fashion brands but had so far resisted them, preferring to do things themselves, while the other had signed with a large-ish indie. Typically, what musicians who don’t want to fall into the homogenising J-Pop trap aim to do is work with overseas producers and sign with a foreign label — ideally one in the UK or US. It doesn’t always work though, because the bands most enamoured with, for example, British music tend to be the ones who offer the least to a British label that they can’t find from a hundred local bands. Something that conforms to the brightly-coloured, energetic and (sorry) “wacky” Japanese stereotypes that still persist in the west stands a far better chance, as evidenced by how the good but annoying Chai were able to sign with UK label Heavenly recently.
The whole conversation left me a bit dazed though, to be honest. Bands fretting over whether this gig or that gig is the right direction for them, whether such-and-such a band is the right band for them to share a bill with, scheduling out their releases to best manage media interest, planning out their careers like military operations, none of it sounds fun and the deeper involved in the industry an artist gets, the less they look like they’re having fun when you see them play (or if they do, it’s with the glazed smiles of trained salesmen).
All of which sounds quite negative, although these were some cool bands that I’m very fond of. However, as a window into a way of thinking that’s normal for a lot of people, it definitely reminded me of how naive and simplistic the way I and a lot of the artists I work with think is.