Call And Response business went on hold for a week over the end of November and beginning of December, as I was away at the fantastic Madeiradig experimental music festival in Madeira, Portugal, which mostly involved drinking beer with Germans, with the addition of a small amount of actual music.
I hit the ground running upon my return, though, heading straight from the airport to a meeting with the guys from Tropical Death and a journalist from an inflight magazine who’s writing a feature on the Japanese underground music scene. I’m not sure what the crossover between underground music fans and inflight magazine readers is, but I guess there must be some. Writing about something as diverse and fragmented as Japanese underground music is an impossible task and I don’t envy him, but at least it’s a good excuse to see some cool shows and get drunk with some cool music people (and us).
The next day, on December 8th, was the latest Tension! event that I organise with Mayumi from P-iPLE. The ideal balance with an event is always a difficult one to pull off, and I’ll take different approaches with different events.
An interesting comparison for me is a show I went to couple of weeks previously at Koiwa Bushbash, where another organiser was holding a release party for a compilation cassette that she’d just released. Her event was broken up into two separate shows, the first opening in the morning and finishing in the afternoon, and the second opening around 6pm and finishing about 9:30pm. Each band at this Koiwa show played around 40 minutes, and they all had the chance to do a proper soundcheck, with the result being that a total of seven bands appeared, spread over about 10 hours, including a long break in the middle. I had to miss the evening show due to another engagement, but was able to catch Nagoya’s excellent Free City Noise in the afternoon show. In any case, this approach of seven acts with longer sets and full soundchecks was a very band-friendly scheduling environment (I’m not sure if the audience were expected to pay individually for both the afternoon and evening shows).
At Tension!, we had 14 live acts and three DJs over the course of eight hours. No one really had time to do a proper soundcheck except the first bands on each of the two stages we’d set up, the sets were all 25-30 minutes in length, and the whole event had a much more intense pace to it, with something going on somewhere nearly all the time. It’s obviously a less artist-friendly setup, although I think it also made for a more explosive (maybe a bit overwhelming for some) experience for the audience as a whole, which brings its own benefits for artists who rarely get to play to a packed crowd of such energised fans.
One of the ways I sometimes describe Tension! is as a space where music of that postpunk/noise-rock type that I like can have its own scene rather than existing as an adjunct to either the punk, noise, indie or experimental scene — the overlapping area of a Venn diagram covering several different scenes. When I was in Madeira talking to people involved in experimental music in Europe, I also realised that what I was trying to do was promote music that has something experimental about it but treat it (and encourage the audience to treat it) as if it was just regular rock music.
While bands are usually excited to be playing outside their usual scenes, one problem with mixing things up in this way is that audiences don’t always follow, wither by avoiding the event or by sticking rigidly to only the bands they’re familiar with. The old alt-rock/underground crowd from places like Akihabara Club Goodman and Shinjuku Motion mostly steer clear of Tension!, although the event seems to be growing to the extent that increasingly we can ignore them without suffering for it. More serious is when people with different backgrounds fall into conflict. Noise and industrial fans are used to freaking out intensely in their own private and personal space, while hardcore fans treat their music as a more communal and aggressive experience, so throwing both these kinds of people together on the same floor without any established common etiquette can sometimes create friction. As a result, during Jailbird Y’s set there was a bit of aggro on the dance floor that fortunately didn’t flare up into anything too serious.
There was also a brief power outage in the main stage area that interrupted Tropical Death’s set, although the excellent Moonstep staff sorted it out swiftly (despite punters needing to pee in the dark for a while). Melt-Banana brought the event to an ecstatic finale, and once again I can’t emphasise enough what fantastic performers they are and what thoroughly nice people.
All in all, the night was a big success, so thanks to Naoki and the rest of the Moonstep staff, big thanks to Melt-Banana for being such fantastic headliners as always, and special thanks to all the bands who travelled so far to take part -- Adrena Adrena from the UK, Lumi from France, Jailbird Y from Hiroshima and Velvet Ants from Nagoya. Also thanks to Soloist Anti Pop Totalization, who played two shows in one day, as well as the "Yokoscum" event in Kanagawa who kindly co-ordinated the schedules of Soloist and some other musicians who were playing at both shows with us despite our two events being rivals of a sort. That sort of intra-scene support and good will always leaves a warm feeling.
Events this packed and intense are difficult to organise and really exhausting, so it’ll be a long time before we do something like this again, but our regular programme of smaller, accessible parties will be back in full swing in the new year. Also, since there aren’t any new Call And Response releases for a while, we’re bringing a few of our friends’ albums into the online store soon, and there are some big discounts planned on CAR releases over the year-end period — more to be announced on that soon.