Who’s going to travel 1,000km to see a gig?

While I have some regrets about not checking out a legendary venue like Counter Action during my stay in Sapporo, I was back at Sound Crue for the second time in a couple of days to catch psychedelic folk act/singer-songwriter Hasymonew, today playing in a full band incarnation with Kikuchi from Os Banda on drums.CD store

My gentle prodding about record stores had been met with a sort of shrug and painful expression that said, “Not anymore,” and while the shop Ongaku Dokoro appears to carry some local indie music, most of the people I spoke to seemed to feel it didn’t really cater to them. Sound Crue itself has a small table with a curated selection of CDs available to listen to, but when I asked where bands sell their music, I just got a small laugh and, “They don’t.” Still, I recognised a few CDs by bands I know in Tokyo, which underscored Sound Crue’s fostering of connections far beyond Sapporo’s borders.

Hasymonew’s label is based in Tokyo, so they/he get(s) to bypass some of the distribution problems that can face local bands, and their gig was were typically excellent. They’re a band who whether you’re into the kind of thing they do or not, the quality and artistry involved is overwhelmingly obvious. They have a distinctive voice, not just as an effective iteration of a particular genre or tradition, but as an expression of a unique creative mind.

As with the other night, there was a visiting band from out of town, this time in the form of Kyoto’s Nagisa no Beethovens, who did a sort of scuzzy indie rock, edging over into powerpop at times. The forging of relationships with the music scene in other parts of the country is something that venues outside Tokyo seem to pay more attention to than those in the capital, presumably largely for economic reasons. If the pool of bands you have to work with is more limited, the importance of visiting artists becomes correspondingly greater. In addition, the role of the venue in putting local bands looking to tour in touch with people in other parts of the country becomes valuable in cultivating a community around them locally.

In this way, the venue draws influence then not just from its role as a space where music occurs, but also as a nexus in an information network. Sound Crue prominently features schedule leaflets for the venue Planet K in Tokyo’s Kichijoji district. That makes no real sense on a practical level for most people (who’s going to travel 1,000km to see a gig?) but mutual promotion of each other’s activities between two friendly venues makes more sense in terms of information. For bands from Planet K’s community wanting to go to Sapporo (and in the absence of any other, more direct influences like friendships with specific bands or labels), Sound Crue would now become the number one destination, and presumably vice versa.Planet K

One of the guitarists from Nagisa no Beethovens runs the venue Nega Posi in Kyoto, and the value of these personal connections and relationships seems to be just as valuable as a filter in a world of too much information as it was as a beacon or channel in an era of no information.

Closing the night this time was Benbe, a folk band with an impressively hirsute singer. This sort of cheerful party folk music is something you can hear almost anywhere, yet at the same time feels very much of its place wherever you find it. It’s not in the sound (which as I say is really all about variations on pretty familiar musical motifs) so much as in the relationship between the band and the audience. They could travel to another city, and they’d have the charm, talent and showmanship to go down very well, but you know that if they did, they’d make a point of announcing themselves as “Benbe, from Sapporo,” at every opportunity they got. Uprooted from their place, they would feel the need to invoke its totemic power.

You could hear something like that in Nagisa no Beethovens too, where the singer made a point of stressing both the band’s roots in Kyoto and his own personal background as a displaced Sapporoite. The other night at the same venue, Oishii Hanashi barely felt the need to mention where they were from. They’re from Tokyo: so what.

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