While my time in Hokkaido was primarily spent around Sapporo, I was keen to venture out to the prefecture’s second city, Asahikawa, to see the venue Mosquito.
Ever since I first visited Hokkaido last winter, it was clear that Mosquito had a certain hold on the collective imagination of people in the Hokkaido underground music scene. Situated in the basement of one of the oldest (actually the oldest?) buildings in Asahikawa, it’s the kind of worn, lived-in, rocked-in space you walk into and immediately feel the need to make something dark, discordant or deranged. I’m being a sentimental idiot and the worst kind of “Aw, shucks, ain’t it kewt!” tourist here, but it has character.
Having already spent more time than my schedule really allowed in Hokkaido, I scavenged a lift in my friend Kaori’s car with a view to driving back to Sapporo the same night. With a 70km ride from my hotel to the ferry port in Tomakomai the next morning, this was never going to be an all-nighter. Still, with seven bands on the bill and an early start time of 4:30pm, the organisers clearly expected everyone in attendence to be thoroughly sonically bludgeoned.
One interesting thing the event did was to make the timetable a secret, forcing you to at least give everything a chance rather than wander off in search of ramen for a few hours and just show up for the one band you were there to see. Another was that it obscured the place of origin of all the bands. I knew a couple, but the rest appeared to me fresh and completely devoid of any context beyond the crumbling concrete and confusion of old audio gear that littered the corners of the room.
“Henshin Ninja” Tsuyoshi Sato was the first act I really caught, and I suspect he was from Tokyo – there’s something about a guy singing punk songs on an acoustic guitar in kabuki face paint that leaves a mark on the memory, and I’m sure I’ve seen him before somewhere. That said, it’s entirely possible that there’s a guy like him in every city in Japan.
The band I was really there to see was TG Atlas. The bassist is the owner of the venue, and I knew they were going to be good because people in Sapporo talked about them in the same way people in Kyushu talk about Velocityut and Accidents in Too Large Field. They’ve been around for what feels like forever, making this brutal no wave noise punk, with the ferocity and lack of affectation that is really the only way you can get away with this kind of arty music when you’re the only band for miles making anything like it.
I didn’t really catch much of Chi to Shizuku, but it seemed to be a sort of melodramatic, psychedelic enka. There were bits of the Jacks and bits of Television, with a drama queen vocalist singing poetry about death. There seems to be some connection with Katsurei and the Tenniscoats, (although doing time as a member of the Tenniscoats is like the draft for Japanese underground musicians: you have to run away to Canada to escape it) and they had the sort of slow-paced, inner psychic violence that I’ve grown familiar with from my local venue in Koenji, the UFO Club.
Skill Actor were a monstrously silly and very fun metal band of the sort that once you’ve established those basic parameters, the job of the music writer is really no more than filling up the word count. Meanwhile, the special guests of the night were legendary noise rock act Zeni Geva and progressive metal veterans Doom.
The after-parties at Mosquito are a big part of its mythic status among Hokkaido musicians. Along with 161 Soko in Sapporo, Mosquito is famous for putting on the most elaborate spreads of food for those musicians and fans who choose to stick around. The owner seemed to have his whole family producing dish after dish in a backstage kitchen area festooned with abstract art.
Those moments of “Hey, Ian!” “What? Who are you?” came back to haunt me when I ran into Tatsuya Yoshida, currently playing drums in Zeni Geva, as he found himself vaguely aware of my face but completely unable to place me. I didn’t risk my luck with KK Null. Talking to the vocalist from Doom, I learned of the time he was at a club in LA when a drunk Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols tried to punch Simon Le Bon in the face.
I was really there more as an observer than a participant in this case though, as we had a night drive back to Sapporo to contend with. With visibility hampered by an alarming lack of streetlights and often impenetrable mist, I was able to get some serious road-fear on in time for the next day. Bears? Pfah! I was an actor living a re-make of Lost Highway: all I needed was to get back to my hotel room and find Marilyn Manson in a porn film playing on the TV.