The reason I was in such a hurry to get to Koriyama largely comes down to two bands: Redd Temple and Rebel One Excalibur. Of these, the former are officially a Hot Thing in Tokyo right now, while the latter have the best name in Japanese rock, especially since Heaven Strike Ninja split up.
Arakawa from Redd Temple runs a studio called Tissue Box near Koriyama station, situated above the live venue Peak Action and also playing host to live events of its own. Tissue Box was, a couple of friends had suggested to me, more than just a studio. It was the hub: the point of interaction for the local scene. In some ways it had helped create the local scene in the first place.
I’d met Arakawa before, although pinpointing exactly when and where was more difficult. I remembered seeing Redd Temple in Tokyo, but we also shared a mutual friend in Shingo “Rally” Nakagawa, formerly of The Mornings and now my bandmate and colleague at Call And Response Records.
Arakawa pinpointed the three spots that best serve the scene in Koriyama as Tissue Box, Peak Action, and nearby bar Rebuill-doh. The owner of Rebuill-doh palys in local hardcore band Behind the 8 Ball, while other recommended local acts range from fellow hardcore monsters Band of Accuse, through the chaotic, emotional The Path, the piano- and cello-based Hapt, and offbeat singer-songwriters like Emi Fujino and Tokuichi Shinohara.
The girl in the corner, studying, turns out to be part of Hapt, and as her bandmates come in, she starts trying to work out what her band’s name actually means.
“Isn’t there something it stands for? ‘Have A Peaceful Time’ or something?” No one knows.
The Path also come in, and one of them is wandering around the room, riffing on his guitar while the others chill with Hapt.
“The Path are the number one best band in Koriyama,” says Arakawa.
“Not Hapt then?” I ask, looking at the members of Hapt. They look at Arakawa.
“Hapt are number two,” he declares.
Hiro from Rebel One Excalibur wanders in.
“Hi, are you Ian? I’m Kamata’s friend.” Everyone knows Kamata, and his influence extends way beyond Sendai.
“Rebel One Excalibur are number three,” says Arakawa.
Rebel One Excalibur
Rather than having one central city that acts as a core for the whole prefecture’s music scene, Fukushima really has three centres: Fukushima City itself, Koriyama and Iwaki. The emo-ish To Overflow Evidence are important players in the Iwaki scene, with members of the band working at local venue Sonic and organising the outdoor festival Onafes. According to Arakawa, this situation is similar to Yamagata, where in addition to Yamagata City, there are distinct local scenes in Sakata, Yonezawa and Shinjo. Fukushima and Yamagata are really both places where my truncated stay must necessitate a return at a later date.
To Overflow Evidence
Tissue Box also features a small record shop corner, where Redd Temple’s recent collaboration with avant-garde legend Yoshihide Otomo has pride of place. Ever since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Otomo has been vocal about the role the arts in Fukushima must play in ensuring the prefecture doesn’t allow itself to be defined by the disaster across the mountains in Futaba. When writing this blog, I questioned whether to even mention the disaster, because people in Fukushima must be sick of hearing about it, and by even bringing it up, I feed the perception of Fukushima as a prefecture defined by that one event.
Redd Temple & Yoshihide Otomo
Nevertheless, Otomo is right, and whether by conscious effort or their own inherent ambition and talent, musicians have a valuable role in creating an identity that defines Fukushima in the minds of outsiders. Mention Fukushima to people in the Tokyo underground scene and the first thing that pops into many of their heads now is bands like Redd Temple and Rebel One Excalibur, and that must count as at least a small success.
The guy from Behind the 8 Ball/Rebuill-doh is hanging out at Tissue Box as well, and (I think – my Japanese is a flimsy instrument for divining meaning) he comments that in the past there were always interesting musicians around in Koriyama, but that the important thing about Tissue Box is that it has given them a place to gather — that it has helped bring them together and given them a forum to communicate.
He also remarks that he has some mackerel curry at his bar if we’re hungry. Hiro and I are, and so we decamp to Rebuill-doh.
Rebuill-doh is an incredible place, of a sort that simply couldn’t exist in Tokyo. The size, the sheer sonic power its drumkit, speakers and PA can pump out, all of this would make it both economically and legally unsustainable in Tokyo. In Koriyama, however, it can happily host hardcore shows, dub, club music and other kinds of events with no problems from the cops.
We watch a video of Behind the 8 Ball playing at Rebuill-doh and all I want to do is come back and play a party here as soon as I possibly can.
Part of the tragedy of this tour, however, is that I know that at the end of it, I’ll just return to Tokyo and everything will be the same. I’ll know all these cool places, but bands I deal with won’t be able to spare the money or the time off from work or their families to come. Everything will sink back into its place and nothing will change.
The curry was excellent though.