The event in Kumamoto finished at about 6:30am and the bands dispersed. Because of the distance involved in coming to Kyushu, most of the visiting bands had additional shows lined up elsewhere later that day, with Tadzio playing a show with Folk Enough in Fukuoka, Uhnellys playing a show in Kagoshima, and Falsettos playing a different show – also in Kagoshima – with Futtachi.
Part of the pleasure of putting on shows like these comes from playing cupid with bands, and Iguz from Futtachi had instantly fallen in love with the Falsettos from the first moment she’d heard them and as a result had been one of the first people I’d thought to contact when trying to set up their second show.
I headed back to Kagoshima for the night because fond as I am of Folk Enough and Tadzio, Futtachi are family and you always support your own. Leaving my bicycle in Kumamoto, I navigated past an imposing column of ugly, subhuman fascist scum spewing nationalist filth from inside their black trucks (way to ruin a guy’s otherwise highly positive impression of your town, assholes!) and took the bullet train, racing back in 45 minutes over a landscape that I’d taken three days to cycle through. Uhnellys’ show was at the much larger Carparvo Hall, while Guttachi and Falsettos were competing for the same local audience at the more intimate Bar Mojo.
Both Falsettos and Futtachi played at the all-night event at Kumamoto Navaro the previous night, and it’s fascinating to see the way the same music translates into a completely different feeling when it moves to a different location and environment. While Navaro and Mojo both retain a similar sense of intimacy by placing the bands on the same floor level as the audience, Navaro is still recognisably a club, with its unadorned walls and spot lighting. Mojo, on the other hand, surrounds you with blues paraphenalia and expressionist art, some of which was created by one of the bar’s staff, Dai Suematu. For this show, Suematu even went as far as making a thickly textured papier maché piece specially for the Falsettos.
Mojo’s audience is mostly seated today as well, which instantly sends a signal to the audience that they are to enjoy the show in a particular way. I’m usually suspicious of seated gigs in much the same way I am of acoustic guitarsm but after the chaos of last night, I’m more than happy to take this cue. The other live guest, Ryoma Sakou, is playing an acoustic guitar (another of my warning signals), but he does far more interesting things with it, using loops and electronic effects, than the yowling and emoting that the instrument usually entails.
Among the audience, it was great to see Shinya from Zokudams and Hazuki from Dorolys, two of my favourite Kagoshima bands. Even if ours was the smaller show, it was still the cooler one. Especially for a band like Dorolys, whose fragile, technically unsophisticated indiepop might struggle to find a home in a town like Kagoshima, I think visits from bands like the Falsettos can play a great role in encouraging diversity in local scenes. For a band like Dorolys, the fact that the Falsettos are another all-female band can sometimes play a big role too.
I’ve always been a bit wary of seeing artists pitched as “girls bands” – as if girls were a musical genre in themselves – because it so often feeds into a slightly creepy marketing culture that fetishises the artists as objects at the expense of the music. When I read about a band (as opposed to an idol, where I think the rules are a bit different) and the writer can’t resist making some remark on what fine looking ladies they are, it makes me sick up a little in my mouth – I try to avoid referring to the gender of artists I write about unless it’s relevant to what they’re doing or the semantics of how they present themselves.
However, when it comes from female artists themselves, the hue of a term like “girls band” changes. When Iguz talks to me about the inspiration she got starting out as a musicians from seeing other girls (like ‘80s punks Sekiri and once again Afrirampo – who I know I keep going on about here, but they were really important) doing wild, crazy music for themselves, it casts a different light on what “girls band” means and one that makes much more sense to me. It was undoubtedly part of what attracted her to the Falsettos in the first place.
So anyway, the Falsettos are a girls band, and they themselves have helped put on shows focused around other female artists, although I’ve always been wary of characterising them as such, since it’s rarely directly relevant to anything I want to say about their music (any more than, say, XTC being a bunch of guys is relevant to their music).
For me, what appeals to me most about the Falsettos is how what they do is so singular and beyond easy classification using the simple marketing boxes of the music industry or the more flexible but still crude tools of music journalism. It’s kinda-sorta new wave, and broadly speaking alt-rock, but calling it “just music” is so vague as to be meaningless. Their songs are structured sonic universes that suck you in and let you wander around, revealing new scenery each time you visit. The lyrics are mostly in English, but delivered in a way that defies easy deciphering, revealing fragments of meaning in a disconnected fashion.
Mission Control is a big fan of their song Icecream Fatal, a tale of two thieves who break into an icecream shop with the intention of robbing it, but are so overwhelmed by kids demanding icecream that they end up serving them just to shut them up, eventually becoming famous icecream men in the process. It’s a marvellous song, delivered as a manic Weimar comic opera piece, and because of my own background I can’t help reading the lyric as a reflection of the music scene.
I remember a conversation I had with some musicians I work with about selling their songs for use in commercials. Their attitude was, “Yeah, of course we would. Isn’t it hilarious? Us in an advert for perfume? It’s so weird: it’s dada, it’s situationism!” I disagree with this completely. There’s nothing weird about this band’s song being used in a commercial for perfume or anything else: once their song’s in that advert, it becomes a song from an advert and its meaning is defined by that. You may be entering the perfume advert with subversive intentions, but once you’re in there, you’re selling perfume: you’ve become the perfume salesman.
That’s not to say people shouldn’t make money from their music though – simply that they should know what kind of trade they’re maijng. Jim O’Rourke may be able to justify selling his song to a Wal-Mart advertisement based on him having been able to buy a house or a studio or fund X number of his own records with the money, but he surely knew that when he sold that song, it was lost. He calculated the financial profit against the creative loss and decided that his sentimental attachment to an old song was something he didn’t mind severing. He decided that whatever his fans had invested in that song was something that was worth muddying by thrusting it into this new commercial arena in order to facilitate the creation of more, newer work.
Are the icecream men in the Falsettos song happy with the trade they made? They became famous icecream men, so it’s a happy ending in a way, but at the same time, there’s a bitter edge to their success because it wasn’t the sort of success they were trying to achieve. Would they have felt more satisfaction having carried out their heist successfully, even if it meant living the precarious lives of criminals on the outskirts of society? Is it a comedy or a tragedy?
I don’t think the Falsettos really meant the song to convey this specific metaphor, and it’s the kind of thing where many people might just say it’s a funny story and nothing more. Regardless of their intentions, there is something more though. The story is funny because there’s an ironic reversal at its core, and ironic reversals are at the core of so much great comedy and tragedy. I apply the story to music, because that’s where the ironic reversals I see around me occur, but it works as a metaphor wherever you choose to align its prism.
So what I love about the Falsettos isn’t that I think their music means specifically this or that: it’s that their music allows you the freedom to travel within it and find stories of your own using the toys they provide you with.
Futtachi are sonically a very different band, but they create something similar in the sense of their music being open to interpretation. According to Iguz, their music will typically begin in the form of a novella written by guitarist Omi, which he then abandons unpublished while he and Iguz (and the other members when they’re there) channel into a piece of abstract psychedelic music. Somewhere behind the songs there is a meaning, but rather than communicating it directly, they extract its atmosphere and essence, allowing you to map your own stories over its emotional topography.
The appeal of this for me is in how it represents a facet of something that runs through a lot of my work with musicians, and which is embedded in the name “Call And Response” that I use for my label. It’s the idea that the audience is an equal participant in the creative process, and that in various ways this sense of reaching out part way but leaving space where the audience has to do some work too is at the heart of what I think music should do.