The habitual voyeur

After a whirlwind weekend in Fukuoka, I needed to take it easy for a couple of days. Sleeping on the sofa of Harajiri from Hyacca’s apartment, I’d had the chance to explore his CD collection and “borrow” the excellent new album by indiepop/new wave/hip hop duo Sonotanotanpenz. Meanwhile Harajiri himself had pointed out indie-disco trio Lightning Deliveries and the gothic new wave of the Daisy Chainsaw-esque Mirabillis as two bands currently worthy of attention.


Mirabillis

These add to a long and growing list of notable Fukuoka bands that already includes post-hardcore band Chainsaw TV, veteran postpunk band Accidents in Too Large Fieldpost-rock/shoegazers Abyssal and the magnificent Narcolepsin (especially since their equisitely impassive keyboad player joined) – not to mention all the bands I’ve already talked about and a handful more I’m holding back for later.

From there, I rested up for a while at Takeshi from Macmanaman’s place, performing the same acquisitive ritual on his CD collection (“Hey, Takeshi, where’s a good place to start with Miles Davis?” “Umm…”) and getting a sneak preview of some excellent new material by tepPohseen, who had played at my show in Kumamoto the other week, as well as some of the raw studio material from Macmanaman’s new recording. I dropped by the studio later in the week to get a firsthand glimpse of the painstaking process by which their intricate, breakneck wall of sonic squiggles and noise takes form on record.

After getting a restoratively excessive amount of sleep for a couple of nights running, I moved on to a hotel near Ohori Park. Just off the centre of Fukuoka, Ohori Park is mostly occupied by a large lake, although it borders Maizuru Park and the ruins of Fukuoka Castle, providing a network of open and green spaces. Needless to say, this was exactly the sort of contrast I needed after the intensity of the past few days.

Just across the road from the park is a record store called Parks, which is one of the few small, independent record shops that pays much attention to local indie music. I spot Macmanaman’s album in there, as well as Panicsmile’s most recent and the recent 7-inch by local indiepop stalwarts the Hearsays. I could see that the shop had a distinct interest in the current City Pop trend, but it was pleasing to see they weren’t neglecting noisier stuff.

Between Ohori Park and the central retail area of Fukuoka in Tenjin lies Daimyo, which is basically what you might term the hipster district of Fukuoka. There are lots of boutiques, clothes shops, some art galleries, cafés, and most interesting from my point of view a couple more record shops. Borderline Records is primarily a used record shop, although since the closure of its indie specialist sister store Chameleon Records, Borderline has kept the Chameleon brand alive in the form of a little sign over a sad little forgotten corner of the shop containing an infrequently updated handful of indie CDs.


Sonotanotanpenz

Just across the street from Borderline is Ticro Market, a club music specialist, which seems to be thriving in a way that rock in Kyushu very much isn’t outside the live arena. As far as the local club scene goes, the eclectic local Oilworks collective, with their label, events and a store of their own, command a respect that extends beyond their own crowd and into the indie and punk scenes as well. Meanwhile I discovered an outlet for Fukuoka’s reggae community in the corner of bar Big Up.

In my most recent music column for The Japan Times, I talk about the decline of the record store in the context of indie rock’s relationship to the CD format and one point I touch upon but don’t have space to develop further is indie’s conservatism. This is a difficult point, and indie, like any other scene, is conservative in some ways but not in others. Certainly some parts of the indie scene have helped in their own small way drive the growing popularity of vinyl and cassettes, although if resurrecting old formats from the ‘70s and ‘80s and earlier counts as being “forward-thinking” I think we have a problem. Rather, though, I think “conservatism” in the indie scene more often comes from a suspicion of gimmicks and a cautiousness that prioritises something feeling right over making strict business sense.


Narcolepsin

Obviously I’m projecting a little there, as that’s pretty much the philosophy by which I approach music and of course other labels aren’t as suspicious of new trends as I am. There are also good economic reasons why indie rock as a whole is finding it so difficult to shake off CDs, and I suspect that if those issues can be resolved, the attachment people have to the CD format isn’t so deep that people will cling to it out of sentimentality alone. It won’t be until CDs have all but disappeared that people will start waxing lyrical about the good old days of shiny silver discs.


Chainsaw TV

Conservatism in music is relative anyway. Compared to the US or Europe, the Japanese indie scene seems to make it much easier for women and girls to participate in the music scene, both as musicians and as managers or engineers at venues (although men still dominate in all arenas, and there are some caveats regarding the social roles those women are expected to play in relation to the men). From region to region you can feel the differences too.


Abyssal (ex-AZMA Shoegaze Explosion)

Fukuoka is a big city with a very lively music scene, encompassing a range of genres, and compared to other cities in the area (and even a lot of comparable sized cities) it’s a creative powerhouse. However, talking to Hajime Yoshida of the band Panicsmile, he remarked that after many years living in Tokyo, Fukuoka felt rather conservative on returning. There are ideas and ways of doing things that audiences are simply not used to, and have to be exposed to gradually before they can accept it. As someone who knew Panicsmile back in Tokyo, I found their music thoroughly alien and difficult to get into at first, and it took me a long time before I had the tools to figure out its appeal. For music that exists on the exploratory fringes, the process of training audiences to accept it can sometimes bear an alarming resemblance to Stockholm Syndrome, although that doesn’t make it less real.


Panicsmile

When he first arrived in Fukuoka from Hiroshima in the early ‘90s, Yoshida was faced with a different sort of conservatism in the shape of the notoriously hierarchical “mentai rock” scene. “Mentai rock” is the term used by music journalists for the sort of rock’n’roll/garage rock that emerged from Fukuoka in the 1970s as a precursor to punk. Among its most celebrated graduates are Sonhouse, The Roosters, The Mods and Sheena & The Rokkets. The scene had a huge role in establishing Fukuoka’s status as a centre of music culture, and Ko Matsumoto of Juke, possibly Fukuoka’s oldest and certainly one of its most fascinating record stores, cites Sonhouse/Sheena & The Rokkets’ Makoto Ayukawa as a hugely important person in helping him on his own personal musical journey.


Sonhouse

Nevertheless, by the late ‘80s, it’s easy to see how that scene may have started to ossify, and visitors to the town often noted that the remaining mentai rockers had become a bit of a closed shop for newcomers. The big shift Fukuoka rock music took in the ‘90s was partly kicked off by Yoshida and contemporary musicians like Shutoku Mukai (Number Girl/Zazen Boys), whose “Hakata no wave” mini-movement was pointedly separate from the mentai rockers (if not strictly opposed to them) and set the stage for a lot of the more modern, alt-rock and art-punk music that was to come. To this day, you can still classify a great deal of the Fukuoka alternative scene into the followers of either Sheena & The Rokkets or Number Girl.


Number Girl

At the end of the week, I battle my way through squalls of heavy rain to reach Kitakyushu, where I can make camp at my friend Evgeny’s small flat. Still within reasonably easy access to Fukuoka City, the next few days will be spent ping ponging back and forth between the two cities.

DSC_7287
The sleepy Kitakyushu suburb of Orio

Kitakyushu has a population of about a million, which is a bit misleading since it’s one of those fake cities constructed on paper by regional government bureaucrats out of several unrelated towns and cities. It supports a lot of live venues, such as Marcus in the Kurosaki part of the sprawling non-city and the wonderfully-named Wow! by Nishi-Kokura Station. Most of the venues are around the Kokura part of town though, with venues like Fuse and Megahertz jostling for attention with countless others among the seedy streets.

And Kitakyushu certainly has a reputation in the area as a rough town. The streetside food stands are famously good, but they are also banned by local government ordinances from serving alcohol due to the number of fights that were breaking out. Whenever you hear in the news about yakuza shooting up someone’s house in this or that gang war, Kitakyushu crops up as a location with alarming frequency. When I was interviewing Kentaro Nakao (former Number Girl and current Crypt City/Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her bassist) last year, he noted that he had left his home in Kitakyushu for the no wave revival of Yoshida’s Fukuoka in part because the punk scene at that time was so dominated by “bad boy rockers” huffing paint thinner – when you bring up Kitakyushu with almost anyone in the Fukuoka City music scene, they more often than not nod sagely and say, “Ahh, thinner.”

Evgeny and I avoid the bad boy rockers and instead drop by Gallery Soap, an art gallery-cum-bar where live events sometimes take place. There’s no show the night we arrive since the venue is preparing for an exhibition the following day, but its quietly stylish atmosphere feels like another planet from the hustle of the Kokura streets outside.

In addition to Neburi, who I’d seen in Fukuoka at the weekend, I’d picked up from somewhere (most likely from Inoue at Café & Bar Gigi) a recommendation for The Tortoise City Band Electro, an indie rock band from Kitakyushu and very much in the Number Girl tradition of Kyushu acts.


The Tortoise City Band Electro

The next day, however, it’s back to Fukuoka again for glimpse at the rock’n’roll face its music scene still conjures up to many observers. This Saturday we’re going to mentai like it’s 1979.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s