The journey from Takamatsu to Tokushima was perhaps the most relentlessly pleasant section of my travels so far, with gradients, winds and skies working largely in my favour. Past Mount Yashima, along the garbage-strewn concrete knots of the Shikoku coast, beneath the watchful eyes of hunting birds of prey, and through sudden chicanes of conceptual art, my final stop on the island of Shikoku drew closer.
The journey would have been nothing more than the prelude to a disappointment if Tokushima itself hadn’t been one of the most instantly pretty towns of the trip. In its riverside parks, wooded hilltops, and spacious, faintly tropical boulevards of palm trees, Tokushima shares a similar atmosphere with the other main cities of Shikoku, combining all their most attractive points into one, condensed little island, cut off from the mainland by the courses and confluences of two rivers.
My contact in Tokushima came through a series of dominoes, the first of which was tipped by Agata from bubblegum-hardcore band Melt-Banana, who introduced me via email to local organiser Iyaman. While unable to get to Tokushima City from his job on the relevant night, he was able to set in motion another series of dominoes, starting with his brother Yoshitaka and eventually bringing what felt like the whole local music scene around the table of an izakaya in downtown Tokushima.
Young Persons Club
Joining us there were members of off-kilter indie rock band Young Persons Club, the manager of local live venue Crowbar, Iyaman’s occasional event collaborator “Ism Rockfield” of the Goodness Team event (who have supported shows by touring artists like Toe, Yasutaka Nakata, and Scha Dara Parr) a number of young musicians, including Fujioka from The Circus, Horibe from Monaurals and Yukimoto, formerly of Okayama-based indie rock band Ramca.
While the table layout and large group gathered meant that I was able to talk to some people more than others, they were able to agree on some key information, namely that Thirsty Chords are pretty much the best local band and that it was a bummer that they hadn’t been able to join us, while local venues included (in addition to Crowbar) the relatively new Em Base, Grindhouse, and music bars like Jiro’s Guitar Bar, Rocky, and Txalaparta. There’s not much in the way of record stores, but Tokushima apparently has its own mobile music store called Cabbage Case, that pops up at gigs here and there selling CDs, records and tapes, before packing up and disappearing into the night.
Other acts who crop up through the course of the back-and-forth discussion, mostly on the broad spectrum that lies between indie rock and punk, include the punky likes of Kain, Bows and The Ninja, and the more J-pop/shoegaze-influenced Shiroi Asa ni Saku and Bandneon.
Shiroi Asa ni Saku
One band everyone seems to rate as interesting, although one suspects not everyone is entirely sold on them yet, is Yuureka (their web site spells it Yuureka and their Twitter accound spells it Eureka – I’m going with a direct transcription of the katakana here). Another young band, they are clearly heavily influenced by the minimal, rhythmical sounds of bands like 54-71, Kuukan Gendai and Ningen OK, and Ism describes them as being “On the edge, just taking the step up from ‘amateur band’ to ‘indie’.”
“What’s the difference between an amateur band and an indie band?” I ask.
Ism thinks about this, before replying carefully that, “It’s in the atmosphere.”
I push a bit further, explaining as best I can that I feel the difference between an amateur band and an indie band is that amateurs want to become professional – they’re essentially major bands who just aren’t popular yet. Indie, on the other hand, has an ethos, that at least in some way rejects the major label system in favour of following its own path, often adopting the “amateur” DIY production process as a necessary means to preserving their creative independence.
With the blunt tool of my ugly, hacked-out Japanese, it takes a while to get this across. It’s hard to tell if Ism completely agrees with me or not, but he seems to accept this idea of indie and major as two paths forking out from the same starting point.
“Bands aren’t born indie or major. They start as amateur and realise they like the indie or DIY ethos later.”
The point as far as Yuureka are concerned seems to be that they are growing up.
After a detour with the young folk over to Txalaparta, where DJs are playing a mixture of anime music, ’70s rare groove and earsplitting German industrial music, I turn in, agreeing to meet up with Yukimoto again the next day.
Tokushima is famous primarily as the home of the Awaodori/Awa Dance festival, the largest street festival in Japan, and source of innumerable imitators (the largest of which is a huge event held in my home of Koenji every August, only slightly smaller than the original). Awaodori is such an important part of the city’s branding that its imagery infuses everything, jumping out at you from advertising and public art wherever you turn, and featuring prominently in the video for Kokodake wo Hanashi by Tokushima’s most celebrated pop daughters Chatmonchy. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the only record shop in town is called Awa Records (“Tower Records?” “No, ‘Awa Records’!” “Are you fucking kidding me?”)
Aside from a weirdly large number of truly ancient back issues of Cookie Scene magazine, Awa is a pretty normal CD store with the usual mixture of rock and pop you’d expect anywhere. Where indie-ish things are in stock, they seem to be more or less of the “Rockin’ On-kei” style of indie-edged pop-rock.
Coming from a musical substrata where the words “Rockin’ On” are always spoken with the edge of a sneer, I often have to stop and remind myself of the context in which people are making and listening to music in a particular place. As with almost everywhere in Shikoku (except perhaps Takamatsu), Tokushima has a strong sense of itself as being a bit of an isolated backwater. With the informal networks of fans and musicians that spread information about the sharper, harsher-edged (and I would say cooler) stuff still limited to a great extent by the practicalities of touring, the music you’re into depends largely on the alternative information sources available to you.
If that sounds patronising, then mea culpa, yeah, it kind of is. People like what they like, and unpopular music isn’t inherently superior to popular music (although funny how often there appears to be a negative correlation). Still, if your main sources of information are Rockin’ On Japan and the suggested listens on YouTube, it’s worth bearing in mind that what you’re being pushed towards isn’t the result of the passionate recommendation of a record store clerk or a friend: it’s the result of paid promotion by record labels, reinforced by algorithms designed to give you more of the same.
Part of my suspicion, however, is undoubtedly bitterness at young people not liking or even knowing about the stuff that I think they should like, and why the hell should a college kid care what a music writer in his late 30s thinks? (Answer: on principle they shouldn’t, but in practice they should, because it’s me and I’m always right). In any case, it’s a huge relief to discover that Yukimoto knows Hyacca. Thank fuck.
We take a trip over to the university to hang out at a band circle’s club house. As someone who becomes increasingly terrified of young people the older I get, the university is like entering the tiger’s lair for me, and the fresh-faced, waiflike creatures that inhabit it torment me with their combination of superficial similarity to normal (i.e. over-25) humans, coupled with a sort unheimlichkeit that seems to reflect my own decay and death in its blank-faced otherness.
Still, my melodramatic (and let’s face it, massively exaggerated for comic effect) fear of youth conceals a real need I feel to make sure my own events and label can at least keep the customary one arm, reached out halfway towards audiences outside my own core group of friends – to make sure the rock-branded face of the corporate rock megalith isn’t the only one trying to speak to them. I joke about the alienness of youth, but I can’t believe they really are that different. They’re more scared of you than you are of them… or is that spiders?
In any case, at the club house we run into Hamada from Yuureka, who’s not actually in the band circle, but seems to hang out there a lot anyway, playing Super Smash Brothers. We watch his band’s videos: they’re cool.