It’s the eve of my departure from Nagoya and I drop by Bar Ripple. It’s a dingy art-punk dive bar and the place that gave Knew Noise Recordings’ Ripplecompilation its name. Situated under the railway tracks in a desolate part of town, near the venues K.D. Japon and Daytrip, punk and garage bands often play there on weekends as a cheaper, more atpmospheric, more intimate alternative to the sometimes pricey and sterile dedicated live venues.
The only people there are me and the owner, Nobu. I’ve been there once before, several years ago, as a DJ and I’m surprised and pleased that he remembers me. In the background, Nobu is playing movies, starting with the German punk-era film Berlin Super 80, followed by a Simon Fisher Turner collage documentary. There’s something in the cut-up styles of these films – especially the documentary – that increasingly chimes with the way I’ve been experiencing this journey, the relationship of sound to location becoming more and more fractured and fragmented as the places themselves become more interconnected, the borders between one place and the next feeling less and less significant. Partly this may be the more fragmented nature of my journey, with train rides across the mountains and boat trips across the seas diluting my sense of space and then giving way to central and western Japan, where the cities are closer together than in less populated areas like Hokkaido, Tohoku and Hokuriku, their borders interpenetrating, sharing transportation networks and music scenes.
But maybe it’s also that the longer I’m on the road, the more places become the same. Or rather because of the kind of person I am, the more I instinctively find the same kinds of places, the same kinds of music. Maybe it’s less about borders than it is about the process that takes me from place to place.
As this trip has gone on, I’ve been plotting tentatively a new compilation album for Call And Response, focusing on postpunk and noise-rock – in part influenced by the way Kyoto had reminded me of the Post Flag compilation of Wire covers I’d released eight years previously. In preparation I’ve been trying to write something explaining my feelings about postpunk that has ended up being a sort of manifesto against genre as a strictly defined set of sonic boundaries. At the same time, though, don’t genre boundaries function in some ways like music’s ego? Without them, what is it? What you’re left with then isn’t a sound but a creative process – greater freedom, but a far slipperier sense of identity.
Nobu thinks the best new act to appear in Nagoya recently is Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 and he puts on their recently released album. Hearing them in recorded form for the first time, I realise it’s an album that really encapsulates a lot of the way I’d been thinking about music, and particularly about postpunk. It also helps me to reaffirm exactly why it is that I retain such a strong affection for postpunk so many decades after it ceased to be relevant in most people’s eyes.
Postpunk was a kind of music that was born out of the destructive, back-to-basics punk movement that set itself the task of shattering what it saw as the over-indulgent popular music of its day – prog rock, disco etc. To the extent that it succeeded with a certain number of people, what it left them was not a blank slate but a ruined landscape strewn with fragments. Postpunk was the process of picking up those broken fragments of rock history and, together with influences drawn from then-contemporary music like dub, krautrock, electronic music etc., reassembling them into something new, typically with limited musical ability and a punkish sense of minimalism. To make postpunk now, you would have to recognise an additional 40 years of musical history, and there is no reason to expect that result to sound superficially similar to the sound of Joy Division, Gang of Four or Wire. Instead, it’s that process of reconstructing broken fragments of other music within a minimalist approach, intimately bound up in this tense relationship between destruction and new creation.
Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 combine trip-hop, noise and industrial music in precisely this tensely balanced, minimalist way, so whatever genre you want to apply to them (all three of the styles I mention above have roots in postpunk in some way, but all of them have grown into their own niche over the years), at least in terms of their process, they’re almost perfectly primed to attract my interest.
The other band Nobu brings up is a lo-fi punk band called Marcela, who he compares to Gang of Four and The Buzzcocks. They’re a band who draw much more directly from the punk era, which tends to be a more superficial attraction for me. As the owner of a live bar, though, it’s in the white heat of live events that Nobu experiences most new local music, and regardless of how original or not something is – regardless of the processthat I make such a big deal out of – in a live environment, it’s the band’s own commitment to the moment that sells it.
We have a listen to a few new bands from Tokyo, and Nobu remarks on the propensity so many bands in the capital have for complex, clinically delivered rhythms. While Nagoya has its own share of these bands (the Stiff Slack scene is more where they congregate), this is something I’ve heard before from friends in Kagoshima, and it really does seem to be a Tokyo thing. Perhaps in a local scene like Tokyo’s with so many underground and alternative bands, it’s an unconscious fear of not doing enough and appearing unsophisticated in the eyes of your peers. In almost any other local scene in the country, the unconscious pressure will be the opposite: the danger of over-egging the music and losing the raw energy that enables you to co-exist smoothly with bands of different genres and their fans.
Like Tokyo, though, Nagoya is a city where it’s easy to be into one particular kind of music and not really know about everything else happening in the town, and as I prepare to leave, I know I’ve left a great deal unexplored – the whole Imaike area where popular venues like Huck Finn and Tokuzo are located, for a start, not to mention ano more of a dozen other venues. Nagoya is also the last city I’ll visit that’s big enough – and which has a music scene isolated and independent enough – for these sorts of comparisons with Tokyo to really work, so despite the long distance remaining, leaving really feels like crossing the last major milestone before my return.