Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bassta! Pex conquers Japan!!!

We arrived to Narita airport after almost ten hours long flight from Perth. Recent survey showed that Australians are least satisfied with Qantas of all airlines and I don’t blame them – the food was bloody awful! Didn’t get much sleep at all, but was looking forward to the beginning of my holidays in Japan.

We went through the customs smoothly – no dirty “you are a terrorist smuggling eggs, honey and wood to Australia” look I’m used to almost every time I fly in to Perth, hehehe.

Atsuko’s family picked us from the airport, we hired the mobile phone, got some money from ATM and took the train to Yokohama. The ride was very comfortable and some hour and half later we arrived to her home.

Straight away the in-laws accepted me wholeheartedly and I knew it’ll be nice five weeks spending here at their house. Japanese houses are much smaller than Australian ones, but somehow they don’t lack anything. I surely have to bend my head every time I go from room to another room, which is a lesson I learned the hard way at least couple of times.

Atsuko’s father is a great cook and he certainly takes care of our meals while at home. It’s hard to believe, but I put on 3 kilos in just 5 days. Japanese people are food-obsessed in the best possible way. And to me everything tastes fuckin’ awesome, so it’s really difficult to resist all the nice food that’s on offer here, not to mention all the beer and other drinks.

All the stories about Japan being expensive are bullshit – so far the only thing more expensive here than in Australia is coffee. Eating and drinking out is cheaper (unless you eat not-Japanese food, which I won’t do here, of course), cigarettes are $3 a pack (although I haven’t been smoking almost at all here), the other stuff I’m spending money on (CDs, records) are also cheaper than in Perth. The other day I went and bought a new Epiphone SG bass, with two leads, a strap, and other accessories for less than $450!!!

Apart from meeting my in-laws, the other reason for coming here is a short tour by my bass-noise band Abe Sada – - I will be playing four gigs with them in Tokyo starting from next week. Can’t wait!!

Abe Sada @ Em Seven, Koiwa, 26 June 2007

Abe Sada @ Motion, Shinjuku, 28 June 2007

The last gig in Tokyo is on tonight. It’s been hectic few days. I had to catch trains (and mean a few) from where I’m staying in Yokohama to wherever we had to play. The load in is usually around 3pm, followed by a soundcheck. That means I had to leave home around noon to get there in time.

All the venues we played were quite smaller than the venues in Perth, which is cool, as I’m much more comfortable with that and, honestly, didn’t think that hundreds of Japanese punters will rush to see some obscure, unknown noise band from Australia.

First gig on 26 June was at Em Seven in Koiwa, which is, apparently, suburb of Chiba, not Tokyo. Meaning: it’s fuckin’ far away. We met Cat and Karlos (two quarters of Abe Sada) near their hotel at Minami-Senji station. They both looked tired as they just flew in from Singapore that morning.

We went to the venue where we met the guy who delivered amps – we had to hire three bass amps, as the venues here only have one bass amp, which is reasonable, considering that venues in Australia have bugger all! The guy seemed ok, but we think that he ripped us off later, but that’s another story and one of very, very few bad ones, so let’s skip it here.

Dylan – the fourth Abe Sada member for most shows here – arrived with his two friends and we went to load stuff in the venue. We decided to spread the amps around the place and had a short soundcheck. No need miking the amps up, as the place was small. Sawada, our booking man, came and after a while we went to look for a place to have dinner. We found an izakaya style restaurant (cheap and fuckin’ tasty Japanese style food) and we ate and drank like kings for about $20 a person!

The first band was on at 6.30, so we dragged our arses to the club. The band was called Ulysses and consisted of a chick on guitar and guy on drums. It sounded like a cross between Afrirampo, Boris and maybe Cease, although a lot sloppier. Then it was turn for a solo laptop noise guy. Unfortunately I missed it, as I had to catch up with friends who came to see us. By all reports the guy was awesome. Then there was a three piece called Deadstock and they were pretty good: loud, mostly fast and entertaining.

We played a cool set but I was not happy with the venue’s amp I used – just couldn’t make it sound very loud. The last band Kurucrew were mindblowingly cool. Drums, bass, guitar and alto sax, they reminded me of Lightning Bolt at times but heaps tighter and more repetitive. The thing about most of Japanese bands I’ve seen here is that they are super-tight and even the ones I didn’t like sounded great at what they were doing. Caught a train home and was surprised to see it packed at around midnight on Tuesday night.

On Thursday we played at Motion in Shinjuku. When we arrived at the station in Shibuya at around 3pm we were surprised how that area of Tokyo looks huge, but it was later that night when I could see it at it’s full flight with millions of people roaming its streets.

The venue was on the fifth floor of this building – it amazes me how most venues are in buildings, but obviously they know how to solve a sound issues here. We didn’t have a soundcheck as we decided to have the amps spread again, so instead we went shopping. First stop guitar shop. Karlos bought a Loop Station for three times cheaper than in Perth. Then we went to one of many Disc Union music shops. It was a wet dream for any music consumer. I checked the jazz vinyl shop and found two records by Dusko Gojkovic – Serbian jazz trumpet master who is playing here on 14 July. Then went to soundtrack/DVD shop and nearly wet my pants when I’ve seen what they had for sale. Records and CDS are reasonably priced here – cheaper than in Perth for sure, while the DVDs are bit more expensive. But the choice, man, the choice!

After shopping we went for dinner and to the venue to check the bands. The first one was OK indie rock band that reminded me on Pixies. The guitar player wore Neu! t-shirt and we had a chat after the gig. Then Clean of Core took the stage – an awesome three-piece instrumental band that Sawada described as progressive, but I wouldn’t go that far. They are great instrumentalists and they had lots of weird changes in their set. We bought two of their demo CDs, they sound superb! After them Tiecup played – a real cool dub band that even did a Blue Hearts cover! Again bought two of their CDs – when I want to support a band I want to give them a bit of an extra support.

I introduced us before we started playing and when the crowd applauded loudly it was a sign that the gig will be great. And it was. I was the only member on stage and couldn’t see much what’s happening in the audience, but every now and then I could see punters moving from player to player and checking them out. We finished to a great response. Went out and met the venue manager and the owner. They were both impressed and wanted us back again in future. I was too high on adrenaline to bother too much about other two bands, but they were both really good, as far as I could hear.

Went outside into a hot and humid night. Streets of Shinjuku were packed with people and smelled of rotten cabbage. It amazes me how Tokyo stinks real bad, but I guess most of the huge cities do. We caught the train alright, but again it was chockers. When we arrive to our station in Yokohama it struck me how cooler it was here and quieter for sure. Bought the midnight snack, took a shower, ate and went to bed.

The next day it was a turn to play at Era in Shimokitazawa. From when we arrived to the venue I had bit of a bad feeling about it. It was the biggest so far and the sound guy wanted us to play on stage as “the venue will be packed tonite”. We had a short soundcheck during which Atsuko (who helped us heaps as interpreter at every gig) overheard other bands being sarcastic about “musical abilities”. Fuckheads.

We went for a walk, ate dinner and went to the venue, but we didn’t want to check other bands. Instead we caught up with some guy from Perth and his wife, as well as with few of our friends who came. Before we started playing Cat introduced us and dedicated the set “to all real musicians in the audience”, hehehe. We played really well, this time joined by young Hatake – a friend of Atsuko – but the turnout was quite poor. If it wasn’t for our friends the place would be empty. So much for the packed venue!

The next day the band played at Penguinhouse, but I couldn’t make it, as Atsuko’s friends bought us tickets for Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra – a band that I just couldn’t’ afford to miss, as I love their CDS and the DVDs I’ve seen of them performing live were supercool. We took a train to Shibuya, crossed the famous intersection, and took a long walk to the venue in Aoyama – a posh suburb of Tokyo.

The club was not too big, say 250 capacity. It was boiling hot inside, so we went for a beer. The band came out at 7.15pm armed with 6 saxophones, two drumkits, percussions, trombone, trumpet, melodica, flue, bass, two guitars, MC, dancers and conductor and for next two hours produced the most exciting and beautiful music I’ve ever witnessed live!

I think they only played five songs, but it was not boring for a second. Their music is a mix of jazz, world music (especially Balkan Gypsy stuff) and even pop, so the song would start with its main melodic theme and then it would go into various solo bits, total free jazz mayhem, back to poppy bit, more solos and finally huge comeback to the main theme, while we all yell and scream in excitement.

Their ‘conductor’ Daisuke Fuwa was anything but a classical conductor. He was giving the band signs what to do with his hands and things written on sheets of paper. He smoked at least a pack of smokes and drank 6 cans of some alcoholic beverage, finishing the gig with a bottle of sake, while he gave a bottle of vodka to band members to share.

As expected the show finished with “Theme of Honda Kumoten” – their trade mark song. And what a finish it was: the whole place was jumping in a manic dance craze yelling “Na na na, na na na, na na, na na” off the top of their lungs. Me included. Fucken hell, what a show that was!

Shibusa have been going for years, have over ten albums, but never became a major band in Japan. Considering that band consists of huge number of people it’s hard to believe they make any money from music. Which is to say they are probably professional musician who make their dough elsewhere and do Shibusa just for pure fun. Perhaps that’s why they are such a great band live. Honestly, after such a gig I don’t think any live music will ever sound so exciting. You can download the whole gig here:

After the gig we took some pics with the MC and dancers and pissed off home.

Played the final Tokyo show last nite… feeling quite empty now. I’m gonna miss it.

We went to UFO Club in Koenji (Guitar Wolf and Afrirampo played here before) around 4pm, met Tabata (Zeni Geva member) who was our fourth member for the night. Had a short soundcheck then went to eat. We ate and rank like maniacs again. Fuck, the food would never stop arriving to our table; squid’s liver, flying fish, flying fish cakes, deep fried chicken, cheese spring rolls… all with lots of beer and sochu.

All the bands that played at UFO with us were awesome! First there was Praha depart, who are a mix of new wave (Slits in particular), kraut and noise. Then there was this amazing two piece (drums and guitar) noise punk act that was highly amusing. They were followed by a pysch combo with two drummers.

Abe Sada played a great set, Tabata was real cool. It was loud as fuck, had to wear earplugs. After us it was a turn for Geltz – another two piece, but this time bass and drums. And what a fuckin’ awesome band they were!

We packed, said our goodbyes to all the people, caught a train and went home. Cat and Karlos will continue to Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe and play gigs there. Karlos broke his cheap piece of bass shit, so I had to lend him my baby for the rest of the tour. Hope he takes good care of her, hehehe…

Sunday, June 3, 2007

X Press magazine interview with yours truly, 31 May 2007

This int was conducted by Mike Wafer for Perth street rag X Press. The ocassion was Abe Sada's CD launch/fundraising gig for upcoming tour of Japan. Check this space for my adventures from the land of the rising sun!!!