This post is the last “back post” from 2009. It basically encapsulates my impressions of the Japanese punk scene from my December 2009 Tokyo trip.
Laughin Noses at the Loft
TOKYO, December 27 — Before arriving in Tokyo, I heard a lot about the punk scene and the venue circuit called “Live Houses”. Live Houses are a group of venues that specifically cater to rock acts. For many punk and hardcore rockers, it’s probably the only suitable place to turn up the amps and shred some guitars.
Prior to this trip to Tokyo, I’ve never been to a Japanese Live House, so I had to visit one. After some online research, I discovered a place called the Loft. Located in the western side of the Shinjuku district, the Loft is supposedly the oldest and most well established venue for rock and punk music.
An Osaka punk band called the Laughin Noses was schedule to play. I knew very little about them but decided to go anyway.
I took the Chūō-Sōbu train (中央・総武緩行線) to Ōkubo Station (大久保駅) and walked to the Shinjuku district. It took some looking around to find the venue, and I got lost a couple of times. I finally found the building and a sign with the Lofts’ logo (see picture above). There was a “B2” above the sign which means it’s located in the subbasement (floor underneath the basement). This place is literally underground.
I paid my admission and walked into the subterranean venue. The Loft was grimy enough to remind me of some older New York venues.
The Tokyo punk scene was a trip. They were all dressed like 70s punk rockers. I felt like I step out of a time machine, and my natsukashii (懐かしい) was in full effect. I guess the 80s post-punk period and 90s grunge era skipped Japan entirely.
When I took a closer look at their 70s punk gear, the Japanese audience had pristine shiny leather clothing. They wore the nicest punk outfits that I’ve ever seen. At New York punk shows, I’m used to seeing people wear second hand clothes from the Salvation Army. This was a completely different mindset. I guess it’s kinda like cosplay where the fans have to “dress the part.” I also saw a lot of familiar black t-shirts featuring the Ramones, CBGBs, and New York City (à la John Lennon).
According to their Wikipedia entry, the Laughin Noses have been around the Japanese punk scene for near 30 years starting in 1981. Tonight their age didn’t seem to slow them down. They were completely metal on stage and thoroughly rocked the Tokyo crowd. Belley (山崎 健) did some serious guitar work, and Charmy’s (小山 祐) vocals were pretty awesome. His vocal stylings had hints of Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone.
At several points in the performance, the audience got so rowdy that punches and kicks were flying in every direction. Even the lead vocalist got kicked in the face a few times from overly aggressive body surfers. He continued his performance despite receiving a few blows from the audience.
Anne Higonnet, an Art Historian from Columbia University, started the panel with a presentation on the connection between the cultural concept of cute and definitions of childhood. She frequently referenced Haruki Murakami (村上春樹) and his artwork. Higonnet also mentioned Murakami uncanny ability to co-opt commercial product such as his line of custom designed Louis Vuitton hand bags.
Murakami's Version of the Louis Vuitton Hand Bag
Higonnet was followed by Christine Bacareza Balance. Balance, a University California - Irvine professor and vocalists for the Jack Lords Orchestra, conducted a presentation about Filipina Child Pop Stars. Her lecture was mainly focused on the cultural and political undertones in Filipino Pop Music. In her discussion, Balance talked about the impact of YouTube, American R&B influences, karaoke, and Filipino “palabas” concept. She used Charice Pempengco’s rise to stardom as a case study for her presentation.
After a short lunch break, the conference continued with a panel about “Asian cool” from the perspective of girls.
Karen Tongson, a professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, discussed the internet pop phenomenon known as “Rin on the Rox”. Tongson began her discussion by outlining the cultural factors that lead to the emergence of the two Filipino American internet pop idols. She also talked about the deeper cultural trends surrounding the duo. Tongson emphasized topics such as sexual undertones, homophobic reactions, and the modern perception of womanhood in the media.
The next presentation was conducted by Laura Miller, Anthropology professor from Loyola University. Miller’s lecture was primarily concerned with the Japanese concept of “kawaii”. As an anthropologist, she approached the topic by categorizing the different types of “kawaii” found in Japan. She made a clear distinction between regular “kawaii” (cute) and “kimo kawaii” (grotesque cute). At this point, Miller started to couch her argument in a resistance framework. She characterized “kimo kawaii” as a rebellious act by Japanese girls against the commercial exploitation of the “kawaii” paradigm.
The Keynote Address: Eating Rice with a Fork
The day ended with an amazing keynote address by Eric Nakamura, co-founder of Giant Robot Magazine. Nakamura conducted a quick history of Asian American pop culture including personal stories about his own identity as a Japanese American. He described growing up as a product of two cultures that were intermingled. In an attempt to illustrate this “mashup” of identities, he humorously remarked that, “I eat rice with a fork.” The Ivy League audience enjoyed his wit and entertaining slide presentation. Towards the latter half of his address, he talked about the early days of Giant Robot Magazine and the evolution of the brand.
This year's concert was packed with tons of great punk acts. The audience seemed electrified as they rushed the stage several times. They were promptly restrained by the Carnegie Hall security detail. It's was one of the livelier benefit concerts in recent memory.
The concert started with very somber openers. The Drepung Gomang Monks began with their traditional throaty chant. They were followed by a minimalist musical segment by Philip Glass and a passionate set of soft jazzy folk music by Regina Spektor. The only exception to the subdued tone was the colorful Reggae style beats performed by Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew.
In a sudden change of pace, the atmosphere suddenly exploded when Gogol Bordello took the stage. Eugene Hütz, the lead singer of the band, performed an acoustic set of three Gypsy inspired punk tunes that excited the crowd. Younger audience members rushed the stage blissfully unaware of Carnegie Hall’s reserved decorum. The venue’s staffer and security detail quickly held them back.
Gogol Bordello was soon followed by the amazing Patti Smith. Smith started her set with the R&B classic “Love Train”. The increased volume of her performance resulted in a lot of unintended audio feedback. She was visibly annoyed with the audio problems but powered through her set. During Smith’s set, the audience again rushed the stage to the dismay of the venue’s security personnel. She finished her set with a powerful rendition of “Gloria”. The audio feedback problems resurfaced in her final song, and she tossed the microphone stand across the stage. Smith sang the rest of the song with microphone in hand.
The closer was the legendary Iggy Pop. Pop walked onto the stage with a black long sleeved shirt which he promptly discarded. He began his set with “The Passenger”. The audience went wild, and the crowd in front of the stage grew. The security could barely keep order. At the start of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, Pop even jumped into the audience in an attempt to crowd surf. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, “nobody caught him.”
During his set, Pop also had the same feedback problem that Smith experienced. Frustrated he stuffed the microphone in his jeans. Then he proceeded to pick up the microphone stand and repeatedly hammered the pristine hardwood floors of the Carnegie Hall stage. You could see the worried expression on some of the Carnegie Hall staffers.