Saturday, August 06, 2005

No Garden Of Eden

Pepper Girl in Ebisu. Posted by Picasa

Japan’s music scene has given me much pleasure and satisfaction, but it’s no Garden of Eden, and there are things about it that tick me off.

One is the obsessive, over-the-top way that concert halls, especially the bigger ones, handle crowd control. An example: seemingly the second that a show finishes, hall staffers start to hustle the crowd out the door. Then, if you pause for even a moment outside of the club, the club’s security comes over and tells you to not congregate outside and to get moving.

All the efforts at crowd control are ironic, because of all the people in the world, the Japanese are probably one of the least likely to riot after a rock show. But at the same time it’s a very Japanese thing. What the club managers and concert hall owners are worried about are complaints by neighboring businesses and residents if they let noisy young music fans gather outside of their establishments after shows. How neighbors view them, and harmonic living with those neighbors, are very important, much more so than minor considerations like your customers having fun.

The other day I went to the new Ebisu Liquid Room, a relatively big club, to see The Go! Team, the Magic Numbers and the Futureheads, and was reminded of this unpleasant attitude. I ran into two Japanese musicians I know at the hall, and as usual, when the event was over we were all herded out of the venue.

With the rest of the crowd, we walked out of the hall, turned the corner to head toward Ebisu train station, when a surprising thing happened. A guy was passing out fliers there for some sort of musical event, but a security guard in blue uniform rushed over and asked him to stop passing out the fliers. I assumed the guard worked for the Liquid Room—who else could he be? But this was on a public street, a block away from the club. An American, say, might have told the guard to go screw himself, he has the constitutionally guaranteed right to pass out fliers on a public street and will do so if he feels like it. This was Japan, however, and the flier guy looked unhappy, but soon gave up.

I dismissed this as typical Japanese BS and was ready to move on, but the two Japanese musicians who were with me, who I’ve never seen lose their temper about anything, seemed genuinely upset about what just happened.

“What right does the club have to stop a guy passing out fliers?” one of them asked.

“Yeah, things like that [passing out fliers] help make the scene bigger,” the other said.

That’s when I realized that, to these two’s way of thinking, when a big club hires guards to stop people from handing out music event fliers outside its shows, in a small way it’s stomping its foot down on the independent music scene itself. Indie bands don’t have a big advertising budget. They make fliers themselves, photocopy them, and then hand them out after shows in hopes some people will notice these pieces of paper. It’s the Do It Yourself spirit. Sometimes after shows at a club like the Que in Shimokitazawa, the whole stairwell leading up to the ground level is filled with guys handing out fliers to future shows. And I take every one of those, and study them. Often the guys passing the fliers out are musicians from great bands I love.

Is the Liquid Room working under some agreement with the city or the neighborhood that, in return for being allowed to do business there, it would ensure that the groups of people walking to and from the station don’t cause any disturbances, like for example, passing out fliers? Or is this a voluntary initiative of theirs? Whatever the reason it reminded me why I try to avoid seeing shows at big, uncool venues like the Liquid Room.

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