Saturday night was one of those evenings when I was forced to choose between two equally compelling possibilities of live music entertainment, with one of those options probably being much more promising on the pleasing-eye-stimulation front—that was the futurepoplounge event at the Shibuya O-Nest, featuring among others the sexy dance and song troupe The Lady Spade as well as beauties such as Marino and Eel. In the other corner was the post-punk party organized by Call and Reponse Records' Ian Martin, who, as he does every few months, brought together his favorite indie groups, most of whom I'd never heard of before, for an evening of aural adventure and bacchanalia at a dingy Koenji club of his choice. The former, the O-Nest event, was certainly tempting—one of the performers was Frenesi, whose recently released album Cupra I love—but I'd seen most of these people before. And I felt I was overdue for another Ian-organized Koenji experience. So, I got on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku, transferred to the Sobu line to Koenji, got out of the north exit to head to a funky alley of bars, food joints, and 'health' parlors decorated in pink and other pretty pastels, until I was at the Okinawa-themed building that housed the Club Roots.
Right away I was glad I was there—there was that Koenji live vibe, where it's obvious everyone is there because they like the music and are in search of new sounds, and at the same time there's a community feeling and a lack of nervousness about foreigners (the event was organized by one, after all). These guys seemed polite—there were little 'excuse me's when they had to walk through tight space in the audience section. I got the feeling that this was for the most part a college-educated, intellectual, petit-bourgeois crowd (some bands in Tokyo are proleterian, as are their fans—some of those I'm crazy about too; maybe one of these days I'll write about this divide).
Act one was Mir, who I'd seen before, a trio featuring a girl wearing a bunny rabbit headress and using a carrot antenna. Self-described as new wave/experimental, they were an eccentric, minimalist ensemble that played forlorn-sounding tunes. But at the end of the set they all came down off the stage and led the audience into a conga line.
Next was a lovely duo called Cottonio, two girls in tropical shirts with pink feathers in their hair, who created with guitar, bass, wooden synthesizer (?) and do-re-mi carpet what sounded like Hawaiian or exotica on hallucinogenics. I really liked them.
The last three acts were sort of a blur, though they were all excellent, playing energetic alternative music with fast, challenging rhythms and unusual chords. Indie rockers Owllights had a super-skinny vocalist who liked to jump into the audience pit; the Mornings were described by Ian as “the wildest, noisiest, and most athletic live experience in Tokyo” and indeed had head-bang-inducing virtuosic prog/punk techniques; Hyakka, 'a Hundred Mosquitoes' from Fukuoka was similar to the Mornings, but with a more punk grounding and male-female vocals. They were great, and made me start fantasizing about a trip to the southern, Kyushu city of Fukuoka to check out the scene, not to mention the local gourmet offering such as tonkotsu ramen, mentaiko pollock roe, food stalls in general and shochu. Hyakka's encore was a rousing punk number that got the already overexcited male portion of the front row audience into a frenzy of friendly slam-dancing, and for once I was very sympathetic to the physical outburst.
Probably by coincidence, every band except Cottonio included a single female member, the drummer in the case of Owllights and the Mornings.
Ian said, by the way, that if the show wasn't done by 10PM the club would charge a 10,000 yen fine, and the Hyacca show did put the finishing time after ten, meaning it may have been a 10,000 yen encore. Well, to me it was worth more than $100, but I wasn't the one paying it, and I'm not sure whether the organizer got the fine in the end and if so, what he thought of it once he was sober again the day after the show or so...