November 4, 2010
I’m back in Tokyo for the weekend. DJing on the Friday at Right Right Right. About to enter its 5th year. Goodness knows how we’ve made it this far. Sleep is scarce but done in a small hotel in Hibiya, called R.E.M. The more I stay here the more I love it. The rooms are tiny but it’s far from a capsule. There are no real amenities but it’s cheap, clean and modern. I got tired of staying in flea pits on the wrong side of Shibuya quite quickly. Don’t let fancy foyers fool you.
A big plus is the Muji restaurant on the second floor of the hotel. This means I can eat alone cheaply and healthily and not have to resort to the typical gaijin (foreigner) thing of living off McDonalds and 7-11 sandwiches all weekend. I’d never dream of going to McDonalds back home. As The Dead Kennedy’s once prophesised “Give me convenience or give me death.”
Another big plus are the hotel’s other customers. R.E.M. is opposite a theatre called Takarazuka. A theatre where all roles are played by women. It does look strange. Posters with middle-aged women in tuxedos and pencil moustaches. But it’s far more serious than panto and prinicipal boys. The street outside the theatre is always jammed with women of all ages.
Likewise the hotel is packed with well dressed women. Those in town to catch the show. and actresses so stunning that I have often had to laugh out loud at the impossibility of it. Koyuki Katou is a graduate of the theatre’s school. I eat my breakfast like a pig in shit. Surrounded by beauty. A Hugh Hefner Playboy Mansion moment to start the day. I never see another man, which is probably why they always give me a room on the top floor. Up and out of harms way.
When I’m in Tokyo for the weekend I try to set myself a mission. Set my sights on somewhere I haven’t been before. To be honest, the DJing and associated bad habits can get in the way of the stuff I`m finding more enjoyable these days. Will power where art thou. I’m cool about fluffing asking for directions in Japanese, but not so cool abut doing it when I still stink of booze.
This month I checked out an exhibition at the Mori Tower. I never had the time to go to the Mori when I lived in Tokyo. Distance and school pick-ups were against me. The entrance to the gallery is on the 3rd floor, but the exhibitions are up on the 53rd floor. If I had realised I had to go all the way to the top I might have thought twice about entering. It didn’t click until I was carefully ushered into a lift. My ears popping three times between the 30th and top floors. I ain’t never been very good with rollercoasters and the like. Except in times when all seemed lost. While now maybe I’m found.
The current exhibition is called Sensing Nature. Snow storms made of feathers. Tables cast from light. Pure white oblivion oozing blood on an operating table. PET bottles mapping the Milky Way. One of the exhibits consists of a series of short films taken in the artist’s neighbourhood shown on huge screens in cavernous darkened halls. A tapir in a local zoo. A lake. An underground car park. Each film 10 minutes in length. People standing transfixed for the entire duration. I was wondering how many people would take as much time to watch a real landscape.
My favourite piece is Kuribayashi Takashi’s “Wald aus Wald”. A forest made from white paper mache, which you are invited to explore both above and below. Below, everyone scurries about, bent double, on all fours, looking for a way to find the light. The light, provided by head-sized holes through to the forest above. Poking your head above into the forest you are greeted by four or five other human “bunnies” doing the same. I couldn’t stop laughing. Trying to snap people as they popped up. A bit like that arcade game where you have to club the moles with a mallet.
When I was taking photos, I noticed that the pictures only really looked interesting when they caught both the model of nature and part of the modern world of the gallery housing it. And I think this is what the exhibition sets out to illustrate, something the Japanese call Shizen or Jinen. The co-existence of man and Earth. That everything is nature be it a snow-capped mountain or 53-storey skyscraper.
That night, before another evening of DJing, R.E.M. and dreams of beauty, I take dinner in a tree-house in the heart of Harajuku.
With Shizen, Tokyo makes a lot more sense.
September 9, 2010
A hirsute Jonny Nash wrote a short essay on his favourite Tokyo record shops. Handed it to me as he left Japan. Both a blessing and a curse. This was back when I only had two kids and I made it my mission, once a week to head into central Tokyo and find these places. A good excuse to get out, try to get to know my way around and practice the language. I think EAD was second on the list. One Tuesday morning I somewhat stressfully traversed Tokyo’s Metro system, from my language lesson in Harajuku to the shop in Koenji. The journey mildly ambitious for a beginner. The shop was closed. Shutters down. A message daubed something about being closed for the summer. In December. I later learned that this message had been written at least five years before. It took a phone call from my wife to the shop to discover that generally there was no point trying til after 1 PM. I was left to wander the second hand clothes shops and struggle with café menus for the next couple of hours. No such thing as “just a coffee” in Koenji. You have to state your beans.
When I first visited at the end of 2006, EAD excelled in original pressings of New York disco classics. Loft and Paradise Garage playlists. To back this up there was a photo on the wall of Mancuso going through the racks. Does Mancuso still go digging? Would have thought there’d be an army of people doing it for him these days. Humbled when he plays a tune they’ve found. Anyhow, EAD, not cheap, but considerably cheaper than the basement of Disc Union in Shibuya, which was the other place you could find this stuff. I ended up mainly buying favourites I already had, like Melba Moore`s Standing Right Here. Replacing bootlegs.
Back then behind the counter was the owner Yozo and the lovely Nagi, from Dazzle Drums. Nagi DJing alongside Nori at Smoker, at ten years plus Club Loop’s longest running weekly night by far. G had a D-Train 12 in his hand and Nagi told us a story about being at Francois Kevorkian’s birthday party and James Williams singing ‘Happy Birthday’. She seemed to like G. Think it’s because he looks a little bit like Danny Krivit.
After about a year, we’d do a regular tour of shops. Always making sure to hit EAD last. First, and we’d have no money left to spend anywhere else. But it was here that we would plot. Yozo providing hot tea in the winter, umbrellas in monsoon. Restaurant recommendations when we were hungry. Politely correcting my Japanese.
With time, Nagi left (too busy with DJing and production) and the shop’s stock began to change. First, a load of Cosmic-related stuff appeared. I heard a rumour that this was Chee Shimizu getting rid of things he’d learnt and assimilated. Legend has it that he sold all his Italo once he’d been exposed to Baldelli. Then selling the Cosmic to settle on his own sound. Chee now running his own supremely obscurist on-line shop – Organic Music. I think I hovered up most of his cast-offs.
Now, in its 13th year, EAD is still the first place to try if you need a reasonably priced classic 12, but driven either by 1) a mellowing brought on by the birth of Yozo`s son, 2) regular visits to Shelter in Hachijoji (Chee again – DJing his unique mix of fusion and yoga instruction records), 3) the need to supply his customers with new discoveries or 4) the lack of decent dance spots left to dig in New York, the shop is floating towards a more spiritual plane. ECM-like jazz, rare prog, experimental electronics, free folk. It was Yozo that turned me on to the Batteaux LP and got me a copy of Conrad Schnitzler’s ‘Electric Garden’.
In 2008, Jez from Innersounds was over looking specifically for Japanese music. Yozo shrugged. EAD stocked none. Both Me and Yozo told him to go to Recofan. But things have changed again. My Osama Kitajima collection all comes from EAD. And my buying there these days is divided pretty much equally between spiky post-punk dubs and Japanese artists. I don’t know if Japanese music will ever be in vogue, but interest seems to be on the increase and it is something we are both trying to research and promote.
I don’t get into Tokyo so often these days, and when I do I can usually only hit one spot per visit. So once a month, each shop in rotation. Each shop maybe once every four months. But every weekend I get some “Daddy`s time”. Around 4 PM on a Saturday afternoon. The kids watching TV after a trip to the pool. I sit down with a pot of coffee, switch on the PC and go over the records Yozo has just put up. A quick caffeine-fuelled call while making dinner and I’m sorted. I wouldn’t/shouldn’t say it’s a weekend high-light but you could set your watch by it.
At the beginning of the year, I promised Yozo I would write about EAD. It has taken so long even I was wondering if it was just a hollow promise aimed at obtaining discount. I asked him for a list of his top ten Japanese records, again for not entirely unselfish reasons. This was one of them.
Haruomi Hosono – Hotel Malabar Upper Floor, Moving Triangle
June 22, 2010
Joe Hisaishi – Play On The Sands
I got up to work on a radio show, but “Sonatine” (ソナチネ) is on Channel Neco. It`s one of my favourite Kitano films. There’s no need for language or sub-titles since its practically a silent movie. Simple in its violent beauty. A small group of hoods in hiding in Okinawa attempt to entertain themselves while they wait to die. An allegory for life. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me when I first saw it. “Beat” looks so young. His eyes these days are cold and animal.
Joe Hisaishi’s Reich-ian score plays while gentle humour endeavours to mask the inevitable. It takes some courage to play and laugh at practical jokes, relive childhood games while you pass what’s left of your time. Too easy to sit and worry your nails to the quick.
As it was with all the books and films, the sentimentality, I took my code from, revenge is swift and with no quarter. But like the final scenes of “The Wild Bunch”, ultimately in vain. Pointless bar honour.
The last shinkansen rattles the house.
Sunflowers dance on a beach.
Kitano’s new film “Outrage” opened in Japan on June 12. Not seen it yet but it doesn`t look like an easy ride.
Shiki. I’m out here talking to an architect about building a house in the mountains. Or rather I’m talking to my wife, and my wife is then talking to the architect. I’m trusting that record storage is not being sacrificed for Jimmy Choos.
To reassure me that they understand, the head architect has brought me to the local jazz kissa, Bunca. Up a tiny un-signposted staircase to the second floor of a residential block. Above a small florists. You’d never know it was here. Into a space like a darkened corridor. A library. Around the walls are 40,000 Long Players. I get my camera out, and the architect smiles.
I don’t know much about hi-fi, but when I showed these photos to my Japanese mates, who are the kind of guys who read text books on acoustics and sound engineering on the commute into work, they all nodded sagely and muttered noises of agreement. Two speakers stand from floor to ceiling. Then there’s the Macintosh stack. Wanting to demonstrate the quality of the equipment, the owner’s wife, asked me to try to lift one of the components that was set aside for repair. I could lift it, but only just. Which, since I can easily lift my 9 year old son, and he’s a big lad, means it must be over 40 kilos. There are 4 components in the stack. Greater than 160 kilos. The owners have the same set up at home.
I’m given the best seat in the house, with the kind of courtesy I have always received in Japan, and have never received in the UK. They switch the system on. A record by the Dudley Moore Quartet goes on the turntable (I was not allowed close enough to photograph the deck properly) and it’s the most fantastic music I have ever heard. For a few moments I even think about trying to find a copy to play at home. Everything takes some time to warm up, but while I’m eating my pork curry, it sounds as if the band are playing next to me in the room.
The only problem with this place is that it’s a good 20 minute train ride outside of central Tokyo. Too far for some people. The owner of Ebisu’s Bar Jam just laughed when I tried to convince him to meet me here for lunch. It is frustrating. I’d really like to plot here, sink a good few and test the system and test that 40,000 strong collection. But the school hours that currently define my day have so far prevented me from doing so.
Visiting Bunca has further complications. The owner is bipolar and suffers from bouts of severe depression. Often leading to him barricading himself in his house, leaving his wife to open up the café. During these periods he will spotted making trips to buy more records. Spied stepping out of taxis weighed down with bags. Being something of a vinyl compulsive/obsessive myself, I wonder quietly if his record collection is a symptom or possible cause of his condition. 40,000 records filed and cross-referenced by alphabet, label and lead instrument. He knows where everything is.
Since the owner requires so much care, the café opens sporadically. You need to call first to make sure they’re gonna open. And if so, for how long. Still I try to spread the word. And the place is a centre for young Japanese jazz musicians. Sometimes they are given the opportunity to play, but they have to be prepared for the voluble consequences of the owner’s displeasure. If he deems it not to be “Jazz” then there will be trouble. Shouting and ejection are not unheard of.
No arguments here. This guy can play.
January 14, 2010
Weatherall’s on the radio.
1 – 3 AM.
Sir Alan (Russell) of Green Tights on the knobs.
I’m lying in bed, drinking cheap wine. Listening on my headphones. I’m in a rented room in a shared house on Carmichael Road. Round the back of South Norwood station. I’m surrounded by all I own. A cheap clothes rail. Two metal shelving units, the ones that look like Meccano (do they still make Meccano?), that I’ve pinched from work and that are leaning Pisa-like from the weight of the records I’ve put on them. Books are stacked up on the floor between the window and the bed, and there’s a small leather suitcase of photos pushed under the bed. It’s a Wednesday night and I’m just straight enough to think about the weekend again. Drum Club tomorrow, then Friday’ll be Sabresonic at Happy Jax. A cold cave beneath London Bridge with upturned oil drums for tables. No more dressing up. Blims in an old Benneton sweat-shirt. Weatherall playing a mixture of Detroit Techno, European Trance, and pitched-down Drum ‘n’ Bass. As far as I can remember, there are no women there. Only stick-thin geezers with ponytails and boils. It has gone a bit dark. Surrender to the void. My membership is No. 303, which I am quite pleased about.
I am unable to relax because I’m taping the show and obsessively attempting to remove all the ad breaks. I can stretch out and reach the pause button from my bed, but I can’t just lie there and listen.
Jazzadelic are on a play-list that takes in Asia-Born, Central Fire, Model 500, Mad Professor, Tenastillin, Aphex Twin and Effective Force.
Weatherall shouts out to those bugling ’til dawn.
This dream of a better world.
Jazzadelic: Better World
December 31, 2009
Fusion’s excesses give way to a new age. Instruments dance a ballet. In my head. A second-hand ticking. Time hurries by. A shakuhachi mourns its passing. Pleading. Calling it back. As if it were trying to prevent a lover from leaving. A koto marks the attempts at persuasion and the inevitable. A lyricon. The struggle.
The struggle with time.
There’s a photograph of my Nan attached to my Tokyo fridge door. It greets me every morning when I go to make the children breakfast. She’s all dressed up with somewhere to go. Black jacket, blue skirt, white thinning hair. She’s holding on to the handrail of the steps to her garden in Croydon for all she’s worth. When I look at this photograph I think of the eighteen years I spent living next door. I remember toy soldiers scaling the mountains of her stairs. Action man’s journey’s to the centre of the coal bunker. And a gold carriage clock high on the mantelpiece with a delicate mechanism too fascinating not to touch. I hear the constant banging of the gate between our house and Nan’s. At night, the wind conjuring up robbers and ghosts when I’d forget to lock it. I smell the roses in her garden and touch the rubber flowers on her rubber swimming hat. I share evenings baby-sat between Nan’s legs. Fan heater warming us. Stealing sips of Babycham and watching TV in the dark. Nan singing in Welsh and snoring through the opera on BBC2. There are no memories of scoldings. Only love and pride. I see another photograph of Nan. She has black hair and she’s holding me in her arms.
When Nan died, my childhood finally ended.
The shakuhachi defiant now. The figure more elaborate. Each dancer moving to a separate song.
Osamu Kitajima – Thru Cosmic Doors
December 4, 2009
Dr Rob’s back with more comment, reportage and music from Japan…
I’m a regular here now. A fixture if not an attraction. I only have to pay for the first cup of coffee. The other fixture here is woman in her forties who wears her hair in a beehive and seems to use the coffee shop as an office. She always seems to be here, holding court to a group of well-dressed younger women, while sipping beer and eating finger sandwiches. She’s sitting behind me. I always try to orchestrate such a position otherwise I find I end up staring and spiraling off into fantasies fueled by my failing hormones. The guy opposite me has that classic Japanese look. Smart black suit. Crisp white shirt buttoned to the top. No tie. It’s all publishing houses around here. My weekly trips with the kids to the McDonalds on this street have often been brightened by glamour models grabbing a quick shake between shoots, or a quick break to go over contact sheets.
Today the café owner is playing swinging jazzy versions of Christmas tunes. Today being the first day of December. “Great Tidings of Comfort & Joy”. Santa Claus is coming to town and Frosty the Yukidaruma. Ever in tune with my surroundings, I’ve picked out sunny Japanese fusion to listen to. The kind of stuff that was popular on pirate radio back when I was in Gabbicci knit wear and Farah slacks. Then, the records were imported and too expensive to buy. Now, I’ve been imported and I can pick them up for pennies. Can’t move for this stuff in Recofan in Shibuya.
Listening to Casiopea, which is something akin to Herb Alpert without the horn, I’m on a beach. Light catching the tops of afternoon waves. Maybe back in Malaga. Ecstatically watching the surf turn purple and break into fractals. Just prior to being pushed hysterical onto a bus packed full of bright green people, riding into a maze of busy narrow streets and noisy tapas counters. Everyone shouting in Spanish. Me mute. Eventually, off with Paco, to crazy parties in the hills.
Casiopea – La Costa