Category Archives: Features

REVIEWS // Noughties, But Nice (2010)

This review was initially slated to appear online at the beginning of the year. Other commitments got in the way and it got pushed back. I later started writing it for my general blog ‘Postings From An Edge’, but ended up being such a lengthy piece that I felt it would go better here. As it covers ten years from a global and personal point of view, it didn’t seem to matter about missing the zeitgeist moment of early January.


'Noughties, but Nice': What can you find hidden in the streets of Shibuya?

NAMING OUR TIMES

At the end of the 1990s, I was one of the many that struggled with the thorny issue of what to call the then-pending decade. The previous ten-year blocks I’d lived through had been easy to label – the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties – but this one didn’t fit into such comfortable naming as the others did. Now on the other side of it, it seems that there is still no definitive and satisfactory answer to that question – what to call the decade that lasted from 2000 to 2009. The Noughties sounds a bit odd, and only really works in a British English context. The Two Thousands would cover the whole millennium rather than just the decade. The Twenty Hundreds doesn’t feel anywhere near as right as the Nineteen or Eighteen Hundreds seems to feel, and still caters more for a century than a decade. None of the other suggestions proposed, such as the Ohs or the Oh-Ohs feel right either.

It seems like the lexical debate is one likely to remain unsettled. If so, then so be it – some things don’t fit easy compartmentalisation and it could be argued that such pursuits are really only media obsessions anyway, having no actual bearing on peoples lives. Of course, until we reach the Twenty Twenties when decade-naming can easily revert to type and the same labels used in the Twentieth Century can be recycled, it seems like the same issue is faced all over again with the decade we’ve just entered. Might have to stick with the numbers and call it the 2010s (Twenty Tens), just to make things easier.

Still, naming a decade can be very helpful from a historical context, as delivering the past in comprehensible chunks is a necessary feature of understanding or interpreting it. The first decade of a millennium is often a fascinating time to look back on too, given that societies look so much more different over a span of a hundred years than over ten of them, and turning points hold greater intrigue.

The Nineteen Hundreds (or however else we name that particular decade) was as tumultuous a time as the 2000s appears to have been. A period of global upheaval, it included the rise of Imperial Japan, the first Russian Revolution, and a high water mark in the imperial expansion of the European powers. In science and technology, the first manned flights happened, Einstein proposed his theory of special relativity, and Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. Culturally, the decade spawned the birth of modern art, cinema and the early stirrings of radio. A century prior to that, the Eighteen Hundreds (1800 – 1809) saw the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK), plus the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of Romanticism, while the Industrial Revolution raged on with the introduction of the first steam-powered ships and trains.

It seems that the first decade of a century can be a time for revolutionary change. We citizens of the world in the early 21st Century have been having ours too, with the Digital Revolution still in full swing and possibly even in its infancy. Having been living through such heady days myself and been an eager participant, this article will serve to review the previous decade on both a global and a personal level, with a clear digital string running throughout it.

BOOKENDS

Titles from the Art section

Titles in the Art section

I started the Noughties (a term I’ll use for want of a better one and to have something to hold the concept of the decade onto) in one way very similar but mostly very different to how I ended it. In 2000, I had just been laid off from a retail job I was keen on getting out of anyway. I’d spent the preceding four years as a bookseller and although being surrounded by books on a daily basis was enjoyable in many ways, it didn’t hold a particularly lucrative future. In the final years of my twenties, I was a single man living a pretty analogue life in Brighton. I was due to spend a week living in Paris, with a rock band back home that was starting to go somewhere and a career path heading into the voluntary sector. Even less lucrative than retail.

The decade ended for me back in Brighton again, only this time a married man coming up to 40, and having digitised most aspects of my life. I’m currently working as a teacher for a global education company, and studying a postgraduate Cambridge University Diploma in English Language Teaching (DELTA). I don’t really have a band on the go for once in my life, although I do have several other projects happening simultaneously, as usual. Perhaps the one thing that might be most surprising for the young man that began the decade with a trip to France intended as a breather before the rigours of rejoining the dole queue is that I spent half of the past ten years living in Tokyo, Japan.

THE WORLD’S A STAGE

9/11 attacks on New York

The decade began with the hopefulness of the Millennium celebrations, a global moment of optimism that I spent with friends on Brighton beach – as good a place as any to spend it. However, a decade doesn’t really seem to get fully underway without a defining event and it wasn’t until over a year and a half in that the Twenty First Century really seemed to kick in. Sat in my Brighton flat on a sunny afternoon in September of 2001, after a morning’s teaching and awaiting a speech by Tony Blair on TV about public service reform, I wondered what was keeping him from his platform. Flipping the channels, I found some news coming in from New York about an aeroplane hitting the World Trade Center. The defining moment had arrived, a shocking one at that and one that effectively opened the page on the Bush era more than his disputed election. Needless to say, the first lesson I taught on the morning of September 12th – full of young people from around the world away from home and including a young Japanese woman whose brother was actually in New York at the time – was one of the most challenging classes I’ve ever had to teach.

For those of us that lived through it, the Bush era is one that either should never have happened or was an appropriate expression of American might, depending on which side of the fence you fall (and there’s little sitting on the fence about it). I would wager that, overall and worldwide, a majority of people would fall into the former camp, but history is history and what’s done can’t be undone. One of the undeniable consequences of the era was a window of global dominance by the US, a unipolar moment unique in world history for better or worse. That seems to have gone now, with the rise of China and other nations over the same decade and the economic crash that bookended the era started with 9/11.

It could also be argued that the excesses of the Bush era led to the election of the first African-American president – something I’d never have expected from America in calmer times. And while Barack Obama may have one of the toughest jobs in the world – cleaning up after Bush – and is struggling to get much of what he wants to get done done, his election was an exhilarating moment in a narrative that the world seemed to get wrapped up in back in 2008.

Video for ‘Change’ by Control K, about the 2008 US Presidential Elections

Back in March 2003, I was sitting on the East African coast in a bar fashioned from an old boat, when I got the news that I’d been hoping I’d never hear – the invasion of Iraq was going ahead. That whole sorry episode and my government’s part in it contributed to my decision to leave the West behind and throw myself into a totally new place for a fresh start, thus beginning my almost five year stint living in Tokyo (a remarkable experience in so many ways that transformed my life completely, and which I’ve documented extensively elsewhere).

Apart from the massive loss of life that that particular conflict and all the others that have arisen over the same period, one of the really saddening features of the decade for me has been the remilitarisation of Western culture – something largely missing from the Nineties. On the upside, the decade just passed witnessed the global mainstreaming of environmentalism and green thinking. This was admittedly building up a pretty strong head of steam throughout the decade prior to it and was taken highly seriously with events like the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but it became a much more noticeable feature of general discourse over the past ten years.

One of the interesting things about being away from Britain and coming back intermittently was seeing these changes becoming more embedded with every visit. Yes, there has also been an equivalent rise of denial of the science or state-level refusal to take serious actions against those continuing to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, the Copenhagen Summit of 2009 failed to come up with a satisfactory and binding global agreement to limit carbon emissions (and perhaps was never going to). Yes, there is still a long way to go. But overall I would still claim consciousness of the problem to be moving in the right direction, which is half of the battle.

GETTING AROUND

The Andes from the air

Shot of The Andes, taken during flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires

This leads almost paradoxically on to another feature of the 2000s for me – travel. Paradoxical because I am fully aware that many consider flying a reckless act for a committed green thinker to perform and flying is something I did an awful lot of over the last ten years.

Back in the early Nineties, I’d decided that Britain was too small a place to limit my personal horizons to and set out to become more European in my outlook – Mainland Europe having the range of destinations closest to my backyard. I got myself around the continent as much as I could (though more by train and other means than by air). This carried on in the early years of the new decade, which kicked off with the trip to Paris, and also took in the Netherlands, Greece and other sundry Euro-spots. Once I’d achieved that wider mindset (having also lived in Florida a while during 1994, thus taking on the US too, in a small way), the need for further horizons and other ways of thinking to explore came around. I made my first visit to Africa, with a week in Tanzania in 2003 (while Iraq was being invaded) and a revisit two years later.

The big one was Asia, the larger part of the vast land mass I lived off one edge of. From a new base in Japan, I further explored what Asia had to offer. A trip to Korea included a visit to the DMZ, the notorious border between North and South. My 33rd birthday was spent in Beijing, as China was on its meteoric ascent and sweeping away the old to make way for the glittering new of a modern Olympian nation. At the invitation of a friend from Tokyo, I went to visit him at home in Kathmandu, thus witnessing a Nepal under the martial crackdown of a king on his way out.

Coming in near decade close, I managed to add a fifth continent to tuck under my belt by spending some time in Argentina. Standing in front of the mighty Iguazu Falls on the country’s border with Brazil, I realised that it was time to come back to the UK for a period of rebuilding. Brief memories of other moments included Bangkok, Dubai, Toronto, Uruguay

CUTTING A PATH

Official Peace Not War Japan promo video

That which most needed rebuilding was my career. In 2000, I was ending a short period in bookselling and my tenure in retail. Here now in 2010, I am a teacher – something I spent a long time avoiding for one reason or another but which seemed to have kept on calling me. I’ve spent the majority of the 2000s doing just that, and am able to look back now with some satisfaction. However, I have also had several other roles in that time, some of which were attempts at carving out a professional path for myself and others of which were simply a means of putting the proverbial bread on the table.

For a while, I managed an Internet cafe in Brighton, in the days before the ubiquity of portable devices and wi-fi. It was a role that must have helped to mesh my destiny with the Web a little more deeply. I also had a period of temping and taking whatever came along. There were a number of cleaning roles here. I ran a minibus shuttle service for a while. I worked as a conference steward, serving up coffees and lunches to visiting executives from an international credit card company. Curiously, I even worked for a few days processing customs documents for a shipping company that sent stuff by boat a few times a year from the UK to the Falkland Islands. Little did I know that one day a few years on from that peculiar post, I’d end up in the back of an Argentinean taxi driver’s cab, trying to make up some Spanish on the spot to answer his probing questions over my opinion on correct ownership of ‘Las Malvinas’ (as the same islands are known by those living closer to them) whilst rattling through the back streets of Buenos Aires.

As I was also trying to hold down various jobs along the way, another common strand running through most of the era was the range of freelance or volunteer roles I carved out for myself. It started on my return from Paris when I offered my services to a local community organisation (Sounds Phenomenal) to help them out with a Music Conference they’d been running, I ended up taking on the running of the organisation and my first foray into ‘working for myself’.

Taking the non-profit sector experience I’d built up in the UK for them and wedding it to the reignited activism that the Iraq War had awakened in me, I founded an overseas branch of a British anti-war group whilst living in Tokyo – Peace Not War Japan (PNWJ). Having such a major venture on my hands with no local language skills to speak of and no contacts on the ground was undeniably a significant challenge. Ultimately, it brought out a side of the country that I would never have seen otherwise and gave me an opportunity to leave my own mark before I left – the first (as far as I could tell) compilation album of modern Japanese protest music, which was issued nationally and sold…moderately. I’m proud to say that PNWJ continues to this day, despite my having handed over the tiller to other hands.

Being a ‘foreigner’ in Tokyo opened doors to many other opportunities that would never have come my way otherwise. I had a run at journalism, with several pieces published in Japanese and international publications. I advised the company that handled the Japanese release of the BBC series ‘The Office‘. I also ended up as a consultant to the Embassy of Tanzania, where I helped them to put a Japanese-language tourism website together. Despite the fits, starts, and random professional turns taken over the past decade, it all made for quite a group of experiences and landed me with a most unusual skillset. The path ahead seems to lead in the direction of education – which is no bad thing.

DIGITAL NATIVES AND EXPATS

'Social-ist', a montage of personal websites, by D1 Designs

Today’s young people are often defined as ‘digital natives’, meaning that they are utterly at ease with using computers or the Internet, sometimes to the bemusement of their elders. Older people who made the choice to turn their backs on their analogue pasts and join in with this digital world are invariably referred to as ‘digital immigrants’. The implication of this is that they are less fluent in the ways of the modern world, yet have fled to it in search of something better.

Being a cautious steward of such terms as ‘foreigner’ or ‘immigrant’ in my classrooms, I consider such a label appropriate for some but something of a misnomer for myself. The immigrant is one that is viewed by those in the destination of choice as the outsider that has come in. Conversely, the emigrant is viewed by those in the place of departure as the one that has left their roots behind for pastures new. The expatriate (or expat for short) is the migrant who is not perceived in any particular way by the departed or receiving community, but who makes a personal choice to move bases from one place to another. I’ve tended to place myself in this category.

Sensing the prevailing winds back in the late Nineties, I knew that change was afoot, and made a conscious decision to relocate and become a digital expat. Despite sending my first email in 1995 and gaining my first email address a few years later, it wasn’t until the Millennium had passed that I really joined in with the new world. I got my first computer in the early Noughties, and quickly got to grips with the vagaries of Windows 2000. Moving from a creative world of paints and pencils, tape recordings, and notebooks, I upgraded to image and sound editors, sequencers, and word processing. I stopped writing letters by hand and began sending emails instead. Still uncertain what the Internet was actually for and blissfully unaware of the difference between the ‘Net and the Web, I started dialing up and going online, tentatively peeping at what was out there.

Once I moved to Japan in 2003 and digital communications were the best means of staying in touch with those closest to me, I got my first broadband connection and my life went online. A new world opened up just as it was starting to get richer and broader anyway. Whereas it had previously taken me an hour to upload a song to sites like mp3.com for the aim of establishing some sort of online presence for my creative works, now it took minutes. Prior to Tokyo, my biggest footprint on the Web was the collection of pages cobbled together in FrontPage to archive the Sounds Phenomenal work. Now, I started to spread my wings and socialise.

A first MySpace page went up for some music. Photos of my travels followed, initially at an image hosting site run by Sony and later transferred to the daddy of image hosting – Flickr. I began my first blog in 2006, to join in with what was going on and as an evolution of the diary that I’d been writing since I was 14 years old (only this time taking the jump of actually showing people some of my writings). Multiple volumes on, that diary seems to have now stalled, or at least hit some form of hiatus, as life online doesn’t provide enough time in the day to keep up such commitments. With YouTube having finally brought video online as no other had been quite able to do before, I began my own channel in 2007, now becoming a broadcaster in addition to being a publisher and record label.

As with millions of other people around the world, I now spend probably several hours a day online, with an infinite amount of information at my fingertips yet equally unable to keep up with this data deluge. This is definitely a very different person from the Brighton guy that saw in the Millennium on New Year’s Eve 1999. A good friend that I first met about six months after that date influenced much of the way I perceived and embraced the Web. A pioneer in his chosen field of streaming media who seems to have played a notable part in the building of that industry, I learned about people like Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee from him, or ideas such as TCP/IP or IP Multicasting.

He’s the person I turn to in order to gain a peek at the future of the Internet, rather than simply learn about its past or present. He’s previously described the Internet to me as ‘open prairie’, a nice concept for realising that we are still in the very early days of what this global network has to offer humanity. One thing is for sure, and that’s that the pending decade will see the Web and the Internet playing an increasingly greater role in our lives than it does even now – for better or worse.

A MUSICAL DECADE

Video for Shelf Life‘s ‘Endgame’

I took my initial English Teacher training back in 1996, aware that at some point I might feel the need or urge to leave the country for more than just a holiday, and that if I was to do this it was better to work elsewhere than waste a few years bumming around in the backyard of someone else’s poverty. Teaching English allows just that opportunity as the language is a tool that is in demand the world over, and there is always a shortage when it comes to supply meeting demand.

Bizarre as it might now seem to my far more widely travelled mind, I once held off for several years from the idea of leaving Britain on musical grounds. That is, I was determined that my future lay as a working musician (along with romantic notions of ‘changing the world through song’ or something like that) and I thought that Britain was the only place to be when it came down to getting somewhere in music. I’ve been pretty obsessive about music from my mid-teens onwards and bought the NME religiously between 1986 and 2002, even to the extent of carting all the back issues I owned around all the different houses I lived in during the Nineties.

Living in 90s Brighton vastly broadened my musical horizons in terms of what I listened to, but I still held on to the notion of fronting a rock ‘n’ roll outfit and taking the world by storm. After numerous attempts at creating that world-shattering unit, I put my final UK group together in 1999, expanding from a four piece to a five piece in 2000. Starting life as Jaded, the band built a small local following from a bunch of live shows and recorded a handful of songs before deciding on a name change. We switched to The Zamora, named after Brighton’s then-star striker Bobby Zamora.

Jacket for The Zamora's 'Pigeon Souvenirs' anthology

After one press release announcing the name change to promote a gig went out, I got a phone call from The Sun, who wanted to do a story and photoshoot with the footballer himself. This kicked off a bizarre snowball of media activity that saw the group gaining extensive TV, radio and newspaper coverage, even including a slot on BBC1’s ‘Football Focus’ show on a Saturday afternoon – prime viewing for millions of British football fans. Such attention pulled the individual members in different directions and to my surprise led to my dismissal from the outfit I’d started.

This became both an end and a beginning. It was the end of my dreams of becoming a rock star, which I viewed negatively at the time. However, as it ended up leading me to Japan, it was ultimately a very good thing. I wouldn’t wish to have traded what I have seen and done for traipsing around more student union bars and getting into debt with a record label just as the industry got hit by Napster and the digital tsunami that was to transform it.

Jacket for Control K's 'The Front Line (Redux)'

Having reached the end of a line, it also meant that in order to continue to be involved in making music, I would need to finally start working on my own rather than having to rely on other people to get a sound up and running. I did this with the creation of a new electronic alter-ego, which would act as a conduit for the far wider range of musical output that was flowing into me than the simple rock ‘n’ roll format. The first Control K album went on sale in the middle of the last decade, and I’ve managed to find time to put a few more tracks together and out over the ‘Net since then too.

Jacket for Shelf Life's 'Best Before End'

Rock ‘n’ roll’s a hard thing to get completely out of one’s system though, and in Japan I succumbed to getting into yet another band. This one, with Japanese musicians and called Shelf Life, actually went further again than I’d been before. We played together for almost four years, mainly at a small bar in my suburban neighbourhood in Western Tokyo. I found a great song-writing partner in the guitarist (who also owned the bar) and we crafted a collection of our own material that was released as an album shortly before I left town. We made a semi-professional pop video to accompany one of the tracks, so got a further flavour of the fun and games of taking a band to another level. After my return to the UK, the boys even came over for a short tour and we played dates in Brighton and London.

By the end of the decade just passed, however, I was an entirely different musical beast from the one that had started it. From a fanboy wedded to a musical bible who tended to buy a handful of new CDs every month just to get my hands on new tunes or to plug in the gaps in my meticulously assembled collection to a plugged in consumer of streaming waves of zeroes and ones with no particular tribal affiliations – from NME to mp3.

Having opened up in the Nineties to dub, jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul and electronic music, I took that sense of exploration further in the Noughties and kept my ears working on the sounds I found around me. I grew an interest in African music, explored Japanese music extensively, and also turned my tastes towards Latin or Arabic rhythms. Having once anchored myself so solidly to Anglospheric music, I opened up to listening to words in other languages. Radio Nova from Paris took over from BBC’s Radio One. Manu Chao, who sings in French, Spanish and English, became a new favourite. I particularly enjoyed when differing musical cultures fused or collided, as they did with the Okinawan folk and beats style of Ryukyu Underground or the tango for a different dancefloor of Gotan Project.

Despite all that and as I’ve previously said, it’s hard to get traditional rock ‘n’ roll completely out of your system once it’s got in there. My final live performance of the decade was at a Christmas show at work amidst the widely ranging performances of the assorted international students also taking to the stage. Cobbling a brief line-up of interested teachers together and with a rehearsal or two beforehand, we ran through a rugged version of ‘Life On Mars’ for the assembled crowd. Funnily enough, I think it might have been my biggest live audience yet. And The Beatles remain evergreen to my ears.

AS ONE CHAPTER ENDS…LOOKING AHEAD

Following the newlyweds through the streets of Brighton

Following the newlyweds through the streets of Brighton

So, the ill-named Noughties have been more militarised yet consciously greener, have seen a more easterly tilting of the poles of world power, and have been revolutionary in the digitisation of global citizenry. I got myself into further corners of the planet than I’d previously thought possible, settled on a career path and got myself married, plus created a not insubstantial body of work to show for my time on the Earth, along with becoming a fully paid up digital expat.

I set myself and met several goals. They included professional ones (putting together a six-day programme of events including a conference, founding a non-profit organisation overseas), artistic (15 minutes of fame with a band, the production and issuing of six CD albums, creating and releasing my first book) and personal (relocating to Japan and settling there, becoming well travelled, developing a global mindset, and getting married).

How can I follow my thirties, as I move into my forties? What does the new equally unnameable decade hold in store? One thing’s for certain, I lived most of the previous decades as a defiantly single young man, following my nose wherever it took me. I am now thinking for two, which is really a quantum shift in one’s approach to life. Hopefully, at some point the two of us will even grow to three or more. My 40s will therefore be more family focused. This means that having settled on that career path, it’s time to build on it and make it grow, time to try and make a difference within my own profession rather than constantly being on the outside and knocking at the window of somewhere or other trying to get in. If at all possible, I’d also like to squeeze in some kind of Masters degree before I get to the end of my next decade.

There are several parts of the world that are still crying out to be visited, including Australasia, great American cities like New York and San Francisco, plus much of the rest of Africa and the Middle East. Being married to a Japanese woman, I can expect that I’ll also be finding myself back in Japan on more than one or two occasions. And never being one to shy away from ridiculous ambitions, I would dearly love to find some way to make it to Antarctica before I turn 50. At this point, who knows where I’ll end up. Probably likely to visit fewer places than in my 30s though, given the family man agenda.

Creatively, I’ll be getting a bit too old to keep on rocking (at least with some sense of dignity) but the urge to make music remains strong. I hope to see the growth of Control K, at least one or two more albums and perhaps a move into licensing or soundtracks of some sort. One thing that I am finding though, is that writing is taking more and more of an important place in my life. There are several novels in my head waiting to come out, some mere sketches, some almost fully formed.

Predicting the future is, of course, a fools game. There’s no failsafe way of saying or seeing what will happen on the road ahead. I do however think that it’s helpful for travellers through life to have destinations in mind, even if the means they have of getting there are completely different to what was expected or they end up in a place utterly unlike where they expected to find themselves. So, whatever the highs, lows, challenges, pleasures, surprises and treats of the…2010s, I say bring them on.

For further coverage of the last ten years, visit The Guardian page for extensive reviews and round-ups of the decade in arts, global politics, technology, sports, and much more.

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Filed under 2010, Articles, Brighton, Control K, Features, Japan, Peace, Reviews, Shelf Life, The Zamora, Travel

TRAVEL // ‘Japan From The Inside’ preface (2008)


Back in my twenties, once I realised that I wasn’t going to make a living as a pop star, I scaled back my ambitions to making sure that I created my first album before I reached thirty. I finished work on ‘Pigeon Souvenirs’, the anthology of tracks recorded by The Zamora, about a week shy of my thirtieth birthday. My computer then crashed and it would be a few more years before I was actually able to put it out, but the ambition was realised.

Six albums down the line, I’ve expanded my creative output and found myself having to set new goals. Another major milestone to reach was my first book before I was forty. Although I put in an appearance in Printed Matter Press’s ‘Jungle Crows‘ anthology whilst in Tokyo, I wanted to get a full work out. The internet’s come on considerably since I worked on that first album and it’s now a matter of just having the know-how and time to be able to create an artistic work and have it accessible to the world. Of course, actually selling it is another matter, which is where the culture industries still have a role to play in these times.

Last year, while stuck in a loft on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, I waded through my photos and a selection of mostly published writings from my time in Japan and assembled them into a substantial volume of my experiences. ‘Japan From The Inside‘ thus became my first book, and three years ahead of that next big birthday.

Of course, life has a habit of getting in the way of things when you least want it to, and I was also in the midst of a substantial job hunt (trying to reintegrate myself back into the UK after so long away), so wasn’t able to give it much of a push at the time. However, once I’d sorted myself out (and realised that a couple of changes were needed to the edition I put out in 2008), I’ve finally found the time to start promoting it.

‘Japan From The Inside’ is a pictorial record of such places as Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Okinawa and the Japan Alps. It also looks into aspects of Japanese culture and nature, and profiles some of the 127 million people who call Japan home. Including short stories, travel writings, event reviews, and other items such as song lyrics and poetry, it is my first substantial piece of work about the country that has given me so much inspiration. It’s unlikely to be the last.

The book is available for preview and purchase at blurb.com, and is currently entered in the Best Blurb Books Contest. At the time of writing, there are two weeks of voting before shortlisted books make it through to a final round of judging by an expert panel. It might be a dream, a long shot, or both, but I’m hoping to get as many votes as I can to make it through to the next round. Readers of this can help things along by clicking on the Blurb Contest link and adding their votes.

If you like the book enough, you’re also welcome to add a comment on the page – the more comments I get, the more it’ll get noticed. The contest ends on November 9th.

At the top of this post is a promo video I put together for the book. Below, is the preface to the book itself. Enjoy.

‘Japan From The Inside’ preface

Drastic decisions can either turn into great success stories or tales of disaster. In early 2003, the narrative flow of my life was going defiantly in the opposite direction to that I had intended for it, so I decided on a bold move – to leave England and make a new life for myself on the other side of the world.

I used an English teaching job to get to Japan. Once the shock of the new had worn off and I’d settled into my new home in Tokyo, I began to explore the place I’d landed in.

With my first digital camera in tow, I documented the areas that I visited as I spread my wings to the four corners of the country. The first trip was to Hiroshima, the city where arguably the world of the post-war era began. Shortly after, I went wandering around the subtropical archipelago of Okinawa. An immersion in the thrills of snowboarding on the frozen island of Hokkaido followed.

These visits opened up new worlds of experiences, encouraging me to start writing and travelling more seriously. Alongside my teaching, I became a freelance journalist. I also formed a rock band, started a peace charity, met my wife-to-be and travelled yet further afield from my Tokyo base.

At a suburban house in Buenos Aires near the end of 2007, I learnt of the collapse of the company that had been bankrolling my adventures. With a wedding pending and a whole new set of tasks to deal with, it became time to return to England.

This book serves as a record of my time spent living, working and travelling in Japan. It covers the classic iconography – skyscrapers, cherry blossom, technology and temples – so should act as a good introduction for the uninitiated. It also shows more hidden moments – village celebrations on tiny islands, festivals in mountain forests – to uncover some unseen sides for experienced Japanophiles.

I have titled it ‘Japan From The Inside’ as I hope for it to provide some insights into a country so often considered mysterious and impenetrable to outsiders. It is also a means of sharing my journeys through the land of superlatives.

My drastic decision turned out to be the best I’d made. Please find a seat on the bullet train and join me on a trip around this island on the edge of a continent.

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Filed under 2008, Features, Travel

INTERVIEWS // That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore (1991)

Of all the indie bands from the early 90’s that I interviewed as staff writer and Music Editor for college rag The Printed Image, very few of them actually made it into a written article. One of the rare ones that did was conducted with a fellow called Noel Burke, who was in the musically unenviable position of having stepped into the shoes of Echo & The Bunnymen‘s departed singer Ian McCulloch.

To be fair to him, he did a sterling job of fighting his corner in what has since proved to be a losing battle, that of making his own mark in a very difficult situation. As a fan of the original band, I was actually quite taken with the tunes that the Burke-led Bunnymen came up with too, although they didn’t really do the name justice in this fan’s eyes. Still, respect was given to him for trying.

This interview was one of the times when I was left with a tale to tell from getting it that was almost equivalent to the subject itself. As best I can remember, I took the bus from Cardiff to Bristol where the band were playing that night. It was cheap option and as I was knee-deep in usual student debt, a train wasn’t really going to be on the agenda. Befriending a couple I met on the back of the bus who were also heading to the same show, I may well have gotten my mind a little befuddled with whatever they had with them to pick themselves up or slow themselves down and duly shared with me.

Having been into the Bunnymen for a few years by then but gotten into them after their heyday, it was the closest I’d got to seeing one of their shows. There were at least two of the original members of the band playing and ‘two out of four is better than none’, I thought to myself.

After the show, I went backstage to talk with Noel. By then, the band were not getting anything like the press they’d received in their heyday and given that he was new to being a Bunnyman, seemed glad to have someone want to know what he had to say – even if it was some big-haired ‘A’ Level student that wasn’t likely to give them a great deal of exposure in his rag.

Noel bought me a beer too, which added to the sense of congeniality I was feeling about the evening. He was a very pleasant subject to interview and we spent quite a while talking. Might have even had another beer together too.

Once it was all over and the tape recorder was switched off, I bid my farewells and exited an empty venue. Not really that aware of the time that had passed, I got to the bus station only to find that I had missed the last one back to Cardiff.

No money for a hotel. No desire at all to sleep on the streets of Bristol. Too tired by the exaltations of the evening, I wasn’t of a mind to try and stay awake wandering around the darkened streets until the first bus of the morning. There was nothing for it but to hitch back to Cardiff.

I don’t remember a great deal about the journey back now, but I know that hitching after midnight in a deserted city doesn’t equal prime chances of being picked up. I had to wait a good couple of hours to get a ride, probably from some night-shifting trucker that saw it as a way to break up the tedium of what he was doing. It would have been somewhat close to dawn by the time I got back home, so there certainly wouldn’t have been any college gone to the next day.

I’d barely ever dream of hitching these days. Suppose it’s something that if you ever do it, and I’ve certainly done it enough in my time to not want to have to do it again now, you can tick it off your list of things to experience in a lifetime and leave it at that.

Ian McCulloch eventually rejoined a reformed Echo & The Bunnymen. Noel left the band in 1992 and became a teacher. He later got back together with his first former bandmates St Vitus Dance and released an album called ‘Glypotheque’ in 2008.


That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore

In 1987, Johnny Marr left The Smiths and, thankfully for the band’s sake, they split up after considering replacing Marr. Imagine now if Morrissey had left and the band had continued, with a replacement for Morrissey, under the name of The Smiths. To say that they wouldn’t have been the same would have been an understatement. Neither would The Wedding Present without David Gedge. Or Happy Mondays without Shaun Ryder. Or Echo And The Bunnymen without Ian McCulloch.

Ian McCulloch left Echo And The Bunnymen during an American tour in 1988. Bravely, Will Sargeant, Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas decided to soldier on, still carrying the Bunnymen flag. A replacement for Mac was found in Belfast-born Noel Burke. They received further setback when drummer Pete De Freitas was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (the new album ‘Reverberation’ is dedicated to Peter) the following year.

Will and Les made it clear that it was their intention to persevere under the moniker of Echo And The Bunnymen. Initially, Mac hit back, suggesting that they rename themselves Echoes Of The Bunnymen. Last year, 1990, the new Echo And The Bunnymen album ‘Reverberation’ was unleashed in the face of adverse criticism. I only remember reading one good review and that was only a good review, whereas in the past an Echo And The Bunnymen album should have received an excellent review. The main problem that most writers seemed unable to come to terms with was the name. They didn’t seem to look further, to the music on the album.

Having said this, ‘Reverberation’ is actually an excellent album. Noel Burke is a rare find indeed and a very talented songwriter. Unfortunately, this is possibly the worst light he could be seen under, for he will constantly be living under the shadow of Ian McCulloch, a daunting prospect. ‘Reverberation’ on the other hand does not stand up very well against the real Bunnymen albums, such as ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’. One wonders whether he is being himself in his song writing or just a pale imitation of Mac.

I’ve talked to a few people who say it’s not the same and I say it’s not meant to be the same. I’ve got my own preoccupations with singing, and lyrically I’ve got enough to be going on with myself to worry about what was going before.

I see it as an integral part of the band. Obviously, a frontman has certain duties and in the whole scheme of things, the spotlight’s on you. It’s silly denying that, but as far as anyone else in the band is concerned, songwriting or whatever, everybody’s got an input and that has always been the way with the Bunnymen. It was like that when Mac was in the band. Will and Les did a hell of a lot of the songwriting. Mac wrote the lyrics and he did his own vocal parts and that’s exactly what I do with the band.

Previously to the Bunnymen (Mark II), Noel had been in a band called St. Vitus Dance who had split up and Noel had moved to Liverpool, getting a job at Waterstone’s book shop. This is where Will and Les found him after having decided on him as a replacement for their departed singer.

Burke had been a fan of the band up to ‘Ocean Rain’. Had they been amongst his influences as a member of St. Vitus Dance?

I saw them in Belfast. There was a bomb scare and we had to go out into the freezing cold for about an hour before we were let into the gig, so they were dead late, but it was good. I enjoyed it. At the time, I wasn’t even in a band. I liked them, but they wouldn’t have been an influence. Lyrically, it was people like Costello and Cathal Coughlan, out of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions now. Musically, it was mostly 60’s type stuff, like The Zombies and Wire. Basically, it was the same sort of thing as this band in that it was very democratic and everybody had different tastes. I’m only speaking from my point of view. Everybody had a different input.

Although a lot of their live set consists of the new songs that they have written together, a selection of old songs have crept in, such as ‘Silver’, ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Bedbugs And Ballyhoo’. Having been a fan of the band, surely it would have been strange for Noel to have been playing those songs?

It’s not that weird because I’m so familiar with them. Obviously, I prefer to play the songs that we’ve written, but as far as the old songs are concerned, they’re Will and Les’s songs and they were Pete’s as well. He was in the band when I first joined.

For Will and Les, this is like a new band. There is one respect though in which they are not a new band. They have kept the name, which is going to invite criticisms and comparisons to Mac’s Bunnymen.

I’ve got a theory about that. The people who are going to compare will be about the same age as myself, about 27, and they’ll be looking back to what they were doing when ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’ were out. People have fonder memories of an album because it’s buried in their past and they’ll associate it with losing their virginity or whatever. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it on those terms because it’s something you know and love and it changes. Certainly people are going to have a lot of preconceptions and be sceptical. I would have had that attitude. If I had been an outsider, I would have said that it’s bound to be crap. I think that people, when they look back in a year or so, they’ll think it’s a really great album. I think it is a pity it has come out in such circumstances. People look at it in its historical perspective now and see it in this so-called ‘bad light’.

Once the fans have been won over, the next hurdle is the press, who can destroy a band’s career and haven’t been too warm to the new Bunnymen yet. Does Noel get upset by the press reactions?

Who gives a shite? There’s room in the world for everyone. The music press only tend to be interested if they think there’s going to be a slanging match and we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to come out and slag Mac off. My philosophy in life is ‘those who can do, those who can’t work for the NME’. I know loads of people who work for the NME who were in bands who never did anything. So they got into the NME with a chip on their shoulder.

So, provided Echo And The Bunnymen don’t take too much notice of those cutting journalists, what plans are there for the future?

I just want to do as many weird and wonderful things as possible. I want to put out loads of singles. I want to do stuff outside of the band. Everybody wants to do stuff outside of the band. We’ve all got such diverse interests. I don’t mean anything like a solo career, but working with other people. Maybe singing or getting into production. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.

There is a question that is always asked of Paul McCartney or George Harrison. It is, in fact, asked of any band members or bands who have gone their separate ways. Are there any plans for a reformation?

I don’t think that (Will and Les) have any regrets. It’s just that things went the way they did and I think they’re happy now. The whole thing had soured and they weren’t getting on. It was like a marriage and everyone had got used to each other but they weren’t getting on and it was a question of who would send the boat out first and Mac did; he left. I don’t think they’ll ever want it the way it was. I know for a fact that they don’t see it now as second best.

Since I interviewed Noel, the band have been dropped from their record label. Time will tell if they win the press back over. Bring on the dancing reviews.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // All The Songs Sound The Same (1991)

The first time I remember dabbling a little more seriously with writing was accepting an assignment for the high school newspaper, aged 11. Excited as I was to have the opportunity, as an avowed pacifist even then I was dismayed that my first ‘proper writing job’ was to be a review of a boxing match! The piece in question may not exist now, but I do remember that I watched the match and went ahead with writing about it.

It took something like another ten years before I would really have something to get my teeth into. Taking an ‘A’ Level in Media Studies at a Cardiff college, I gravitated towards the setting up of a new magazine, that came to be named The Printed Image. I was given the position of Music Editor, which felt quite prestigious at the time. It certainly gave me a dose of life as a ‘blagging’ music journalist, as I spent the good part of a year calling up record companies under this guise and convincing them to allow me to interview the artists that spent so long on my turntable at the time.

While I met many of the indie heroes of the day and got a feel for the mysteries of backstage life, I rarely turned any of the resulting interviews into articles. I guess that this was partly down to the drag of spending many hours trawling through a cassette to transcribe what I’d come up with to turn it into something readable. However, the first one of these interviews formed the article that appears below.

Following on from the demise of The Smiths and in the days when anything that John Peel gave his thumbs up to got a listen by my pals and I, The Wedding Present became the ‘band du jour’ for a good few years. Founder and frontman David Gedge was my first interview subject and despite my initial fanboy nerves, he was the most genial of hosts.

The interview took place at the Newport Centre and must have lasted for up to an hour. At the time, the band had a habit of selling bootleg tapes of their shows at gigs and I was keen to put this possibility to the test. After the interview, I asked Gedge if he didn’t mind me making a recording, given that the horse’s mouth was on a plate (so to speak) and I had the gear to do it with. To my pleasure, he said yes and even agreed to give me written permission.

After the interview, my gang and I headed for the front row where we would bear the crush of the crowd to get closer to the band. I had the tape recorder stuffed down the front of my trousers (not the easiest of circumstances), a wire trailing along my sleeve and the mic in my outstretched hand. It wasn’t long before a security guard came up to me and told me that I couldn’t make the recording.

Promptly, I whipped Gedge’s permission slip (‘To whom it may concern, please let the bearer of this letter…‘) and showed it to the guard. There wasn’t much he could do in the face of it and he might even have bristled a little at my audacity when I asked if he would put my machine on the stage so that I could get a better recording, but still went ahead and did it.

The days of black jeans, Newcastle Brown and getting crushed down the front row seem long behind me now, but they were certainly fun times. My meeting with David Gedge turned out to be quite a useful masterclass in how to go ahead and put your own music out yourself, without going through the machinations of the music industry. It helped that he was a very nice bloke too.


All The Songs Sound The Same

David Gedge being honest.

On Thursday 15th November, The Wedding Present played to an elated crowd at Newport Centre, mixing a set of choice oldies with new songs from their coming third LP. I spoke to the band’s mainman, David Gedge, finding him to be very pleasant and talkative.

He told me about many aspects of the band’s five year career, their transition from a small time independent band to one of Britain’s top ‘alternative’ groups and many other aspects of the music industry that the band operate in. I asked David about the band’s beginnings and how they managed to finance the first single ‘Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy’.

We were all on the dole apart from Peter (the band’s guitarist) who was a teacher and we just basically saved £5 out of each of our dole cheques and started a bank account. It’s surprising how much it adds up really. Something like £10 a week, £500 a year. It cost about £100 to record and £400 to manufacture.

We did a couple of demo tapes and sent them off, but no-one is really interested in demos. We did this other tape which we decided was good enough to record and we took that around to see if anybody wanted to put it out and again everybody said no so we decided to put it out ourselves. And we called it Reception Records because we were called The Wedding Present and it seemed like an obvious word.

A lot of The Wedding Present’s influences have been among the most revered underground guitar bands of the past twenty five years. David told me what he and the band listen to and how their tastes have changed.

There’s four people in the group and I suppose we’ve all got different tastes, especially Peter who’s into folk bands and stuff. I’ve always been a fan of guitar bands really, like The Membranes, The Velvet Underground, Postcard bands. It probably has changed, although I’m not sure what to. I’m quite fickle really, one record that I like today, I’ll probably hate in a week.

I like Ride because I went to see them in Sheffield and they dedicated a song to me, so I was really touched. Afterwards, they told us they formed the group after seeing us play. So Ride are probably my favourite group at the moment.

They have also worked with producer Steve Albini recently. Had David listened to any of Albini’s other bands since recording with him?

I’m not really a fan of the bands he tends to work with, to be honest. I like The Breeders and I like The Pixies but most of the bands he works with just go ‘chrrrrwhrrrrchrrrr’ and I just don’t like it. I think it’s quite boring and I don’t think they’ve got any real songs. I think Big Black (one of the bands Albini has been in) were a bit like that but the guitar sounds were great. I saw them live in Leeds and thought, this is the man for us, really.

He’s very much a person who’ll remain in the background, or with us anyway. He’ll just set the stuff up and he’ll fiddle around with your amps a bit and your drumkit and say ‘How do you like this sound?’, and it’s usually a really good sound. He’ll just record it. When you come away from that and you’re writing at home again, you use that knowledge to write songs and I’ve probably got more money now, so I can experiment with guitars and amps. It’s all getting more technical. We used to just have these guitars, plug them into an amplifier and play, whereas now I’ve got all different weird tunings and effects pedals which just make it more varied.

While a lot of The Wedding Present’s early indie contemporaries such as Primal Scream and The Soup Dragons seem to have jumped on Manchester’s ‘dance’ bandwagon, the band have stayed true to their course and kept up the guitars. Although Gedge isn’t completely dismissive of the whole scene, he remains slightly sceptical.

I think it’s always interesting to experiment with things like that. I can’t really imagine us doing it now because people would just say ‘bandwagonning’, Primal Scream or something. And I’m probably the only one in the group who’s interested in that type of feel anyway. I’ll wait till my solo career, like Holly Johnson, all those Hi-NRG records. I think it’s a quite interesting phase of music, definitely.

The Wedding Present themselves have often received criticisms of the songs all sounding the same, of being the ‘Status Quo of indie’. They’ve actually named a recent 10” EP ‘All The Songs Sound The Same’. How does David react to these criticisms?

We’ve always tried to change the direction. To me, I suppose ‘Bizarro’ sounds different to ‘George Best’, and I know in retrospect it’s probably not as different as I’d imagined it is. Once we’d made ‘George Best’, there was no point in making that LP again, so we immediately set out to make a different type of record. Ultimately though, I suppose it’s not that dissimilar but now I think after five years of experience and also after having worked with Albini, we’re finally managing to escape from that. I think a lot of it is that we’re quite shy and quite conservative really and it’s very difficult to get a new idea which is good on that situation, because we’re always scared thinking that it’s different, but is it any good? I think finally we’re actually getting over that now and starting to mess around, and obviously we’ve got a bit of money now.

What about reviews?

It depends what mood we’re in really. If I’m in a mood where I’m considering that the music papers are out for a week and then a new one comes along that’s completely disposable in the same way that pop music is, then it doesn’t bother me. I can just take it like a ‘pop comment’. It’s really weird because if someone criticises me and they think the work’s good, then I think ‘oh! thank you very much’, but if they think that it’s bad, I think ‘you’re wrong!’ It’s quite a personal thing to me.

Gedge was in a band whilst studying for his Maths degree at Leeds University called The Lost Pandas, an early version of The Wedding Present. I asked him his opinion on the student environment for fledgling bands.

It’s a really good place to start a group, obviously. Principally because you can put an advert up in the union and there’s going to be a lot of like-minded people hanging around, so it’s quite handy. But it’s probably better to be as far away from University as possible because it’s not a particularly trendy place to be, is it?

The Wedding Present have now made two memorable appearances on one of Britain’s longest musical institutions, Top Of The Pops. Firstly with their particularly lacklustre performance of ‘Brassneck’. Secondly, confusing the audience with its false stops and starts, their version of the old Cockney Rebel song ‘Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)’. Was ‘Brassneck’s lack of enthusiasm intentional?

Oh yes, it wasn’t serious, although a number of people thought I was the proper act. I had my brother ring up, who’s not a fan of the band, say ‘What was wrong, had someone died?’ I’m surprised I got away with it really, because I was getting more and more bored. You have to rehearse about eight or nine times during the day to get the camera angles right and every time I was getting more and more deadpan, and I thought that some director’s going to say ‘Come on, you can’t do this’. But he didn’t. I honestly thought we wouldn’t get asked on again after that.

The single went down ten places after that.

I don’t think any single’s gone down further after a Top Of The Pops appearance!

Somebody who gave The Wedding Present a lot of support earlier on and who still does is Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Did David consider The Wedding Present to be a ‘John Peel band’?

I think we probably are. He’s the only person who plays us on national radio. It’s a very much over-used word. I consider ourselves to be an independent band. I know that means about four different things now. To me, about four years ago, it meant being uncompromising. Now, it means you’ve got to treble your guitar or something. Obviously we are in that category of groups, alternative really.

After having been own their own independent record label for so long, they recently signed a deal with a major label. Had the band lost any of their artistic control since signing to RCA?

God no! I think it’s actually the opposite, because we’ve got more money now. We’ll go into the studio and try something and if it doesn’t work, we can have extra studio time to do it again. I think it’s given us more freedom.

There was of course the case of the band’s compilation video, which the group wanted to call ‘Spunk’ and the record company insisted on putting it out as ‘*punk’.

That was RCA’s video department which was a different kettle of fish. I don’t think they really understand us there, whereas to the people who signed us, we said ‘Look, we’re glad you like the group and that you’ve given us all this money, but we should make it clear that we’re not someone you can push around, so if you can’t handle that fact, then go spend your money on someone else’. And they said, ‘All right, fair enough’. I mean, they always advise us and say that if we put the name of the band on the sleeve, we’re going to sell more records, etc, etc. Ultimately, it’s our choice. I can’t imagine it lasting forever. They’ll probably drop us.

For the second year running, The Wedding Present have played at this summer’s Reading Festival, having moved up the bill this year.

If someone had said ten years ago ‘One day, you will be playing the Reading Festival and The Buzzcocks will be on before you’, I would have laughed. But it was a nice day, that was the main thing. The year before it was raining.

Unfortunately for the band, bass player Keith Gregory had his amplifier blow up!

The worst two minutes of my life! Normally, I can think of something to say, but I was so nervous. So many gigs in Britain, Europe and America and nothing like that has really happened before. Guitar strings, they break all the time, but we’ve never had an amp blow up! The biggest audience you can imagine, 20,000 people. I was terrified!

David Gedge is a man who comes over as very satisfied with where he is, describing the band as ‘like a giant hobby’. Talking about music journalism, he questioned ‘how can you describe something that affects you physically?’ Reinforcing the fact that he’s at where he likes and he likes where he’s at, and would be comfortable nowhere else. The band have a good relationship with their fans (‘I think they’re quite nice people in general’), Gedge still hasn’t paid his poll tax (‘I haven’t, but I’ve not been asked yet’) and they can only go from strength to strength.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // First Cutlery’s Deepest (2007)

Tokyo Pinsalocks (l-r Reiko, Hisayo, Naoko)
The first interview I ever did for publication was with David Gedge of The Wedding Present, one of my favourite guitar bands when I was a teenager. It was exciting to meet with one of my musical heroes at the time and I was pleased that he was such an approachable subject. Gedge gave me a long interview and I committed the whole thing to cassette tape.

When it came down to getting an article out of it for the magazine I was writing for at the time, I spent literally hours in the college library, rewinding the tape again and again with headphones clamped to my ears as I transcribed the entire interview. This made the man hours quite considerable and the prospect of going through this process every time I interviewed somebody less than tempting to say the least.

Many years later, interviewing actors at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo about a play I had just watched them perform, the task was made much easier with the interview having been recorded on a MiniDisc player – the ease of the digital age making my writing job that much faster.

In 2007, I became a staff writer for the now-defunct Asia Player magazine. In what turned out to be my last piece for their final issue, I interviewed another musician and stumbled across the grail of making an interviewer’s life even easier. Holding down a writing gig in Tokyo with a handful of other committments at the same time left me with very little space in my life to get more than a few hours sleep a night, so I was grateful for any shortcut that came my way.

The answer? Email your questions to your subject and then just edit their responses into a nice clean looking piece – the trick is that the person being interviewed actually does the work for you and gets their words as they want them in the bargain.

The subject for this piece was Reiko Kaiyoh, drummer with Japanese electro-pop queens Tokyo Pinsalocks. Having written about them already in my column for the magazine, Reiko asked me to give them some coverage on an upcoming event that the band was organising – a female focused arts event that they had called Spoon Market. The resulting interview can be found below.

Unfortunately, I never made it to the show due to there simply not being enough time in my life to squeeze in everything that Tokyo threw at me. It sounded like a really fun gig, but in a place with as much going on all the time as Tokyo has, you simply can’t say yes to everything.

Still, I did manage to take my interviewing technique discovery away from the experience, so I got that and Reiko got her coverage – everyone’s happy!


First cutlery’s deepest

In the rush of a busy life in the city, we take the clutter and bustle of our daily lives for granted. There’s always cutlery or chopsticks in the kitchen, and the vending machines will always have tea. Take the humble spoon. Use it to shovel in the cereal, soup or fried rice, wash it up and forget about it till hunger hits again, right?

Think again – there are those for whom it holds a much deeper meaning, and not just as something for Michael Jackson’s metal bending friends to show off with.

The Dan of West Africa have mastered the art of carving large spoons into impressive works of sculpture. The spoon’s owner is given the title of ‘wa ke de’, a high distinction given to the most hospitable woman of the village. The custom of the men of Wales giving love spoons to their sweethearts dates back hundreds of years. Even Freud himself has gotten in on the act, giving the spoon the female role in the knife/fork/spoon dinner table trio.

Tokyo Pinsalocks, Japan’s leading purveyors of all-girl electro-pop have taken the spoon as metaphor for themselves. Singer Naoko once described the band that way, being both cute and tough – feminine curves tempered with a metallic steel. To extend the metaphor further, they’ve organised not only an event but an entirely new scene named after the object – September’s upcoming ‘Spoon Market’ at Ebisu Milk.

The event is set to be an extravaganza of all things female from this fair city, and features bands, DJs, VJs, art exhibitions, shops, stalls and food. The music is ladled on thick, with appearances from the Pinsalocks crew themselves, along with Noodles, Motocompo, Falsies On Heat and Kate Sikora, amongst others. Spoonfuls of style will come from the fashion goods, accessories and jewellery on sale, with further treats served up in the way of paintings, photography and short films. It’s all stirred up with fine food from the likes of Patisserie Potager and Tacostar.

Asia Player managed to grab a few moments between courses with Pinsalocks drummer and co-organiser Reiko Kayoh to find out a little more about what’s cooking down at Milk.

Where did the idea come from?

We wanted to create an atmosphere where we would be excited to perform our music, and an ideal place to go out to have fun. We play music as a way of expressing ourselves, which is very similar to that of other artforms – film making, fashion designing, and food making. When we create our music, we get inspired by all these things, not only from listening to other music.

We couldn’t find a place like that, so we decided to make one.

What makes it different from other events in Tokyo?

There are events which have live performances, and art exhibitions together, but usually the art is secondary to the ‘main’ live show. At Spoon Market, all the art, shops, food, and music are given equal status.

Ebisu Milk is known as a venue/club, but we are proud to offer it as a gallery/cafe-bar/shopping market too that night.

What are you hoping to achieve with it?

To stimulate people’s everyday lives and make them a little happier by attending to this event. Also to establish a scene of female artists by combining these different fields, hopefully all getting inspired by each other.

What are you most looking forward to at ‘Spoon Market’?

For Milk to become one big market. All the artists we chose are awesome, but what’s important is to join them all together and make the whole place into one world, one market. From entering the door to the end of the basement floor, we want the audience to feel ‘what a cute and cool place!’

What are your expectations for it?

As far as we know there are no other events like it, but we are sure there are many people who would want to come to a place like this.

We expect more artists will become interested in Spoon Market culture. We want to join people who usually work in different fields together and create a scene.

We will be sure of our success when we hear people describing someone’s artwork as ‘that’s very Spoon Market-ish!’

Who do you hope to attract to the event?

The target will be people like us! That means women our age (late 20’s to early 30’s) who are interested in music, fashion, art, like going to cafes, want to make their own style and are looking for something that inspires them. However, people from different generations, genders, or cultural backgrounds are just as welcome.

What’s in it for boys attending?

Boys and girls might feel the same way about something but express themselves in a different way. They can definitely enjoy the similarities and differences in the art styles. Maybe they’ll be able to understand their girlfriend’s taste a little better too!!!

Is this going to be a one-off or a regular event?

A regular event hopefully, but we’ll see how it goes after the first one. We want to see if this is the right place to have this event, the right number of artists, etc. We definitely will continue the Spoon Market with the same concept, but don’t know when and where yet. So, watch this space.

What’s your message to the audience?

If you like one artist, you’ll definitely love the rest. For people who want a good night out in Tokyo, for people who’re looking for inspiration, for people who just want to enjoy music or to relax, see you at the Spoon Market!

EVENT INFO

VENUE: Ebisu Milk
DATE: 21 September (Friday) 20:00 – 04:00
TICKETS: Advance – 3,000 yen (inc. one drink) / Door – 3,500 yen (inc. one drink)
Available from Ticket PIA
WEB: www.pinsalocks.com/spoon
PHONE: 03-3413-9331 (Heaven’s Door)

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Filed under 2007, Features, Interviews