My neck hurts. Why does my neck hurt? Because I went to see nine Indies bands at Holiday Shinjuku instead of studying for the two exams I had the next day. Yay me!!!
I was invited by my friends Ashley, Fox, and Megan to go see some indies bands. Indies bands in Japan are not the same as indies bands in America. When one thinks "indies" in America, one usually pictures grungy garage bands and kids with no talent attempting to strum out some tunes about why they're living off cup ramen. In Japan, indies is its own sub-culture - and a strange one at that. In fact, although I've been to Tokyo Decadance, I can assure you that the things I saw at this indies live were undoubtedly the most bizarre antics I've ever seen and got progressively weirder as the show went on.
I've discussed in previous posts the concept of visual-kei in Japan. VK Japanese indies bands are best thought of as "apprentice geishas" - if I may loosely throw around such terms. VK bands are, of course, extravagant. However, it's a general rule in Japan that the more talented, famous, or career-comfortable a band becomes, the more they shed themselves of VK. There are exceptions of course - such as Versailles, who are probably more decadent now than ever - but this is the usual trend. D'espairsray went major and almost instantly rid themselves of VK. Dir en grey slowly peeled it off a little bit year by year as they became more famous. Even The GazettE, the band monopolizing the VK scene right now, is showing signs of toning down their VK style. The idea, just like with geisha, is that a more experienced, talented band doesn't need to rely on its looks or its flamboyant style to attract or keep an audience. Just as geisha rid themselves of excessive hair accessories and make-up as they become more experienced and popular, Visual-kei bands do much the same thing.
Thus, Japanese indies bands are absolutely the most flamboyant, overdone, and utterly ridiculous of VK bands, simply because there is no other way to be noticed. Some Indies bands are good, others are beyond awful, but either way you're guaranteed a sight. I am personally not a big fan of indies in any country, but I decided to go see an indies live because it is a completely different experience in its own right.
Just a reminder about this post... UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED, EVERY PERSON PICTURED OR DESCRIBED IS A MAN. DO NOT BE CONFUSED NO MATTER WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.
I was stubborn and refused to skip class to get to Shinjuku HOLIDAY on time, but I would've made it right on time if I hadn't decided not to trust my own hand-drawn map and get lost. In typical Kita-style, I stopped at a convenience store to ask where Shinjuku HOLIDAY was, only to have the cashier point out the window. I was next to it. Oops. Horribly embarrassed, I thanked the cashier and ran away.
Going into Shinjuku HOLIDAY after a show has started is best compared to the final, Hell level of any Silent Hill game (or the last destination in the Silent Hill movie, if you've seen that). From the outside, HOLIDAY seems fairly innocent, but something is off. There's no front door. You search around till you find a couple doors with no signs and choose one at random. The door is old and creaky. You open the door, and you're in a dark, strange place with a hallway and unmarked doors and the dull thud of music coming up from beneath the floor. Just like the Silent Hill descent into Hell, you descend the stairs beneath strange and indescribable lighting, wondering where you're going and why everything is so old and weird. You reach the basement, but you're not deep enough in Hell yet. You descend another flight of old, rickety stairs, and the music grows louder. Finally, you find an impossibly small, dark room with a couple of disgruntled Japanese handing out tickets. You buy your tickets in haste, hoping the monsters don't leap out of the shadows while you're unarmed. Then you find a massive door with no handle. You scratch at the door a bit, hearing music pounding against it from the other side. Eventually, you find a strange hole and manage to push the door open. Inside, you have finally reached Hell. You are suffocated in smoke and darkness and bizarre screams. Dazed, pierced youths sit on the floor near the entrance, and their eyes glint at you in the darkness.
Welcome to indies, where underground music is literally underground!
HOLIDAY is tiny, and the stage barely fits the bands' equipment. The audience was equally small, with only about thirty people sitting or standing quietly and observing. Such is the reality of Indies bands - no one knows them! But here's where things get strange. A foot from the stage is a large, metal gate - the barrier. In front of the barrier are two girls and they are rocking out like no other and doing full, completely rehearsed furi hand gestures to every song. Our first band has a tiny fan club! Interesting to note but... the pre-rehearsed furi at indies concerts is the birth of furi. If a band goes major, chances are this furi will follow them all the way to the big-time.
Also interesting to note, but most of the people in the club did not look strange. Yes, there were some goths, yes there was a girl with completely maroon hair, but most of these girls could've been anybody's sister or cousin. Some were still wearing school uniforms!
Anyways, I found my friends and went to stand with them. They assured me more people would show up and that people would get more wild. I guess the better bands go on later and it was only 3:30 now. The first band performing was called diva. I was only able to find one picture of them, and its terrible, but this will have to do for now:
Diva had potential in my opinion, but it was all too obvious that they were new. They had a good look to them, and they sounded solid, but they were poorly rehearsed and made many mistakes. Moreover, the string section kept trying to sing in harmony with the vocalist but... there's a reason the string section aren't the vocalists. Yeesh. They really needed to cut that out or taking singing lessons. Other than that, not much to report.
The next band up was called Licker. Here's their picture:
They came out one by one, and when the drummer came out first, my friends and I gaped in surprise. The drummer was wearing short-shorts and had big thighs. We looked at each other in amazement as we realized... the drummer was a girl! A female drummer in a VK band?? Unheard of! The rest of the band came out, and the vocalist made us giggle because he was, as per usual in VK, a tiny little dude. But when he started to sing, we felt confused all over again. A strange voice... a tiny person... after half a song of debating we realized... the vocalist was also a she! It was a girl! Damn VK androgyny... so gender-confusing, lol! Anyways, SHE was fantastic! Licker was professional-level good in my opinion. I was surprised such a talented band was playing second when hardly anyone was there, but they said during the MC that they were from the Kansai region, so I think they were demoted for not being a local band or something. But they were great! The vocalist had a great range and could sing low like a boy, high like a girl, and even whipped out some great growls and shrieks - but only when necessary, never to show off. The band felt very serious, with good harmony and technical skill. And the drummer was so adorable! But I also remember that one of the band members was playing the signature guitar of Die from Dir en grey (the crimson-red one with the black neck and the spike). I was impressed because Die's guitar is expensive as all hell... but man... what a beautiful guitar.
Now, once again, it's important to talk about the differences in indies culture as opposed to seeing major bands. Indies are not famous. They're like a step above garage bands. They don't receive much in the way of higher status and, thus, don't distance themselves from the crowds. While I leaned on the barrier on the right side of the stage, some band member would be leaning against it on the other side beside me. At one point, one band even sat down in the crowd with everyone else to watch. After Licker was done, the vocalist sat at some tables at the back of the crowd to watch the rest of the show, and between bands people would go back and chat amicably with the band members observing.
After Licker, I decided to take advantage of my free drink ticket and use the bar. I got a Cassis soda, which is a very popular drink in Japan, though I'd never heard of it in America. It's black currant liqueur mixed with soda. It makes a sexy, blood-red color and it tastes really good and tart, but not too alcoholic. And the bar-tender actually knew how to get a decent amount of alcohol in there, unlike all the other weak drinks in Japan.
It's a good thing I got a drink in preparation for the next band... GRiST.
LOOK AT THESE FUCKING IDIOTS!!! They were soooooo bad! It was such a let-down after Licker! The vocalist and the guitarist looked like a cheap prom date. Their guitarist was way too manly for his prom dress, too. The other guitarist looked like Aoi from GazettE, complete with bare thighs. The drummer, despite his Versailles-esque band-mates, had a beard, and the bassist looked like he was from Rammstein, with a mohawk and a suit. Adding insult to injury... this cheesy, ridiculous band opened with the prom date couple waltzing around the stage to sappy music. The vocalist sang ridiculously and the entire show involved synchronized twirling. Of course, they had a fan-club of about seven people, which was a record up to that point, and those people looked like they were having a blast and even started slam-dancing (this is when the girls run around in front of the barrier knocking into each other on purpose). Anyways, my friends and I were cracking up at how stupid this band was, and the vocalist, noticing, had the nerve to make fun of us during his MC. He turned to us and said something incomprehensible in English followed by "wakarimasu ka?" ("do you understand?"). We shook our heads and he pointed at us and said to the crowd "soko ni... gaikokujin-sama..." which could be translated like "over there... we've got some wonderful foreigners." After they twirled off the stage, I realized I had downed my drink.
"This drink would've lasted me at least two bands if not for them..." I grumbled. Then one of my friends said "oh my god, look at the vocalist of Licker." We turned around and saw her sitting behind a table clutching her drink with a look of black hatred on her face. I've never seen anyone look so disgusted after a band's performance, haha. Then the Licker girl downed her drink as well, haha.
Aaaaand, unfortunately, it doesn't get much better after GRiST. The next band up was Dizly:
They were pretty awful. They were the closest thing I've seen so far to an "emo band" in Japan. And the worst part was, the vocalist clearly couldn't decide if he was Kyo from Dir en grey or Ruki from the GazettE, and the result was a confused little man with absolutely NO onstage charisma. Even when he tried pumping up the crowd, it was weak and half-assed. His screaming was just for show, and equally untrained. Even the slam-dancing girls seemed to weaken a bit during this act. I think it takes a certain amount of charisma and audience-connectivity to make a band work, and these guys had NONE of that. There was no pull, and in the end it was just embarrassing. The vocalist didn't even seem to want to be there. I was glad when it was over.
Things perked up a bit from there. The next band was DRAGON, but try as I might... I could find absolutely no picture of them on the internet. Even their official site had no photos, lol. But... they basically looked American, as weird as that sounds. They had dyed hair and manly faces, but they all had mask-like levels of eye-shadow around their eyes. They played straight-up rock music. They were somewhat forgettable for me.
After DRAGON was Navir (also written in in katakana as navia - the vi formed by the ten-ten "u" and a small "i"), which was the band my friends had come to see. Apparently my friends all have the major hots for Navir, lol. They're these guys:
Up until this point, my friends and I had stood by idly while girls at the front, many of them seemingly normal girls in ugly sweaters and jeans, slam-danced and head-banged furiously. And things are very coordinated in Japanese audiences, so these girls would do things like hold hands and pull each other side to side as they head-banged so as not to have a head-on collision... literally. The girls were also doing something else that intrigued me... Apparently, head-banging is not hard-core enough for these girls, so they would grab the metal barrier and hoist themselves up like gymnasts mounting a bar and slam their upper bodies over the gate. This is very hard to do, and these girls had to leap and propel themselves over and over to the beat of the music. I swear some of these girls had springs in their feet - and they were obviously well-practiced. Well, for Navir, my friends and I ran up to second row (first row barrier was overtaken by the die-hards) and decided to join in the insanity.
Now, I like rocking out. I like it a LOT. So my friends and I took a leaf out of the Japanese girls' book and would hold hands to prevent anyone from falling down from head-banging too much, lol. So that's what I did... I watched the furi carefully and attempted to replicate it (I failed a lot, though....) and I jumped up and down repeatedly when everyone else did, and I head-banged in a flurry until I was dizzy. By now the venue had about sixty people, and at least half of them were actually standing and doing furi or jumping, so the venue seemed more lively now. And the members of Navir recognize us foreigners from other shows, I guess, so they would point at us and try and get us to scream for them. A lot of the Japanese girls would do these terrifying, animal-like snarls at the band but... I just can't seem to do it. I wish I could remember Navir musically... but all I remember is rocking out, lol. There was this one ten-minute stream of music where the girls had to pitch forward over and over, then rock out like crazy, then fist-pump, then repeat. It got pretty insane. Also, one of the band members looked EXACTLY like Hitsugi from Nightmare. Same piercings, same hair, same make-up... I would swear he was just a Hitsugi cosplayer, lol!
Anyhoo, after Navir, the vocalist and the Hitsugi-guy went behind the desks in the back and sat there. My friends decided to go talk to them, so I shrugged and joined in. Unfortunately, I was pretty much deafened at this point and struggled to hear anything the vocalist said. I hadn't really understood what the attraction was to the vocalist while he was on onstage, but he looked a lot hotter offstage just being himself. I really liked his silver hair! And he was a really nice guy. He looked at us and said, with a funny accent, "...are you from...?" We looked confused, so Hitsugi-guy leaned over and said something. Then Vocalist was like "aaaah! Wheeeeere are you from?" We each said where we were from and he tried some more English, before he realized we spoke Japanese, which seemed to implode his world. He looked so shocked, haha XD Then we chatted amicably. He asked about how old we were, then pointed suddenly at the oldest and said "sempai!" which is like the senior in a group. Hitsugi-guy, despite having about five spikes sticking out of his lip and about ten pounds of metal on his face, remained quiet and shy and Vocalist even made some joke about Hitsugi-guy being in elementary school, lol. Then Vocalist told us we need to shout more, lol. He was like "motto koe wo..." I wanted to apologize for my inability to roar like a bear like the Japanese girls do, lol. All in all, they were very nice.
Things started getting stranger from here. The band after Navir was Shinema Sutorippu, which is just a katakana spelling of "Cinema Strip." While they revved up an intro complete with projected images of the band members, girls in the crowd were adorning their arms with glow-stick bracelets. Why they were doing this became clear later. Here's Cinema Strip:
Sorry, it's an absolutely terrible picture, they didn't look like this at all - they looked much goofier but... this was the best I could find. The reason for the glow-sticks was that this band, which had a strange, techno-dance quality to them, did not do normal furi. Instead of a lot of waving hand-gestures, the girls tended to hold poses. Like, they would all suddenly thrust out an arm and hold it there, their arms illuminated in the darkness by the glow-sticks. Even though we didn't know the band, Ashely and Fox decided this looked fun and joined in. I felt shy for some reason and stayed with Megan. I came to regret this later. Although I just stood there observing, the vocalist looked repeatedly in my direction and tried over and over to encourage me to join in. Every time he pointed at me and waved his hands, I would just smile nervously. Finally, after his third try, he got a strange look on his face and said "arigatou" and moved on. AAAAAH GUUUUILT. I felt SO bad! I didn't think he was going to THANK me. I felt bad for the rest of the act.
After Cinema Strip, there was a surprise band! No one knew who would be on next and then, surprise surprise, the much more popular indies band ALSDEAD showed up unexpectedly on the stage! They were supposed to be playing at another venue, but I guess they finished at that one, ran to Shinjuku, and did a guest appearance at our show! This is ALSDEAD:
We jumped up for this one (I was excited because this was the first band I'd actually HEARD of) and got front row! I decided to rock out like I did for Navir. Just like all the other deranged Japanese girls behind us, I gripped the barrier and thrashed my head around till I was dizzy and shook my fist at the band. The most exciting thing for me was finally being able to try the gymnast move. It was very difficult and I think I flubbed it the first couple tries. You have to literally pull yourself up completely on the metal gate with your arms straight like a gymnast and throw your upper half over the bar and then land back down and spring back up and do it again, all in time to the music. And the top of the gate is at chest-level. The more I did it, the more used to it I got, but now, even days later, my arms and neck and back are still sore, lol. So ALSDEAD was a lot of fun, though they seemed a little tired (understandably). They were good for rocking out!
Only one band left after ALSDEAD! This last band kinda made the night for me, although my friends seem to hate them. The last band was called Ha;qch (pronounced "hakuchi" I believe). Ashley told me Ha;qch is scary, and I was amazed that any band was capable of making someone like Ashley think they were scary. My friends told horror stories about them, including the vocalist reaching into the crowd and violently pulling girls' hair, pulling people up onstage... and Fox said he grabbed her once and shoved her face into his crotch. My friends said all this in disgust, but I couldn't help but feel intrigued by a band daring to do all that, so I was a bit excited. Besides, if Ha;qch was going on last, they were, in theory, the best and most anticipated band of the night. Here's a picture of Ha;qch:
When their intro started, I knew it was going to be insane. The girls in the front row - about ten or eleven girls, all hoisted themselves up on the barrier and, much to my amazement, they all threw a leg over it and straddled themselves up on the barrier and started yelling for the band. Bear in mind that this barrier is shoulder-level for most of these little Japanese girls. I couldn't help but notice, however, that the rest of the audience was hovering much farther back than normal. Could Ha;qch really be so freaky? The band came out, and they were definitely scary looking. They reminded me of very old-school D'espairsray. The band members were all dressed in tight, black PVC and covered in belts and straps. The vocalist had lots of straps dangling from his arms. The band was, admittedly, scary looking and the music was VERY heavy. However, for the first two songs, I failed to see what was so scary about this band. The front row girls were head-banging and thrashing and leaping against the barrier, but other than that it didn't seem too bad.
Then, suddenly, the vocalist (I think his name is Chihiro) lunged off the stage, landed on the barrier between the heads of two girls, and perched there like a gargoyle making hideously disgusted faces at us. The girls didn't run away, and continued to thrash so that their hair was whipping against Chihiro. Then his eyes locked in the direction of my friends and I. We were standing there thrashing our heads only lightly but mostly observing from afar. Chihiro made a sudden face and pursed his lips and then I realized oh shit he's going to -
Spit. Bleah. He spat like a friggin' llama and it went all over the knuckles of my right hand and my left forearm. My friends, knowing Chihiro does this, managed to dodge out of the way as he continued to spit at the crowd. My friends were all pissed off and furious about the spitting but... meh, I don't really care, to be honest. In fact, I think I grinned at Chihiro after he did it. When you go to an indies event, you have to expect a certain amount of insanity. It's part of the fun of it all, lol!
Anyways, Chihiro jumped back onto the stage, and now things got really weird. During some part of a song, the front row girls all pulled themselves back up on the bar and pitched the front half of their bodies over the top of the barrier. But this time they folded their bodies in half over the barrier and dangled there like dead bodies. They kind of looked like strips of meat left out to dry. My first thought was "well... I guess dead bodies goes with the theme of this band..." till I realized what was actually going on.
Ashley tried to explain this next phenomenon to me, but I hadn't understood till I saw it. Booty-bumping isn't quite the right term... but body-slamming doesn't explain it either. Basically, the second row backed up and then, one by one, the girls would race forward, jump, and slam their bodies backwards into the asses of the dangling girls draped over the barrier. They did this like line-backers. Even Fox and Ashley were doing it. I believe my shocked face looking something like this: O_O I was too afraid I would hurt these girls or cause them to fall over the bar, so I didn't do it but... man... you haven't lived till you've seen Japanese girls body-slamming into the asses of other Japanese girls. And this happened repeatedly during Ha;qch's performance.
Overall, I would say I thoroughly enjoyed Ha;qch. They were the band that stood out the most to me. They were solid, themed, well-rehearsed, had great audience connectivity, got everyone riled up, and overall felt like a real band. They even did an encore! Plus, at least they were doing something DIFFERENT. They stood out completely from the other bands. And I see nothing wrong with Chihiro doing nasty things in order to rile up his crowd. Better than just standing there being boring like everyone else! When Chihiro left the stage, he stormed off without a word, looking disgruntled. Ha;qch didn't even show up afterward when all the bands mingled with the audience.
After the show, the bands filtered around the crowd. The extremely pink-haired guitarist of... was it DRAGON? I dunno, he gave us surveys to fill out with our opinions of the band. Other band members talked happily with the girls. I even saw one band member steal a girl's hat and put it on his head, lol. It was now about 10:00, and we'd been in this dark pit since 3:30, so we left, crawled the stairs out of Hell, and emerged back into the Shinjuku night-life. Shinjuku is sketchy at night, so we call it Sketchville.
In the meantime, that was my lovely Indies experience! I had meant to go to another Indies show at the Rokumeikan on Friday but... my neck still hurt from head-banging and I backed out, lol. Hope you all enjoyed!
For now... see you all next time!