Sunday, February 21, 2010

Indies Bands - Urawa Narciss

Here we go with another round of indies! Today's round is a bit different, however, so this might be an interesting read.

Now, I know that through this blog I've taken you all to some deep, dark places in Japan, but allow me to introduce you to the shadiest, most underground place so far: Urawa Narciss.

If you all remember the first indies concert I went to, it was at Shinjuku HOLIDAY - a place I described through a Silent Hill descent-into-Hell metaphor (which was my fault for showing up the venue late after the lights were already out and stuff). Now along comes Urawa Narciss. Urawa Narciss is located in... well, Urawa. No kidding. Urawa is actually up in Saitama, so it's not technically in Tokyo. Urawa is only two train stops away from where Ashley lives and, from what she'd told us, it's the seediest, shadiest place out there, full of nothing but hostess clubs, prostitution, and pachinko parlors. Sure enough, when we switched our trains at Higashi-Urawa, a whole gang of young yakuza (Japanese mafia) joined us. Yay!

Anyways, we got off at Urawa and looked around for Narciss. Well... you had to keep your eyes peeled to see it, that's for sure. It was already pitch black outside and Narciss... well... we went down a shady side-street where old men stopped and stared at us. Then we found a parking garage. At the edge of the parking garage there was a large piece of plastic hanging down from the ceiling. Behind the plastic curtain was a desk with a box, and a single young man with bleached hair wearing a trench coat was sitting on a chair behind it. Beside him was a large opening in the floor, with stairs leading down under the parking garage. We gaped at this display in awe and suddenly realized... this was Urawa Narciss. We just burst out laughing at the sight of it. There we were... Geri, Ashley, and I... staring right down into the underworld as usual. The man behind the little table didn't seem particularly perturbed by our laughter, so we just went on up to him and asked for three tickets. The man was actually very nice and gave us the pre-order price instead of the at-the-door price, meaning we got a $5 discount. Then we made our way down the dark stairs - plastered with pamphlets and posters of indies bands - and headed into the blackness below.

We were actually almost an hour late, but we were pretty sure that because only five bands were playing, we'd probably only missed the first one. When we got down to the bottom of the stairs, it was quiet - presumably because the first band was finished. We opened the door into the stage area and... we burst out laughing again. Now, Takadanobaba AREA can hold at least 400 people. Shinjuku HOLIDAY... maybe 250. But Urawa Narciss... wow... it doesn't get more indies than this. The audience consisted of maybe fifteen people, sitting along the sides of the audience area... which was about the size of a large bedroom. The stage was even smaller than that. It's a good thing most of the bands only had four members because five members bands can barely fit up there. Still, Urawa Narciss likes to brag that it's been around since 1982 and, despite its size, it did have a functioning curtain with a screen, different lighting effects, and a television set recording everything that happened on stage. And, of course, my friends and I were the only foreigners in there, causing us to receive a lot of stares. I felt a little bad because the first band, as seems to be the custom in these tiny places, was standing behind the merchandise booth chatting with some of the audience members, and they kept staring at us curiously. Sorry, guys... we'll come on time next time, lol.

Anyhoo, second band up (first band for us) was a band called OROCHI. They had themselves a nice little fan club of five girls at the padded barrier. Everyone else was sitting, including my friends and I, who plunked down on a small step in the middle to watch.

Aaaaand now for something completely different. For real. Here's OROCHI!

Now, the name alone had me kind of thinking "uh oh... is this going to be another one of those 'traditional Japan' acts...?" Orochi is, after all, a famous monster from Japanese Shinto mythology (it was a dragon with eight heads and eight tails who was slain by a Shinto god). And sure enough, when OROCHI started up... I knew that, yes, it was going to be another one of those acts. The curtain started playing some kind of projection, and a deep voice started to tell the story of OROCHI as if we were all seated around a campfire. When the curtains parted, there were Japanese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and... men in kimonos. I was already rolling my eyes, honestly, but... I was more than pleasantly surprised.

First of all, OROCHI doesn't sound the way I was expecting.  Now, the fact that I can even tell you what they sound like leads me into a shout-out to Urawa Narciss. You know what, that place may be small and very questionable, but it undoubtedly had the best acoustics I've heard so far. The walls were all padded and the sound was fantastic. I could actually hear the bands playing and really, seriously tell you what they sounded like. It's a beautiful thing.

Anyways, back to OROCHI. OROCHI's one of the most bizarre things I've seen in awhile. Kagrra,, they are not. Vocalist Ushiwaka has an unbelievably deep singing voice, but he can also sing really graceful high notes. And he really doesn't look like your typical VK artist. He's rather... rugged? The photo above is touched up and doesn't really show you what he looks like. On the other hand, guitarist Yuki-mura... Now, most Japanese VK bands have "the token female" - one member who is always in drag and goes out of their way to be entirely female. And Yuki-mura was that member except... he had taken it to a whole new level. Fellow J-Rock fans probably know what I mean when I refer to Mana's dream-like way of performing; where he's so feminine that he moves in a slow-motion haze for the entire show. Yuki-mura was that... to such an extreme that I thought he was on drugs at first. While he played, he would roll his eyes around in a daze and stare at the lights moving overhead like it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. He made the act so believable, I really thought he was trippin' balls at first, lol. He's the one all the way on the left in the picture above, and he looks pretty drugged out there too, lol. Other guitarist Ran-maru was extremely charismatic, and drummer Genji-botaru was very talented. I noticed that they didn't have a bassist, and the bass was a pre-recorded track. Perhaps they're switching around members or something. In fact, I'm quite sure the current members aren't the original ones.

Anyways, this was quite the unique act. Vocalist Ushiwaka was rather crazy. He ran around the stage and headbanged quite a lot for a man in traditional clothing. He would also put his foot up on the barrier right between the heads of the girls and trying getting the crowd going. At one point during a song, he whipped out a traditional Japanese flute and began playing it. During another song he pulled out a small sword and began sword-fighting some invisible enemy. Most surprising of all... during another song he simply launched off the barrier entirely, landed in the middle of the audience area right in front of my friends and I, twirled around like a crazy person, then launched himself back up onto the stage (rather ungracefully). He smiled continuously during the show with a very charming, handsome smile, but... there was admittedly something a little off about him. I thought it was just the small, rather quiet crowd that was throwing him. This annoyed me at first, because the number one thing an indies performer must be able to do is contend with a small crowd and not let it get to them. I later realized I was mistaken about what was up with Ushiwaka, though.

The five girls that made up the barrier all had beautiful, traditional Japanese fans that they waved around in place of typical furi. The music was surprisingly bad-ass for a traditional Japan act.  I guess that's why they call their music "Samurai Rock." Anyways, they were definitely an intriguing act. When they were done, my friends and I continued to sit around, and I noticed that all of OROCHI was now hovering around behind the merch booth chatting with fans. Yuki-mura was still a little hazy-looking, but at least I now knew he could talk and not just stare at the pretty, pretty lights. Ushiwaka amused me because he was still in his outfit, but he was wearing big sunglasses. Anyways, I couldn't help but notice what an awkward guy he was. He would talk to people, but always with his arms folded and hunched over like he thought he'd get punched. And every time he was left alone, he would start to wander over to where my friends and I were sitting. It looked like he wanted to say something to us, but then he would suddenly get cold feet and scamper away and hide behind his band mates. I was starting to think the guy was a whacko.

Finally, Ushiwaka got up the nerve to come up behind us and, in near-perfect English, he asked us "where do you come from?" Automatically in Japanese, we said we were from America. Ushiwaka wasn't giving up with his English though, and proceeded to quietly ask us where we lived. We continued in Japanese, explaining that we were exchange students at Sophia University. Ashley told him "Nihongo wa daijoubu desu" ("we're fine speaking Japanese") because usually these indies guys give themselves a hernia trying to speak English. Well, that didn't faze Ushiwaka either, and he continued in English, but his eyes flicked around nervously and he looked kinda freaked out. He asked us what band we'd come to see. Um... awkward. After a round of embarrassed "uuuuuuuuuuuuuuh"s from the three of us, Ashley finally said "Navir and Ha;qch." At this point, Ushiwaka seemed so awkward and nervous that I thought he was going to explode. It was like this guy had a little paranoia meter above his head, and it just kept rising. I felt so sorry for him that, in Japanese, I blurted out, "I thought your performance was wonderful!" Like a typical Japanese person, Ushiwaka scratched the back of his head in embarrassment. Paranoia meter rising, rising! At that point, I don't think he could take it anymore so, in Japanese, Ushiwaka told us we could fill out the survey about the band if we'd like, and then he slunk away before we could even respond. When he was out of ear-shot, the three of us looked at each other and went "aaaaaaaw." It was then that guilt began to settle over us. For whatever reason, Ushiwaka clearly wanted to speak English, and we should've spoken English back, or asked how he learned English, or something. We should've kept talking or asked him questions so he wouldn't feel the need to run away. We decided we would definitely make it up to him next time.

Well, anyways, it was after the show that we learned a bit more about OROCHI. Sorry to jump ahead here, but... Ashley sent me the band's online information, and I realized that they had both a Japanese and an English website! And they had a MySpace all in English! Ushiwaka is literally fluent in English! Well now I was just confused. I checked out all their stuff in order to solve the mystery, and came to realize that, not only has OROCHI been around since 2004, but the band is from fucking Australia. Ushiwaka, at the very least (not sure about the other members) formed the band while studying in Australia! I guess they won a lot of battle of the bands in Australia and I guess the band are the representatives of the Japan-Australia Year of Exchange or some organization like that. On their website they list their purpose as: "To make friendship and understanding of two different cultures stronger, and promote unity between them" and their bio says "Bringing Together Nations through Our Live Show." Shit, no wonder Ushiwaka wanted to talk to us so badly! I felt really bad when I realized all that about them. According to their site, they've only just moved the band back to Japan within the last year. Well, next time we're going to talk to Ushiwaka in English and not make him feel anymore awkward and embarrassed than necessary.

Well, anyways, let's move on, shall we?

The next act up is one I'd already seen before. We got up and went out into the middle to see Navir! Remember these guys?

Anyways, the barrier dropped down to three girls now. Three girls in front, the three of us in the middle, towards the right... everyone else sitting. However, the fact that we were out there eventually encouraged three other girls to come out and hide behind us, then eventually fill in the left, then eventually chicken out again and disappear into the back. Rather bipolar crowd, I must say... Anyhoo, now that we had good acoustics, I was able to actually hear the band in good detail. First of all, there is something very Ruki-like about the vocalist's performing style, though I hadn't noticed before. I don't know what it is... something about his studded black jacket, his rap-like singing... I dunno, it just reminds me of Ruki. And their bassist really freakin' looks like Hitsugi from Nightmare. And he's really crazy and zany on stage, which amuses me because I know from having spoken with the band that the bassist is shy as all hell and can barely talk to anyone. Anyways, they were as enjoyable as last time, and for some reason I remembered most of the furi, which was fun. That meant I was able to rock out and headbang and jump up and down without too much worry about whether or not I was doing it right. So we ignored the fact that we were practically the only people out there and we just had fun. Good times!

Next up... dun dun dun. The return of Ha;qch. Remember these guys?

Third time's the charm... As you may remember from my blog, Ha;qch hit a snag recently when their bassist, Saku (the grumpy guy second from the right in the picture), decided to up and vanish on the day of a concert and has not been seen or heard from since. This left us with a flustered band and a very upset Chihiro. Anyways, I was pretty sure they'd be fine today. I follow Chihiro's blog, and he said they'd hired a support bassist and done a show that went fine. He also went to a beauty salon, got a massage, and enjoyed beef over rice.

Anyways, the show went quite well, and it was nice to see Ha;qch back on their feet (well, Chihiro back on his bare feet). The support bassist looked a little out of place with his overly-bleached hair and t-shirt and pants, but he seemed surprisingly happy to be up there and bounced around like crazy, interacted with the other members, and even jumped up onto the crate at one point to egg on the crowd. This later led my friends and I to form a theory that the support bassist wanted to be in the band all along, so he killed Saku and fed him to Chihiro so that he could become the new bassist. I'll just go with that theory for now.

Chihiro was back to his old self, stomping around the stage, putting his foot up on the barrier, snarling at everyone, glaring through his white-out contacts, and acting like a rampaging beast. I know he wants to be scary, but every time he gets up to the front I just smile. But this was the first time I've actually gone out into the middle to rock out for Ha;qch, and Chihiro recognizes me by now, so he glared at me and, when I continued to rock out and do all the furi, he gave me a satisfied nod and moved on. Better than the alternative. If you don't rock out to Ha;qch, Chihiro spits on you. This I have learned. Anyways, the fans were coordinated enough that when the four girls at the barrier dangled over it, people actually ran and body-slammed them. I did it too. I've decided I don't care if I crush anybody - they're asking for it. Although, one girl slammed another girl so hard the whole barrier shook. Ouch. We had a pretty good line of people actually out there for Ha;qch which was nice. They're a band that really relies on audience participation to work.

Anyhoo, good job Ha;qch, keeping on despite Saku's disappearance! Yay you!

Unfortunately... the show died out at the end. We had such a good thing going with three fantastic bands in a row. And then... Cheeky happened. I could find absolutely nothing about Cheeky online, not even a picture, so I took a picture of a pamphlet I got from the venue to use as my photo. Here:

This is Cheeky, the dumbest thing I've seen in awhile. And they headlined! Yeesh. First of all, Cheeky seems to want to be a lot of things, and it is none of those things. They're a gimmicky mess. They have the token crazy goth, the token VK member, the token Kamijo, the token Bou, and some vocalist who I couldn't place at all. The token Bou looked so much like Bou that I practically did a double-take. And the vocalist... his hair extensions were so bad, you could see where they were connected.

As for the stupid of the act itself... The entire crowd got up for these guys and went into the audience area. And everyone rocked out like this band was metal. But... they're not. The whole thing involved full-body dancing. The girls would literally dip all the way to the ground, hop around... The dumbest thing of all... all the girls had whistles in their mouths, and they would blow the whistles at the end of certain phrases and freeze in a position. I'm like... is this Simon Says or a fucking band? Utterly stupid. The fans looked like they were having a great time but... there was one goth girl sitting near me with a look of bug-eyed horror on her face, so... I know it wasn't just me who wanted to flee the venue. I used this performance to sit on the step and fill out the survey for OROCHI. Worst part was... everyone cheered for encore at the end. What I didn't understand was... Cheeky came back for encore but... only the five or six barrier girls stayed. Everyone else just left the venue and went home. Huh? Bipolar crowd, geez...

After Cheeky was mercifully done, I realized OROCHI was gone. I'll just have to give them the survey some other time. Navir was out, and we wanted to talk to them, but they were busy talking to other fans. Then, before we could say anything, Navir ran off and disappeared. Oh well. We left the venue, and Ha;qch was standing in the parking garage smoking.  Lol.

The end!

Strange post, I know. I hope it was interesting, though. I'm seeing another indies band tomorrow and I think it will be veeeeeeery interesting. A teaser for the next blog: the next show is headlined by a band that consists of girls dressed as guys dressed as girls. Yay Japan!


  1. I feel so bad about what happened with Ushiwaka. We'll go see Orochi again and make it up to him. Awwww.... It would be funny to bring my Kagrra, fan, but I think it would make them cry, so I won't.

    Hmm, now I think I understand why I like Navir so much. Anyway, in the picture of Ha;qch, the bassist is actually the second from the right with black hair, the blondie is one of the guitarists. I guess he used to have black hair.

  2. Bitch be trippin' balls!

    Sounds like it was a lot of fun, mostly. :D

  3. Oh fudge-nuggets, Ashley, you're right, hahaha. I typed up this post waaaay too fast. I always said Saku was the grumpy-looking one in pictures, but I went so quickly I didn't look at their faces and just said he was blondie, hahaha. Yeah, blondie in the above picture is Mr. Skinny Guitarist who puts his leg up in horribly revealing positions, lol. Saku is Mr. Grumpy-pants... who has been cannibalized, lol. And yeah, we'll make it up to Ushiwaka next time. I want that paranoia meter as low to the ground as possible.

    OMG EVAN WIN OF THE UNIVERSE!!! VG CATS REFERENCES WIN!!! I was hoping someone would catch my reference and make a VG Cats joke, hahaha. BITCH BE TRIPPIN' BALLS!

  4. Your post was really interesting :)
    i'm going to OROCHI's live on 23.03 ,so now i've something to look for forward to .