Over the last year I’ve been fortunate to be able to take three short trips to the city of Osaka in Japan. While I’ve been in the city, and time permitting, I try to learn about the music and sound communities there. Last July I published some first research from these trips here on this blog, and last month I was there again for a few days. This time I was able to interview several people who represent various aspects of the alternative or DIY scene there. They are the musician Go Tsushima, Kaori Yoshikawa at the artist-run gallery/event space Noooooooooooo Kitty, and Kazuma Sasajima at the “independent culture shop” Nice Shop Su. Over the next three weeks I’ll be publishing these interviews on this blog.
First up is the interview with Go Tsushima, a musician who lives in the Baika area of Osaka. I visited him at his home/studio and we talked about his background, the music that he produces, and the Baika area in which he lives – an area that is quite special for Osaka (and maybe for Japan generally).
A little bit of background to Baika: Baika and its adjacent areas are apparently seen as unattractive, perennially unpopular due to geographical and social reasons. I have been told—and I should stress this is pure anecdote—that because Baika is in a low-lying area near the port, it is susceptible to flooding were there to be a tsunami, thus discouraging development of the area. Perhaps related to this, I was warned by one person that this side of town is the “rough” part of Osaka – although when I visited I didn’t particularly feel this.
In any case, because of this unpopularity there is perhaps an added impetus for the property agents to actively promote occupation of the vacant commercial spaces, or for local property owners to provide affordable residential accommodation. Consequently there has been a small, but possibly significant, influx of creative people and grass-roots arts organisations visiting or putting down roots in Baika. This situation has created an opening for less commercial activities, leading to a tentative community forming with, I think, great potential.
Edward Sanderson (ES): Go, can you give me a little background about yourself?
Go Tsushima (GT): Well, I started playing guitar when I was a high school student, from when I was about 15 years old. This is very normal in Japan. I wasn’t having lessons; I just started playing. I was just normal kid, I suppose. But I was very interested in many kinds of music. So all the time I listened to music, looking for stuff, like most people.
ES: On the radio?
GT: Yes, but mostly I was buying CDs. I started improvising when I was about 20. There was no sudden inspiration to start improvising; I just needed to work that way because I couldn’t compose. My friends and I were just playing together in jam sessions, I played bass guitar at that time and I started an improvisation band when I was 22. Then when I was about 24 I started the band called Psychedelic Desert and it was at that time when I discovered something—my originality—in my improvised music. I had some very small, underground releases, with European labels, getting more and more networked with the experimental music scene.
ES: How about with labels in Japan or Osaka?
GT: No, this was only in Europe. Japanese people never understand this music! But at the same time I was playing in the Japanese scene. I actually had my own venue in Kobe, and I started to organise many parties, and organising gigs for international visiting artists.
But then I quit that and started touring Australia and Europe with my band, while continuing to organise for international artists coming to Japan. I did this for over 10 years. At first I was dealing with normal venues or live houses, but I actually don’t like that system in Japan – you know, it’s ‘pay to play’! So I went my own way. Because I had been touring in Europe and Australia, I knew of a more ‘normal’ way to make parties. So that’s why now I only organise DIY events.
ES: Are there many venues in Osaka that are trying to be focused on more experimental activities?
GT: No! Things happen, of course, because there are so many kinds of bands – either the noisy or bit weird bands in Osaka, and in Japan generally. But they just ‘pay to play’ – for me this is not interesting. There are many nice bands here, but they have no attitude about that activity, they just follow the system. This Japanese music scene is too weird for me, so I prefer to make new DIY places.
Now it’s getting better in Osaka. There are venues like FIGYA, Bar Kitty, and MIIT House in the Baika area here. These are all good DIY venues. Each one holds maybe one or two gigs a month. And in the Namba area [in central Osaka], there are two very good DIY bars, MNSKTM and RODA, where we can put on concerts.
ES: When you say DIY, what do you mean?
GT: DIY means not in the Japanese music system. But I think DIY is a very normal way of working! We just put on parties with a very fair entry price, like ¥500 or maximum ¥1000. In Japan the entry prices are too expensive! So I like to set lower entrance prices, and this makes it more open. I also want to pay the artists. Of course it depends on how many people come, but even with a small audience the artists should get some money. I just want to set this up as a normal way to work here. Because before there were no normal venues here! The way I’m organising it, if it’s small, it’s okay, because it’s just a simple way of doing things. I like to make things a clearer, and a more fair way to work with artists.
ES: What kind of bands are you playing and working with?
GT: There are so many! Mainly noise, experimental artists, but also more electronic stuff, or hardcore. I’m open about any kind of music, so every time they approach me I just say, “Okay, I’ll help!” I’m very interested in people, having conversations, and having them stay here in my place, it’s like the touring life! It also gives new directions to my daily life; I really like it! I also like touring by myself to have this experience. I have some collaboration with my friends living here in Osaka too.
ES: How big would you say the scene is here?
GT: It’s very small! Actually it’s not really even a scene. It only exists as a word-of-mouth, very close network of friends, and friends of friends. It’s really underground here! People don’t know about the parties.
ES: This particular area, Baika, that you’re living in, seems to be attracting quite a few DIY activities? It’s very interesting. It’s obviously quite deliberate?
GT: Yes, it’s a very nice area. Our friend Okawa is working in construction and he is organising projects here, connecting young artists from outside the area with the older Japanese house owners as well as renovating houses himself, so we can have cheap rents and create a good cultural life and community in this neighbourhood. This is a very quiet, very special place in Osaka, very rare to find.
ES: How long has the development of this area been happening?
ES: So is this area becoming known internationally?
GT: Not really! But within my group of connections, many of the artists know about it and come here. It’s very much an underground scene; it will never get very big. It’s a very local area but it’s nice to live here. Japan is a very hard place to survive. The working situation is so bad – it’s almost slavery! Everyone has to work like a slave for money. So this is a very special area: where you can live cheaply, and have a very simple life. But most Japanese people only know the slave life, and are never interested in music and art – they just read about it in the news. There is really more and more control in this society. Already in the ‘90s and afterwards, there was so much control. But especially now, I think, after Fukushima.
ES: It’s really been that bad?
GT: Yes, it’s really bad! But it was always really bad here! It is just a little bit more so now! So we need to find this other way to live, an individual way to live here. We don’t need to follow this government control. It’s totally fucked up already. There’s no future.
ES: So with the music you are producing, is that expressing this kind of attitude?
GT: Yes, exactly! My music is my mentality, my ideas, and my emotions.
ES: How would you describe your music?
GT: It’s improvisation, but maybe a bit different from contemporary improvisation. My imagination is more about emotions, or waves of sound, and the moving body – it’s kind of trippy, trancy stuff to play! I’ve played guitar for a long time, so now it’s almost an extension of my body. I concentrate on the moment, my emotions rising up, and then the sound rising up with it. When I was young I was influenced by Miles Davis, some very experimental improvisation, and I also studied Indian music. I like Asian traditional stuff too, but that’s maybe simply because I’m Japanese. It’s like a reason, a feeling, a groove, something natural. That feeling, that way, is very natural for me. So my sound is also that feeling.
ES: And you’re combining it with the very hard-edged sound of the drum-machine?
GT: Oh yes, I like the electronic sounds too! I only discovered this style of mixing guitar and electronics one and a half years ago. It just worked for me, so now I use that in some collaborations, and with the band BAIKAPANIK – that’s me, Hagaken, and Mariwo (who also lives in this house).
ES: Have you released much?
GT: Just some self-released CDRs or tapes, and one small split release tape on a Russian label. But I want to make vinyl! I like analogue very much; I prefer this depth of sound. I get really into this dimension! It’s a totally psychedelic feeling! But, of course every sound is good, digital is also good – I just prefer vinyl. I find that when I use a computer there is always some trouble! It’s always going wrong, it becomes very annoying for me so quickly. I just want to concentrate on the music, just a very simple thing like that! I also work as a web designer on a computer, so when I’m working with sound I don’t want to look at a computer any more! So recently I am just listening to analogue sounds. I feel I have a wider imagination with this dimension!
ES: And you’re performing live a lot?
GT: Yes. But recently I like to work on the recordings more. Actually, three days ago I recorded a new duo improvisation in here with Laurent where I play drum-machine and guitar, and he plays prepared guitar. He has released it on Bandcamp under the group name SANKA (酸化) and eventually I would like to release it on tape.
I also have a project with Hide3 in Kyoto. He has a home studio there called Fake River Studio, and sometimes puts on house parties. He is recording with local and international artists; everything is recorded there in his house, and released from there. I think it’s a very alternative art activity for Japan. He is one of the original members of the Japanese Underground noise scene from the ‘70s. He’s lived in New York, and travelled a lot in America and Europe. He’s a great musician, a totally crazy artist! His is a very special activity in Japan. My favourite!
ES: Have you ever played in China?
GT: Not yet. This year I want to play in more Asian countries. I played in South Korea once, but never in the other countries, but I’d like to.
DIY Osaka part 2: interview with Kaori Yoshikawa, Noooooooooooo Kitty
Names of people
- Go Tsushima 津島豪: https://www.facebook.com/gotsushima
- Hide (Ultra Bidé) Fujiwara ウルトラ・ビデ: https://www.facebook.com/hide.u.fujiwara
- BAIKAPANIK: http://baikapanik.com/
- Bar Kitty/Noooooooooooo Kitty: http://nooooooooo-kitty.wixsite.com/nooooooooo-kitty
- FIGYA: https://www.facebook.com/baikaFIGYA/
- MIIT House: http://miit-house.blogspot.jp/
- MNSKTM: https://twitter.com/menasikatama
- RODA: https://www.facebook.com/caferoda/
- SANKA: https://sanka.bandcamp.com/