Making New Noise in Osaka
» Building an electronic party scene in unknown DIY territory.
Magical Mistakes photo by Masaki Konagai
Erik Luebs is Magical Mistakes, a musician based in Osaka, Japan. Here is his take on the local scene and premiere of his new digital single, 'With Love'.
To talk about music in Osaka is to talk about noise. Noise is harsh – and by Japanese standards, so is Osaka. It's the only city left in Japan with a slum – Nishinari. Right next to that is the century-old traditionally-preserved red light district Tobitashinchi. As you work your way further north, things get wealthier, but by and large, Osaka is known as the place where people jaywalk, talk with their distinct slang, eat Japanese soul-food, and carry more swagger than their Tokyo counterparts.
Swagger, slang, soul-food, and a 25 year history of noise music. Here's a quick guide through noise. First on the list: the Boredoms. The exposure of that band throughout the West is well-deserved, but it's just the tip of the iceberg when looking at the scene in Osaka. There's so much amazing music that characterizes the city: legendary shock/performance gurus Hijokaidan, sex-psych-creepers Oshiri Penpenz, late female-duo Afrirampo, heroes of psychedelia Acid Mother's Temple, solo-femme weirdo Doddodo, and most everything else coming out of Seiichi Yamamoto's basement venue, Namba Bears. In the peak of my experimentalism, I was truly in love with that stuff. There's something honest to be found in its deliberate acts of social polarization.
But as my philosophy of music matured, I felt a need to get involved with something of my own. I guess the idea was to make a serious electronic music scene happen in Osaka. Tokyo already had a slew of relevant parties and events – but any local Osaka scenes had largely faded away by the early 2000s. What was left was an aging breakcore scene and a few boring house DJs. So I was really lucky to run into Kubo Masayuki. We were inspired by everything going on in LA and the UK, and we figured we had the resources and the passion to get something similar going on in west Japan.
Kubo and I first met when we played a show together in 2009 . At the time I was studying on an exchange at a local university. Most of my evenings were spent exploring music in the city. I started playing shows – hitting drums, looping my voice, and cuing sounds with my laptop. My production was weak but my performance was intense. Kubo was the opposite; his production blew me out of the water. Two years later, I finished college, moved to New York just in time to endure the winter, and finally managed to find my way back to Japan in the spring. When Kubo and I met again, both of us had continued to evolve.
I'd found a lot of creative inspiration after talking with Matthew David in LA that previous summer. While I didn't know him well, our correspondence led me to a much more grounded understanding of the music community. What first felt like an inaccessible, too-amazing-to-get-involved-with scene in LA suddenly seemed like a warm and friendly creative space. I saw the way people made cool things happen there, and was inspired to make it happen in my own space--Osaka. Kubo had the same idea too. In fact, he had it first.
Photo by Hitomi Nobukawa
In February of 2011, Kubo held his first party, INNIT, derived from the goofy slang he'd learned when he visited the UK. By the following August, INNIT became the unifying force with which myself, MFP, Seiho, Ryuei Kotoge, Madegg, Aspara and many others came together to create an open-minded party for new electronic and hip hop music.
For the first year, our friend Loshi ran the venue – Nuooh. Recently shut down, Nuooh was a small, sweaty basement with a sound system that stubbornly belted out its bass. The first events in the summer garnered a small crowd – no more than 30 or 40 music nerds. By November of 2011 the space turned into a tightly-packed mass of swaying bodies, smart visuals and, of course, lots of quality music. In the tradition of electronic music events, INNIT is first and foremost a party. We are trying to bring open-minded and creatively engaged individuals together –whether their medium is music, visual arts, or other creative endeavors. As such, our parties are supported by a lot of passionate people –designers, DJs, dancers, musicians, nerds, fashionistas, and so on. The most recent parties were at capacity, and INNIT is moving into a bigger club this July.
Photo by Masaki Konagai
It's hard to say how we managed to transform an empty room into this big celebrated thing – but there was a lot of deliberate hard work. Through an open-recruitment/booking system, in which we solicit music from attendees, we've discovered a whole host of bedroom producers who were waiting for the opportunity to get involved in a scene. Because of this 'Bring Your Music' policy, the vibe of the party becomes a positive reinforcing act of mutual benefit. People want to come out because they want to be part of this greater idea. We also promote heavily. For every event, we put out a new compilation and distribute hundreds of CD-Rs around the city. In preparation for our next party, INNIT Volume 6, we made 2000 photozines and circulated them all over Japan.
The start of 2012 saw the creation of Day Tripper Records, spearheaded by Seiho. The label has given the INNIT community a platform for physical release and nationwide distribution.
Seiho Hayakawa by Masaki Konagai
Despite all of this progress, the current late-night landscape in Japan has been getting much more difficult over the past year. In the spring of 2011, the police in Osaka invoked a long-forgotten regulation on prostitution to close nightclubs. Gradually, many clubs have gone under, including INNIT's original home, Nuooh. Those that are still around have had to drastically change their policies and party hours.
Unfortunately, the geography of Japan makes it virtually impossible to hold events in the same DIY fashion that is prevalent in the U.S. and parts of Europe. So the purging of clubs greatly reduces our capacity to creatively engage with the city. It's hard to say why the police are able to get away with this. Clubs aren't the same as brothels, and, in fact, brothels are still, as always, doing good business. The news media in Japan has done a really good job at framing the 'problems' it sees with contemporary youth culture. Minor incidents – a celebrity having too much fun after hours – create national controversy and subsequent reactionary policy. It's good for the news media, and it's good for the overarching institutions of government power that permeate through daily life in Japan. But it's incredibly frustrating for the subcultures of arts communities and party people who can see through the manufactured government discourse. I'd rather not politicize music, but apparently late-night culture is becoming an increasingly politicized part of Japan.
Despite all this, I feel there is a creative renaissance in Kansai (the tri-city region of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe – all within 45 minutes of one another). Our party, INNIT, has grown alongside a hot of other new parties. The afternoon cafe party Affection, the eclectic and (still) all night party Tago Mago, the Kyoto-based electronic event Idle Moments, and the footwork-oriented party Dress Down. Those are just a few of the relevant happenings springing up in the area.
Photo by Hiroyuki Kitamura
The next year will see us expanding abroad, as we begin working with foreign artists on collaborative projects and tours. I'm really excited to see where we are headed. In the meantime, here's a lot of awesome material by INNIT contributors.
MAGICAL MISTAKES' OSAKA
Other relevant producers
Other cool crews/parties
In Osaka area: Idle Moments, Affection, Dressdown, Tago Mago
Throughout Japan: Cosmopolyphonic Radio (Tokyo), BRDG (Tokyo), Oilworks (Fukuoka), ILLUMINA (Sapporo), URVNEYES (Nagoya), Kyosuke's parties in Kanazawa