The World Underground: East Asia tour diary

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Partnered with AWEH.TV, our correspondent explores Northeast China, South Korea, and Japan.

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John Yingling | November 12, 2014

The World Underground joined forces with Korea’s AWEH.TV to curate and film a tour documentary through Northeast China, South Korea, and Japan. Furthering connectivity, and capturing a moment in time when so many people were creating together. The following is an attempt to put pen to paper on a three week whirlwind tour through the three countries.

The World Underground

If you play your cards a certain way, Hell will come for you. If you choose to go on tour with a couple of noise-heads in Beijing, one of which has an alter-ego named King Necro, consider yourself asking for it. Aligning with the South Korea based AWEH, I headed back to film a curated tour documentary across China, Korea, and Japan.

Zaza (After Argument) & Sijiang (Hiperson)

Zaza (After Argument) & Sijiang (Hiperson)

I drop in at Chengdu, Sichuan province. Last year, while on tour with P.K.14, I caught these incredible younger bands. Stolen and Hiperson. They were both just coming into their own sound. I contacted them asking if they could play a show on the tail end of the trip. They agreed. So did Chongqing’s The Maples. After four flights, I found myself a bit delirious, but being a glutton for punishment, I sent out texts to the bands to see if anything was happening. Both of them were practicing in the same space, and the first started in 20 minutes. Off I went. It was great to hear that noise again, and see their progress. What was unexpected was to see Xiaobin, a friend from Guangzhou, as well as Zaza, drummer of the incredible Beijing duo After Argument. Zaza’s love of Shellac and Chicago D.I.Y immediately made her one of my favorite people.

Soon, she’ll be the new drummer of Hiperson. I can’t wait to see where both of these bands go. If their new songs are any indication, it’s going to be spectacular. After a few days acclimating, it was off to Xi’an.

Hiperson rehearsal

Hiperson rehearsal

Xi’an was my halfway point to Beijing. When considering a brief stopover to break up the train ride, I was told to hit up a crew of DIY kids called System Error. After the bus from the airport nearly killed nine people on the way in, I met Feng Fan. He’s a scene supporter in this collective, alongside a dozen or so others. We sit down in the street for some food, and a fight breaks out. Feng is quick to point out that this isn’t common here. He tells me of Xi’an’s deep love of their cold noodle. Tomorrow, there’s a show. The collective’s final show before they all finish school and part ways, a common occurrence. Feng gets me an ultra cheap hotel in a place right next to the venue, which he says is really tough for foreigners who have no help. After dreaming of murder via bus, I awoke, and continued to feel like Xi’an is a different world. Locals in China are extremely hospitable, but the historic city was on a different page these few days. Feng kept texting me throughout the day to make sure I was alright. The show, “System Error Vol. 41 : Graduation”, was a mix of noise via XBH, Qingling Resort, and Yang Zhongguo, who is a singer-songwriter playing traditional Chinese instruments.

Kunjingkao (锟斤铐) put an I.P. Address on screen and had everyone dial into a noise program. Put your phone on speaker, flick your finger around, and become a part of the show. I’m not sure what will be happening now in Xi’an, but I look forward to seeing it grow and mutate.

System Error show - Xi'an

System Error show – Xi’an

Beijing: Perhaps due to my years of smoking and substance abuse, I was never truly choked by the air here. This time, rolling in at midnight, I could feel it in my chest. Excited to be back and having a few days before we embarked on the tour, I spent it seeing as much live music as possible. A few more practice space sessions were lined up. Hedgehog shifted their rehearsal date so I could attend, and ended up working on new songs for an hour. DIDERS rehearsed and played a couple new ones as well. It was the night before the show I booked at Yugong Yishan. Knowing I’d be back in Beijing, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to book a show, and screen a rough cut of the film. I asked some of my favorites.

SUBS, Residence A, DIDERS, Chui Wan. After Stolen had issues with a European trip they were going to take, they agreed to trek the 1000 miles to play in Beijing.

Everybody brought it hard. Aurelian, a great photographer in Beijing, has some excellent shots scattered throughout his site. People enjoyed the rough version of the film. We made 300 copies of a curated mix CD with bands from Chicago, Montana, China, and gave them out to everybody who came. Before their original lineup disbanded, they wrapped a final short tour in Japan. “Poppy”, drummer of The DIDERS, has left China for school in New York City. She’s having fun. Xin, bassist, is forming another group. “Cookie”, singer, will re-form the band and continue playing. Whatever else those three choose to do from here, surely it’ll be great.

DIDERS

DIDERS

Next, a rowdy show at Old What Bar. Steps away from the Forbidden City, with a BBQ grill near the front entrance, the audience spills out into the sidewalk, listening through the windows, drinking on the sidewalk. It’s small. A hole in the brick allows me to film while dodging the beer being thrown everywhere. DIDERS play the final show I’ll ever see that lineup play. Free Sex Shop belts out classic covers with a few originals. I had never caught Sochu Legion before. They were great, made more beers fly, and closed it all out with what seemed like a two hour set. Hell of a night at Old What.

Free Sex Shop

Free Sex Shop

The tour kickoff show was at Temple Bar. Luvplastik , a two-piece, opened. Picture Matt and Kim with two dudes, writing better songs, and being more interesting. The excellent Bedstars, who I caught more than a few times last year, snarled out old-school punk. I got zero sleep that night, and to say the least, learned a few things I need to work on in my life.

I wake up Jenna Caravello, an amazing human and animator from Chicago. She runs a great site called Dikarya, and trekked to north China with us to help document. We miss our train, and barely make the one across town at the shit-show that is Beijing station. The monopod I had for exactly two weeks is left in the backseat of the taxi due to our exhausted state, and is gone forever. If you don’t get a receipt, you’re pretty much sunk, especially in this case. We get stuck with standing seats. Following in our company is GUIGUISUISUI and Noise Arcade. Two solo artists living in the PRC, both lovers of DIY culture, improv, and noise.

Dann Gaymer leads GUIGUISUISUI. Originally from the U.K., he gripped onto underground ideals early, and tours harder than most people I’ve met. Michael Cupoli is Noise Arcade. Musically, a vibrant soundscape of improv noise from more pedals, knobs, and switches than I’ll ever be able to understand. He’s been called the “pedal master of Beijing” and his room, littered with gear, could confirm such a claim. It’s danceable enough, with as many layers as pedals, but definitely appeals to noise kids. Everything is done on the fly, so you get a different vibe each time. (Read an interview.) Dann paints his face black and white, runs around the crowd singing about blowjobs in bathrooms, and then it gets weird. Out comes the evil. On goes the mask.

When there’s a drumset available, Mike jumps on it and does the same. Out comes the one stringed skateboard noise-guitar. The “diddly board”, so he calls it. To the audience it goes. Go ahead, bang on it all you want. He wants you to. This is King Necro, and he’s going to eat your soul.

Bedstars

Bedstars

Dongbei: First stop, Fuzzbox, a very, very small live-house in Changchun. We’re now in Dongbei. People’s eyes widened when we talked about where we were going, like the Northeast was some mystical land of filth and debauchery. Not every band makes the trek to go to these cities. I liked Changchun. Dirty, gnarly, you could feel the constant transformation. Lin Lin, part owner of Fuzzbox told us where we should eat, a restaurant catering to mostly local dishes. He got us seats, ordered local, paid for us, and disappeared. Out came an inspiring array of dishes. Incredible. The total capacity of Fuzzbox can’t be more than 50 people. P.K.14, who can easily draw hundreds, played here. I found it hard to even fathom, but supposedly the drummer set up on stage, and everyone else played on the floor. There’s about 12 feet of an open “pit” area until it narrows even further due to the bar and couches.

We meet Xiao Hai. He’s a beat-boxer who just so happened to recently open the first cocktail bar in Changchun. Dann told me whenever he’d visit in the past, Xiao Hai would always say he wished he had a bar with the proper equipment to craft his drinks. Now he does: Bar Trochilus. One side held a giant glass display case of toys, manga inspired and otherwise. A beautiful bar for delicious, delicately prepared concoctions. Another side, a proper whiskey bar. If you find yourself lost and mulling around Dongbei some time, I’d say this would make a good destination. Back at the venue, local lady Anqi sets up a guitar to kick off the show. It’s a short set. She’s sweet, eloquent, and her songs calm our heads at the beginning of what we know will be one huge shit-show of a tour. Zhang Jianfu (JFI) and Noise Arcade rumbled the tiny bar with noise. I was surprised no glasses fell off the shelves. GUIGUISUISUI runs around, trying to freak out WeiMa, the cute bar dog, who remained cool, more curious as to what the hell was going on. We head back to Trochilus and Xiao Hai feeds us his maniacally amazing creations. He also arranges some pretty classic sleeping quarters next door. It cost next to nothing. You wander through a pitch black hallway, into your room, which was simply a bed. There was a five inch triangular shelf with an ashtray, and about 10 inches between the bed and wall. After zero rest the night before, it was one of the best nights sleep I’d get in the next few weeks.

Noise Arcade

Noise Arcade

Shenyang: Shenyang cruised by like a blur. A quick train ride over, you start to see more Korean and Japanese influence. We ate Bibimbap, walked around a bit, and headed to Feng Livehouse. Not knowing what the turnout would be for these Northeast China shows, we were pleasantly surprised by a group of 40 or so kids who all went apeshit the whole time. Circle pits, excited hooting and hollering, the works. When it was over, in an instant, the crowd was gone. A toast to the coming unknown, we drank a bit and traded contacts. Michael grabbed some mystery BBQ from outside, and we were spent.

GUIGUISUISUI w/ Xiaohai

GUIGUISUISUI w/ Xiaohai

Dalian: A gorgeous port city. We gawk at the coastal surroundings of our inbound train, and trek to the venue. Steps from the ferry we’ll take to South Korea, Echo Books and the connected cafe keep our mouths agape. It’s proprietor, Xie Yugang, just so happens to be in a very successful post-rock band called Wang Wen. It’s a beautiful bookstore, bar, and balcony overlooking the harbor. Floodlights bathe the surrounding cranes and skyscrapers in purple, green, white, until they suddenly vanish. Never to reappear.

GUIGUISUISUI and Noise Arcade’s sets went over better than I imagined they would. A good crowd who stayed attentive. Afterwards, we went into a music studio and rehearsal room to chat with members of Wang Wen, Which Park, and Doc Talk Shock. After the chat, we hung out, and I had them put on Paper Mice, one of my favorite bands from the Chicago underground. Heads began to bob.

Back in May, the DanShen Festival was born. A festival by the beach. The point was to closely curate it, and have the lineup be all bands they loved. Easy to enter, listen, enjoy. Some of my favorites I can’t stop listening to played this year’s lineup. Hiperson and Proximity Butterfly from Chengdu. Duck Fight Goose from Shanghai. The Dyne from Beijing. Our friends at “Live Beijing Music” said the vibe had “basically everything that Strawberry and Midi (festivals) lacks.” Definitely something to keep on your radar if you’re interested.

Shenyang

Shenyang

South Korea: Before we knew it, we said farewell to Jenna, and were on the overnight ferry to South Korea. Xie left us with an expensive bottle of whiskey, and Dann procured what would end up being one of countless bottles of Makkoli, a type of fermented, milky Korean alcohol. Our vessel was a comfortable luxury, seeing as how we didn’t mind how we got there, and as Dann said, “all you can carry” for baggage, and you didn’t have to spring for accommodation that night. The patrons of the boat sat endlessly staring at the waters before them, feeding seagulls, and staring off into the darkness once the sun set.

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

Hongdae: First show in South Korea. Yogiga. A DIY style basement and exhibition space in Hongdae. I meet the immediately bubbly Lauren Walker, who fronts a band in Seoul called Nice Legs. We head to an alley and she tells me why she loves Seoul. She’s been here a while, says foreigners should learn the language or “You’re completely missing out. Talk to old people. Hear their stories. Go outside of the ex-pat areas.” I would later find out she is the cousin of a friend I’ve known since high school. I thought they were joking, but it was true. Small world.

Tonight’s lineup included Yamagata Tweakster, GT Arpe, and The Essence. Local band Les Sales had to cancel due to injury, which was sad. Dann tells a story about when he lived here, how there’s a Makkoli Man. A wild-eyed joyful fellow who would tow around dozens of bottles of this delicious elixir, and if he came up to you, you’d play rock-paper-scissors. If you won, a free bottle for you. If you lost, you had to buy one. It’s super cheap anyway so it’s supposedly a win win either way just to interact with the guy. Right before Yamagata Tweakster is set to play, in comes Makkoli Man.

Dann’s eyes light up, I turn my camera on and film what I can of this maniacally joyful fellow yelling “MAKKOLI! I LOVE YOU!”, handing it all out, not even bothering with rock-paper-scissors, and he was gone with a flash. Dann said he had the exact same clothes on as the last time he saw him, four years ago. One thing is for sure, Yamagata Tweakster wants to party with you. He’s dressed in neon, a one man dance party belting out words I’ll never know, making the audience kick the air. He leads everyone outside to piggyback down a busy street, chanting. He’s been doing this for years.

Yamagata Tweakster

Yamagata Tweakster

Jeonju: Radio Star. Who says you need a packed house to have a good time? Though six people attended the show, I somehow managed to crowd-surf twice. Almost immediately after they finished, a crew of kids show up. They’re break-dancers and hip hop artists. Their collective is called the East Guinness Crew. Jeonju locals. Dann makes one of them go on stage and spit some shit, with Mike backing on drums. Naturally, I have to take them outside and try to get something on camera. Dann translates a bit. I still don’t know what they said. One of them drops down to the ground and spins around on one hand. I give them some of the leftover mix CDs I had from the show in Beijing. We stay in a huge common room of a gigantic bath house. Super cheap. I get zero goddamn sleep again, and could care less. A great night.

East Guinness Crew (Jeonju)

East Guinness Crew (Jeonju)

Seoul: Back to Seoul. Dann lived here for quite some time, which is how AWEH was founded. Our time in Seoul, we’re being hosted by Patrick, Ollie, and Shai. A wonderfully creative bunch, and endlessly kind. While we sleep, newly born kittens use us as playgrounds, as Mike would say in an album dedicated to the days of shenanigans, complete with guy passed out atop some steep as hell stairs. Their balcony has one of the coolest views of Seoul Tower. Ollie and Patrick help run the label Loose Union. It’s got an impressive catalog. AWEH is a creative culture website honing in on what’s happening in Asia. Their goal : be creative; music, art, just push forward and do things to help the scene.

Dogpile w/ Nice Legs

Dogpile w/ Nice Legs

Tonight’s venue : Space Moon. Nice Legs kick it off. I love them. Nice people. Poppy, spastic rock and roll is always up my alley. We all circle pit, and I’m still amazed this front-woman is my friend’s cousin. Dann mentioned the week prior, there was someone he demanded be a part of this leg of the tour. That was Johny Q, who fronts Mineri. A shredder on guitar. The final song had him flipping his guitar around on the floor. A near miss on slamming into my camera. Gonguri belts out some harsh metal. GUIGUISUISUI and Noise Arcade invoke a dogpile so inviting, I put my camera down and jump on top. Ollie grabs my SLR and starts shooting photos. Really, a great night, with exciting noise. There’s a common area outside where people buy cheap Soju and Makkoli, and that’s when the busking begins. It’s not a ‘shitty covers and malnourished dogs’ type of busking, but a tiny amp, back on the floor, screaming and yelping. Dann carried a singular drum around, beating against the cars whizzing by. It was karaoke, Nice Legs style.

Johny Q (Mineri)

Johny Q (Mineri)

Daegu: Communes. It’s not only one of the last shows for local math rock band Colours, but the final showcase for their collective I Like Many Records. I meet Ali, a British born guitar player with an Iranian upbringing, he’s been in Daegu for quite some time, but just moved to Seoul. He says there’s “fuck-all” happening in Iran. Colours sounds reminiscent of Don Caballero, though none of them are very well versed in their music. I give someone one of The World Underground mix CDs, and he stares at it for a while. “Paper Mice? Dude! I saw them in a gnarly warehouse in Chicago, six years ago.” That gnarly warehouse was called The Mopery. I was there. It was Pussy Pirates’ final show, right before it closed. I very likely have a photo of this guy, who six years later, is standing in front of me in Daegu, talking about Paper Mice. Wild.

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower

Busan: Basement. Local band Genius kicks it off. Straight up catchy rock and roll with a punk spirit. “Beaches” has been spinning a lot around here lately. Upon sharing it with a friend upon my return, he says it’s “like the Nirvana of Korea!” I can’t disagree. The bartender, Xiaoshuang Du, is from China. We chat, and since it’s the last night in Korea before hopping another ferry, all end up shit-housed. I tape Xi Yang Yang, a creepy, broad eye-browed cartoon goat (or “Hello Kitty of China”) to the stripper poles that spot the venue. The owner tells me of when Juiceboxxx from Milwaukee, Wisconsin came to town. He’s an old friend, a scrawny American kid from the Midwest who raps harder than anyone I’ve ever seen live. It’s punk-rap, with less awfulness. Surely he was hanging off the balcony as much as Dann was. As most tours go, you wish you had more time in these cities.

The ferry over is night and day from the one in China. There’s an arcade, a sauna. Smoking rooms. Dann passes out right away. Michael and I sit on the balcony outside and gawk at Grand Gwangan bridge along Gwangalli Beach, which is now lit up like a rave. I mull around a bit, dump footage, and fall into a nice sleep. Mike wakes me, disoriented, and in Fukuoka, Japan.

GUIGUISUISUI being responsible in Busan

GUIGUISUISUI being responsible in Busan

Fukuoka: Japan is a manic blur. It’s cleanliness is almost disorienting. There’s no trash on the streets, anywhere, but it’s difficult to find a garbage can. Still unsure of how that one works. Buildings on top of buildings. It’s intense to take in, to say the least.

First up, Fukuoka. Utero. A small club on the basement level. Black pads of soundproofing make you feel like you’re enclosed in a fallout shelter somewhere. Another stacked bill. Bellbottom from 80’s kick it off with screeching guitars. A wall of psych channeling Hendrix, the lead guitar player clearly enjoying his noodling. Long hair flipping every direction. He ends the set by jumping out into the crowd, banging away on his back, noise bouncing off every wall. A solo artist, Huduyangtai crossing pop, folk. I interview the singer of Jennifer Isolation, a funk band. He seems optimistic about Fukuoka. He grew up in Indonesia, and has heard the scene is amazing. I told him to talk to Dann, who just wrapped a lengthy tour there. Hours later, Macmanaman surprises the hell out of everybody. Highly recommended. Fast speed-core style instrumental craziness. They give us CDs, which are scratched to hell burned copies. Punk. We sleep on the venue’s floor. The owner gives us the key to the bar, and tell us to lock up when we’re finished. Wonderful.

Macmanaman

Macmanaman

Oita: At Hall. The center of Oita is a long, domed shopping area. At Hall is up a few flights of stairs, just steps away. Another huge, eclectic bill with everything from sloppy noise laden freak-outs, to a classical style pianist. Two women in kimonos show up, and I’d later find out they are family of the elderly couple in attendance. Everybody sits front and center for the whole show, and doesn’t leave. A local act Dann knew, Warsaw Pact, jabbers on in Japanese telling jokes we’ll never get. He kicks in a few electronic gizmos and plays guitar over them. Ninja Man, calling themselves the “New No Wave”, pound out some noise, and the singer freaks out in front of all of these seated people. He and a friend run outside, the guitar still squealing, and I do my best to follow. With a heavy camera, I only make it down the steps and film them run away, but apparently he went and jumped into a nearby pool of water. I wander into the night on a hunt for rooftop b-roll. Able to get on top of one building, the view yields nothing. On my way back down I hear the screams of karaoke, but the door of the place… a wooden plank with ornate Japanese lettering.

Miho and the pineapple

Miho and the pineapple

I enter to a beautiful, tiny bar. Everyone’s giddy, the proprietors are an older couple, dancing behind the bar. Everything stops and all eyes are on me. I motion for a drink, ask for whiskey, everyone amused. From what I understood was 15 dollars American for a round of something. I leave. Upon getting to the bottom of the stairs, a guy from the bar yells for me to wait. Come, drink with us, he says. It’s on me. I’ll leave most of this for the film, but picture a hot mess of karaoke. You’re fed drinks, while a lady named Miho runs around with a giant wooden pineapple, spoon-feeding you a mysterious Japanese fruit liquor. Eventually fed up with the slow pace, she begins to simply stalk the bar, making people drink directly out of the giant pineapple. Every time someone does it, the whole place cheers. They take me to a wine bar after karaoke closes, and buy me a glass. It’s time like these I wish I knew more Japanese. Nearing four a.m., I finally force myself to leave. We would stay on the venue floor yet again, this time for two nights. Bar key in hand. Free to come and go as we please. Thank You, Japan.

Oita

Oita

Kobe: We trek toward Helluva Lounge. It’s nowhere to be seen. Slotted streets behind streets. We ask, and everybody has a different answer. After an hour of messing around trying to find the place without lugging gear around, the venue owner comes and gets us. It’s a great looking space, and the opening bands seem excited. Tero Tero open it up with dance punk. The front-man does one of the weirdest performance-art style dance routines, like an comedy from the 1980’s, then banging away on the electronics in front of him. Blond New Half were my band of the night. Bowie meets Jesus Lizard meets that non-shitty EP by The Rapture. Really great stuff. They only have four songs up publicly, but this live recording sounds entirely different. Have a listen and get them on your bill if you go to Kobe, which you should seriously consider. Jigokuhen brings a harsh noise guitar session with furious energy for a one-man act. It sets the stage for GUIGUISUISUI and Noise Arcade tearing it up. Kobe rules.

Blond New Half

Blond New Half

Osaka: Sometimes, somebody shows up to the venue and says they’re going to play a vacuum cleaner. Back in Osaka, we head to Mizutama’s space, FIGYA. Not only does he run this, which is also his home, but also a gallery housed in a much older building. His wife Megumi brings out a dozen chirpy motion sensor birds, and a noise making stick from Taiwan. Satoshi, who’s playing tonight, brings in a guitar. It all melds into the strangest afternoon improv noise set I’ve seen in quite some time. The sunlight peeking through the traditional style doors. Birds chirping. The bug stick moaning away. It’s a great night for improvisation. Go Tsushima brought his project called Psychedelic Desert. He’d make a good tour mate for Noise Arcade. Waves of guitar feedback. Harikozue is Megumi and Harico. Opposite in age, one hooks mics up to a vacuum cleaner, the other puts them in a metal pot. “Now we will clean” …and they screech out one of the more interesting noise sets I’ve seen in a while. It was different, they said, from their other performance, which involves cooking.

Yuko was one of the most uplifting people I’ve ever met. Dann and Mike have spent the day procuring a bunch of cardboard boxes to make buildings out of, and army men. What will they do with this? Re-enact Godzilla, of course! Mike’s set delves from layered bloops to a harsher ending, in which Dann then tries to light the buildings on fire, and then stomps it all into oblivion. It really goes without saying that Figya is also highly recommended.

Waves of guitar feedback. Harikozue is Megumi and Harico. Opposite in age, one hooks mics up to a vacuum cleaner, the other puts them in a metal pot. “Now we will clean” …and they screech out one of the more interesting noise sets I’ve seen in a while. Dann and Mike have spent the day procuring a bunch of cardboard boxes to make buildings out of, and army men. What will they do with this? Re-enact Godzilla, of course! Mike’s set delves from layered bloops to a harsher ending, in which Dann then tries to light the buildings on fire, and then stomps it all into oblivion. It really goes without saying that Figya is also highly recommended.

Early beginning of Figya's noise night.

Early beginning of Figya’s noise night.

Yokohama: Yokohama is a jam. In the outskirts of Tokyo, El Puenten is steps away from the train station. We roll into a bunch of noise kids sound-checking. Shigeru, the owner, greets us and immediately asks if we want a beer. That doesn’t stop all night. Empty cup? Let’s fill it. He spent a long time living in America, and returned to start this Spanish influenced tapas bar that also has punk rock and noise shows. He liked underground shows and wants to do his part to reverse this pay to play system that’s so prevalent in Japan. He says Yokohama is a ghetto area, but he loves it here. Punk Disco kick it off with street punk. Their front-man has “FUCK YOU” tattoo’d on his chest, and runs around messing with everybody the whole time. Climbing on tables and getting in everyones faces. Taura Yorihisa and Elephant Noise Kashimashi plug in, blast out squealing noise with a traditional set up that included plastic tubes and hand-made objects. As a lover of noise music, I’m really happy to see Japanese kids still bringing it weird and harsh.

Punk Disco

Punk Disco

Tokyo. At this point, my main roller bag is over 60 pounds from all the fundraiser perks I’ve collected.

This is in addition to three other bags, and 15 pounds of vinyl waiting for me in Sichuan. Exhaustion starts to set in, curbed by Asahi, and I’m excited as hell to be here. After so many cities I can’t even put a finger on Tokyo. More buildings upon buildings. There’s four shows in three days. Gamuso Chroma is first. GUIGUISUISUI open. Children are running around, unsure of what to do with themselves. Ex066 follow. Front-woman Sawa Kato clearly has a few fans in the audience, and they yell and scream, and tell her she’s a rock-star. Android Beach Party is a local surf band. Their founder tells me his bandmates are really good at following directions. He writes everything. A great night with new friends. The next day, two shows. Shinjuku Jam is a double-staged basement level space, and this show started at 1o a.m. There’s seven bands, most of which we miss because there is just no way in hell we are getting there by 10 a.m. One act plays while the other sets up, and they swap immediately. I wander to the backroom and everybody’s already hammered. They tell me Shinjuku Jam is the “best venue in the world.” An extremely loud, wild-eyed fellow brings a guitar out and screams songs, and we’ll never know what the hell he was talking about. Despite afternoon wasted-ness, everyone is super nice. Somebody puts on a bald cap and again tells a bunch of jokes we’ll never know, followed by manic drumming, with a break in between each piece to do something ridiculous like slip on a banana peel, throw toilet paper around. Sort of reminded me of a Japanese game show meets noise act. The third show is a last minute addition. A blues bar with the capacity of about 30 people. No openers. There’s people lined up outside for a meet and greet with a J-Pop star.

The bar owner isn’t there, so when the famous guy walks out I ask to use his phone. Dozens of excited girls laugh. I ask for an interview. He says a few sentences and everybody screams and claps. It’ll be interesting to get that translated. Zacharie Gao, who’s originally from Chongqing comes and hangs out.

Hello, Tokyo

Hello, Tokyo

Last show of tour, DOM Studio. Steps away from our truly awful hostel, it’s one of the only DIY style places they played in Japan. Essentially, it’s a recording studio they have shows in. Sadly, the excellent Gravegrinder had to pull out of the show. It’s a bill heavy on noise, but “Raging Blast” kick it off raw and fast. Samm Bennett wails out old school punk blues vocals over some traditional instruments. Nobs turning for some harsh noise. Collaborations between Darklaw + Facial Mess. L’eclipse Nue and Kan. GUIGUISUISUI. Noise Arcade. After three weeks, countless trains, two boats trekking three countries, my head is twisted. Booze kept the shoulder pain at bay, kept apprehension away, but it catches up to you eventually.

Dann left to continue his tour back to China, heading South. Michael had one more night. We headed to some music shops so he could geek out at synthesizers. Afterwards, we meet Takashi of Black Hole records. Upon bailing to get drinks and bid Mike farewell, he leaves his backpack at the restaurant, and I never see him again. Years ago, Andy Junk, an old friend from Milwaukee ,called me and told me I needed to host a bunch of Japanese kids in Chicago. It was part of Tokyo’s Your Pest Band, and a crew of other people, including Takashi. They offered to return the favor when I was in Japan, and half a decade later, I took them up on it. Takashi ended up letting me sleep in his extra room for the final few days in Japan. Your Pest Band were unable to play, but little did I know they would come to Missoula, Montana only weeks later.

DOM Studio

DOM Studio

The final show I’d attend in Japan would be NYC’s OBITS, a band with members I’ve been following for over a decade. Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, Girls Against Boys.

They just so happened to be playing two shows in Japan. Both were with Tim Midyett of Silkworm and Bottomless Pit. Tim grew up in Montana. What a strange year.

Watching him play in Japan was surreal. I met Sohrab Habibion years ago in Chicago, and we’ve kept in touch. It had been years since I’d seen them. Crypt City helped kick it off. Sapporo’s DISCOTORTION had two drummers. Neither were messing around, but this lady on drums, she hit so hard that she nearly blacked out on her snare drum.

The final note sent her head into her arm. She tried to get up, but fell back on the ground, against the wall, only to crawl off the stage. Should be some heavy video.

DISCOTORTION

DISCOTORTION

Return to China: The tour over, I headed back to Chengdu to re-align with Stolen, Hiperson, and await the second show booked in China. I cannot properly state my love for Sichuan. Chengdu is lush, muggy, and slow paced for a major Chinese city. The vibe is different, and you feel it daily. Stolen’s front-man said last year that “Chengdu makes you lazy.” After a dozen plates of 回锅肉 (twice cooked pork), I couldn’t disagree. The Maples have agreed to come from neighboring Chongqing to open the show. They’re great. Snappy pop fueled rock and roll. Both Hiperson and Stolen’s new material is excellent. Stolen continue on to sounding more and more like a David Lynch movie meets the Unsolved Mysteries / X-Files opening theme songs. I recorded Stolen’s Beijing set that summer, Noise Arcade mixed it, and you should listen to it here.

Dann and his cat

Dann and his cat

We wrecked ourselves the best we could, heavy spirits, heavy hearts. Three foreign countries, building connections, spreading noise. As Dann said to me after leaving that morning, with no grand farewell : “It’s never goodbye, but see you later.”

STOLEN

STOLEN

The World Underground is set for a Winter launch. I hope to include live recordings from Korea and Japan in the audio archive when it all drops. You’ll be able to watch last year’s trip to China, and get a sneak peek at what’s to come in 2015. These trips are funded by donation. For donors, I’ve been putting together record packs from the local scenes I visit, to help spread the noise. The point is global connectivity, spreading good music to good people, and capturing proper moments in time. Reach out. The next episode’s production is planned for April, and I couldn’t be more excited. Much to come.

OBITS

OBITS

Hiperson

Hiperson

Kang Mao (SUBS)

Kang Mao (SUBS)

Yuko (Harikozue)

Yuko (Harikozue)

Dann & Mike

Dann & Mike

Goodbye, System Error

Goodbye, System Error

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