Gigs in Japan vs Gigs in the UK

After arriving in Japan, it didn’t take long for my boyfriend and I to visit our spiritual home – a hipster den in a grotty part of town, hosting a gig of five local bands for not very much money. And so, last Monday night we headed to the Shinjuku Marble to get our fix of live music.

marble stairsThe Marble is a quirky venue with a bright cartoonesque theme, which we had to walk through Kabukicho, a red-light district, to get to. We mainly went to see Gaba, whose guitarist my boyfriend knows from his time at Leeds College of Music, funnily enough, but stayed for 4 out of 5 bands. I enjoyed the atmospheric openers Amanosagume, a heavy rock band fronted by a girl with impressive pink dip dyes and a lot of feelings. Picaro and GiGi both had an enjoyable but more conventional J-Rock style, and, interestingly, both had endearingly geeky stage presences with awkward audience chit chat about the weather.

Musically, I can say without bias that Gaba were the strongest act we saw, with tight harmonies and technically slick guitar solos, even though their Beatles inspired rock with English lyrics made me feel like Hermione in muggle studies class.

What can I say, Leeds people are taking over the world.

So, with my extensive experience of precisely one Japanese gig I felt qualified to write a comparison on how British and Japanese gigs compare.

Amanosagume frontwoman Natsumi preceeded one song with emotive speculation on whether humans are parasitic. Or that's what I think she was saying.
Amanosagume frontwoman Natsumi preceeded one song with emotive speculation on whether humans are parasitic. Or that’s what I think she was saying.
    1. It’s more expensive. You know what I said about ‘not very much money?’ Less true here. Last Monday night cost us ¥3,000, which my phone tells me is £16.26 (the yen is unusually weak at the moment). In the UK I would expect to get the same thing for less than a tenner and would push for around a fiver if I could. In Japan, you generally get one drink included in the entry fee. My boyfriend tells me that music is generally more expensive in Japan but that he thinks this goes with an attitude of valuing it more – illegal downloading, for example is rarer here. If this attitude and the higher price goes with paying the bands and sound engineers more I’m happy to pay extra, but I’m not sure that it does…

2. They smoke. Having come to gig-going age at around the time of of the UK smoking ban, smoking in a music venue seems very scandalous to me. So many people at this gig were lighting up that the basement was vaguely smoggy without needing a smoke machine.

3. They’re on their phones less. Japanese concert goers seem to side with my heroine Kate Bush in the battle between transcendence vs smartphones. I approve, but it made me guilty when I sneakily got these snaps in.

Gaba's first single 'Let's Enjoy Life' is available here
Gaba’s first single ‘Enjoy Life’ is available here

4. Less dancing, but also less dickheads. Although Japan lifted it’s bizarre ban on dancing after midnight last year, it seems that dancing at gigs is less common here. This is a shame because I enjoy throwing my body around vaguely in time to the bands but I have to admit less dancing came with less dickheads. Last Monday night was pretty dickhead free – no hairy 6’2 dude pushing me into the mosh pit whether I want to or not, or grinding up against me.

5. Lots of applause but no cheering. Without fail, there is applause when the bands come on and after every song, regardless of quality. However there is no ‘woo-ing’ or heckling. I am a prolific woo-er so it was difficult to reign it in, and I may have forgotten I was in Rome and let a small woo slip at my most enthusiastic moment.

6. Interesting toilet art. To be fair this may be unique to the Marble, but I was fascinated by the visual offering when I went for a pee. The toilet wall was plastered with fan artwork, set lists, lyrics and reviews of the bands who have played here. Including these scantily clad young ladies…


Tomorrow I am going to see the incredible Mushifuru Yoru Ni. Check back here for to see if my opinion on Japanese gigs drastically changes! (Spoiler alert: it probably won’t).

Real Junk Food Recordings

Towards the close of 2014 I was involved in a project which helped rejuvenate my enthusiasm for my music and gave me a little more faith in humanity.

Before November I had been vaguely aware of ‘that cafe where you can pay what you like,’ but I didn’t have a clear idea of what the Real Junk Food Project was. It turns out that the Real Junk Food Junk Food Project is just that: an initiative which intercepts food that would otherwise be wasted from restaurants and supermarkets and cooks high quality meals, which are served on a pay as you feel basis. Founded in my university city of Leeds, the flagship Pay As You Feel cafe was just down the road from me in Armley, but similar cafes are popping up across the country.

I heard that friends at the University of Leeds Folk Society were recording some music to raise awareness and funds for the cafe so I went along with them to the studio to show moral support and soon learnt that the Armley Pay As You Feel cafe was under threat of closure as the landlord had put the premises up for sale, and that the founder and head chef Adam Smith had started an indiegogo campaign to raise the money to buy their home. A group of musicians from the folk society and Leeds College of Music were recording an album to try and help them, and were kindly being offered free studio time at the incredible Old Chapel Studios.

In my typical over committing style, within half an hour I had agreed to contribute my PR experience and my music to the album. The former involved sitting down with project leader Lorentz Bloom and photographer Maria Alzamora to try and garner some direction for the album. We decided to call our project ‘Real Junk Food Recordings,’ and agreed that it would be available on bandcamp on a pay as you feel basis like the food from the cafe. We set up a facebook page, Maria did some gorgeous artwork for us and I threw together a couple of press releases and gave the other two some hashtagging lessons.

The musical side of my involvement was a lovely experience. I chose my song SAD to put forward to the album, because of its seasonal relevance and its simple, acoustic sound. With some help from songwriter Arthur Rei on tenor guitar, we recorded it at the wonderful Old Chapel Studios in Holbeck, Leeds.

Recording the harp at Old Chapel Studios
Recording the harp at Old Chapel Studios

We had a very limited time to record all twenty artists who were to feature on the album and so we managed to get SAD down in two takes. This ninja speed of recording was nerve wracking but also liberating: I knew I wasn’t going to get it 100% perfect in the limited time I had so I could really enjoy giving an emotive performance. Thanks to some nice guitar-ing from Arthur and the impressive sound engineering and production skills of Darcy Taranto, I’m pretty content with the final result.

The album was released on bandcamp on 15th December and is available to download on a pay as you feel basis, with every penny going directly towards the cafe campaign. Just under a month later on 10th January, I was thrilled to hear that £23,000 had been raised for the cafe, enough to convince investors to fund the remaining cost of the cafe via social loans.

Album artwork by Maria Alzamora
Album artwork by Maria Alzamora

It was wonderful to be able to donate my musical skills to a great cause and work with some great artists. The album is still available on a pay as you feel basis on the Real Junk Food Recordings Bandcamp and there is some really high quality music on there. Fans of folk and jazz in particular are well catered for. My personal favorites are The Evan Davies Band’s ‘Nightingale,’ and Aino Elina’s ‘Lähdetään.’

Why not check it out