Friday, April 02, 2010

How The Other Half Gigs

This blog's been a bit light on content recently because I've been preoccupied with band activities. Not that playing in a band is particularly interesting in & of itself - what is interesting is what it's like playing in a Japanese band.

This isn't to be confused with what it's like playing in Japan as a foreign artist. Every band's vanity documentary has the perfunctory Japanese tour montage, with giggling high school girls and urban neon hallucinoscapes, underscored by sincere corroboration of Dave Chappelle's Nippon-in-a-nutshell:
I've never been treated so well by people. I'd say that I was both loved and feared.
Though a lot of the professional courtesy & pampering can be ascribed to Japan's famed decorum, it's also an investment by promoters who are all-too-aware of how much of a pain in the ass it is to get to Japan. Treat the band like rock gods (whether they are or not) and hopefully they'll be happy to return.

Of course, the view of the Japanese music industry from the trenches is considerably different. It is, as the country in general is, an inversion of its western analog, where virtues become vices and old problems arise as new ones are solved. For example, digital music is Japan's strong suit: 85% of the global share of legal downloads and a mere eighth of illegal downloads are made within Japan. But this is because the major labels were far more savvy than their western counterparts, and made early efforts to woo their customers with digital convenience. As the American music industry shits out 14% of its mass annually, corporate hegemony in Japan remains more or less intact, along with all the ensuing problems of the major-V-indie "Two State" antagonism.

On a much more micro level, the professionalism & courtesy of venue staff (no matter how scummy or inexalted the venue) is a real treat - especially for those of us who are used to hostile alcoholics working the mixing board in dive bars across North America. Lest ye forget they're being polite because you're paying them to be: until your notoriety includes rotation on MTV and front-rack placement in Tower Records, all your gigs are pay-to-play.

From start to finish, a gig is less bacchanal than business engagement: attending the official after-party (打ち上げ, or uchiage) is mandatory for band members, crew, promoters, and auxiliary staff. Not many folks would voluntarily skip an after-party anyway, but being thus compelled is a little grating. And it ain't simply hitting the closest bar for some beers and back-slapping. Tables are arranged, drink orders are placed, and seating is orchestrated according to unspoken political accords & rivalries. Unsipped beverage in hand, everyone reverently listens to a brief speech congratulating the assembled on their fine work & cockily recounting the number of paying customers at the show. Glasses are finally raised amidst a unison bellow of "Kampai!", and everyone suddenly ejects themselves from their seats and scrambles about the room, banging glasses with anyone in arm's reach.

From there, a more familiar form of dissolute, shit-talkin' revelry returns, but it's still the thinnest shadow of a night out with John Bonham.

Naturally, I'm barely scratching the surface of this uncanny realm, all of which is fodder for much more extensive inquiry. Once I have more to share, I most certainly will...

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