On May 22nd, I arrived at Divan Orange at 8:00 pm, just before the music was supposed to start, to find a room already packed to the brim with a horde of excited fans. The concert was a showcase of Japanese bands, part of an ongoing series called Next Music From Tokyo. I was planning on bringing a few friends along, but even at such an early hour, the show was – in the words of organizer Steven Tanaka – “beyond sold out.” From talking to a few people at the concert and record store clerks, I eventually gathered that this 10th edition of Next Music From Tokyo was the most popular one yet.
I ended up at the show after recently reading Ian Martin’s Quit Your Band!: Musical Notes From the Japanese Underground – a newly published, finely compiled compendium of the history and inner-workings of the Japanese underground music scene. As Martin takes the reader through the history of Japanese rock music and band politics, he opens one chapter with a short story about Canada, presenting the country as some sort of promised land for indie bands aspiring to greatness. Martin then goes on to discuss a mythical figure within the Canadian scene, someone who would regularly travel to Tokyo from his home in Toronto several times a year to scout out underground bands, hoping to enlist them in a series of concerts in Canada.
Martin eventually reveals this mythical figure to be Tanaka, an anesthesiologist working in Toronto who moonlights as a seminal figure in Tokyo’s underground music scene. Intrigued, I decided to dig further. I found Tanaka’s blog on the Next Music From Tokyo website, where he writes about seeing bands playing live, hanging out with the members, and the intricacies of the scene itself. Both the book and blog made the Next Music project sound like an amazingly genuine product of love for the music, and I knew there was no excuse for me not to be at the next instalment.
So I found myself alone at Divan Orange, where Tanaka’s love and excitement were on full display as he introduced each of the five bands playing that evening. He spoke so candidly and excitedly about the bands that you couldn’t help but feel the same sense of pure unadulterated glee. This enthusiasm was matched by the performers, too. Although a lot of words were lost in translation, each band emitted some seriously positive vibes. The combination of good energy from the organizers and bands created an experience that I won’t forget until I’m old and senile, and maybe not even then. Let me walk you through it.