Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Taking a leaf out of the Vittelli book of listening I spent the last fifteen minutes of my weekend in London laying prone on a comfy bed listening to the sound of Dalston creep in through an open window.  A crisp ,clear, very early spring morning lent access to a concrete mixer, an angle grinder, jets circling for Heathrow,  cop car sirens, traffic, chatter, slamming doors and that ever present but unidentifiable low hertz hum that pervades every waking city minute but only becomes apparent during those rare moments of stillness.

It sounded like Makoto Kawabata smashing his guitar to bits as Jojo Hiroshogi egged him on. It sounded like Hijokaidan, Pain Jerk, Katsura Mouri, Toshiji Mikawa, Yumiko Tanaka, the dropped beer glasses on the hard concrete floor of Cafe OTO, the clanking of beer bottles, the windows rattling as I got some fresh air and chatted to the homeless guy pan handling pound coins for an old copy of OK magazine as the windows shook during Pain Jerk’s soundcheck ‘you’re gonna spend four hours in there - [nodding with his head to inside, roll up jammed between lips, hands deep in pockets, incredulous look on face] - you are all fucking mad’ - wanders off shaking head.

My best laid plans for staying relatively sober are wrecked by the Baron who shoves bottles of potent Kernel into my hands thus ensuring I spend most of Sunday wandering the Kingsland Road a shivering wreck handing off junky beggars and looking for sustenance in places like Rough Trade where I predictably buy nothing, the Whitechapel Gallery where I stare at Hannah Höch collages and various other cafes of exotic origins who would no doubt like to sell me something far stronger than tea for my throbbing head. Dodging the dog shit and bemoaning the loss of a long line of once great pubs that disappear in clouds of litter blown up by passing buses the walk clears my head for further sonic adventures.

The OTO is sold out and rammed both nights. An ambitious looking roster soon proves to be just that and is running late from the off. There's no stage so everybody crams up close to see whats happening. When the Baron asks me whats happening and I tell him some Japanese woman is stripping off he disappears like a dart into the wall of bodies. On the second night chairs are placed in a semi circle and there's a video projection so everybody can see whats going on. It helps. On the first night Takahiro Kawaguchi and Makoto Oshiro bridge two tables with kitchen foil and then place contact mics on it. If you're at the back it sounded like tin foil blowing in the wind. If you're down the front at least it adds another dimension. They drop washers and bits of metal into a vibrating speaker cone which has a piece of string tied to it thats stretched to a lighting scaffold that oscillates it into different shapes. Junko screams solo for twenty minutes. Pain Jerk wraps us all in dense swarms of throbbing bass whizzes and crunching stabs of pain. Of course its not loud enough or long enough but with such an ambitious line up that was always going to be the pay off and we give thanks that they are all here and in good health except for Toshimaru Nakamura who misses his slot with Mikawa and Akiyama on the last night night due to a mysterious eye injury.

Its not all noise of course. These two nights show the wide array of talent Japan currently has to offer so there's some traditional instruments brought to the fore first with a pairing of Yumiko Tanaka and Ko Ishikawa with Tanaka scraping, plucking, bowing, attacking both the Shamisen and the Japanese banjo in a ferocious fashion whilst singing in the delightful falsetto that traditional Japanese singers use so effectively. The Japanese flute [Sho] of Ishikawa emits graceful, gentle drones whilst his solo set on the second night brings the chatter to a complete halt. Rarely have I seen an audience so entranced.

Not all of it works. Not for me personally that is, although every performance is given a burst of rousing applause at its conclusion. Junko yelping over an electro-acoustic set was just plain wrong and I'm no fan of guitar abuse either so the pairing of Toshiji Mikawa and Akiyama forever teetered on the edge of painful atonal squawk [they sure missed Nakamura and his poorly eye - we hope you get better soon Nakamura]. Perhaps atonal squawk was the intention? Pure dissonance run ragged. The Hiroshige and Kawabata guitar hero set may have ended in a smashed guitar and the sight of one happy punter clutching the debris as a trophy for home but it didn't do much for me.

But these mismatches were few and far between. For the most part it worked beautifully and a lot of what I witnessed will be remembered for a long time to come. The light show that accompanied Doravideo's set and his battle with Pain Jerk the following night was enthralling with punters heads lit up with multicolored lasers in day-glo colours as Yoshimitsu Ichiraku's instrument of choice, a kind of Blade Runner-esque keyboard whose keys lit up in bright colours, triggered lasers and of course lots of noise. The erotic dancing from Miko Wakabayashi and the guitar abuse and turntable abuse that went with it forming a three cornered female noisefest was plain euphoric. The phenomenal depth of gutteral noise and stuck needle rhythms that Mouri produced from a humble portable record deck was really quite astonishing. Stylus abuse par excellence.

Highlight of the weekend and the most surreal collaboration of the lot came from Hatsune Kaidan. Electronic noise storms from Toshiji Mikawa, guitar eruptions from Jojo Hiroshige and between them stood on a chair in a waist length turquoise cosplay wig and the most innocent cherubic face you could wish to see stood Kamin Shirahata singing J pop minimal synth backed songs. See them at any cost, they will change your life. Cafe OTO cheered them to the rafters - two middle aged men, one bent over a table of electronics, the other thraping away on a Gibson SG and every salaryman’s dream totty singing songs of fuck knows what in a cutsie voice with oversized headphones on. Only in Japan.

The last words uttered on Sunday nighty came from Mikawa who after a speed drenched Hijokaidan set thanked Kou Katsuyoshi for organising it; "Without his passion this would not have happened". More cheers, hugging, back slapping. Its been a great two nights.

[In a sign that I must be getting older and more sensible I did indeed see every performance over the two nights. Reporting back on them all is a task beyond me. These are the highlights. All those involved deserve a mention and my heartfelt thanks.] 




Cafe OTO

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