When I was in Japan in December, as someone who loves the indie/underground music scene in Japan, I was clinically depressed. Maybe I just picked the wrong time to go but it seemed like the scene has been in a major slump. Many great bands I used to love have either broken up, lost key members or changed their sound/style dramatically.The economic recession has taken its toll and illegal downloading/piracy is killing the industry so it doesn't take much for bands to lose hope. Obviously, when it comes to indie/underground music most artists/bands are just happy to be on stage performing in front of an audience. They work hard at their jobs just to support their money-draining music careers. Tokyo must be the most expensive city in the world to play music. Bands must pay an arm and a leg ($500-800) to rent out even the smallest, shi*ttiest live houses. The average ticket price for a show with no-name local talent is ~2000 yen ($26) plus another $6 for a mandatory drink ticket. Most of the time at a show where there are 30-50 people in the audience, 50% of the people in the audience are band memnbers who are playing that night, 30% were on the guest list and got in free and maybe 1-10 people actually paid $31 to see a show with bands they've never heard of before. Even when shows sell out, bands only keep a portion of the ticket sales and have to split the minimal profit with the 3-4 other bands that played that night.

Now with the economy so bad musicians struggle at their day jobs just to make ends meet for food and rent. Spending a ton of money to perform in front of an audience is a luxury they can't afford. With the situation so bleak who the f*ck in Japan would want to even attempt to pursue a career in music?

But there are kids that still do! I think because it's so much tougher to play in a band in Japan (compared to Canada & the US) they value the opportunity more, practice harder, strive to be more creative, and are more impassioned on stage compared to their North American counterparts. Musicians in Japan are like f*cking Spartans. Since I'm so busy organzing these NMFT tours I haven't been travelling to Japan as often as I normally do and when I do go I'm prepping for an upcoming tour and I don't have as much time to see new bands. I'm sure there are some great up & coming bands that I don't know about yet. For example, Akai Koen came out of f*cking nowhere and are my favorite band right now.

In December, I was hoping to find 1 or 2 fresh, awe-inspiring bands like Akai Koen for the upcoming tour but no luck. At that point the only act I truly wanted to bring to Japan was group_inou. Bands like the Mornings and thai kick murph whom I would love to bring to Canada could't even take three days off in a row from work (or they would lose their jobs). At the end of December, the line-up was looking like: group_inou, tricot, 385 and my choice of a number of bands who are solid but hard to justify spending $2000 per band member just to fly out to Canada. I had asked Zazen Boys and Mukai Shutoku seemed very interested as we emailed back and forth but then for about 2 weeks he didn't reply back.

When I plan the line-up for these tours my goal is to make each one better than the previous. But more importantly, I have to love the music/live performance of the bands participating in the tour. group_inou is a no-brainer. They will be without a doubt one of the best acts to participate in NMFT so far. 385 would be a really popular choice and I'm sure they'd be a hit on the NMFT tour... but for the wrong reasons... for reasons counter to why I do this tour in the first place. Miya's gutteral screaming and wicked slap-bass will have the audience's jaws dropping and their music is aggressive and hits harder than a fastball to the forehead but that's really all there is to their music and live performance. Flashiness with little substance. Style is very important but if it's not backed up with great songwriting it's difficult for me to immerse myself and enjoy the music. 385 have a few great songs and Miya would definitely blow people's minds in Canada but my heart isn't wholly into their music or their live performances for that matter. However, I still like them enough to consider them as a complementary piece to round out a NMFT tour in the future.

The members of tricot are such fantastic, friendly people and I almost brought them on NMFT4 just because it would have been cool to hang out with them on a tour of Canada. They're very good musicians and put on a high octane energetic live show. I love the song and PV for "爆裂パニエさん" a LOT. But when I compare them to Akai Koen, the songwriting doesn't come close to matching up. In particular, there's not a lot of soul, spontanaeity or creativity in the music. They have plenty of time to grow and develop and if they concentrate on writing more interesting songs they already have the other necessary elements to be a truly great band.

With Zazen Boys seemingly out of the picture, and group_inou the only act I felt strongly about for NMFT4, I decided to cancel plans for holding a tour in May. Instead, I could use some of the $40,000 I would have spent (ie lost) in May and use it to bring some of my best friends to Japan. So I called four of my best friends (who've helped out with each of the Toronto shows) and told them I would bring them to Japan with me in March. Of course they were ecstatic and I thought it would be a lot of fun exploring Japan without concentrating on going to shows all the time like I normally do. But within an hour of telling my friends this, guess who emails me?!! From Matsuri Studios, "This is Mukai f'ing Shutoki" stating Zazen Boys are "all in" for NMFT vol 4 in May.

I had officially cancelled the tour in May, written it off and was sort of relieved that I would now have lots of extra time and MONEY. But with ZAZEN and group_inou as the core, NMFT4 had the makings of being the best tour yet. Mukai insisted that we at least talk over the phone about how we could still make the tour happen in May... and we came to an agreement.

This all happened just a few days before I would be heading to Tokyo again for the NMFT3 tour finale. With the mindset I would be doing another tour in May I emailed Charan Po Rantan and a few other bands before I left Toronto for Japan. If you've followed my blog, Charan Po Rantan is an act that I've always wanted to bring to Canada since the first time I saw them perform two years ago at Shinjuku LOFT. The only reason I haven't yet is b/c Momo-chan (singer) was only 16 years old when I first saw them and each time I had seen them perform subsequently, it was with their 6-member support band: CANCANBALKAN. There was no f*cking way I was going to bring another band with 2+6 = 8 members since NATSUMEN was supposed to be a one-time-only special circumstance. I fell in love with Charan Po Rantan the first time I saw them, but I couldn't remember how good they were without CANCANBALKAN. In December and again in January I had a chance to see them perform alone as a duo.... and ohhhh SH*T are they ever f*cking AMAZING. But the problem is when they're paired up with CANCANBALKAN they're even better... frighteningly good... good enough to give NATSUMEN and ZAZEN BOYS a run for their money. Luckily for me, the banjo player is no longer a member of CANCAN. So that brings the total count to seven members. Also, Koharu (the leader and accordian player) completely understands what this tour is about and how its run. She wants to limit the financial burden on me as much as possible. However, having pride as a musician she also wants to bring the best Charan Po Rantan possible with the mindset that they can one-up any band... including ZAZEN BOYS!! She would love to come to Canada with Momo-chan alone... but if there were any way, even if it's a modified mini-version of CANCANBALKAN, she would love, LOVE, LOVE if I could bring the band along as well to show Canada the true awesome potential of Charan Po Rantan.


As of right now, the three bands that are participating in NMFT vol 4 are:




Either alone or with some version of the band 愉快なカンカンバルカン

I'm still deciding on the 4th band. And by the way, I'm still taking my best friends Larry, Keleng, Han and Bernard to Japan in March.