‘It’s too easy for bands to play [in Tokyo] really. There are so many places to play, and everything is divided into convenient categories,” says Hajime Yoshida of the Japanese punk band Panic Smile. “Bands from outlying cities have a tougher attitude than Tokyo bands.”
Yoshida decided to do something about this from the position he held as the booking manager for Akihabara Club Goodman from 2002 till recently.
“In Osaka or Fukuoka, you must be skillful and have a hard attitude, but Tokyo live houses are just like rehearsal studios” he says.
At Club Goodman, Yoshida adopted a booking policy that looked for a high level of technical skill and professionalism from bands, but never at the expense of energy and immediacy. He booked events based more on shared feeling than on genre, and on a single night at Goodman’s “Alternative Eleki-Town” events, you might hear high-speed “no wave” noise punk from Deracine, Hawaiian-themed progressive rock from Saladabar and psychedelic funk from Mong Hang.
The mix of sounds reflects Yoshida’s experience with Panic Smile. When he moved the band from Fukuoka, where it formed in 1992, to Tokyo in 1998, their sound changed significantly.
“Fukuoka musicians adore Tokyo, but in the ’90s there wasn’t much information coming through, so we created our own idea of what we thought the Tokyo music scene was like,” says Yoshida. “But that was quite different from the reality.”
In Fukuoka, Panic Smile, who were influenced by Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies, had been playing alongside groups such as Mo’some Tonebender and Number Girl. In Tokyo, Yoshida changed the band’s lineup, altering their style of music. Inspired by British post-punk band Wire’s policy of playing “anything but rock,” Yoshida recruited the least “rock”-influenced musicians he could find.
“We brought in drummer Eiko Ishibashi and Jason Shalton on guitar,” he says. “My attitude is basically against popular music. Our bassist likes punk, but both really studied music. Eiko is a pianist, and Jason is a jazz guitarist.”
The new line-up combinedpunk with the more complex structures of jazz and progressive rock, something that would have been unthinkable to British punks 20 years earlier. The hybrid sound has been a major influence on the development of Tokyo’s underground music scene and found a home in venues such as Club Goodman, Koenji 20000V and Sangenjaya Heaven’s Door.
Naoki Ogawa of the band Tacobonds believes that the “progressive punk” sound that Yoshida has nourished is the Tokyo’s natural sound.
“Tokyo is a wealthy city, there is no real working class, and nearly everyone goes to university. We have anger, frustration and punk feeling, but we were all students, so I think we have a more academic attitude to music than the 1977 punks,” Ogawa says.
Tacobonds, formed by Ogawa and Toshikazu Sasaki in 1998, also believe that playing at Club Goodman has helped define themselves as a band.
“We love playing with bands like Deracine. We’ve learned from them. Bands all over Tokyo now are trying now to break through the walls of the live-house system,” says Ogawa.
From imagining, in the mid-’90s, a kind of Tokyo music that never really existed, Yoshida has fashioned that distorted perception into a reality. Where bands were once categorized, and categorized themselves, strictly by genre, now many young musicians are expanding their influences. And newer live venues in Tokyo — Shin-Okubo Earth Dom, Shinjuku Motion, Koenji Club Liner and Shibuya Lush — are seeking to emulate Club Goodman’s eclecticism. So Yoshida’s venture has been a success, at least in Tokyo’s underground, where he has seen the cross-fertilization of styles create “another kind of punk rock.”