No Neon Lights at Anomalous Collision 13
The following show report for Anamolous Collision 13 was contributed by William J. Grant. Originally from New Zealand, he's an avid reader who currently resides in Tokyo He's also a self-published author and a lover of both pop-culture and sub-culture alike. Visit his blog for more of his writing.
It's Tokyo, but the neon lights are gone. There are no bright blues, yellows, and greens in this Shin-Okubo basement. No young women dressed in frilly costumes pretending to be girls so the tourists can feel they've witnessed the 'true' Tokyo.
The roof and walls are black. Tattered posters with pictures of Satan cling to every surface of the room. The floor is grey concrete and there are two enormous speaker racks that touch the ceiling as if in defiance to the limitations put on them. On the stage a band is setting up. They're not making chitchat or flashing fake smiles at the twenty or so people milling about. Their faces are set in grim determination and their focus is honed on the strings and cymbals they'll use in a few minutes.
On the other side of the heavy doors, past the ticket booth and up the long stairs, the Tokyo you came from still exists. You’re unsure whether those heavy steel doors with the heavy steel levers are locking that Tokyo out or sealing you in, but either way you're in Earthdom now. A place where the sound is heavy and the attendees mosh and scream until the final bitter encore is thrust out, in all its screeching glory, by the final act.
Far from the familiar streets that you took to get here, somewhere in the deep darkness around you, someone is trying to light a cigarette. You hear the click of a lighter and smell the burning ethane as it turns into a bright yellow and red triangle. They suck the smoke in deeply, as if they haven't had any for far too long. Maybe they were quitting, maybe they just came from work. It's impossible to tell unless you sneak a look.
He's about five foot seven and has long, dyed hair, and he’s wearing a blue t-shirt and baggy jeans. He is actually a she, with the blank but passionate eyes of a fighter on their last round. Her sneakers aren't cheap, nor are they clean. They've got scuff marks and her eyes flick from the pack in her hand to the three men on the stage. She catches our gaze and glares. It's time for us to move on, we can't linger in the middle of the room. We don't want to be the awkward bystander that ruins it for everyone.
There's a dull yellow light coming from a corridor about ten paces away. It’s crammed with A4 flyers stapled on top of A4 flyers, half of them peeling themselves off the walls and each one telling you that something dark once passed through this place. They've all got jagged fonts and bands' names that suggest anarchy is the only true salvation for our souls.
There’s a cheap white door at the end of the hall and it creaks and groans when you push it open. On the other side is a wide space littered people huddling around a bar and young men with lanky hair slumped on the torn leather couches that line the walls. The gimlet-eyed ladies behind the bar serve you a cold beer in silence, weighing you up as you watch as some hard-working artists' hustle their wares at the folding tables at the end of the room. You admire the slightly overweight drummer responding in Japanese to a young woman asking him questions at a clipped pace. You notice the smirk on both their lips and how she leans in when talking, nodding a little too fast for a man interested in only selling CDs. But soon they've spotted you, and you turn away.
Over there you can see a true master at work: Kubine. She's wearing a red top tonight and her hair can't decide if it should bounce or wave. It doesn't matter though; she's here for business and business alone, not to be critiqued on dress etiquette. You observe how she gives a sly smile to one patron and a smart retort to another, how she knows her merchandise inside and out, the way she flicks through her t-shirts while keeping the banter up about her new CD release, Wounds.
There’s a low twang that vibrates through your fingers, through even your spine though the door is closed. That's BOMBORI. You’re here for the show, not the crowd; you grab your beer and rush to the floor, pushing past the gathered crowd in front of the stage that has already begun to head bang. You find a spot in the corner. You don't want a repeat of earlier.
But you can feel it now. You can feel the scream building inside the singer as the guitarist moves up and down the strings in rapid succession. His feet are starting to lift; the audience's hands are going into the air. And there it is, a wild scream -- the man keeps pressing the mic into his lips until every burning ember is flushed out of his system and showered onto the audience. You can hear the rat-tat-tat of the snare and the crash of the symbol as the tempo rises.
You let it take you. You let their wails, techniques and speed pull you into the mix. Jump a little. Put a hand up. Clench it. Make a fist and join in with the words. Don't think too much; guess. Let all your hate, all your disappointments, out into the thriving mass of women and men bouncing on the heels of their feet. Drink your beer, crush your cup and throw it into the bin. Mosh with me. Mosh until the sweat soaks your t-shirt and you feel drained, until the guitarist squeezes the last ounce of sound out of his amp.
Afterwards you're smiling, a good sign though the night's still young. At the bar you meet Matt, who is not a DJ despite his cap and satchel. He's the promoter, he knows everyone here. He can you talk to you about thrash, grind, hardcore and all your favourite genres until the apocalypse comes.
You need a beer, but you've spent the break talking to Matt. The next band is about to start. This isn't Australia with thirty-minute pack ups and fifty-minute mic checks. No, you’re in the raw now. They're called COFFINS, and they're not going to need you to mosh. Just head bang. You feel the slow wind of the doom metal, the raw power of it, the throbbing, pulsing energy. It's the part of the night that slow-burns you into fury. It gets inside your soul and rebounds against your spirit's corners with each snap of the drumsticks on the toms.
Let it wash over you, let it fill you. Close your eyes and slip into the evening of noise. See the sounds fighting each other as waves of purple and navy in a sea of black. Hear how they are discordant and yet aligned? Can you grapple with the complexity of the drum clashing, but not destroying, the guitar rift? Did you feel that last part? Here it comes, here it comes. Quick, look up the stage. The singer is grabbing the ceiling. He's gyrating back and forward as the music compels him. The audience is below, they're ready to catch him in case he crowd surfs. And then, of course, he jumps and finishes his last song in the middle of us. He does this because he is one of us we are one of them. We are all one; all equal, in the house of sound that Tokyo built but didn't build.
Now the lights are back on and someone wants to talk. Your Japanese isn't great, but you try anyway and discover there was nothing to worry about. You’re all fans here. But you need to get you a beer before the next show starts. It's hot and you need to stay hydrated.
There's a conversation over there between an American and Australian about the effect of a Donald Trump presidency. You could join in the chat about how commercialization has decimated local bands and their venues in most industrialized countries, but is that what you came for? You go talk to the social science student with her multi-colored hair and sublime tattoos anyway, wading into the discussion about how 'Cool Japan' could be stripping away the authenticity of local movements. Then you’re talking to Jharrod about Kaala’s podcast and before it’s over you already have several new LINE contacts, but now it’s time for the main event.
The floor is busier because Self Deconstruction has finally taken the stage. There's the guitarist, Kuzuha, with the pink dress and stunning pigtails. On the drums is Jiro. The vocalist, well, you've met her. It's Kubine, the seller we admired earlier, and she's ready to destroy your ears.
There's her sweet, guttural sound. The one which bounces around in your head for days. Dance to it. Jump to it. Stop. They've switched to a swing beat, a little blues and rhythm. No, I don't know why they do that, but it's finished now. They've changed again. Here we are back to rapid fires notes being strummed off the guitar as she screeches into the microphone. Push that person in front. Bounce into another one. Now we've got something going. Come on, don't let the man with glasses shove you like that, push him back so we can mosh together. Shove, push, shove and let Kubine's voice be your soundtrack. Jump! What are you waiting for? Jump!
Embrace the sweat. Feel it drip down your face. Feel it. Breathe it in as the beer, cigarettes and sweat all mingle together. You know this place. You've been here so many times. Embrace it. Put your hand up and mosh, mosh, mosh. Yell a little. Now you've got it. Now we're here, scream. Scream for all your worth until your throat can't scream no more.
Later, after Kubine and Self Deconstruction has left the stage for good, you half walk, half fall through the heavy steel doors with the heavy steel levers and trudge back up the stairs. Each step takes you away from the crazed, sweaty, violent, comforting underworld and back to the surface. Back to the neon lights, back to the crowds of Shin-Okubo, back to your life. Back to your job. Back to your responsibilities. But on the weekends, when your heart is weak and it’s furnace craves the fire of a hell it once knew...
Earthdom is waiting. It's always waiting.