I’ve been in Japan for a little under two months. Contrary to popular belief and my own expectations, it has not been the joyride one anticipated. I’ve struggled to eat healthy, balanced hot meals, especially as a vegan which is nigh on impossible, been lost an immeasurable amount of times, my hair has been falling out, not just because of the extremities to which this climate fluctuates, but also at the shocking prices of basic needs here. For example, a melon costs £20 quid, a gig ticket £60 and above, and the tissue paper here is flimsier than a butterflies arsehole.
I’ve battled to keep my sanity, to protect my outer self from the constant stares and the instant retort of “nihongo jouzu” (“your Japanese is great!”) when all I said was “arigatou”.
To find the little pleasures is what keeps us going, and I have striven to do so to maintain a constant train of distractions, an array of movement, a delectable palate of unmissable opportunities to be had and taken full advantage of, even at the expense of my own health, for lack of sleep means one partied hard and well into the night/next day and, with a weary eye, smile and watch the sun rise on another glorious evening well spent.
For a major city like Tokyo, the shuuden, (last train) here are ridiculously early, but I’ve heard tell of this as being a necessity, for without it Japanese companies would force their employees to work all night long. Most things in life are not free, but littered about Tokyo’s vastness are many amazing galleries and exhibitions and of course, is inundated with live gigs to attend.
Last Friday was one of those seize the moment opportunities, and I had the pleasure of seeing The Soft Moon supported by Body of Light, and massive respect to Marco for putting me on the guest list, without which I would not have afforded to attend.
I discovered The Soft Moon while I was curating the last playlist for I’m Not from London, by listening to Cold Cave. So I had been enjoying the songs for approximately a month when I discovered they had an upcoming live gig, hosted by the eclectic and niche-loving Haruka of Big Love Records
I decided it was better to go out on a Friday than wallow in misery in my tiny prison-cell like dorm room, rocking manically over Kanji I’ve memorised a thousand times and still forget how to write the fuckers.
Boy, am I glad I got out.
I dragged my lovely housemate along and played him several choice tracks on the train towards the venue Astro Hall, in Harajuku
The beautiful thing about meeting other international people in a city as Tokyo, is they are obviously here for less than conventional reasons, and therefore are more likely to be open-minded to embarking on strange and wonderful adventures with the resident goth sharing their dorm. Donned in his Grimes t-shirt we leapt into the night like bats, hoping for something real.
I’ve been to a few gigs in Japan before, and if you watch some youtube videos, you will mostly find the crowd are respectful, sincerely listening to each song, and politely clapping at the end sans cheers and whoops (or the occasional jeer and drunken slur one is accustomed to back in England). That night surprised me.
Before the first song had barely kicked in, the usually demure Japanese had started a small mosh pit, with one boy, in particular, getting so geared up to his apparent favourite song, swinging his hoodie around his head! There was such a varied and interesting crowd that night; Japanese boys with long hair and tattoos running up and over their neck and chin (a rarity in this culture) and a few foreigners, presumably residents of Tokyo themselves. But that’s what leaves me wide-eyed and full of wonder here, you never really know why someone is in Tokyo. It is unusual to come across a foreigner in such a specific place. Of course, one sees the usual suspects, cameras dangling around their neck as they perch gingerly next to Hachiko, or blast on to the train talking way too loudly, blundering their way through Shinjuku’s airport sized train station, but here, one never really knows the essence of their being.
Body Of Light (Alexander and Andrew Jarson) opened their set with Moving Slowly, ripping through the tense fabric of prolonged anticipation, and I immediately glanced at my housemate and smiled, this shit sounded good straight away! With nostalgic sounds akin to Erasure and Depeche Mode, one felt the synth ripple through my veins, this stuff sounded dated but in an excellently retro way. Body Of Light provided an apt choice for support for setting the vibes, I certainly felt the surge, as did they, stirring the crowd into a shoegazing frenzy. Other choice songs by Body Of Light are Tremble, Will of Love and Limits of Reason.
After a brief dance with a green haired girl, the set ended with raucous applause, and one ran to grab a quick sake mixed with calpis, to keep the buzz flowing.
Fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the house lights shut down, all except for the backlighting of the stage, which added to the atmosphere. The Soft Moon is the musical concept of Luis Vasquez, a pioneer of post-punk, who is effortlessly rejuvenating the darkwave genre through a minimalistic approach, that is brought to life on stage with live drummer Matteo Vallicelli and Luigi Pianezzola on bass.
It was very difficult to take one’s eyes off of the explosive force erupting inches from my face. Opening with Black from the album Deeper, arguably his best release to date, the lights complementing the atmospheric moodiness gave way to a barely restrained aggressiveness that seemed an almost cathartic need for an expression like we were witnessing some kind of confession from a madman. Energies reverberated through the crowd, pulling us in and casting us aside nonchalantly, like one big head fuck. As Luis explained to me, the lights are an intrinsic part of the music, cleverly casting shadows to frame their undulating bodies, throwing the spectators into darkness and simultaneously revealing flashes of themselves, as if we were being let in on a big secret. It seemed as though each member was at one with their instrument, almost an extension of their bodies. It was an extremely emotive performance, and quite a sight to behold when Luis jumped from throwing his entire life force into his keyboard, bending in half to the wails of his own making, to drumming his bongos or silver drum frantically; the room couldn’t take their eyes off him either.
After the gig, my housemate and I were kindly invited to join a small after party gathering. I call it an after party but it was more like a descent into chaos. Bar Nightingale is literally the mouth to hell, and has to be seen to be believed. Although a little difficult to find, if you love your noise music ear-bleedingly loud, your art weird and your surroundings eccentric, head to Golden Gai in Shinjuku. You don’t need drugs for this place, it is like stepping inside someone else’s acid trip, most probably the bartenders who, lovely as he his, does not take requests FYI.
But honestly I recommend going just once, it will change your perspective on shit.
Dark subject matter was frequently brought up in conversation, as we chain smoked and drank straight whisky, we discussed things from self-sabotage to emoting with ferocious fervor, and how difficult that must be to put your entire self into something and be so raw and open, to willingly make yourself so exposed and be that honest, to face yourself every night in such a stark way. He told me he gets pretty sensitive after shows and that’s something I, as a performance artist, can utterly relate to. I imagine with every song he performs he is reliving a memory, traumatic or otherwise, leaving him emotionally exhausted. Sometimes merely being human is an act of bravery.
Sometimes you just want to be held.
He told me he lived in the desert as a child, and upon hearing this it made sense how such lucidity could come from a mind that has gazed up at the moon and stars so vividly, as this music sounds like the soundtrack to visions induced in the dark moments of desert dwelling.
After 6 hours of non-stop conversation, I concluded that this was one very switched on guy.
There is no off button.
Everything he sees he soaks up and pours into his music, everything he thinks and feels is unfiltered, sometimes nonsensical, but ultimately comes from a place of deep knowledge and a profound desire to understand himself, having lived all over Europe, it seems like he’s constantly searching for something. Something I also empathise with, since I have lived and travelled many places, and still feel so lost.
With a penchant for serial killers, vampire literature, the films of Lars Von Trier, David Lynch and Dario Argento, and music such as Neu!, Einstürzende Neubauten and Ministry, even appreciating the visual aspects of Madonna’s music videos, quoting “open your heart” as a particular favourite, revealed a complex thought process that he’s trying to make sense of with his music.
Amidst all this claustrophobia however there is a vulnerability, of which I saw brief flashes throughout the night, of a man constantly trying to prove his worth and overcome his insecurities, clinging on to that final thread of hope, and that’s something that definitely comes across in tracks such as “Far” and the erratic intricacies of Die Life.
My favourite track of The Soft Moon is Want, which smacks heavily of Joy Division influences, with the aerosol spray sounds of “She’s Lost Control” punctuating the latter half of the song, and with a music video reminiscent of Prodigy’s “Smack my bitch up”.
His favourite track is Tiny Spiders, another deliciously dark and delectable tune.
If you get the chance to see Body Of Light or The Soft Moon live, absolutely do it, you won’t be disappointed. Rather, you’ll be left hungry for more. You will probably be left reeling. You might even be left feeling inspired to get up from your chair, and try to understand your own self, and create something out of which only your perception can ever understand. And with that, I’m brought to conclude with the words of Nick Cave: “Say something, express yourself, express yourself, say something loudly”.
Love, Light and Endless Night,