Documentary: Live House (with pacalolo + Trash Cat)
I’d read about this documentary a while ago, when I was filling in the gig guide for December, but somehow the whole event and the date had just fallen out of my head. So when I was digging around for the gig of the week last week, I was glad to find that I hadn’t missed it! While my soul will always be with China, I will admit to pieces of my heart being stolen by Japan over the last year or so, and this documentary marked my first foray into something other than Japanese dramas and pop music. (I know, I know. I’m embarrassed. You don’t need to say anything.)
Check out the trailer on MySpace Videos:
Unfortunately, I can’t connect to the main website for the documentary without a proxy at the moment (I was able to last week; go figure), but the Douban event links to this spectacular article in Japan Today about it. The documentary, directed by Kevin Mcgue, was funded by the Japan Foundation, a non-profit organization that puts together cultural exchange programs for and with Japan. While the title suggests that it’s about the history of the Live House — a peculiarly Japanese phenomenon — it’s really the story of a handful of spirited young Japanese punk bands. Through interviews and live footage, it really feels like a slice-of-life story of these groups more than a story of the venues they live, breathe, and excites themselves in.
The film was really interesting on a lot of levels, but I enjoyed it because while I have completed the Japanese Pop Culture 101 course in life, this was a stone unturned though dear to my heart in other cultures. I know roughly how the indie/underground/local act music scene works in Beijing/Shanghai, and my home country of Australia, but this was something I’d never even thought about before. And while how the whole scene was constructed was very much a product of the Japan I was already aware of, it showed a new and very passionate side to the Japanese youth most Westerners get to hear about. These weren’t otakus obsessed with collecting manga figurines, they weren’t the super-polished boy– and girl-bands, and they weren’t contestants on ridiculous Japanese game shows. These were a group of punk rockers, fighting to make a living doing the thing they loved and what made them happy. It’s a story that’s familiar in any language, but one that had a definite Japanese flavor to it.
Things that I found most interesting:
– The method of renting out the live house: bands rent the live house area, and have to make a certain amount of ticket sales. If they don’t meet the quota, they have to pay the owner for the unsold tickets.
– While I know that most indie/local bands hold down day jobs while they gig around, a common thread between the groups was that, while the band was always first, Monday to Friday they were completely loyal to their day jobs.
– The girl groups’ self-awareness of how their gender set them apart; though the consensus was that things were getting better in terms of people not taking them seriously, the concern was also raised that audiences and other bands alike saw them as a novelty — as sex objects or something to see as a bit of a laugh.
– The “grandmother” of concert photography, Hiroko Matsushita, who was invited to a gig in her youth and has now been taking photos at concerts for most of her life. She was a typical mother-type on screen, but she’s praised by the bands as the best concert photographer around.
After the documentary screening (which was not without its typical D-22 issues; the audio was out of sync by at least three seconds the entire way through), a few local Beijing bands stepped up to the plate. I stuck around to catch pacalolo and Trash Cat, both of whom performed well. I enjoyed pacalolo’s performance, mostly because they incorporated some great video effects in with their music, which was a nice segue. I didn’t stick around through Trash Cat, mostly because their music was not what I was looking for (average punk stuck out like a sore thumb after the shock of the new in the documentary), and it was nearing my nanny-hour bedtime.