If you’re a local band playing in Toronto, more than likely chances are you won’t be playing to a packed house nor will you get a loud an enthusiastic reception from the audience who has come to see you. This is a typical scenario, mind you, as certain Toronto bands do command a more frenzied audience response than others.
But if you’re a Japanese indie band who has come to Canada for a brief mini-tour of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, chances are you’ll be playing a sold-out show to an enthusiastic crowd, even if the crowd has never actually heard of you before.
So it was with Next Music From Tokyo, which is now in its fifth “volume.” Last year, in the Grayowl Point inbox, I got a message from someone alerting me to this showcase. He knew that I was only writing about Canadian music, but he still said I should check out the show.
I did, and “holy crap” is all I can say to describe the experience. The audience was huge, and I saw four fantastic acts. One of them had the whole audience square dancing, and the next had copious amounts of crowd surfing. No one knew what to expect, so all expectations were blown sky-high. The highlight of that night last year for me was a band called group_inou, who were full of manic energy. For a lot of people, the best part was ZAZEN BOYS, who are I think kind of big in Japan. That night I began talking to a Japanese guy who was living in Toronto for a while, and he told me that he was definitely looking forward to ZAZEN BOYS more than any other.
Last night was round two of the showcase for me. I arrived perhaps twenty minutes before the show was scheduled to start and it was a already pretty filled with people. Everyone just seemed to be ready to have a good time. As it turned out, the first act when on not at 9 p.m., but at 8:45. It was the lead singer of a band (Kinoko Teikoku) that was to go on later.
The lead singer wasn’t the best acoustic guitar player but it didn’t matter, her incredible voice was what drew everybody in. She had such strong vocals and breath despite her tiny frame. In her first two songs particularly, she drew out her notes, and the combination of the vocal tone with reverb made her solo outing quite haunting.
And then came an explosion of happiness. chi-na (pronounced CHEE-NAH) took the stage, sporting an interesting combination of a keyboard, a synthesizer, a guitar, an upright bass, a violin and a drum kit. From the first note, the audience was immediately enraptured. All of the musicians looked like they were having the time of their lives, and their opening number in particular featured a bunch of other instruments like a whistle and a triangle.
With a name like harafromhell, I was expecting the band to be some kind of aggressive punk-rock act. At first, they sounded like they wanted to figure out if they were that or a pop-rock act but settled for the latter. It’s not an insult- harafromhell did quite well creating a big wall of sound that of course also inspired quite a bit of crowdsurfing.
It took a little bit for Kinoko Teikoku to get going, buliding their first song basically from the ground up, but once they got into their set in earnest they were completely unpredictable. At times they broke into drone-influenced songs, others just going for plain old ambiance. The lead singer again showed how powerful her voice was as it rose above the sometimes ear-splitting volume of the instruments.
Because I am totally lame and live in the suburbs and not in the city I could not see the final act, mouse on the keys, though I heard from a friend that they were insane and i wish I could have been there to see the showcase off. Needless to say, this showcase is probably going to become a yearly tradition for me. Everyone needs to go see a bunch of Japanese bands all at once—it might just change how you feel about music.