Koenji is said to be the birthplace of punk in Tokyo. The streets are deliciously vibrant at night, with a live music house or cafe for every two or three restaurants. On any given nights, one ends up going from venue to venue rather than sticking to an entry ticket and a paid-for show. The neighbourhood is part of the Suginami ward, west of Shinjuku in Tokyo. Besides vibrant nightlife, the place is well-known for traditional parade festivals and second-hand shopping. Stuff can get so retro that protests took place in its streets after the government restricted the sale of electronic goods built before the beginning of this century. It is also a fashion hub like Harajuku and Shimokitazawa.
Back to music, Koenji has a lot to offer. I first visited the area with a couple of friends (Mr. Blue and Ms. Pink unless they want their info be public) from Barcelona and we went to GAMUSO. It is usually free of charge. There, I stupidly nod my face sideways when the owner of the place asked if we were the ones playing that night. We could have totally pulled off an easy Nirvana or Oasis before getting kicked out. The place, though, gets extremely cozy when the shows start. It is a normal-size venue (in Japanese dialect, where most of the places are like that; it would still be a “very small” venue in European dialect). The audience was 50/50 Japanese and foreigners, and for that I am glad. Finally, a place I can hang around and expect to be able to talk to somebody (not because of my Japanese skills, but rather because Japanese people are shy; Japanese invented shy).
The headline of the event was D.O.G.S, deeply influenced by the American grunge of the 90s. Although their stuff does not innovate in any way, they do a fine job with what they can offer, and make up for a really good time. The frontman delivers a very powerful performance and if the venue is small, completely mingles with the audience and takes the experience to the next level, if you want it to. The bassist has some issues with his haircuts.
The first group to play were Android Beach Party, whose guitarist I suspect is the owner of the place. Their music is “like riding a blazing hot meteor through the wonders of space” according to themselves, and they offer a cool intersection of grunge, space rock and punk. Then came the Era of Green Bones, the group they took my friends and I for when we got there. Their music skills were definitely superior to ours, so I guess they deserved to play even if they were late,after all. They make very relaxed, instrumental rock music, sometimes knocking on the door of psychedelia, and are really good at it. You should give them a listen. I’ll keep an eye on them, as well as on DOGS.
Now, on a personal note, it was awesome to have these two friends pay me a visit (they were actually traveling around Japan, but let me have it my way). I live in Sagamihara, a bedroom community in the western-most outskirts of Tokyo, and it hasn’t been possible to find like-minded people around here so far; and by that I mean people with the Mediterranean mindset. People I can relate to and share everything with on all levels. No matter how many Japanese friends I make, their mind works in such a different way than mine that I don’t experience high levels of complete trust and complicity. There is always some kind of wall, some customs, some rules. I have to think twice before making that joke, because they might be deeply offended (specially when their English is not good and the conversation goes adrift); think twice before suggesting that idea, before revealing a piece of thought or an honest opinion. I was born and raised in an extremely open-minded community (“extremely” compared to the rest of Europe, Africa and Asia), and I sometimes struggle to find people outside “my community” (i.e. Mediterranean and Latin-American people) that have truly got rid of every prejudice and bullshit that prevents them from taking in every single experience life can offer in an absolutely honest, positive and joyful way; who observe with curiosity and learn from everything “unexpected” other humans do, instead of being alarmed, disgusted, startled or even stupidly offended about it. It’s not just about “yolo”, it’s about being simple and ready to indulge in everything new and different, no matter what the opinions and codes of the powers that be and the rest of the society are.
It’s about crashing karaokes, drinking unfinished cocktails that were to be thrown away anyway, promptly singing The Pretenders before being kicked out, making de facto friends who would later have a mental breakdown when the security guard came and asked if we were real friends, it’s about dyeing your hair blue and looking for pink wigs and stone rabbits, joining idol fanclubs while trying to snatch that free beer, seemingly saving the life of desperate women too shy to be saved, cheering along horse-headed street bands, joining a meeting of 80-year old hippies in their Kitty-and-cushions-decorated sanctuary, shamelessly accepting the white privilege and the chocolate chips that come with it. And sometimes it’s about being frustrated that movies are brilliantly-condensed episodes of life and one tipsy night can’t be everything, but that’s okay.
- Gigs: Official website
- Address: 2-12-5 Takuei building 2F-3F, Asagaya-Kita Suginami-ku Tokyo (166-0001 東京都杉並区阿佐谷北2-12-5拓栄ビル2F-3F)
- Access: 2min from JR Asagaya Sta North Exit, 20min walk west from Koenji station.
[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d1619.9309824508957!2d139.63579790112308!3d35.705014276079446!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x6018f275dc7557c5%3A0x2a1c735a5bb054f5!2z77yn772B772N772V772T772P!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sjp!4v1434191341094″ width=”800″ height=”600″ frameborder=”0″ style=”border:0″]