Soybomb, the DIY skateboard loft space, made room again on its half-pipe-turned-stage for Next Music from Tokyo (Vol. 8): a night of unbridled love for those Japanese bands that fall under the mainstream international radar.
Part of Soybomb’s charm (which is a jam-packed sell-out each night NMFT stops by) is its tersely abrasive signs, makeshift decoration (bikes hung upside from the ceiling) and the kind of sweaty, inescapable mosh vibe that makes it more than just a show. The crowd approached each band with a genuine abandon – a real diehard fan attitude – and it was hard not to get swept up in the enthusiasm, especially knowing that this was a unique event, even for Toronto. NMFT subsists largely off the patronage of Stephen Tanaka, who’s blood, sweat, and tears brings each band from Tokyo – often for the first time.
As I walked up Soybomb’s winding wooden stairs, Gozen Sanji to Taikutsu had started blasting their zany, raucous take on the B52’s. From swung drum beats and bubblegum pop to J-pop alt-rock, GST ran the gamut at full tilt. Anisonin’s vocals went from a smooth and wistful lead to an acerbic bark. One of the most immediate “Easter eggs” that struck me was their appropriation of classic Japanese folk songs, which morphed into an audience chant and left the audience applauding for more (there were a lot of anglophones trying to say “encore” with a Japanese accent that evening).
Up next was Regal Lilly, whose raw indie punk wound from jangly J-pop to yelping post-rock. The vocal delivery was unapologetically pushed with a melody and timbre reminiscent of a more punkish Chara. The fact that these were three small high school girls on their first jaunt over the ocean made it all the more impressive when they confidently commanded the audience’s attention, the bassist enthusiastically jumping onto one end of the half pipe.
Nengu was a power-trio that took all the math rock riffage implied by GST and added some extreme metal grind. It was a pile-driver of noise with a non-stop energy, with the boys of Nengu bringing a ton of momentum with them as they blew through their set. Of course, none of their rock would stop them from politely bowing and thanking the audience at the end of their set.
Mass Of Fermenting Dregs brought a loud applause, as this was their big return since last appearing in NMFT back in 2010. They delivered some high-volume, atmospheric post-rock, verging into some unapologetically J-pop elements. A friend of mine at the concert remarked during a smoke break that some of the poppier elements of these bands wouldn’t necessarily mesh with the Toronto underground, and I had to agree. In some ways, the NMFT served as a study of Japanese tastes as much as it was an exercise in cultural fetish or at least required some sort of suspension of your tastes moulded by western punk sensibility.
By the time Dalljub Step Club were playing, a lot of the crowd had begun to thin out, though that didn’t stop DSC from delivering an enthusiastic J-rap set. Occasionally they veered into some pretty experimental territory, the kind of quick turns that you’d expect out of Shabazz Palace. With a dedicated bassist, sampler/FX/DJ and some seriously tight beats delivered by their drummer, they were an impressive nightcap to an evening of indulgent J-music. Shingen Mori’s classic J-rap, straight out of the “engrish” of ‘90s J-rap groups like Dragon Ash, felt nostalgic at best, if occasionally kitschy. When the group started a clap-along, making the audience shout “Saiko!”(roughly translating to “excellent”) on the eighth beat, it was like being transported back to my adolescent half-Japanese self in the ‘90s: trying to sift through the small morsels of Japanese culture I could get my hands on in a relatively desolate Toronto (we’re talking pre-internet era here).
If anything, the greatest gift that Tanaka, together with NMFT brings, is a chance to see other people who have discovered and fallen in love with a foreign import. The gathering of Japanese speaking people in Toronto brings with it a poignancy: a meeting place post-WWII displacement, and the Canadian Government’s dismantling of Toronto’s Little Tokyo. Placing NMFT in a political context, Stephen Tanaka has brought a light-hearted protest that Soybomb is more than capable of accommodating. Within all the noise and shouts of “Saiko!”, the union of people who aren’t afraid to embrace the uncanny cross-pollination of great Japanese rock.