Last week, on the one year anniversary of the English edition’s release, the Japanese translation of Quit Your Band! came out, with the title バンドやめようぜ！ ("Band Yameyouze!”)
It’s an interesting choice for a title in that it works as a more or less direct translation of the English, albeit phrased more as a call to arms than an instruction, while at the same time it’s a play on “Band Yarouze!”, which is either a Japanese TV show, video game or both. That title alone seems to have done a lot to gather interest in the book in advance of the release, and judging from the chatter online since the release, that interest seems to be spilling over into the book itself.
Obviously when writing it I had to be aware of two different audiences it would reach, each with different backgrounds of knowledge and different conceptions of my role as a commentator. To English-speaking audiences, my value as a commentator is as an insider, while to Japanese audiences, what they want from me is an outsider’s perspective. Of course I’m both, and that was something I had to take into account during the writing process. An interesting reversal is in play in the way the translator, music journalist Mariko Sakamoto, is a Japanese expat living in the UK who made her name covering the explosion of new bands coming out of London and New York in the early 2000s, while I’m a British immigrant living in Tokyo whose reputation, such as it is, rests on my coverage of Japanese music over the same period. Our experiences of the UK and Japan are almost exact inversions of each other, so while living in the UK probably gives her some insight into my background, being absent from Japan over the main period the book covers means she has some sense of the audience’s position as well (the musical environment I’m describing is pretty obscure for the most part, even to people living in Japan).
The other interesting thing about the Japanese edition and its audience is the way the publisher, big indie label P-Vine’s Ele-king Books imprint, clearly envisions a wider audience for the book than would have been possible for the English edition (they’re looking for thousands rather than hundreds of sales). This means there are going to be people far outside the music audience I know and recognise from my weekly gig-going who encounter the book, and they’re going to bring with them all sorts of expectations I hadn’t accounted for. This has been a source of certain anxiety for me over the past few weeks, but it’s out in the world now, so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
When writing Quit Your Band! I made a conscious decision that the book wasn't going to be a guide to the music itself so much as a book about the world musicians inhabit and the background against which their music exists. Under this structure, the artists I talk about really function as examples for broader points I want to make about trends in music culture or aspects of how the scene’s infrastructure work, and they fall into two main categories.
Firstly, there are the artists I encountered in the live venues of Tokyo and beyond as I navigated my own path through the music scene. This would include the bands I have released myself through Call And Response Records, the wider pool of artists I book my events from and the even broader tapestry of artists who make up that world. Basically no one knows who any of these bands are, and most people don’t really want to.
EARLY JAPANESE POP AND ROCK
1. Tokyo Kid - Hibari Misora
2. Ano Ko no Namae wa Nanten kana - Kyu Sakamoto
3. Test Driver - Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi & The Bunnies
4. Aoi Tori - The Tigers
5. Hey Joe - The Golden Cups
6. Marianne - The Jacks
1970s UNDERGROUND ROCK
7. Night of the Assassin - Hadaka no Rallies (Les Rallies Dénudés)
8. Horibieta-mono no Densetsu - Zuno Keisatsu
9. Kodomo Bosatsu - J. A. Seazer
10. Satori Part 1 - Flower Travellin’ Band
11. Lemon Tea - Sonhouse
1970s "NEW MUSIC"
12. Dakishimetai - Happy End
13. Jiko Ken’o - Yosui Inoue
14. Kanashikute Yarikirenai - Folk Crusaders
15. Hikouki Gumo - Yumi Arai
THE GOLDEN AGE OF KAYŌKYOKYOKU AND IDOLS (70s-80s)
16. Koi Dorobou - Chiyo Okumura
17. Hitonatsu no Keiken - Momoe Yamaguchi
18. Junketsu - Saori Minami
19. Shochuu Omimai Moushiagemasu - Candies
20. UFO - Pink Lady
21. Young Man (YMCA) - Hideki Saijo
22. Makka na Onnanoko - Kyoko Koizumi
23. Akai Sweet Pea - Seiko Matsuda
24. Sailor Fuku wo Nugasanaide - Onyanko Club
PUNK/HARDCORE/NOISE/EXPERIMENTAL ROCK (70s-80s)
25. Crazy Dream - Friction
26. White Man - Totsuzen Danball
27. Ponytail no Kawaii Anoko - Ultra Bide
28. Coca Cola - SS
29. Kii Kurete - Inu
30. Subete Urimono - Aunt Sally
31. Signal - Phew
32. Romanticist - The Stalin
33. Broken Generation - Laughin’ Nose
34. Nih Nightmare - G.I.S.M.
35. Fuck Head - Gauze
36. Zouroku no Kibyou - Hijokaidan
37. Pow Wow Now - Boredoms
38. Ecobondage (Ending) - Merzbow
39. Galois - Aburadako
40. Dadaism - Ruins
41. Twist Barbie - Shonen Knife
42. Owaranai Uta - Blue Hearts
NEW WAVE & AVANT-POP (70s-80s)
43. Mummy Doesn’t Go to Parties Since Daddy Died - Sadistic Mika Band
44. La Femme Chinoise - Yellow Magic Orchestra
45. Sheena & The Rokkets - You May Dream
46. Copy - Plastics
47. Bijutsukan de Atta Hito Darou (Artmania) - P-Model
48. Puyo Puyo - Hikashu
49. Medaka - Chakra
50. Jenny wa Gokigen Naname - Juicy Fruits
51. Radar Man - Jun Togawa
52. Uchoten - Wahaha
53. Parallelisme - Miharu Koshi
BIRTH OF J-POP (CIRCA 1990)
54. Ai ga Tomaranai (Turn it into Love) - Wink
55. 17-sai - Chisato Moritaka
56. Furyou Shounen no Uta - Blankey Jet City
57. Kimi Shika Inai - Tama
58. Aoi Kuruma - Spitz
59. Rosier - Luna Sea
60. Gravity of Love - Tetsuya Komuro
PEAK J-POP (1990s)
61. Boy Meets Girl - TRF
62. Can’t Stop Falling in Love - Globe
63. Only You - Yuki Uchida
64. Seesaw Game ~ Yuukan na Koi no Uta - Mr. Children
65. Mottö - Judy And Mary
66. Asia no Junshin - Puffy
67. The Audrey Hepburn Complex - Pizzicato V
68. Dolphin Song - Flipper’s Guitar
69. Konya wa Boogie Back - Kenji Ozawa featuring Scha Dara Parr
70. New Music Machine - Cornelius
71. Good Morning World - Kahimi Karie
72. Fantastic Cat - Takako Minekawa
73. New Rock - Buffalo Daughter
74. Living on the Same Planet - Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her
END OF A CENTURY POP AND ROCK
75. Boys & Girls - Ayumi Hamasaki
76. Can You Keep a Secret? - Hikaru Utada
77. Love Machine - Morning Musume
78. Ne~e - Aya Matsuura
79. Cream Soda - Supercar
80. Ai Naki Sekai - Quruli
81. Toumei Shoujou - Number Girl
Over the past few months, I've had the interesting experience of being on the receiving end of quite a lot of media coverage about the book, mostly from Japan-focused web sites, magazines etc.
As well as providing a nice boost to my ego and a sense of acknowledgment after all the time toiling alone with only my editor and publisher to encourage me, it's also been interesting to see what aspects people have picked up on. One theme recurring in the feedback I've had is the idea of music as a route into finding a sense of belonging within Japanese society. I made a remark about that almost as a throwaway point near the beginning of the book, but it seems to have struck a chord with several of the people who've read it.
Part of this is perhaps that media focused on life in Japan (the Japan expat village, as it were) is likely to be more conscious of the way sense-of-belonging can be an issue many foreigners in
Japan struggle with. If international music media had taken more interest in the book, their takeaway might have been rather different.
The idea of a music scene as a route into a sense of belonging is applicable to more than life in Japan though. Music has been providing a home for misfits since at least the birth of rock'n'roll, and probably beyond. As I was travelling around Japan researching the local music scenes of each prefecture, I noticed that it was becoming more a meditation on the nature of "home", and I'm starting to see that I'd already planted the seed of that idea in Quit Your Band! without realising it.
The other thing that happened was that through the various interviews I did, I refined a lot of the ideas in the book and perhaps improved on my explanations of them. The book itself was a refinement of many points I'd made in my Japan Times writing, and was in part a result of my dissatisfaction with how I'd expressed them the first time around, but now the interviews are starting to make the book feel out of date as well. It's good that I still think I can improve, but also a little bit of a source of worry to find myself revisiting the same ideas over and over again.
In any case, here's a summary of the various online commentary and interviews about the book:
Largely positive review in one of Tokyo's local listings papers.
Another review from a listings paper, this one written by Patrick St. Michel, who I've known for a while from The Japan Times and the music scene generally.
A Japanese culture and language web site and podcast. I can't listen to the sound of my own voice on tape, but some people said this was interesting.
The only coverage I've received in actual music media, I'm nonetheless glad it was The Quietus who did it. It's also very long and goes into a lot of depth. Probably the most interesting one to
INTERVIEW - Tokyo Weekender
Another local Tokyo listings paper, with a more upscale focus.
INTERVIEW (AUDIO) - Japan Alternative Sessions
INTERVIEW - Zoom Japan
The web version of this is distractingly garbled, so I won't link to it here. I have a (slightly smudged) scan of it though, which is a little bit more readable.
I've heard that book trailers are a thing, so I made this out of a pile of old film & TV footage, iMovie, and a set of vague memories of Godard from film studies classes.
The song is Inori by Nakigao Twintail, who played at the Quit Your Band! release party last Saturday in Kichijoji. They played this song last and a friend of mine asked me afterwards if the lyrics, "Yamete yaru! Konna band, yamete yaru!", had been inspired by my book. Those who've read the book will know that it was very much the other way around, and I'm very lucky to have had to opportunity to get them in the studio and record them before they freak out and split up again. I'm also really happy to have had the opportunity to pay tribute to them in this admittedly small way.
(You can get the CD from the Call And Response Records online store, by the way.)
Also, the music playing over the outro is the song Angel Fish by the magnificent Hyacca, from the album Sashitai - again available from Call And Response.
My Japan Times column for November coincided with the release of my book, Quit Your Band!, so I was faced with the awkward task of trying to tie the latter in with the former without being dreadfully cheesy
about it. The approach I took was, rather than talk about my own book and make the column essentially an advert for myself, to write about other books people have written about music in
You can read the article on The Japan Times site here.
One of the overwhelming fears I've had about my own book is that it can't possibly cover the subject in a way that will satisfy everyone. Each reader will be entering with varying levels of advance knowledge and hugely different expectations. The prism through which I've come to understand music in Japan is not one shared by many other people writing about the subject, so the artists and themes that loom largest in my field of vision are going to be insignificant specks to someone else. I had to set parameters for myself though, and the route I chose for doing that was to just be open about the book's position looking at music from a position in the indie basement and to try to use that world as a microcosm to illuminate issues or themes that could be more broadly relevant.
All the books I talk about in my column limit their scope in some way as well, and you really should read all of them (and my book as well, obviously) if you really want a useful and broad picture of the music scene in Japan. Michael Bourdaghs' Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon does a great job of covering more or less mainstream music up until the end of the 1980s and putting it in its social context. David Novak's Japanoise: Music on the Edge of Circulation is obviously focused in a microscopic way on the noise scene. Kato David Hopkins' Dokkiri: Japanese Indies Music 1976-1989: A History and Guide focuses on the punk and underground scenes during its own specific time period. Julian Cope's Japrocksampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew their Minds on Rock ‘n’ Roll deals with underground heavy rock and prog during the 1970s.
It's interesting that most of these books choose to end their periods of focus before the 1990s, and writing my own book I felt I could understand why. The 90s is a natural turning point in a lot of ways, seeing the emergence of J-Pop as the dominant "modern" form of Japanese popular music and the appearance of Shibuya-kei being a big enough thing in indie(ish) music that it disrupts narratives and demands quite detailed attention on its own. There's also the problem that assessing the relative importance of different artists and musical styles becomes more difficult the closer to the present day it occurred. Since the frame of my book was my own experience of Japanese music, which really began in late 2001 or thereabouts, I was never going to have the perspective needed to write a useful music guide, which again fed back into a structure that used artists primarily as jumping-off points to discuss broader issues about the scene as a whole.
There are particular things each book did well that I hope I was also able to do with my own work. Bourdaghs and Novak are both writing from an academic background (and for academic publishers), and so they are quite theoretically rigorous. I'm just a journalist, and not even a proper one at that, but I tried within the limitations of my ability to look at the structures, semiotics and culture of the music scene in something more than a superficial way. Hopkins' book is written with a real insider's eye, and so it rings with a kind of authenticity that, again, I hope I was able to evoke to at least some extent -- if a Japanese edition of my book ever appears, I'd like the people I see at venues and clubs around Tokyo to be able to read it and recognise something of their own experience in it. Cope's book retains an unapologetic focus on just what he likes, to the exclusion of almost anything else, and even if I lack Cope's swagger and buccaneering attitude towards the truth (there are fictional or somewhat fictionalised elements of my book, but they're separated from the main story), I admire his refusal to let more established narratives get in the way of him telling the story he wants. Julian Cope is also someone I admire a lot simply as a writer of the English language, and his book is by far the most entertainingly written and funniest of the four I discuss in my article. If Quit Your Band! manages to give its readers a little laugh here and there, I'm going to chalk that up as an important success.