Small City Woes
The night streets of Kamo, a small city in Niigata, are a far cry from the constant stimulation of Japan's capital. The unusually ordered chaos of Tokyo is traded in for a much slower lifestyle. Whilst Tokyo is a smorgasbord of subcultures, towns like Kamo remain pretty cut and dry, of course, there are things to do, but for those on the search for something alternative, it can be a challenge.
"There isn't much to do here", is a common sentiment. But it's my belief that everywhere has at least something rumbling under the daily movements of the nine-to-five. Small collectives that got past the beer-infused ideas stage and made it happen. It's true for the UK; it's true for Japan.
Thankfully for Kamo, Kamoyose arrived.
At its core, Kamoyose is a live music event, but it's clear that there are deeper intentions behind it. The "yose" in the name, refers to the 18th-century form of theatre and is the atmospheric flavouring of the event, as lashings of traditional Japanese culture are present.
Japanese arts, from rakugo storytelling to folk music are constant drivers behind the event, and whilst not occupying the foreground in this edition, the organisers (GOGHST) hope to include and develop these ideas in the future. Albeit, like most events like this, there is an understanding that it will evolve in its own fashion regardless of intentions.
Dark wooden beams supporting the white walls and a heavy wooden sliding door, the entrance to the event, are the first things noticed when entering the venue. A stark contrast to what is expected of music venues. Images of a dingy basement, with metal extraction pipes taking the place of the wooden beams and the distinct smell of stale beer, is hard to shake off. This is a much more refined affair, it's a seated event and great care has been taken to ensure that the venue is respected.
Cables adorn the floor by the stage, backed by a large red velvet curtain. A combination of new and old; at least four cameras are working in tandem, with strong white lights illuminating the musicians to ensure the footage is high quality, whilst simultaneously creating a separation between the artist and the audience.
Given that this is during peak summer, this is the 'Himawari-hen' or Sunflower Edition of Kamoyose. The sophomore event for Kamoyose.
After a DJ set from Peaky Oyanagi, who is spinning 80s hits all night, and a brief performance on a koto, a traditional Japanese harp, Utsugi is the first performer, whose sound is gentle and prominent in equal measure. Sometimes the singer-songwriter formula can feel exhausted, as pound shop Ed Sheeran's have sucked the life out of the genre but it's refreshing to see artists such as Utsugi showing a more nuanced approach, the music is skillful but there remains a naivety that shines. The result is an audience that listens intently to the young musician. The sound isn't really comparable, but lyrically, the heartbreak stylings of Townes Van Zandt don't feel a world away.
In true DIY fashion, the organisers are playing the event, twice in fact. The first set features half of GOGHST, Ida Yunosuke, and has an off-the-cuff feel to it. Yunosuke is a greatly talented musician with a strong passion for his community. Parts of the set have a narrative feel, a perfect trait considering the inspiration behind the event. Hailing from Tokyo, Manpuku is next and is the first band of the evening. Delivering acoustic-led pop-rock that is received well by a greatly diverse audience, old and young. It's a tight performance, with a relaxed sound that fills out the hall well.
Haininaru takes it back to the singer-songwriter format for one last time this evening. Naturally, it's difficult to talk about singer-songwriters when they sing in a different language, but there is a vulnerability to the songs that is warming. After some lyrical translation, it's clear: relatable lyrics delivered with authenticity. A comforting act after the brief intermission.
GOGHST are a unique band. Despite seeing them many times, I don't know what to expect with a GOGHST show, there are always nuances to the performance. Little things change; the tone is obscured. There is an organicness to GOGHST, as they flit between folk music and distorted fogginess at a whim. To a foreign ear, it sometimes sounds like aspects of traditional Japanese music are weaved throughout, but a counter-reality comes to the forefront when the synths take a prominent role. Encores are commonplace in Japan, at least in my short experience, but GOGHST finishes their set, thanks the audience, and leave. It's an intentional end to the performance which already felt sharply focussed.
A fine rain has coated the stone slabs outside. It's a lot darker now and there is another realization of the uniqueness of the event. Pushing past the noren, cotton strips that cover the door, cars are waiting to be packed with equipment. The amount is vast, and the job rests upon the organisers themselves and, of course, willing friends. There is a collective feeling, perhaps akin to finishing a shift in a busy kitchen, of achievement but also of deep tiredness. With the audience departing, the focus shifts from the performers (the chef), to that of the back-of-house staff. The utility people. Photographers who moonlight as sound engineers, unpackers, and packers. Those that got caught in conversation with the performers quickly find themselves shifting guitars. For better or worse, friends who do favours, are the lifeblood of DIY events, no matter where you are. A stark reminder of the community that's needed to keep events like this going.
Kamoyose, reframing live music in a small town in Niigata, Japan