South by South West (SXSW) can be a little hard to understand if you have never attended. It can even be a little hard to understand for those that have attended and have only tasted a small portion of what it has to offer.
SXSW is a festival that takes place for ten days in downtown Austin, Texas and is divided into three distinct segments – Interactive, Film and Music. The first five days of the festival are dedicated to the Interactive and Film portions while the final five days feature Music and finish up the Film portion.
SXSW Interactive is a conference geared toward anyone involved in the web and new media. Running concurrently with the Interactive portion of SXSW is the Film portion that caters to the movie industry offering the hottest indie films as well as panels on such things as getting your screenplay produced or how to do special effects on a low budget. As these two portions of SXSW fade out the genuinely geeky glasses are replaced by faux geeky glasses worn by hipsters covered in piercings and tattoos that are in town for the music portion of SXSW. The music portion also offers some interesting panels but it really shines with the live music that goes on constantly wherever you look.
It is no surprise that there are a number of good offerings throughout SXSW for those that are interested in entertainment that has a bit of an Asian flair.
During Interactive one of the hot topics was Google’s decision to pull out of China due to their government’s censorship of the internet but as usual another hot topic was how American companies and Japanese companies could better work together to share audiences that wouldn’t normally see the other’s products.
SXSW Film has always been a fan of Asian cinema and this year was no exception. One of the major stand outs this was “Higanjima.” It followed the story of a young man named Akira whose brother had disappeared two years previous. Akira found out that his brother was on an island that had been overrun by vampires. He and his friends used liberal amounts of explosives and martial arts to go in and try to rescue his brother.
Once the music portion of SXSW rolled around things really started to pick up. On the first day of SXSW Music, Alexandra Watson from JrockRevolution.com moderated a panel on Japanese music, its origins and its influence both in the United States and worldwide. During the panel Kawabata Makoto, the guitarist and leader of “Acid Mother Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.” gave a lot of insight into what it is like for an Asian band trying to become successful in the States. Rounding out the panel was Keith Cahoon of Hotwire, Japan, whose insight on the Japanese music industry in Japan proved invaluable for the curious and experienced alike.
For the music portion of SXSW there are over 1,800 bands playing live in downtown Austin. While there are a number of Asian bands playing the best place to catch a lot of them at once was Japan Nite. Every year SXSW schedules a number of Japanese bands to play in one venue for the entire night. Over the years this has turned into the kick off for a nationwide “Japan Nite” tour that winds its way across the States in the weeks following SXSW.
Once again this year Japan Nite was a huge draw at SXSW with people lined up down the block hours before the doors were scheduled to open and the club stay packed the entire night. To fully understand the significance of this, consider this: while in many cities the Japan Nite tour does well it is unlikely that it has as much competition as it does at SXSW. Two clubs over for the same price as Japan Nite you could catch Courtney Love and her band “Hole” followed by the band “Muse.” At other clubs you could see Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Macy Grey or any number of other well known or at least mildly known bands but instead of choosing those this group chose to fill this club to capacity to check out Japan Nite.
The first band to hit the stage was the all girl rock band JinnyOops from Osaka. Guitarist and lead singer Mitsuyo Ishibashi, bassist Chihiro Ishida and drummer Hitomi Hutenma bounced onto the stage filled with energy. From their first song they were rocking at full speed and the fans were really pumped up with enthusiasm. They set the tone for the night playing straight ahead bare bones rock. SXSW wants everyone to get to see as many bands as possible every night so they limit each band to playing for forty minutes. It was obvious when JinnyOops left the stage that the audience was still wanting more.
The next band up was Riddim Saunter. They had a lot of energy on stage as they played ska infused rock that got the whole crowd dancing. While it was great to see a trumpet on the stage the real stand out was the percussionist Taichi Furakawa who stood up to do his drumming for the entire show. In addition to the drumming he played a synth and even picked it up and carried it around while playing it before plopping down on the floor to play from his knees with his head on the ground as the crowd cheered. The whole band fed off of the energy of the crowd giving an amazing show. Toward the end of their set the lead singer even climbed on the shoulders of an audience member to belt out his vocals while wandering the crowd atop his perch.
Next on the bill was the band “Okamoto’s.” Much like the Ramoness, this all male four piece have adopted the same surname. Lead singer Shou Okamoto strutted around the stage throughout the set in a style reminiscent of Mich Jagger in his prime, moving around the stage with his hands on his hips, knees bent . His enthusiasm was persuasive and his charisma had the audience jumping in place and cheering throughout the set. While his antics stole the show the rest of the band performed with deftness beyond their years. The members of the band appeared all appeared to be in their late teens but played music reminiscent of the great punk pioneers. Kouki Okamoto (guitar), Hama Okamoto (bass) and Reiji Okamoto (drums) were all in fine form though Hama seemed the most reserved member of the band.
After Okamoto’s finished their set the all female trio “Red Bacteria Vacuum” hit the stage bringing an energetic set of j-punk that kept the crowd rocking for the full forty minutes. Singers Ikum! (guitar), Kassan (bass) and drummer Jasmine combined to form an upbeat punk based set. Wearing glitter for eye shadow and band Tee’s they set off in fine style melding vocal harmony with catchy riffs. Both vocalists worked well together to create a dynamic sound that really wowed the crowded room.
Next on the bill was Omodaka who stood out for being so different from the other performers. For his performance the stage was empty except for a table with a laptop and an LCD screen on a tall stand with a microphone in front of it. He came out dressed in a white and red robe with a white mask obscuring his face. He faced away from the audience holding a Nintendo DS high over his head he began to play and the music began slowly morphing from normal video game music into a dance heavy remix and back again. Eventually the video screen came on with an Asian woman singing and he switched to a more standard midi controller weaving the dance beats and video output to transcend beyond a normal concert into a beautiful piece of rhythmic performance art.
When midnight rolled around it was time for a band that Spin magazine had dubbed one of the “must see” bands of SXSW, Chatmonchy. They are an all girl trio of rockers that turned out catchy rock tunes that kept the audience enthralled. Where Red Bacteria Vacuum had all dressed very similarly, each member of Chatmonchy displayed their own unique sense of style. The lead singer Eriko Hashimoto had dark hair that was long and straight. She embraced the rock and roll life style by wearing an oversized white shirt proudly emblazoned with the words “Do bad things then apologize.” The bass player Akiko Fukuoka had short highlighted hair and she wore a blouse with a wild pattern consisting of stylized colored lightning bolts interspersed with realistic cat images. While Eriko was a bit reserved in her presentation, Akiko wasn’t afraid to step up and try to pump up the crowd. At the back of the stage Kumiko Takahashi sat dwarfed by the drums as she banged out the rhythms to each of the songs occasionally raising her hands triumphantly making the universal sign for rock and causing the audience to cheer wildly.
Dolly, a Visual Kei band from Tokyo was the final band of the night and they hit the stage at 1:00 AM. Hachi (bass), Masa (guitar) and Tsuguki (drums) bounded onto the stage wearing gentlemanly top hats and elaborate gothic coats. Their entrance really drove the crowd wild and they surged towards the stage, pressing forward in order to better see the night’s headliners. Within a few moments, vocalist Mitsu followed the others out onto the stage and they began their set. They were dressed to the nines each wearing a unique black outfit accented with lace and frills often with bits of white thrown in to help contrast the outfit against the dark stage background. They all started out wearing dressy hats but those tended to be set aside as they began to rock. Mitsu’s hat was white with black lace trim and a black bow. It had a small decorative stone hanging down on one side giving it a bit of steampunk flair. The guitarist Masa’s dark outfit was accented with a tie and a white shirt with large pointy collars which went well with his abundance of curly blonde hair. The bass player Hachi wore a tight black jacket with large lapels each trimmed in white. Tsuguki stayed at the back of the stage behind his drums only occasionally giving glimpses at his black outfit and the top hat that peeked out over the top of the drum kit.
Dolly showed that it is possible to look pretty and still rock as hard as any other rock band. Their music was melodic and their showmanship top notch. An array of lasers both red and green cut through the club accentuating the band and combining with rainbow colored spot lights that made the whole show a visual feast. All too soon their set came to an end with the crowd able to coax an encore out of them. Once the last song was done, the merch tables were flooded with new fans wanting a momento of their evening before pouring out into the crowded streets of Austin.
In addition to Japan Nite there were several other music events during SXSW catering to fans of Asian rock. The next night there was a Chinese music showcase and there were several shows by the aforementioned Acid Mothers Temple. The always zany band Peelander-Z are a SXSW mainstay playing multiple shows sometimes even more than one a day. Another Japanese band “The Geeks” also played several shows during SXSW even though they weren’t part of Japan Nite. Another fun secret of SXSW is the Japan Day show that has most all of the same bands as Japan Nite but occasionally throws in a few extras and takes place during the day for free. The only catch this year was that the location was right near one of the most popular parties so parking was very difficult to come by.
Other bands from Japan featured at SXSW this year were Caucus, Hystoic Vein, Maruosa, Gagakirise, Bo Peep, The Suzan, The Rubies, Maki Rinka and Sonadaband. These bands played at different clubs and while not a part of the Japan Nite showcase, they all attracted a good bit of attention.
All in all SXSW is a goldmine of entertainment for anyone interested in Asian entertainment and if you have the means to attend I highly recommend it.
If you would like completely free and legal copies of music by the bands that played at Japan Nite then just go to HearJapan.
Article by: Hans & Haleigh W.
Photography by: Hans W.
Edited by: Ali W.