Another one from the vaults this, but with a timely purpose.
On June 6th, Rokkyuu were covering Ninjaman Japan‘s one-man show and I was asked to come down again and shoot them. VK Cheshire Cat Pinky had recently announced a sudden departure from the band, and new member Dewey was drafted in a matter of weeks before Ninjaman Japan would be playing in Paris.
As usual, Ninjaman Japan provided a theatrical opening followed by their classic metal repertoire. In the night’s performance , the band were rehearsing with Dewey (who suffers both on-stage and off, it seems, from having a name many struggle to get right). At the end of rehearsal Dewey is paid in bananas and the rest of the band take off. Leaving any member of NMJ by themselves is a open-invitation for the nefarious plotting of the Black Satan Devils to take hold. Dewey, enticed but not one banana but an entire suitcase of them, innocently swaps sides and dons the all-black uniform of NMJ’s arch-enemies. This doesn’t go down very well with the rest of the sentai-ninja metallers, and a whole load of high-kicking and round-housing goes on before NMJ successfully get their new drummer back.
It was, as usual, a hilarious theatrical performance and an even more rocking musical set from one of the most unique acts on the VK scene. If you happen to be at one of their shows, you can pick up a copy of the June 6th performance on DVD. In fact, you might even recognise some of the images on the front cover.
It’s a pleasure to see my photos being put to good use and I hope to be catching them again in December when the band will be headlining a very unusual 4-man show. Members of Ninjaman Japan will be performing with their other bands at the same venue – Sarino’s Annie’s Black, Lida’s SIXX FOURTEEN and Daishi’s [MU:] – on December 26th at Ikebukuro Edge.
Ninjaman Japan will also be releasing their third mini-album in 2014, so look out for more from them in January next year!
On the West side of Shinjuku Station you can often find yourself being aurally assaulted, even sometimes entertained, by an array of musicians who play opposite the department stores and the designer brand stores to a mixture of passing crowds and ardent fans.
Back in July, I received an email from an former work colleague telling me that an old mutual acquaintance would be playing at the station one Sunday afternoon and that he was worth going to check out. I’d come across Ryosuke Oonari a few years before but he had fallen off the planet as far as I could tell, so I was intrigued to see what he was up to. I managed to catch about half an hour of his set and took a couple of photos before running off to wherever I was on my way to.
Ryo’s acoustic set leant towards the rocky end of the spectrum with a dose of fun thrown in. He has a lovely voice with a great range and reminds me of defspiral‘s vocalist Taka in style.
Ryo has a gig coming up later this month at Otsuka Hearts on November 28th and I’m looking forward to seeing him with a full band behind him.
Check Ryo out on:
Back in August, I was asked to shoot Wing Works’ first one-man show at Shibuya’s O-West. Wing Works is a new band comprising RYO:SUKE as lead singer, accompanied at different shows by the musicians he likes to call his Wingmen. There seem to be quite a lot of them to choose from – every show I’ve seen fliers for has a different line-up.
I seem to spend quite a lot of my time at O-West, so I’ve developed my favourite places to shoot from – mainly the nice podium at the back of the hall which puts you about 18 inches above the crowd. Sadly for me that day the show was being filmed, so the video cameras had my spot. Nevertheless, I managed to get some nice shots of the band.
It was quite a bright show in terms of lighting, something I don’t really expect, so a lot of the images came out pretty saturated with colour and light. Contrasting those with some vignettes and darkening the shadows made for some nice contrast.
Rokkyuu was there to report back on the event. You can check out the show here: http://www.rokkyuu.com/live-report/wing-works-first-oneman-sorry-this-is-machination/
I was talking to someone the other week and she said: “I haven’t had an email from your blog for a while.” First of all, it was nice to meet a subscriber to my blog, and secondly, apologies for the gap in updating – life has rather got away from me the past month or two.
I’ve posted about Izumi previously, so she needs no introduction. On June 23rd Izumi was appearing alongside her Qypthone band-mate Takeshi Nakatsuka during his 10-year Anniversary show with Iga-Bang BB at Shibuya’s O-West and she asked me to come along and shoot. It was the shortest shoot I’ve ever done – just one song.
The gig itself was a marathon event at over 6 hours from doors opening and Izumi was on somewhere in the midst of it all. I turned up about an hour before her set, thinking I could set up a good spot to shoot from the back of the venue, or on the 2nd floor balcony. When I asked the venue staff about it though they told me the back of the venue was taken up with video cameras and then looked slightly uncomfortable when I told them I’d shoot from upstairs instead. They took me to the backstage elevator, pressed the 2nd floor button and waved goodbye to me as the doors closed with an expression of pity and amusement. I realized why when I opened the door to the 2nd floor.
In the past, this space has always been a place for press and guests (and thus is half-empty), so imagine my surprise when I found that the whole of the second floor is taken up with ticketed seating and the entire venue is rammed to the roof with people. I watch the acts from above for a bit and then decide that there’s nothing for it but to head into the melee of photographers in the pit below the stage.
Shooting from O-West’s pit is back-(and knee) breaking work – you’re on equal height with the audience and pretty cosyily squeezed between barrier and stage so you spend a lot of time keeping yourself out of the video camera and crowd’s way. It’s the kind of place you end up getting far too friendly with other photographers in. So, I hung around avoiding the crush until Nakatsuka-san started talking about Qypthone and then scuttled my way in to join the four other photographers vying for position in the pit as Izumi sang “On the Palette”.
Izumi looked gorgeous in a Kate Spade dress and was sporting a florist-full of flowers on her head, which I coveted the whole time After her set, I snuck backstage and caught up with her to take a couple of head shots and help detach the flowers from her head. The shot above is my favourite – I wanted a nice black and white portrait but didn’t want to lose the colour of the flowers so I opted to paint them back in using Photoshop.
Check out more pictures below.
Sadie had long been a band on my wish-list to shoot so when I was quite stoked to recovering them at Zepp Diver City on December 26th . Zepp is a BIG venue and I was under the belief that it was going to be packed. I also assumed I would be able to shoot part of the show from the second floor gallery seating – perfect for capturing the drummer.
It was a busy show, however that day four other big bands were holding one-man shows in Tokyo and so the fan-base was spread thin. Alas, we found that the top floor was closed and the guest area was actually a cordoned-off section towards the back of the venue. This proved problematic for capturing the drummer as I had neglected to bring my stepladder on the 90-minute train ride to the venue.
However, the lighting up close to the stage was great. Even the red lights made for some atmospheric photos, and the stage was huge enough for singer Mao not be blocking the drums all the time. Myself and the other cameraman spent quite a lot of time with our zoom lenses pointed at Kei, the drummer, as the plethora of cymbals he was hiding behind made him difficult to shoot from the floor. I spoke to the other photographer afterwards as he dismantled the 8ft tripod and ladder he had set up at the back with a 400mm zoom lens on it. What’s all this for? I asked him. “The drummer,” he said and I nodded knowingly.
After the show Kei asked if I’d managed to get any decent photos and I tilted my head in a Japanese fashion and answered: “Maybe…” and he seemed to look at me like this wasn’t the first time he’d asked and got a vague answer.
So I got home and made looking for decent photos of him my first objective. Looking through, I found this overexposed and quite boring picture of the drum-kit, until I looked closer and realised that I had been lucky enough to catch Kei in mid-mosh with his sticks all-a-blur and his hair flying.
I tinkered about with the image, cropping and rotating the shot until I found a composition I liked, before darkening all the blacks, reducing the exposure and adding in a heavy vignette to make the central image pop.
The result is a photo which I think has to be one that I am proudest of.
Distorted Veins are a Tokyo-based metal band with influences including Tool, Korn, Soulfly and Deftones. Needless to say, they are growly and heavy and never keep still – jump-shots abounded! I have quite a thing for hair at the moment, so was quite happy that they had plenty of it and threw it about accordingly.
With their gig being in the dim confines of Koenji’s Den Atsu on June 13th it was a bit difficult to get crisp, well-lit shots, but I think the darkness adds a little something to the mood of the images.
Distorted Veins have just launched their website: http://distortedveins.wix.com/distortedveins.
They’ll be back at Den Atsu in July. Check out the website for more information!
Electro-metalcore monsters Crossfaith have just announced that their new album Apocalyze will be released in the summer. After returning from their UK tour a few weeks ago, I caught up with them for a quick chat.
Kenta Koei looks out the window between the slats of a blind and grimaces slightly at the fat drops of rain smacking at the glass. Outside Shibuya AX fans are waiting to get into the venue, hunched against the warm May rain in nought but their t-shirts and sweat towels. Inside the dressing room, DJ Teru is chowing down on bento, drummer Tatsu is tapping away at his computer and guitarist Kazu is elsewhere. Bassist Hiro leaps up from his seat and introduces himself in a disarmingly friendly fashion and then he, Ken and I sit down for a chat before the venue doors open.
Crossfaith are in Tokyo for the final show in the Japan AP Tour, a three-date hop around the Kanto region with Japanese band New Breed, Canada’s Silverstein, and US punk rockers The Used. It’s a couple of hours before the band take to the stage to provide their Tokyo fans with a much-needed and long-awaited Crossfaith hit. After all, it’s been 5 months since they last played in town and the wait has been agonizing.
Crossfaith have been on something of a tear in the last year, with the band out of their homeland more than they have been in it. Having only returned less than a week earlier, I begin by asking Ken about Ozzfest – pretty much the first thing the band did did upon landing back on Japanese soil.
“It was amazing! I got to see Slipknot and Deftones – they’re two of my favourites,” says the singer. “This year’s Ozzfest was kinda weird because there were so many Japanese bands, but it was great.”
It’s interesting that he mentions the number of Japanese bands playing the show (Fade, Coldrain, Dir en Grey, Maximum the Hormone, and Ningen Isu, among others) – Japan, after all, is a country very much enamoured with the mainstream, and the ever-growing behemoth that is K-Pop. Unsurprisingly, metal bands struggle to make a dent in the music charts, despite Japan being one of the world’s largest music markets. However, Crossfaith number among the few Japanese bands that have broken out of their homeland, and indeed Asia, to a much wider audience.
With tours in the UK and Europe in 2012 followed by time in the US and Australia in 2013, Crossfaith have been lighting up venues and festivals with their own very special blend of electronic metalcore. Having just been on tour with Bring Me The Horizon and Empress, plus their own two headlining dates, I ask Ken and Hiro about their time in the UK.
“Every time we have a great time in the UK,” says Ken. “Last year our tour was with Of Mice and Men. We always have a great time because people love music, people love gigs. They’ve got their own culture – the UK and US are very different.”
“I think UK music and UK movies are …” Hiro begins.
“Kinda dark,” finishes Ken.
“Very realistic,” Hiro adds.
I ask them what they have learned from their increasing amount of time playing internationally.
“I should bring Japanese food,” says Ken. “We always miss Japanese food. Especially in the US, the food is bit much for us. So I should bring it with me.”
Sometimes, you just need miso soup, I comment. “Yes, exactly!”
“For me, it’s talking to everyone in the venue,” says Hiro. “Staff, crew, bands-everyone. Travelling is not only about the show, so we need to hang out and meet the people. I like that part on tour.”
So, you’ve been to a lot of different places. Which was most interesting?
“For me, Eastern Europe is very interesting,” says Hiro. Especially when we walked around town. It looked like time had stopped – like from 30 years ago.”
“Especially, Slovenia and Slovakia were crazy countries,” Ken adds. “People need to listen to music – they’re really hungry for it.”
Moving back onto the topic of Japan, I ask the guys about an event they played late last year in Shibuya, which featured Crossfaith playing on the bill alongside My First Story, and Visual Kei heavyweights lynch. and Merry. It was a great show, featuring bands that all seemed to complement each other, yet who were simultaneously continents apart in terms of style, scope and international attention.
“I never cared for the visual kei or the Japanese rock scene,” says Ken. “I never listen to Japanese music at all. Visual Kei, I don’t know about. I don’t dislike them. They have their own way and the same here – we have our own way.”
Though the same is true of bands in any country, all the Japanese bands I’ve spoken to profess a great desire to play overseas. The reality is that very few bands, including those with record labels and management, can find the opportunity to play outside of Japan. Touring is prohibitively expensive and anecdotally, the difficulty some bands experience seems to do with an attitude from management that pursuing overseas markets is “mendokusai” – a pain in the ass – and best left untouched.
What then, I inquire, is the reason Crossfaith have managed to get beyond all this?
“It’s Raw Power Management,” Hiro replies instantly. “It’s with the help of them we can travel around the world. Before that we couldn’t.”
“We have great staff,” adds Ken. “The label, staff, our parents. We’re so lucky really.”
Despite their luck, good management and the years of hard slog they put in on the music circuit in Japan, what makes Crossfaith such an interesting Japanese band, is that they don’t sound like one. There is something other than the language which defines the sound of Japanese rock music and it is curiously hard to pin down. Hiro acknowledges Blink 182 as an early influence in his pop-punk teens, whilst Ken mentions Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park among other nu-metal bands. As he has mentioned in previous interviews, Slipknot were a huge influence and he puts on an expression of pure metal epiphany as he describes his first hearing the band: “It blew my mind – fucking crazy!”
Watching Crossfaith later that night, it’s clear to see how much raw, unfettered passion these guys have, and perhaps that is the biggest difference between them and other Japanese bands. “Let’s go, Tokyo!” Ken roars at the crowd as he leaps up onto his podium, and for the next seven songs the whole place descends into chaos – even the normally reserved guest area is awash with headbanging and cheering. Teru clambers all over his rig with a bottle of Jagermeister in hand, Hiro whips around like a mad thing, and Kazu throws himself hard into his guitar playing. Meanwhile, Tatsu’s drumming grabs you by the vagus nerve and leaves you feeling somewhere between extreme excitement and a punch in the gut.
Where does all this passion and energy come from?
“From the bottom of my heart!” Ken offers, laughing. “Live shows are the most important thing for us.”
“Playing shows is my dream,” replies Hiro. “So before the set I always think about it and think about how happy I am to be here.”
Crossfaith were in America earlier this year recording their highly-anticipated new album. If the Zion EP is anything to go by, Apocalyze is going to be incendiary. I ask about the direction for the record.
“We put so many new things in the new album,” says Ken. “We tried different ways from the Zion EP. It’s completely different from the old stuff.”
“It’s not far from Zion,” counters Hiro.
“Not far, but kind of far. The heavy songs are heavier, you know.”
Finally, I ask the guys a kanji question. Each year in Japan is given a kanji to sum up the events and feelings of the past 12 months. If they could give the past year a kanji, what would it be?
“躍 [やくーjump],” Hiro answers, miming a kind of leap from place to place. “Last year was so busy with travelling around the world.”
Ken’s answer needs no explanation: “爆 [ばく] – explosion!”
Crossfaith will be setting the North American Vans Warped Tour on fire from mid-June and will be proving themselves a force to be reckoned with at the Reading and Leeds festivals in the UK in August. They’ll be back in Japan for a nation-wide tour in August and September. If you’ve not seen this band yet, coming out of their shows is akin to undergoing a conversion because you’ll be coming out a different person, and not just from the bruised ribcage. With Apocalyze just announced, the sense of anticipation around this band is huge. It’s pretty certain that Ken’s choice of kanji to sum up 2013 is going to need to get bigger…much bigger.
Apocalyze goes on sale in Japan on August 7th and in other countries soon after.
Check out more work by photographer Julen Esteban-Pretel here.
Thanks to Rew Kubayashi, Julen for the photos, and Kate Havas for help with translating (even though I did it all in English in the end). And finally, thanks to Ken and Hiro for their time and for being two of the most pleasant people I’ve interviewed.
sForzato are a young, up-and-coming band who have been together since 2011. I caught them opening up an Art Pop event on May 19th featuring appearances from United Monsters, えんそ（ensoku), Dacco and Tokyo Heroes. Whilst the other bands featured a mix of horror punk, VK “aerobics” (yes, really), and a spin on the Wizard of Oz, sForzato’s comparatively traditional VK look and a focus on making solid rock music made them stand out amongst their more surreal show-mates.
sForzato will release their first album this summer.
Check out their website: http://www.sforzato.net/main.html
If I was going to give myself a stage name, it would probably by after a Greek goddess, but Myproof’s vocalist Thor has gone the Nordic route. The moniker is rather fitting to a band who deliver a pleasing blast of deathy growls, duelling guitars and thunderous drumming. The melodic death metal band were playing with Gyze at Head Power when I decided it was about time I asked to shoot them. They played the following week in the packed out Antiknock in Shinjuku on May 1st, with Vorchoas and a host of other metal bands. It was a a great show, and I particularly enjoy Thor’s maniacal expression.
Check out the photos in the gallery below.
Myproof are currently touring about Japan and will be heading over to South Korea in June for a couple of dates in Seoul. Go check ‘em out!
Peruse the Myproof website here: http://www.myproof-jp.com
I came across Gyze late last year. They were handing out flyers outside a Crossfaith/lynch./Merry gig I had been to in Shibuya, and I somehow managed to get fliers from all three of them as I walked down the street. Taking this as a sign, I stopped drummer Shuji and asked him exactly what sort of band Gyze were. ”Heavy metal,” he replied. ”Awesome,” I thought, and made a note to get round to seeing them. It took nearly 5 months, but finally I managed to shoot the melodic death metallers last weekend when they were playing an event with a few other bands, including Myproof (more to come with them soon), in Okubo.
Gyze were unusual to shoot for me in that there are only three of them. With Shogo and Ryoji on vocal duties as well as wielding guitars, they are pretty static for half the set. When they do get the chance to rock out though, they do make for some good photos:
Gyze will be releasing an album later in the year, which is being produced by Ettore Rigotti of Italian melodic death metal band, Disharmonia Mundi. (Incidentally, you really should check out Disharmonia Mundi’s cover of the “My Neighbour Totoro” theme tune).
I will definitely be going to check Gyze out more often in the future, and I’m looking forward to their album adding to an already exciting year ahead for metal in Tokyo.
Gyze will be playing their next show at Kichijoji Crescendo on June 1st.
In the meantime, check out the Gyze website at: http://www.gyze.jp and go “like” them on Facebook too.