I developed a taste for ska at rather a late stage in life. Despite listening to ska punk bands like Reel Big Fish when I was a teenager, I never got much more into it than that, instead choosing to waft off into my twenties in a cloud of black make-up, black PVC and crushed black velvet. In fact, I wasn’t REALLY into it until I saw Kemuri a few years back and found something that made me smile like a loon. So, you could say that most of my exposure to ska has been experienced through a Japanese filter. Having not had the same second-wave that hit the UK in the late 70s and 80s with Bad Manners and Madness (more of them both to come later), Japanese ska sounds a little different. I’m not going to get all that now, as I’ve got some photos to show you. Ask me about it over a beer sometime when my total lack of knowledge will become clear…
So anyway, when I was at Boomtown there were two bands who stood out on the line-up: Ska Vengers and Los De Abajo. Ska Vengers hail from New Delhi, while Los De Abajo came all the way over from Mexico to the UK. It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed, and I wanted to see how ska might sound coming from other countries.
I’m just going to quote myself here, because I think I did a fair job of it the first time round: “Ska Vengers fuse a more old-school reggae patois from male singer Delhi Sultanate with a soulful, powerful style from female singer Begum X, all to a musical backing which mixes up dub, jazz and even more Latin-laced numbers that had people dancing their way through the set. On Friday night, Mexican ska outfit Los De Abajo were also making their first foray into the UK music scene, playing in the hollowed-out hull of the Jolly Dodger stage. This band was of particularly note, not only for their fantastically catchy and danceable Latin-ska, but also their on-stage antics which included choreographed dancing, donning lucha wrestling masks, leaping around and the only bit of head-banging in the whole weekend.”
Yup. So, check out some photos below.
Los De Abajo
The Lion’s Den is possibly the stage with the largest capacity at Boomtown, easily fitting 20,000 people in a natural bowl which affords everyone there a view of the bands. Fat Freddy’s Drop played there in the early evening on Sunday night, opening up with “Midnight Marauders”. I enjoyed their show, partly because their tendency towards longer tracks means a 3-song limit on a shoot lasts half-an-hour; partly because it seemed like a perfectly trippy way to round off a weekend of glorious weather, music and performances; and partly because I missed them when they played in Tokyo last year, so it was the perfect opportunity to catch this New Zealand band in action.
A standout set from the Boomtown weekend was Asian Dub Foundation’s afternoon set on the Town Centre stage, not only for the music but also for the photos, thanks to the sheer amount of energy the band put into their performance.
I was back in the UK during August this year and made sure that while I was there I was able to get to Boomtown Fair near Winchester. Having spent much of my life at heavy metal festivals, I must say that Boomtown is one of my favourites – the setting, the atmosphere and the sheer amount of effort that goes into entertaining away from the stage makes it very special. I won’t go in to too much detail as I’d rather you read my report about it: Revolution Rules at Boomtown.
Being on the other side of the world means that I don’t often get to see Molotov Jukebox – in fact, this is only the second time I’ve seen them live, that last time being in 2014 – but I make sure to boogie around to them in Tokyo with my accordion-playing friend.
Photos from the show are below:
The band released their latest album “Tropical Gypsy” was released earlier this year. Be sure to check it out!
I first saw twenty one pilots live at Fuji Rock last year when I was covering their show for Fuji Rock Express (review here: http://fujirockexpress.net/15e/p_1526). Having previously been a little unsure about the duo, after witnessing their set at the White Stage on a boiling hot afternoon, I was completely and utterly won over to them and have been on something of an adoring attempt to convert others to the band ever since. This has, on occasion, involved sitting up until 2am in playing the band’s entire collection of YouTube videos with friends, or slyly dropping a song into a set when I DJ.
Needless to say, when I saw Tyler and Josh would be playing Tokyo’s Studio Coast earlier this year, I put my name down to shoot straight away. It was a 3-song shoot, and much of the first three songs veered between blinding back-lighting and dark-reds, but in between there were some great moments to capture. I’ll be looking forward to capturing the in action again soon!
You can see my photo report and the live report from James Mallion at this link: http://www.smashingmag.com/en/archives/19260.
Sometimes, you just can’t make the light work in places, and Gamuso is one of those spaces where three photographers all tripping over each other in the dark gets annoying pretty quickly. What I really love about this top photo is the fact that the other photographer is unashamedly up in the singer’s face with his little old film camera and a blinding flash. I’m not sure I’d have the lady-balls to do that, so I guess that’s why I didn’t quite get such a good selection of photos for this band.
The Super Sonic Soldier Boys are a grimy garage-rock outfit, who seem to be out and about a lot on the Tokyo rock circuit. Check out their page here: http://thesupersonicsoldierboys.com/.
With their infectiously bop-tastic brand of anarchic electro-punk, Vaiwatt are one of my favourite bands to see live. I caught up with them in the tiny confines of Gamuso’s 3rd floor when they played their NapaJ show in April.
Keep your eye out for the band’s forthcoming music video!
I escaped the concrete and cold in December and ran off to New Zealand for an adventure or 3 and I, of course, took my camera with me. I was mostly working on landscape photos as that’s not something I get much of a chance to do in Tokyo, a place where horizons only exist 50 floors up. I bought a new lens for my NZ trip, and had been getting to grips with it and its little annoying habits (there’s a reason I managed to get it second-hand) during the trip, but I had yet to see how it dealt with a gig situation, so a show seeing in the new year provided the perfect no-pressure opportunity to test it out.
I met up with some friends for New Year at Mt Maunganui and they were stoked to be able to see Trinity Roots performing live and free of charge down on the pedestrianised beach-front. I’ll admit, my knowledge of music from New Zealand extends to Lorde, Crowded House, Flight of the Conchords and The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, so I had no idea who we were going to see but all I was told was “they’re a reggae band”. That’s something of a generalisation, for while they do have that chilled out reggae vibe there was more a jazz element at work, especially when 30 minutes into their set singer Warren Maxwell announced their third song of the evening. “We like to jam,” he quipped. If you’re into bits of prog and jazz like me, where songs go on for about 2 days, this was exactly the kind of thing I could get into.
I should add that these photos I took from the crowd, most of whom were obliging enough to shuffle aside for me to grab some quick shots. Thanks to the accommodating crowd and to Trinity Roots for a wonderful end to 2015.
Check out Trinity Roots’ Facebook page here.
At then end of 2014 I thought that I would try to make 2015 a much more successful year than the one before. In hindsight I feel like that was a wishy-washy target coupled with not much of a game plan for how I was going to get there. I had been working on a new portfolio site and Facebook page and launched them in February this year and I guess they added to some sense of enthusiasm, but whilst I’m quite happy with the portfolio site, there are still improvements to be made with the rest of that “plan”.
What I wanted in 2015 was a chance to shoot my favorite bands, and some other ones too, more frequently, in bigger venues and to try to grow my photography beyond the place it was currently in. So how did we get on?
I shot far fewer bands this year, partly because one of my outlets stopped publishing, partly because I seemed to be sick all the freaking time (colds, bronchitis, food poisoning, pneumonia…), and perhaps because I got turned down a few more times than I use to – the downside to approaching bigger bands, I guess. I did get to work with bands I’d been hoping to cover, and bands I’ve been working with for a while – sometimes shooting, sometimes writing, sometimes both at the same time. In terms of writing, I got to spend the weekend covering the Fuji Rock Festival in July, but didn’t write much after that as it all got a bit too much to take on.
My 3 big highlights of this year were working with Meaning at a couple of shows, covering Machine Head’s show in the summer, and working at Loud Park with GYZE. There were also 3 kickass albums this year from Crossfaith, Her Name in Blood and Crystal Lake, the latter of whom I shot at the Redline Riot show in January. My favourite album of the three is Crystal Lake’s “The Sign”, which has been on repeat pretty much since it arrived in the post – an amazing progression in sound and vibe from this band who have some of the most batshit crazy moshpits around.
I think my favorite shot of the year though, is one I took in January during a photo walk with Jess and Hai from Notes of Nomads and about 100 other people when we descended on Meiji Jingu to photograph the “Coming of Age” ceremony and the amazing kimono on display. This was a one-shot image (as in I took only one photo) of a wedding procession that came through the central quad of the temple. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with a zoom lens. It’s also an image which has received minimal processing – a slight crop, some selective de-saturation and a bit of vignette to add some pop. It was published on the Metropolis Photo of the Week page, where you can see it in 2000px glory.
Overall, it was another splendid year of shows, but one which seemed too busy to share with you all. Many thanks to all the bands, managers, writers and photographers I worked with this year.
There are some greats shows lined up for 2016 already, so expect more to come and I will do my best not to get sick so much. Until then, rock out the last few days of 2015.
Love from New Zealand,
The highlight of my year was shooting Machine Head when they brought their “An Evening With..” tour to Tokyo. I will admit that I was a wee bit nervous about the evening, mostly as I was shooting a band I was a big fan of as a teenager – I have fond memories of my friend losing his front tooth in a Machine Head mosh pit, amongst other injuries inflicted or received.
The evening in question was a slightly more sedate affair than the shows I remember, mostly because the fanbase is significantly more creaky and wizened than 20 years ago, but that didn’t stop a few die hard fans giving a circle pit a go.
These are some of my favorite shots of the year – O-East always has good lighting, and my subjects were most obliging to boot.