MBV’s Ripple Effect on the Japanese Indie Scene

mbv

Two pivotal events happened between now and my last article on shoegaze: MBV, My Bloody Valentine’s follow-up to their 1991 masterpiece, Loveless, was released on February 2nd, and the band played a tour across Japan the following week, which ended on February 10th at Studio Coast in Shinkiba.

The second, we knew about months in advance: the shows were announced almost a year before, and as expected, very quickly sold out.

The first?  Well, in a way, we knew about that for years.  We just didn’t know when.

The release of MBV “broke the Internet” as they say, and SNS feeds filled up with exasperated gasps and people clamoring for a peak at the new My Bloody Valentine website, which hosted the new album, refreshing the site every 5 seconds in a feverish frenzy.  “MBV” started trending on Twitter, which is no mean feat for an indie band whose best days were apparently 20 years behind them (leading to some of the more uninitiated left scratching their heads).

The reaction in Japan was no different.  Twitter went up in flames as people who have seemingly waited their whole lives for this record began downloading and listening.  Notable indie musicians like Narasaki of Coaltar of the Deepers and Mito of Clammbon quickly posted their reactions and , which only fueled the discussion.

Amidst the chaos, a small shoegaze festival, appropriate titled “Tokyo Shoegazer Festival” was held at Club Seata in Kichijoji on February 9th.  In between sets of bands and electronic duos, the conversations in the halls and bars were unsurprisingly about MBV and the My Bloody Valentine shows that had taken place the days before.  You would look across the club and see many people with big grins and MBV t-shirts, in discussions about which new track was their favorite, or the craziness of the Holocaust section of “You Made Me Realise” the night before.  There definitely was no lack of people going “what?” to each other one too many times – a sign that some ears had been completely smashed.

“What?”

The genuine enthusiasm for a certain type of music was refreshing, especially here in Tokyo, which is perhaps collectively a “scene that celebrates itself”.  In between events and festivals linked together not by sound or musical ideology, but by top-down sempai-kohai relations or whether a band are drinking buddies with another band, it was refreshing to see a bunch of groups together under a certain aesthetic idea, which an audience willingly coming down to see because of it.  To prove my point, look no further than the name of the event.  Other scenes would be too ashamed, embarrassed or think it was beneath them to organize a festival based on a certain sound or genre, not to mention naming the event after it.  Most alternative bands would scoff at such a notion (although from talking to some bands at the festival, some seemed to be less thrilled about being under the collective than others).

Cruyff in the Bedroom – “Cry”

A lot of bands in Japan obviously like shoegaze and My Bloody Valentine.  However there are obviously two broad types of bands: those who simply copy the aesthetic, and those who understand the visceral, physical loudness of it.  The bands at the festival were clearly in the latter, bringing on the high-wattage and the walls of guitars.  Bands like Lemon’s Chair, Shojo Strip, Cruyff in the Bedroom, and Tokyo Shoegazer showed that these self-professed “shoegaze” bands knew what they were talking about.

Where to go from here: My Bloody Valentine will be returning to Japan in just two short months, for May’s Tokyo Rocks Festival.  The shows they played on this tour seemed more like warm-ups (more on that later): the only new track incorporated into their set list was “New You”, which apparently had to be played three times on one of the nights because the band kept screwing it up.  The Tokyo Rocks Festival will be interesting – the Japanese bands on the bill have nothing to do with My Bloody Valentine in terms of sound or ideology, and there will be an intriguing contrast between these UK noise giants and younger, hip, Japanese bands bred for the singular purpose of selling more issues of Rockin’ On Japan magazine.

Hopefully, the resurgence of My Bloody Valentine will rub off on the indie scene here.  There seems to be a general “revival” of shoegaze that has been in the works for quite a number of years now, and now may be a good time for these bands to go out and get more recognition.  The Tokyo indie scene, while interesting, is often tightly closed, elitist, and at worst, depressing.  Lemon’s Chair frontman Masashi Imanishi said it best before his band’s last song at the Tokyo Shoegaze Festival earlier last month: “shoegaze music is ultimately optimistic”.

It’s one of the reasons why we listen.  Behind those dreamy guitars and otherworldly vocals, lies a sense of hope, nostalgia, and idealism.  It’s the feverish enthusiasm that sets My Bloody Valentine and the genre as a whole apart from others.  As Imanishi said at the same show, “shoegaze fans really love shoegaze”.

We really, really do.

My Bloody Valentine – “Only Tomorrow”

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