6 Things We Learnt At WAM’s Big In Japan Panel

9 November 2015 | 8:37 pm | Craig English

Entire venues are often a ride in an elevator to a space no bigger than your lounge room.

For as long as the internet has existed, the world has time and again been fascinated by the unique allure of Japanese pop culture.

A step beyond the superficial veneer of sadistic game shows and karaoke, however, uncovers a vibrant and varied music scene that stretches from the sprawling megalopolis of Tokyo to Osaka and as far south as Fukuoka and beyond.

Andy Jarvis (CIT Lecturer, various bands) hosted a panel as a part of this year’s WAM Festival conference, consisting of three WA artists who took the plunge and dared to make their mark in Japan by organising their own live gigs with little more than an unhealthy reliance on Google Maps and conversations in broken English with underground Japanese artists and venue owners.

Pat McLaughlin (APRA AMCOS/Sugar Army), Predrag Delibasic (SMRTS/Zerodent) and Claire Hodgson (WAM/The Shakeys) shared their tips for aspiring musicians wishing to freely undertake the culture shock of turning Japanese.

Use whatever connections you have
Largely owing to a significant language barrier, promoting your band can be tough, but it’s by no means impossible. In recent times, social networking tools such as YouTube and Facebook have made establishing the right contacts, as well as making fans, a lot easier. Conferring with other local bands that have made inroads into Japan already will help you figure out who you need to get in touch with to get you playing in the right venues.

Getting on a bill can be as simple as just asking
Finding out what venues regularly feature the kind of music that is most aligned with your own will likely be a good indicator as to where that important contact for you might be lurking. Japan is increasingly branching out to international artists, which means a lot of websites catering to acts from abroad are written in English and easy to navigate. Tokyo and Osaka will yield you the most opportunities, but don’t be afraid to venture out. It’s not uncommon to be received with waves of generous hospitality if people know that you’re keen to play. Just ask!

Do expect to have a shit ton of fun - Don’t expect to make money
Taking your band to Japan is likely going to cost you more than you’ll make, but by all accounts it’s absolutely worth it. Considering that bands may fork out as much as $10k+ on the production of an album that may not even earn them a third of that back, investing in a trip to Japan and getting your foot in the door is far from the worst decision you could make if you want to self-promote.

Entire venues are often a ride in an elevator to a space no bigger than your lounge room
Not being quite as big as Australia, Japan has to do with what land they have, which means building vertically. The indie and underground scenes are relegated to basements or floors in apartment buildings, and capacities won’t be big, but they’ll fill. Unlike folks here who will often pay to go to a gig just to talk to their mates for the entire show, Japanese crowds will watch you, and very likely fall in love with you.

You don’t need to take much with you
Practically all venues will cater with ample backline, meaning that you can pack minimally and not come up short. Guitars and other instruments are plenty and cheap in Japan, while not compromising on quality, and they’re easily accessible if you need to make a quick purchase. Doing this could prove to be a lot easier than risking your own instruments being damaged on flights.

You’re in good hands
Japan is perhaps the safest country in the entire world. On top of this, the people are absurdly convivial and welcoming, and for the most part will do whatever they can to help you if you so much as look like you might be in a bind. Talk to people! Get your name out there and respectfully mention to them how enthralled you are with their country and culture and before too long you’ll end up in the right places, connected to the right people. It wouldn’t hurt to learn some small measure of nihongo before you get there, either.

All the panellists echoed each other’s sentiments in that despite whatever hurdles arose – financial or otherwise - the result of daring to put their stamp on a burgeoning underground scene in a country as seemingly insular as Japan was nothing short of an ephemeral and unforgettable experience.

As the country itself becomes more inclusive of outside influence (in many ways quite reluctantly), artists from abroad are making use of impressively creative means to establish themselves there, however transient and short-lived that may be. It might not be the wisest investment of your time and energy to expect to make it big, but anything from a fleeting visit to a whirlwind tour through a small handful of venues will ensure you have the time of your life and surprisingly reward you in the unlikeliest of ways.