As you may remember, I went on tour with Belgian metal giants Amenra for a week last summer on the West Coast. In addition to taking photos, I captured a bunch of video footage with the intention of putting together a quick little documentary of my time with them. After about a month of fudging around with it, I finished the film and sent it over to the band. The reaction was enthusiastically positive (to my surprise and delight), and talks began around making a full-length film to commemorate their 20th anniversary as a band. I was invited to join them in Japan for five days to film, which was incredibly exciting. After a couple months of giddy anticipation, the time to leave for Japan finally arrived.
The majority of advice I got around dealing with a huge time change (Japan is 17 hours ahead of California) was to not sleep on the plane at all and just forge ahead to get on the new schedule as much as possible, which is exactly what I did. It all started with a two-hour flight to Vancouver, then a 10 hour flight to Tokyo. There had been some sketchiness about whether I was going to be met by someone at the airport that would arrange my getting to the place we were staying or if I was gonna have to take a bus/train by myself. It’s a long story, but after much handwringing, losing WiFi service multiple times, running from one terminal to the other, and praying things would work out in my favor, I found Colin from Amenra, his wife and their friend, and we hopped on a bus headed for Tokyo. From the bus terminal in Shinjuku, we walked about 20 min to the apartment that had been rented for the band, set all my shit down, then turned around and headed back out into the night to meet up with the rest of the entourage who were having drinks at a tiny little random karaoke bar. The first things that struck me about Japan were that everything was clean and orderly, all the cars/trucks/trains were shiny and small, and there were tons of people swarming the streets. Tons. After a brief and torturous time listening to drunk Japanese folks shriek over weird pop songs at this karaoke bar, we left to grab some food and head back to the house to sleep. I’d been awake for 29 hours by this point and surprisingly I didn’t feel that bad.
Managed to sleep about 7 hours or so last night, which was a pleasant surprise. After breakfast and coffee in a cute little spot just down the street from us, we gathered outside the house and headed to the venue. Since many of the bands wives/girlfriends had joined for the week, we were a giant gang of 13 people snaking through the subways carrying gear, trying to get a feel for how to get around. We noticed that the Japanese people we encountered were not only unfailingly polite and orderly, but they never made eye contact in public and remained fairly quiet at all times. Every time we all took a train anywhere (which was a lot), we were absolutely the loudest people on the train, and we were just talking.
Like just about everything I saw in Tokyo, the venue was in a multi-level building, narrow and compact and squeezed right next to other buildings. There were two floors with rehearsal rooms (for bands to practice in), then a 4th floor that held the 200-person-capacity venue, then a rooftop patio where merch was eventually set up. I realized quickly that filming/shooting in this small of a spot was going to present me with some challenges, so I spent some time trying to get my shit figured out while all the bands soundchecked.
There was a brief outing taken to find some food to eat, and we found this cute little Japanese/American food café where I had one of the best hamburgers of my life. No joke. We walked the neighborhood checking out shops and stretching our legs for a bit, then back to the venue to hang out and wait for the show to start. We didn’t have to wait long, considering the first (of four) bands was scheduled to begin at 5:30 PM. Because I’m a grumpy old man, I was delighted that the show was going to be over by 10PM sharp, which is completely unheard of in the States.
Opener Treha Sektori is a one-man aural descent into the underworld, with haunting images projected over him as he pounds trigger pads and growls over rumbling drones straight from the abyss. He’s from Paris (and was brought over to Japan by Amenra) and a super cool dude to boot. It was great getting to hang out with him a little bit. There was a local band Vampilla who played a strangely interesting combo of doom metal and ambient jazz with strings, plus a Canadian/European duo Nadja whose mix of metal guitars and ambient electronica was soothing and creepy at the same time. All the support groups were eclectic and distinct, but had an aesthetic and vibe that really blended well with Amenra’s.
As Amenra prepared to play, the entire audience (which was filled to capacity) was eerily silent while waiting for the show to start. No cheering, very little talking, so quiet you could hear the footsteps of the band walking around the stage. So very different from how shows are in the states. I stood on the side of the stage filming (which was my purpose for being there in the first place) for most of the show, then shuffled through the crowd to the sound booth to get some shots from there. Everyone got out of my way as I walked through the crowd, politely stepping aside unlike anything I’ve experienced in the states. Quite refreshing. The show ended right on time and everyone hustled to pack up and get out of the venue before 10:30. We walked through the neighborhoods looking for food, but eventually the group split up and I went with Colin and Evie (his wife) to a little curry spot for a nightcap before making the 30 minute walk back to the house for another good night’s sleep.
The next day began much as the first, coffee and food, then the 30 minute walk/train ride to the venue, this time sans equipment (except for me, loaded with two full backpacks of gear and various items). After sound check we all split off to explore the neighborhood again, this time I meandered alone, hoping I wouldn’t get hopelessly lost while trying to buy some gifts to bring back to Megan and my kids. There were literally half a dozen hair salons on every street, including pet salons. Clothing stores with hilariously mangled English titles, tons of strange chachki shops and bazillions of tiny restaurants and eateries. And intertwined with the busy shopping avenues are dozens of quiet, clean residential alleys and walkways. So very quiet.
Tonight’s show was a virtual repeat of last night, except tonight Amenra was on fire in a way they weren’t quite last night. It’s always interesting to consider what makes a band perform one way one night, then on a different plane the next. A million variables, I suppose.
I was able to hop off the front of the stage and right into the front row to shoot video from that angle, and the very polite and quiet Japanese fans that had been standing there all night scooted over and gave me space, which again would have never happened in the states.
After the show, everyone packed up and said their farewells, took some group photos, then headed across town for a celebratory dinner in a swanky restaurant, where I got to spend some time talking to a Japanese national who’d lived in England for a number of years so his English was really good. He gave me all sorts of interesting perspectives on Japanese culture and I got to explain a bit about American culture, such as it is.
Having finally secured a pocket Wifi hotspot earlier in the day, I had the means by which to navigate on my own back to the house.As I snaked my way through the alleys, streets and boulevards after midnight, it again struck me how quiet everything was.Here in the middle of a huge metropolis, the only discernable sounds were that of the sporadic cars and trucks making their way through the night to unknown destinations