I’ve heard so much about the stage culture in Japan. In Oct/Nov 2014, I finally had the opportunity to experience performing on a Japanese stage not just once, but headlining 8 kickass shows altogether, 6 in Tokyo and 2 in Osaka under my own name. What a treat! I don’t even get opportunities to headline shows in my own country in the last 16 years of playing live music! And now, 8! What?
Exactly a year after the release of my first solo album “Alien Stole My Whiskey”, I told myself, “I’m going to Japan”. I assembled a small band/crew for the tour and some of these venues we were playing at were actually “famous” (according to my Tokyo friend Kazuo) and we didn’t even know! Most of these venues have been around for more than a decade; some for more than 20 years.
They call them “live houses”, where customers come primarily to enjoy live music rather than alcohol (of course we had our fair share of beer too). The bands will take a percentage cut from the door charge at the end of the night. Numerous famous Japanese bands like Toe, Spitz, and Nightmare once performed at Japanese live houses.
On a quieter singer-songwriter acoustic night, tables and chairs will be set up for the comfort of the audiences. The furniture on the floor will disappear when a rock n’ roll band takes the stage of course.
A couple of months before the tour I had already sent out my band’s techrider to all venues we were going to be playing at. They too, will email me their techrider; right down to the brand and model of smoke machines, dimmer unit, par light, effecter, and every single speaker and microphone they have in the venue. They had the entire backline covered.
When we arrived for soundcheck, we greeted their promoters/managers/crew in Japanese and they greeted us in English. The stage manager holding the printed-out “Simon Yong Band” techrider in his hands, politely asked, “May I double check and finalize your stage plan please?” This was a standard procedure in all 8 live houses we have played.
“Planet K” is situated at Kichijoji, Tokyo. Last band to play, first to soundcheck. Pretty standard right? We reached Planet K at 2pm. 6 ladies and 2 gentlemen greeted us. They had put together 4 instrumental rock bands, including us for the night. I wasn’t at all surprised to see female stagehands and sound engineers, but their spirit and professionalism was admirable.
We were given 20mins to soundcheck and another 20mins for rehearsals. Now at first, I wasn’t quite sure about the “rehearsal”. Later I realized the Japanese crew needed the rehearsal time so that they could view the floor positions we would be standing at most of the time so that they could manually adjust lights to be pointing directly at every individual musician on stage.
Check out my videos. You’ll see the number of colored PAR cans they have, and how a tiny young girl is able to move and climb up and down the ladder to manually adjust lightings, then move in the Marshall and the Ampeg amps, run back to the board, and mic up all instruments professionally.
The next band came up and they turned the entire stage upside down! The drums went to the front of the stage and the bass amp took its place. The Marshall was moved to the opposite side of the stage. No worries. The tiny-sized girl got it settled easily. Yup, and she had to re-adjust lightings for the band too. No big deal.
Soundcheck done for the second band and the third band was ready to come up. Now this time the drums had to move back to its original position and the bass amp would have to find its new territory for the 3rd time. The third band had a keyboardist and no guitarist, therefore all guitar amps had to be moved into a “equipment holding area” for the stage to look “clean”. The reason why I call it an “equipment holding area” is because it was just by the side of the stage so that during changeover between bands, it will be more convenient and much faster to load up only “required weapons” for any one band. Oh wait! This is only a soundcheck! But hey, the stage crew needed to practice and get familiar with all the movements and activities too!
My God, I was watching one of the Japanese bands doing their soundcheck - I swear I’ve never seen anything like that before. The band was soundchecking like they were playing an actual show! Just imagine The Who live. The bass player was jumping off from drum kits and monitors. The guitarist was swinging his guitar around, and their drummer had his butt off his seat so many times. I actually thought the show has started just by watching them. Even their lighting guy was rehearsing with them! Oh, and they brought extra clothes to change, because their “soundcheck outfit” was already dripping with sweat!
I think they just love what they do and they take a lot of pride practicing and honing their craft. It doesn’t matter what they do, it can be cooking, dancing, or even construction. Once they take up a role, they will pour their heart and soul into it.
- Simon Yong
Thunder Rock School
227A Upper Thomson Road, S574359
T: 6456 8722
43 East Coast Road, 2nd Floor, S428764
T: 6348 7203
Photos by Anna En.