Tokyo Live Shows during COVID-19
Tokyo is the undeniable center of all things music related in Japan. Kansai has a rather lively music scene as well, with several major artists having originated in Osaka, but regardless, Tokyo is where bands go to get the biggest and most diverse crowds, and play at the best venues. Relocation to this city is an accepted reality for many bands who want to "make it".
"First Budokan, then, the world!"
In 2008, I heard an indie visual kei band say this in an interview featured in one of the Visual-kei-DVD Magazine volumes I bought at Hot Topic when I was in high school. The importance of this city really hit me then. These young musicians dreamed of getting big enough that they could tour across Japan, and, one day, attract enough fans to play in Tokyo at Nippon Budokan.
Fast forward four years, my university study abroad councilor tells me that there are three schools I can attend in Japan one in Osaka, one in Kyoto, and one in Tokyo. The choice was obvious.
As soon as I landed, I begged my friends to take me to Budokan. Not to a concert, but just to see it. In terms of size, it certainly is not the biggest, but with such a legacy and significance as a milestone for Japanese bands, I was happy I could go pay my respects.
Due to my Japanese abilities at the time, I was not able to attend as many concerts as I wished I could have during my one year abroad. Band homepages and ticket sites were confusing and my reading skills were certainly not up to the task. More often than not, when I finally heard about a concert, all the tickets had already been sold out. Luckily, through help of my friends, I was able see MUCC, Dir en grey, G Dragon, and, one of the memories I hold closest to me, Endou Michirou. Still, I longed for the day that I would be able to enter Budokan's vast hall and witness a live show!
In 2014, on a return trip to Japan, that dream came true when attended Dir en grey's Dum Spiro Spero At Nippon Budokan March 9th show. I was blown away! Since then I have only been back once more, but I promise to go again. When I can, that is. As of June 2020, Budokan has been closed for well over a year in preparation for the Olympics, which has been postponed to next summer, 2021. In total, Budokan will have been without concerts for over two years. Sure there is Tokyo Dome, but the vast majority of shows that take place there are for super major artists, such as idols, or foreign bands. With the news that PIA Arena MM would open in Yokohama, a lot of our worries about not having an adequite venue were temporarily relieved. Then came along COVID-19.
Cancel or.... ?
Since there is no way to gauge the situation properly, musicians and venues alike have been grasping for a solution to this issue. When the outbreak first occurred, no one expected it to spread as it has. The music world, and fans, who now have more time than ever to listen to their favorite artists, tried to stay optimistic.
After the Japanese government's recommendation that organizers cancel or postpone large events at the end of February, there were several reactions. At first, most foreign artists, such as the Pixies or White Snake, ended up canceling their Asian tours or concerts in Japan. Some domestic acts continued to perform, even at Tokyo Dome, but as time went on, more and more shows were cancelled. In March, especially among smaller bands, the concept of self responsibility became the staple, and several shows went on as planned for fear of economic difficulties for bands and small live houses. This didn't last long once an official state of emergency was proclaimed though. As a result, there have been several campaigns to save live houses. In these kinds of situations, it is really easy to just think of oneself, so it's refreshing to see this support. I guess it is a symbiotic relationship though. If the live houses go under, bands won't have anywhere to play at. Several bands, such as lynch., have also created charity singles with proceeds going to save live houses.
Bands, Major and Indie
For bands, this has been a bitter sweet experience. Since traditional live shows have not been possible, they have had to become creative and find alternatives. One of the most common has been by streaming or temporarily posting past concerts on youtube and other social networking platforms. Some notable bands that I have noticed doing this are: One Ok Rock, tricot, Dir en grey, Buck Tick, Glay, Gyze, Baby Metal, SiM, Mucc, Hyde, and many many more.
Luna Sea even hosted a MUSIC AID FEST on 5/31 with a large variety of artists featured performing from their own studios. LUNA SEA
9mm Parabellum Bullet
Nothing's Carved In Stone
THE ORAL CIGARETTES
打首獄門同好会 In addition, there have also been true live shows, performed at empty venues. Noticeable examples of this were the audienceless concerts in March for Dir en grey and Number Girl.
Dir en grey has actually hosted several unique programs using youtube streaming such as individual member playlists, concert archives, and live talks. I am obviously a big fan and have enjoyed this a lot! All the members, though, report how tired they are of staying home and are really looking forward to being able to tour again. For a major label band with a strong fan base, however, this is probably one of the best paths to take. Even though they had to cancel an entire tour, they received a lot of donations during each stream and are even selling the playlists they created on itunes. It may not make up for the loss they have encountered for refunds and merchandise, but I am sure that this at least helped. Regardless, they will survive and their record label will be pleased.
As an indie band, Mass of the Fermenting Dregs has impressed me. There were several youtube and instagram acoustic live shows and talks where Natsuko, the vocalist / bassist, would respond directly to fan comments. That was really cool! (Although she evidently doesn't agree with my preference towards Kirin beer.) There was supposed to be a live show at Ebisu Liquid Room on 5/30, but they regretably had to cancel it. That must have been tough, especially considering the venue's large size and that this was supposed to be a prerelease party for their new single「You / うたを歌えば」. (They also have a crowdfounding project to release this single on vinyl overseas! https://qrates.com/projects/20028-you). As well as this prerelease party, several other shows, including ones abroad, have been cancelled, but in response, they started another crowdfounding project for a demo album「NAKED ALBUM」. The funds they raise from this will cover all the costs associated with producing and distributing the album, as well as money they have lost from canceling shows and merchandise they weren't albe to sell. I love their DIY effort!
Music festivals though, have especially suffered. Slipknot's Knotfest (featuring several Japanese bands) was rescheduled and SiM's Dead Pop Festival, as well as Rock in Japan fes, was cancelled. No doubt, other festivals will be postponed or cancelled in the coming months.
Demand for Music
On the bright side, musicians have reported having used this time to work on creating music. That's great!
Yes, it is, but there could be negative consequences appearing in the near future. Right now, bands are preparing to release music again and are understandably anxious to play live. But once things truly do open up, what are we fans going to do? We already dedicate a large portion of our salaries to the bands we love, but when they all release new music at the same time, as well as compete for venue space, how are we going to keep up? This could retroactively hurt a lot of bands who won't be able to see sales consistent with pre-corona releases or venues as full as when there wasn't a sudden need for venue space. And that is assuming that live houses have survived. The demand for music is most certainly here, but the demand will not be able to afford it!
As of 5/26 the situation regarding concerts, as advised by the government, is: "starting with a cap of 100 audience members and gradually increasing it to 1,000, 5,000 and then 50 percent capacity". What exactly does this mean? Most likely, we won't know for sometime. Kyo, of sukekiyo and Dir en grey, has stated that it could be possible for them to perform live if they make it a rule for everyone to remain silent and seated, a situation not uncommon at sukekiyo's shows. I doubt many other bands could follow suit though.
Through these past couple of months, bands and live houses have suffered, but at the same time, realized the potential of their online presences and of streaming. This experience will certainly have an impact on the future of music and the interactions bands have with fans. As Tokyo opens, I think everyone needs to carefully consider how best to proceed and not get carried away. It is very possible that this summer may just be a lull and the virus will return in full swing in Autumn.
While this pandemic has been devastating on the world, Tokyo has remained relatively unscarred in comparison to other large cities such as New York. If we are lucky, this means that bands here can bounce back without too much trouble. There has been a lot of talk about "the power of music" and its uniting factor. I hope we can stay united in supporting music and the live houses of Tokyo!
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