Interviewer:Takamasa Kato (Bonten Records)
As you know, the Corona epidemic has caused a lot of problems, but for me personally, not being able to go to the gigs that I used to go to several times a month has been more stressful than I ever imagined. I guess the daily workload fades (to some extent) by drinking and listening to loud music…..
In the midst of this, many live music venues and bands have started streaming live music services.
I also watched the live streaming for the first time April 25.
Floaters, a doom/sludge band that just released their second album “Roman Holiday” on March 22, played at Nishi-Yokohama El Puente, the home of Floaters, and was distributed by Kaala, a webzine dedicated to bringing Japanese underground/extreme music to the world.
The streaming itself was also a test, so the stream lasted about 5 minutes. The price is 500 yen. Aside from the length and the amount of alcohol I had prepared, I was generally satisfied with the content.
Expectations are high as this team will be streaming a full set of the show matches this Friday, May 15.
Prior to the Corona controversy, I had never heard of any live music being streamed or distributed by any of the venues or bands I frequented. In the course of our conversations, I would occasionally hear someone say, “It would be nice to do something like this” .
If this attempt is found to be successful and profitable, it may continue even after the epidemic is over.
I spoke to Matt Ketchum, one of the running members of Kaala and a member of the Tokyo black metal band Worship Pain (which also released an album in February).
Q: Thank you very much for taking the time to this interview under such difficult circumstances.
First of all, please tell us how this corona pandemic has affected you and the community around you.
A: Its sort of an odd experience so far. I’m working remotely at my day job, which is a welcome development, though required remote work is a bit different from merely having the option to do so when you please.
I mask up and bike aimlessly around the city from time to time just to get out, kill some time, get some exercise, and avoid going crazy. Its a bit surreal being able to navigate the streets of Shibuya or Ginza during the day with barely any cars passing by.
I worry about my folx a good bit. They just moved to Northern Michigan late last year, and then my Dad was diagnosed with early stage cancer in February or so of this year. He had an operation scheduled for April, but that was postponed due to overloaded hospitals. Last I checked in with them it sounded like he might be able to reschedule, but they’ve been a bit quiet for a little bit so who knows whats up.
I was practicing/playing shows with Worship Pain since… October 2019 or so I think, but with venues closed, concerts canceled, and practicing together next to impossible, nothing’s really moving on that front.
Q: On the 25th, you did the streaming as test, did you get any feedback?
We did! And most of it was really positive. There was 1 person who couldn’t log in and so they missed the stream, and then another who logged in for free when they wanted to pay the fee, but aside from that it all went really smoothly.
The biggest feedback was surprise at how effective this was. With a 5 minute video, we raised ¥18,900. Originally, the proceeds were going to be split 35% Floaters / 35% El Puente / 30% Kaala, but then Floaters asked to give their cut to El Puente, so then it was 70% El Puente / 30% Kaala, but with this amount we figured why not just give 100% to El Puente.
People were really amazed that we were able to raise that much with such a short video shot so quickly, and I think it shows that what we’re trying to do can work pretty well even with minimal equipment.
Q: Did you have an idea for a streaming service like this before? Or is this the first time you’ve tried it?
Yes, we have wanted to do something like this for sometime. Some people might remember we did a podcast for a while, called Kaala Radio, and I always wanted to take it a step further to video, but we never got there because of perceived technical difficulties.
That takes me back to the point about being able to do stuff with minimal equipment.
Q: Did you make any specific arrangements (with the band, the venue, and the music equipment, etc.) for the streaming?
The thing that I’m realizing as we go along with this is that audienceless streaming concerts let you _really_ fuck around with the “concert” format.
The performance itself isn’t very different, or at least doesn’t have to be, though with all the extra space a band could load in a whole lot more gear than normal if they like.
The venue’s obviously not selling much of anything, so that sucks. This is I think maybe the most difficult part of the whole music scene shutdown – venues traditionally are a business of rental space, and that’s it. They don’t normally have much more than that, outside of a bit of merch or something.
And that sort of feels like a really good thing to keep in mind: the *traditional* way a venue functions doesn’t work very well at all in a pandemic, but there are, I think, new, other ways to use them that is more sustainable in addition to the audience approach.
What really comes to mind is the interactions between the few people there – it almost starts feeling like a sitcom lol. So yeah, the band is playing music, sure, and the venue is hosting them, but the ideas we all come up with together for the video is really cool.
One example from last time is that I was walking around El Puente to case camera shots, and noticed that there was a sign on the front door saying something like “if you can, pay in coins and not bills. We need coins!” And then Mossa said that PNQ should be at the door again accepting cash so it sort of looks like you’re walking into a real concert, and then I mentioned the “we need coins!” sign and everyone thought it’d be funny if when I paid on camera I just kind of threw a bunch of yen coins at PNQ like an ass and he’d have to count them. Ultimately, I sorta failed and kinda just gave PNQ a neat stack of 10 100 yen coins, but he’s a really good actor so he fumbled around and made it look good.
Maybe I didn’t explain that well, but what I’m getting at is, as we’re preparing to shoot a _concert_ we’re also coming up with weird, creative ideas to use _around_ the central feature of the music.
Which goes back to fucking around with the format. Yeah, there are drum kits and amps etc. and so from that angle it kinda just looks like a concert except no one is in the room but there’s this big space that has no one else in it which means you can *do* something with it.
So I’m starting to get the feeling that the no audience thing opens up all sorts of new possibilities for bands and venues to play around with to create interesting, unique, meaningful content that *gets them paid*, which is really the most important thing because without them, well, we wouldn’t have anything!
Q: How can I watch the stream on the ZAIKO (Streaming Service)?
The system works like this: buy a ticket to the stream on our page, and you’ll get a confirmation email which contains a link. If you click that link, you will access the stream page, which only streams at the appropriate time. It sounds like some browsers have the stream automatically start where other browsers (Chrome) required people to click play, so it’s still not perfect, but its moving in the right direction.
If you have any specific questions, *please* let us know about your experience: we want to make these concerts as easy to participate in as possible and are more than glad to discuss what could be better.
Q: Please tell us about the venue, Nishi Yokohama El Puente and the band, FLOATERS.
Where to start! I’ve known Shiggy and El Puente since probably October 2011. That’s a very long story which involves bartending in Meguro, a Metallica cover band, and a guy named ‘Master,’ but I’ll leave it there.
El Puente is just a gem, a real treasure even amongst so many great venues around Tokyo. It used to be a Spanish restaurant (and still has a full kitchen), but it’s been more or less 100% converted into a DIY event space over the years.
And that’s part of it’s charm – watching it evolve. Be it the graffiti on the walls, or the ever rotating stream of people coming to shows (it’s sort of hard to access), or the year-on-year expansion of the El Puente “brand” internationally, it’s this one-of-a-kind spot that is just a magnet for great music and great people.
But, really, the magic is made by the people who run it, Shiggy being the ‘leader’ of sorts. Indescribably nice people, they’re simply overflowing with passion for the music and love for the people who are part of it. The goofy staff antics. Shiggy’s bellowing laugh. ‘PNQ and Citizens’. Occasional Thrash Zone tie-ins. And the most cramped crowd-surfing imaginable, El Puente is such a goddamn fun place to be because of the people just as much as the music. And that’s why we love it so much.
I’ve known Mossa (Floaters’ bass/vokills) since maybe around November 2012? If I remember correctly, it was the first show I played with Darkcorpse at a small Yokohama venue called Orange County Brothers, and another of Mossa’s bands, Inside Charmer, was on the bill….
Holy shit I found the show: http://insidecharmer.blogspot.com/2012/07/0901-orange-county-brothers-veritas.html
That “another of Mossa’s bands” is a point to be made, as he keeps himself active and has played in some of my favorite bands. Inside Charmer, Redwood Blues, Nepenthes, Floaters, he is a Doom Machine (which is arguably the genre I lean most towards) who gives lovingly back to the scene, be it with Floaters, working at El Puente, helping out with Thrash Zone, or even occasionally agreeing to some of Kaala’s crazier ideas.
To me, he and the Floaters guys are just such open-hearted, adventurous, and relentless proponents of not just the sound of the underground, but the ethos or philosophy behind it. They live it, and its really inspiring to know such devoted, kind people. They’re also the closest thing in my mind to The El Puente Doom Ensemble lol.
Q: Do you have any plans to continue streaming after the things settled down?
Absolutely. Here’s the thing: a lot of bands and venues struggle in “normal” times, too. The first goal we have with streaming is to get reliable revenue streams into the hands of bands and venues of the scene to help us all make our way through corona. That should also result in some international exposure for the bands and venues we work with, but I can’t make any promises.
The long-term goal, however, is to give venues like El Puente or Moonstep or What’s Up the tools to create sustainable revenue streams on top of ticket/beer/merch sales. So here’s what that could look like:
Venue X has a maximum capacity of 100 people. They have booked 2 popular local acts and 1 major international act on a Thursday night in Yokohama for the “opening gig” (¥2,000) of the international act’s tour, 1 day before the big Friday show in Shinjuku.
But the water main near the Shinjuku venue breaks on Monday, the Shinjuku show is cancelled, and suddenly there is much, much more interest in the Yokohama show on Thursday night but, again, they can only host 100 people.
Venue X sells 100 tickets. Max revenue is ¥2,000 x 100 = 200,000.
Venue X sells 100 tickets, but also sets up a live stream of the concert for ¥500 a view and sells 2,000 through the international band’s publicity efforts (it’s now the only show in Tokyo). Taking for granted the wifi/camera/audio system has already been set up (which can be costly, and live streams are more difficult than pre-recorded ones), there is very little additional effort that results in the venue making an additional ¥1,000,000 (¥500 x 2,000).
This is the future Kaala is imagining.
Q: We still don’t know what the future holds, but do you have any plans, prospects, or messages for our readers?
We’re planning on getting audio recordings up on Bandcamp, too, to raise further funds (maybe with some custom artwork by fans?), and to that end we’re talking with a sound engineer who is pretty well known in the scene.
This streaming of pre-recorded concerts at empty venues during Coronavirus is actually the first of a three stage media plan for us, which ultimately results in… well, that’s a secret 😉 But I can say that it involves rural areas of Japan, barbequing, and caravans of metalheads. Anyone who’s curious about more can get in touch with me directly.
Q:As for messages? Hm. Let me think for a moment.
The scene has always been a sort of magical DIY place where people from all over get together and help each other explore weird artistic things made with usually pretty limited resources, and this activity results in a higher level of empathy, creativity, curiosity, and confidence for all involved. Music, and art in general, especially “outsider stuff” has always relied on that communal aspect of the scene, and in doing so really contributed to the creation of some outstanding people and movements.
Well, now everything’s falling to shit and a lot of people are pretty used to being pretty comfortable. Because of what the international independent and “extreme” music “scene” is, its members all over the world are, I think, uniquely capable of dealing with this disaster in a positive way that results, somehow, in a better world. I don’t really know exactly what that world looks like just yet, but I’m hoping it has bonfires and clean air and people running around in a circle to loud fuckin’ riffs getting sweaty on each other and screaming for joy in unison.
So I guess just keep in mind that its OK to be uncomfortable now or any other time and that a lot of other people are feeling the same way too, that sometimes all it takes to help someone out is to say “hi,” and that loud music and circlepits have actually taught you a lot more than you might think about kindness, solidarity, and supporting one another! #CirclepitsForHumanity