Interview with Japan Music Festival Organiser, Sonny King
Long time readers of Geek of Oz will have no doubt that I'm a big fan of all things Japanese. From anime to food, cat videos (I love you, Maru) to movies, I love it all. Sadly, however, there's one thing that we seem to miss out on, Japanese music. Thankfully Sonny, the man behind the Japan Music Festival, has come to the rescue.
Ryan: First and foremost, Sonny, what is the Japan Music Festival?
Sonny: It's a kind of reciprocal event of something my band Lucy's Crown played at in Tokyo in 2012. That was called the Japan Music Week and brought together a lot of bands from around the world who didn't have a label or finance behind them to play in Tokyo. We were invited back to play as headliners at some of the same places last year and the promoter there, Mr Uchida, came up with the idea to do a similar thing in Australia. After I returned, I started looking into it and thought it could work but more as a cultural event than just a gig, so apart from the four shows we are putting on, we're trying to introduce some of the things that go on at street-level in Japan rather than the usual raw fish, mega-technology image people have of it.
Well I have to say I do love Japan so that was a big part of it but also, I think Japan is not very well represented musically outside of Japan. We played with some amazing bands over there who perform every week just for fun and the quality of musicianship is superb and there are literally hundreds of bands playing every week. They have things called Live Houses there which are small gigs that hold about 100 or 150 people and they have 4 or 5 bands on every night. There are over 60 of those place in Tokyo alone and they are open seven days a week so on any one night, there are 250 bands playing. The whole underground scene there never sees the light of day outside of Japan and I thought it was about time the world did.
What kind of music will be on show?
It's a bit eclectic because we want to give a good representation of the styles current in Japan. Sparky is a solo guitarist who creates musical soundscapes using his effects pedals; Jill are a great rock/pop band who have just signed to a major promotion company out there; 101A are more alternative rock and Kaimokujisho are a bit more experimental. There's something for everyone.
Judging by the lack of Japanese music that get in Australia, I'm guessing that you had a few hurdles to get over. How long has this been in the works?
You're not kidding! I started work on it last September, investigating the possibilities and initially it was going to be a quite small thing but once people got wind of it, it turned into something that is almost snowballing out of control. The guy who initially got us to Japan - Glenn Williams who lives out there and has been in the music biz for years - came on board and has been steering me through it and from January onwards, it's been seven days a week.
It seems that Japanese music is inexplicably linked to other aspects of Japanese pop culture. Do you think fans of Japanese culture, or pop culture generally, will get a kick out of the Japan Music Festival?
Absolutely. Those Japanese culture fans were initially one of the main target audiences for us and we want them to come and meet the bands and find out firsthand about all the good stuff going on over there. They'll be opportunities at all the shows for whoever is there to meet the bands and have a chat and as for your average pop culture fan, they're going to enjoy as well because it's great music. As I said before, there are a massive number of bands playing every night and in the selection process, we set a criteria that the bill needed to be attractive to a wider range of people as possible within our own limitations, i.e. four bands.
Surely anime fans will enjoy the show with Jill pushing out anime sounds and Sparky Quano coming incredibly close to being an anime character in his own right!
Yeah.. Sparky is such a lovely guy and onstage becomes something else. I have to admit, when we started to think about the logo - which was done by an Aussie guy named Dave Reynolds - we sent photos of Jill to the designer and said 'That's what we want in anime/cartoon'. He came back with it 48 hours later. Top bloke.
Will fans be able to buy CDs or merch on the night?
Yes. All the bands will have copies of their CDs there for sale and we will have JMF T-shirts.
Are you yourself a fan of other aspects of Japanese culture?
I love the whole package. I went back there in December on my own for a couple of reasons. One was to sit down with Glenn and Uchida and work out how this was going to be done and the other was to really take in the country as much as possible. When I was there with Lucy's Crown, we did seven shows in ten days, all in Tokyo so time off was limited. This time I could wander on my own and got out of Tokyo a couple of times as well.
Finally, are you already working on Japan Music Festival 2015?
Yes we are and it's going to be a lot bigger with more bands and companies involved, both Japanese and Australian. All of the sponsors who have come on board this time have already put their hand up for next year and word has spread across Japan so bands are already sending Glenn discs because they want to come next year. Uchida has already got a couple of big Japanese companies interested as well. As of now though, we're less than two weeks away from this one so we're shelving everything until it's finished.
Thanks for your time and I sincerely hope the event is a massive success because any form of Japanese pop culture in Australia is a great thing!
Thank you very much Ryan and we'll see you at the show.