garage chanson


15 July, 2005

After having dinner at a really good Thai restaurant in the Dojima area of Umeda, Anne McKnight and I walked over to Rain Dogs to see Garage Chanson
(ガラージシャンソン), a kind of Gothic chanson and comedy act. Here’s Anne’s email description of the duo:

The goth accordion people promise to “rid the chanson of its bourgeois elements, put forth the poison and hentai (ever-changing modern perverse elements),” even if it makes them look like dame ningen. Other liberationist rant-like phrases indicate something of a commitment to performance. Indeed, both have theatre backgrounds, one AS theatre, one making music for theatre. They must have something of a broody kayôkyoku sensibility, as their Shibuya date is called “Marayama-chô de aimashô,”which is a riff on the postwar ballad “Yûrakuchô de aimashô” [Let’s meet in Yûrakuchô ]. Yûrakuchô is one of the neighborhoods along & under the train tracks in Tokyo, illicit in 1940s and 50s ways, whereas Maruyama-chô is off Shibuya, location of a couple of good live houses, tons of love hotels, and some “Asian” drug traffic, illicit in contemporary ways, tho close to consumer culture. The descriptive language bears signs of brecht, circuses, and Shibusawa Akihiko (translator of lots of French stuff in the 50s-80s, famous for his goth sensibility and hakubutsu-gaku, studies on collecting things). Seems like a kind of “right back at you” to the Shibuya-kei use of France. Sample titles: Heisei elegy; Matinée without a name; The help-wanted ads and an unfinished espresso.

Rain Dogs itself is a really nice live house and there was a good crowd there to see Garage Chanson, including some Gothic Lolita fans, and a couple of women wearing beautiful, lacy dresses that seemed semi-Victorian in fashion (this style has a name as well, but I’m not quite sure what it’s called). There were also a few men dandied up in suits, and several women in yukata because of Gion Matsuri in Kyoto. I don’t really directly know enough about Gothic Lolita culture to say anything that isn’t entirely subjective, and probably completely wrong and misinformative, but I think there are several mistakes that people make when they think of the Gothic Lolita scene. The first mistake is to equate the Gothic Lolita scene with the kind of American teenage suburban angst that might be associated with Marilyn Manson. The Gothic Lolita scene is clearly a rejection of many Japanese social norms and standards, but its content isn’t purely negative (and neither is most suburban Goth culture, for that matter). The Goth Loli women I’ve seen around Osaka have consistently seemed to be some of the less alienated people to be found in the city — this is probably related to the fact that, while Goth Loli fashion is definitely related to a culture of consumption, it’s also just as often related to a culture of self-fabrication in both the sense of self-making, and in the sense of craft production. In fact, it’s rather tragic that so many people, including the Japanese, only see “weird” when they see someone dressed in Goth Loli fashion, since Goth Loli fashion is often so eloquent, so complex, and quite open to unpredictable forms of astounding prettiness. The second mistake, often made by Americans who haunt comic book shops, is to mistake Goth Loli fashion for yet another form of Japanese pornographic fetishism. This is like assuming that all Catholic schoolgirl uniforms have sexual content and is a mistake based on a host of assumptions about “Japanese” sexuality. The Goth Loli scene is a scene that’s dominated by women and centered on women — voyeurs of this scene truly are voyeurs in the sense that they’re on the outskirts of the community and not welcome members. My favorite Goth Loli sighting in Osaka so far? A Goth Loli girl wearing the requisite black-and-white, including a black cat-eared hoodie, walking hand-in-hand with her totally non-Gothy boyfriend who was wearing khaki cargo-pants and a white button up oxford.

We saw two acts at Rain Dogs other than the Garage Chanson duo. The first was a torch-singer named Maki Rinka who sang several standards, and several original pieces (which were really nice). She announced all of her songs in a kind of sexy-baby voice that became cloying after awhile, but it was good fun. While I wasn’t bowled over — standards are generally not my cup of tea — her band was outstanding. Especially the guitarist, who was dressed just like Django Reinhart, and the trumpet player, braving suit-and-tie fashion in blistering heat. After Maki Rinka, we were in for a delight. The sound of a slow march began from upstairs, and then, down from the balcony, a full klezmer band emerged, playing dirgefully in outrageously patterned matching orange overshirts. This band, Freylekh Jamboree, was one of the tightest, most gripping klezmer bands that I’ve seen yet. They played several Eastern European pieces — including a Macedonian funeral song — as well as several pieces they had arranged themselves from a variety of musical sources. Unlike many klezmer bands they weren’t so tightly scripted that their music didn’t have room to breath, and unlike many klezmer bands they let in plenty of the duende, of the dark-spirit, that gives proper klezmer its emotional weight and drive. Too many klezmer bands seem to think that “wackiness” is the core of klezmer, when in fact klezmer humor should always come out of the music as one of several nodes, rather than be falsely inserted at the center. That much said, their new CD, which is really great, is fronted by the image of penguins wearing fez hats and playing instruments.

The Garage Chanson duo was a bit hard for me to follow, since the leader of the group, who presented himself as kind of a cross between a fey Goth aesthete, a comedian, a carnival barker, and a Parisian chanteur, was making incredibly sophisticated and culturally specific jokes, all of which were in Japanese. Luckily Anne was able to translated some key moments for me so I could get a sense of the performance, but I think my experience of the duo is a surface one at best. The singer, or barker, who was dressed in some sort of velvety black paisley shirt, took center stage, but the accordionist was the star of the show for me. Dressed in tight-fitting vinyl pants and jacket, face white with powder, green hair spiked in perfect pine-like cones, he presented an almost entirely expressionless face to the audience while he played some of the wildest and most technically proficient accordion I’ve ever heard. I’d say he was the Yngwie Malmsteen of the accordion, except Yngwie is an unimaginative egotist at best, while this player was self-effacing, imaginative, and amazing. In fact, accordionist Marié Abe, of the band Four Flea Circus, told me that the Garage Chanson accordionist is actually very well known. He studied in France for several years under a master accordionist and he’s apparently the go-to-guy accordionist for J-pop recordings. And he pretty much looked like Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands. During the course of the show the singer joked that the accordionist had taken a part-time job while they were in Nagoya pretending to be one of the musical robots at the Aichi World Expo (at least, I think that’s the joke he made). He also sang a Parisian style chanson centered around chanko-nabe (the stew that sumo wrestlers eat), and he played an audience participation game in which the audience was encouraged to tell him their most embarrassing moments so that he could make a song out of them. This song consisted of ‘the most embarrassing moment,’ followed by a chorus of (in Japanese) “but the sun will still rise tomorrow!/Even if you don’t want it to!” My favorite of these stories was the woman who described walking into a UFJ bank to use the ATM and accidentally stepping in a pile of shit.

Of course, there was also an altar on the stage, with some candles, some flowers, and a crystal skull. Decidedly delightful.


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