Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

Japan 2014: Shimokitazawa

Continuing my trend of prioritizing concerts while in Tokyo, this time I was pretty thrilled to be seeing a show in the semilegendary Shimokitazawa neighborhood. This is the scene that created Spangle call Lilli line, one of the hippest and most precious bands in my heart. On February 28th, I hopped some trains toward Shimokitazawa station, far enough out of the way that I had to transfer to the subway at Shibuya.

Pulling into Shibuya station, though, I spotted Desperado, the miraculously cool shop where I successfully hunted down some Spoken Words Project on my previous trip. After seeing that super-cool storefront again, I just had to stop off.


Photo from Desperado’s Facebook page.

I spent quite a while in the store, trying on Spoken Words Project apparel, wandering around, bothering the staff with questions, waiting around sheepishly as they carried all the extra SWP stuff out from the back, politely turning down a cup of tea, and explaining how the heck a person like me finds out about this nichey brand and this nichey shop. In the end I procured a hoodie and a fabric wall panel, two SWP products I’d been pretty intensely coveting for a while.

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At Shimokitazawa, I still had a lot of time to wander around. The area felt hip all right, in a quiet, hidden way that hadn’t yet been taken full advantage of by tourism like Harajuku or Akihabara has. I enjoyed a bowl of tonkotsu ramen and walked back and forth in front of a shop labeled Darwin Room, which seemed to be some sort of hybrid cafe and naturalist exhibit gallery. There was some sort of event going on inside, but like so many Tokyo spaces, I could not tell whether it was meant to be open to the public or very much a private thing.

Closer to showtime, I started hovering around Club 251. Weirdly, I found a poster in the stairwell that used a free font made by a guy I’ve been following online since 2000 or so. I tweeted a photo of the sign outside with the night’s lineup, and found that someone else had tweeted a photo of the same thing. It’s prolly that guy standing right there across from me. I should talk to him. I didn’t talk to him.

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Once they let us into the venue, I was kinda shocked at how tiny it was. It was easy to claim a spot not just close to the stage, but touching the stage. Like, I leaned my Desperado bag fulla SWP merchandise against the stage itself. Throughout the night I had to be careful that the band’s instrument cables were not knocking over my stuff. This was gonna be an intimate show.

It was pretty amusing to see each band casually stroll onto the stage and spend ten minutes setting up their gear, then leave only to immediately make a dramatic entrance, play their set, make a dramatic exit, and then come back out to tear down their gear again.

The first act that really got my attention was Uchuu, a tremendously energetic positive spacey electronicky hard rocking group comprised of three men and two women. (I am a huge fan of mixed-gender bands!) When I went back to the merch table to buy their CD, the drummer Airi was really happy to see my enthusiasm and to chat with me a bit.

Next up was Nano Sound Museum. I noticed that the lead guy had a really slight and femme kinda look, and I was ready for him to be kinda introspective and quiet. Nooooooope — from the first beat, he was leaping all over the place and screaming his guts out. I couldn’t believe how they kept such a high energy level through the whole set. During their finale, the lead guy pulled off his guitar, strapped it onto an enthusiastic fan in the front row, grabbed her hand, positioned her fingers on the frets, gave her the pick, and told her to go nuts while he leapt off the monitors. After he took the guitar back, it was fun to watch him try to convince her that yes, she could keep the pick. Japan!

Finally it was time for 1000say, the band I’d really come to see! They were a very happy discovery at the Gacharic Spin show in 2011, where I got to meet most of the band and chat quite a bit. While last time I was on the right side of the stage by Man, the guitarist, this time I was right in front of Michelle, the keyboardist. Throughout the set I got to interact quite a lot with Michelle, up close enough that we accidentally bumped into each other a couple of times while rocking out. Api, the bassist, came over to interact with me several times, smiling quite a lot, making me wonder if she remembered me from the other show or if she was just happy to see a foreigner freaking out and singing along at her show. In the final song, Man came over to my side of the stage and got right up in my face, where we screamed at each other like crazy people. When it was all over and they were clearing their gear, Api looked over and gave me this perfect playful :P face, as if to say wheeeee, that was fun!

Non, the drummer, was stationed at the merch table, which was great because she was the only member I didn’t get to meet when I saw them last time. I started to ask her about T-shirt colors, but she was all, “Are you William?”

I was like “0_0 How did you know!?”

And she was all, “何となく。” — I just know.

In retrospect it was probably because she’d seen me tweeting about heading to the show, but I didn’t have time to realize it because the next thing I knew, someone was throwing their arm around me and giving me a vigorous hug! It was Man, who as it turned out did remember me from the show in 2011, and was quite happy to see me! We talked a bit, I bought one of everything at the table, and I made my escape before it got too late.