live house soma osaka
Pieces of the puzzle of understanding another country’s music business can take a long time to fall into place, especially when the country is Japan. I have been playing in Japan since my never-ending (I hope) worldwide tour of open mics and open jams began in 2009. It was only last night on my fourth visit to Japan, therefore, that I suddenly discovered one of the mainstay ways bands and pop musicians get gigs and tour the country and develop their thing…. It’s called the “live house,” or in Japanese, “rai-bu.”
But let me back-step a little. It turns out that my previous post and mini gig, at Club Mercury, was also at a live house – but a very small one. When I asked the manager there if he knew any open mics or open jams or places where I could play the following night – last night, Tuesday – he very kindly and enthusiastically told me he would call around and see if he could find something.
So it was that I finally received a tweet and an email from him yesterday and he asked me to meet him at Club Mercury again if I wanted to play somewhere, because he had found a place for me to play, and it would be easier if he took me there. So I headed off to Club Mercury, and we took a cab over to the live house called Soma
, in the Shinsaibashi area. This is a very cool, crowded area of small streets and street people and restaurants and bars and clubs near the Namba station.
When we stood outside Soma and he said, “This is it,” I started wondering what kind of place he had taken me to. It looked bloody big, there were posters of bands all over the place, and it really looked professional and hip. I had sudden visions of me making my appearance opening up for some famous Japanese at Osaka’s equivalent of the Bus Palladium in Paris, or hey, why not the Palladium in London? Well, not quite. But anyway….
We entered and I found myself in a hip and colorful cool bar area being introduced to a woman who had been warned of my arrival. I could not understand any of the talk, but she led me to a backstage area and said, basically, “Here’s your dressing room, and the stage is on the other side, there.” She pointed out a wall with a door at the end of the hall, and I heard music and continued to wonder what was going on. But for the sake of adventure, I said to myself, Cool!
She then told me that I was booked to go on a 8:20, for half an hour. Whoa!
I then met up with the manager from the Club Mercury again – whose name I have not put here simply because I have not got a clue of how to pronounce it, even though I tried several times, but it’s sort of like Hajth…. He bought me a beer and he asked if I wanted to go into the auditorium to drink it, during the show.
So we entered the room, where I found a fabulously cool mid-sized live house area with a large stage, great sound system, huge dance floor and tables area and in the very back a control room area with what looked like two or three technicians working the light and sound.
There was a performer on the stage singing to recorded music, and I was now once again thrown into a sense of confusion. It was not, clearly, a karaoke. But what was it? By the time I went up, there were about six spectators plus the sound people, maybe eight or nine people maximum. Some were, I would learn, musicians.
I took to the stage, got the guitar and vocal mic sound checked and then did my half-hour “show.” Later, I met the first singer, she gave me her CD, “Jump!,” and then some other musicians, and I watched the half-hour gig of the musician after me, whom everyone calls Tazz, but whose stage name is Vividamien. She was damned good. Played a nice expressive guitar – which was a neat Ovation, by the way – and also had a very good and expressive singing voice with some original sounding tunes.
Afterwards we all went into the bar area and had some beers and some food – including the local Osaka specialty of takoyaki. We also jammed a little. It was an insanely wonderful evening, and I owed it all to the manager at the Club Mercury, and the open arms of the Soma live house. Because a live house, I learned, is the way that bands find their audiences and get known in Japan. There are no booking agents for small bands because there is virtually no money to be made in it. So instead, there are hundreds, or probably thousands, of these live houses all over the country where bands have access to a staff and great equipment and a stage and a bar. And the band usually is auditioned and has to ensure that a certain number of spectators will come to listen, and buy tickets. That pays for the rental of the room.
I, like most foreign “bands,” did not have to pay for the booking and get people there – that was actually due to the kindness of Hadth – I will get that spelling as soon as I can – who got me the gig, and who in fact invited me to everything throughout the evening. Unbelievable where music is capable of taking a person! This was a real introduction to a whole facet of Japanese musical band culture that I knew nothing about, even after three previous years playing where I could. That said, I had noticed the name “live house” here and there – I just never knew what it was. Now I do….
Oh, and by the way, being on that stage under the constantly changing spotlights and with a sound crew that knows what they are doing, was a real joy – no matter how small the audience might have been….