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Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

All aboard for Drive to 2010

J-Punk's ultimate bash celebrates 30 years

Special to The Japan Times

It's Aug. 28, 1979, and the audience dutifully files into the old Shinjuku Loft livehouse to take their places, seated on the floor in preparation for another night of quiet musical appreciation. This time, however, something strange starts to happen. People keep coming in, the audience have to shuffle forward, it starts to get tighter, a few people stand up. Soon, for the first time in Japan, a packed crowd of 300 people are standing to watch leading lights of the Japanese punk scene like Friction, Lizard and The Star Club blaze a trail out of the 1970s and into the uncertain world of the new decade.

News photo
Mornings will play this year's Drive to 2010 event.

The event was called Drive to '80s, and over six consecutive days around 2,500 people passed through the doors of Loft. It was such a legendary event that 20 years later the organizers reprised the concept with Drive to 2000 at the new Loft in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district, and now again, as Japanese punk turns 30, with Drive to 2010.

"The '70s underground rock culture and the '60s revolutionary ideals had almost died," explains Yuichi Jibiki, one of the organizers of Drive to '80s and its children, "but a lot of those bands were assimilated by the new punk influence from New York."

Kenzou Saeki, another member of the organizing committee, and — with the bands Halmens and Pearl Brothers — one of the early generation of Japanese musicians influenced by the initial explosion of punk in Japan agrees: "It was perhaps the first time there was a gig in the style of CBGBs," he says, referring to the legendary punk venue in New York. "Some of the people who were playing at Drive to 80s, like Reck from Friction, had played at CBGBs previously with bands like The Contortions and DNA, so they knew about the atmosphere."

While taking its core musical identity from the style of punk that had been collected earlier that same year on the "Tokyo Rockers" compilation album (recorded live, also at Loft), Drive to '80s also began to bridge the gap between the New York-influenced first generation punks and the new-wave generation whose sound was more peculiar to Japan.

Bands like P-Model, The Plastics and Hikashu, generally labeled "technopop," provided the impetus for the sound of 1980s Japanese pop music. "New wave influenced so many kinds of music," says Saeki. "For example, '80s kayoukyoku (the term for mainstream pop of that era) had a strong new-wave influence. I wrote the lyrics for Kyoko Koizumi's song "Muscle Peach" (from the album "Flapper"), the music was written by (YMO collaborator and Ryuichi Sakamoto's wife) Akiko Yano and it was arranged by Masahide Sakuma from The Plastics, which was a very new-wave song."

A revival of this Plastics/P-Model- influenced sound in 1998, calling itself the "Tokyo New Wave of New Wave" coincided with the second "Drive to . . ." event, with groups such as Polysics and Chiba Radar dominating the lineup, but this time around, despite a wealth of young musicians, it's the return of so many of the first generation punks that seems most striking.

News photo
Driving force: Hikashu play the original Drive to '80s event.

"Back then there was a world or an image that we wanted to express with our music," explains Saeki, "and there was a kind of anger too. About civilization, the direction of the nation. Young people nowadays have less feelings of anger, but I think 20 or 30 years ago, people who were playing rock music had this sense of rage." Among those representing the current generation at Drive to 2010 is the loose affiliation of musicians who operate the Tokyo Boredom event. Gathered in the corner of a Shinjuku izakaya (Japanese style pub) amid the raucous, alcohol-fueled, postgig antics of multiple members of the current underground scene, they concede that some of punk's revolutionary rage has dissipated.

"Our anger is quite a selfish thing, or maybe we could say a private thing," says Kaita Tanaka of the group Worst Taste. His bandmate Naoto Kojima agrees, "There was a sort of common anger at that time about society."

"But there are many things besides anger to make music about," concludes Tanaka, "Just making music about something interesting is enough."

Perhaps the more fragmented delivery system for music since widespread use of the Internet came about is part of the reason. Also the postbubble breakdown of the established career path from college to job-for-life has removed a key target of youth anger; you can't rage against conformity when society won't even let you conform. Saeki suggests another reason may lie in the way many of the social issues of the '70s and '80s have resolved themselves. "Technology at that time gave us a great sense of uncertainty," he recalls. "On the one hand we were expecting wonderful things from it, but on the other hand we were expecting it to make everything worse as well." Now that the computer world is such a dominant part of our lives, the wider cultural uncertainty has retreated, to be replaced by the more introverted, isolated, individual insecurity of the modern world.

According to Jibiki, the fragmented nature of the current scene is in part due to the influence of the Tokyo Rockers generation themselves.

"The Rockers opened the door and gave people the feeling 'We can do anything we want,' " he says, "so that led to the wide range of styles that followed them."

As a result, Drive to 2010 is shaping up to be the most eclectic of the events so far, with over 30 days worth of shows encompassing around 250 artists. Alongside heroes of the original punk and new-wave battles like Hikashu and Lizard, many late '90s new-wave revivalists like Polysics return, as well as current underground stars such as Afrirampo; not to mention big names such as Zazen Boys, '70s rockers Zuno Keisatsu, famously loopy '80s singer Jun Togawa, and post-Shibuya-kei idol pop like Vanilla Beans and Saori@Destiny.

Drive to 2010 started at Shinjuku Loft on Oct. 5 and continues until Nov. 11. Most tickets cost ¥3000 in advance and ¥3500 at the door. For more information, visit www.driveto2010.com

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