For too many people, Nagoya is simply a station between Tokyo and Kyoto, offering little of interest. In addition to the tourist attractions I have written about elsewhere on this site, Nagoya also has a thriving music scene, some characterful live houses and some truly magnificent local bands.
Ignored by the insular scenes in Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya bands have been given space and time to develop along their own lines and the rewards are starting to be reaped. Long time features of the live house circuit like Karesi, Jonny and Soul Kids are starting to make waves outside their own pond, with frequent radio play, press recognition and an increasingly national profile. Jonny even managed to get airplay in the UK on BBC radio.
Nagoya is filled with music venues, from the big to the small, the polished to the skuzzy. While halls like Zepp and Club Quattro attract the larger national and international bands, it’s in the hard-to-find sticky-floored clubs that the Nagoya scene struts its stuff. Highest profile of these must be Tokuzo in Imaike.
Attracting the big names of the non-mainstream world (Tenniscoats, Acid Mothers Temple) as well as many more leftfield foreign bands (epic45, Joanna Newsom), Tokuzo is a fantastic performance space with great acoustics, a sizeable stage and decently priced drinks. My only gripe is their preference for cabaret style seating regardless of the style of band playing. Perfect for jazz, but watching a band like 6 Eyes perform sleazy David Lynch inspired rock n roll while sitting behind a table is not entering into the spirit of things. Also in Imaike is Huck Finn.
A true basement dive with a stage at one end, a counter at the other selling cans of beer and little but flyers and ashtrays in between. Huck Finn doesn’t have much draw for big names but is popular with newborn bands and hosts many cheap showcases, perfect for those who like to say “of course, I saw them before anyone”. Club Rock n Roll in Shin-Sakae is where the party’s at. A Nagoya institution: sizeable mosh pit, one tiny toilet and some of the weirdest, loudest and downright nastiest bands you’ll ever see.
Sometimes I’ve been blown away, sometimes just confused, but I have always been entertained by the chaos in Club Rock n Roll. KD Japon in Tsurumai can only call itself a venue because bands play there. No stage, just a space in front of the bar, the audience squash backs against the bar or huddle on the rickety mezzanine level praying the whole thing doesn’t collapse. If you want to use the toilet you have to cross the ‘stage’. Needless to say it’s a terrific place to see bands. All pretence at separation between performers and audience is lost and if the band are great then the energy in the room is amazing.
On the other hand, if they’re nothing special it becomes obvious very quickly. Every sigh can be heard by the band, every roll of the eyes noticed. There are other clubs – Upset, Plastic Factory and so on – but these four between them form the hub of Nagoya’s indie/rock/punk scenes and have something of interest on offer almost every night. The trick is finding the diamonds in the rough. All too often bands have to rely on word of mouth here, with little in the way of decent local radio or music press.
Luckily the bands here are friendly and chatty and are eager to recommend other bands to anyone who shows an interest. All these venues have decent websites with full schedules and maps. Also magazines like Indies Issue have gig listings for small and mid-level Japanese indie bands. The photo is of Jonny playing at Looop.