When arriving in Tokyo after a practically endless flight from London via Rome, you might think that going to a punk show would be a little low on the priorities list. Unless you’re dying to see the guts of the Japanese scene, that is. So, after an airport transfer and a hotel check in (short nap) later, the bright lights of Tokyo’s electric Shinjuku area beckoned, and it was time to see what the Ice Grills tour would inspire – almost. After playing the “what the hell is horse in Japanese?” food game for an hour, the news that the money available wouldn’t cover the (50% discounted – thank you Mizuki!) entry fee, the following trek back to the hotel for more cash meant that the final three bands of the five would have to do.
Anti Knock itself is the sort of venue that doesn’t really exist anymore in the UK. It’s situated in a basement of an apartment building (I think) and once you reach the bottom of the entrance stairs, you’re greeted by kids hanging to every wall of the bar and merch area smoking cigarettes and chatting. The venue is plastered in posters of shows from the last decade, and there’s a vibe about the place that’s long been abandoned in most of the UK toilet scene these days (or I may have just got too old). The gigs aren’t exactly cheap here either, so a pretty much full house for a show like tonight (with a £30 walk up fee), is pretty great to see – £15 in the UK would certainly need to be “justified” a lot more to please our spoiled scenesters (“I paid that to see 100 bands in 2001!” etc).
Once you’ve gone through the bar area doors, the main room holds the stage and the few hundred paying audience members, and the buzz is amazing. Worth noting straight away is that punk / pop punk scene dress code is absolutely global. It’s easy to think of Japan – Tokyo in particular – of being quite wild in terms of teenage dress sense (Harajuku is two metro stops away), but it’s all black t-shirts, skinny jeans and snap backs tonight. Pro tip: If you’re around 6ft tall, you should definitely be wary of blocking the view…
First up tonight were After Tonight, a Japanese pop punk band that harked back the to mid 00s with some of the meatier parts you’d expect from the last couple of years. It’s a little jarring hearing a band chat in Japanese between songs and then drop a pseudo American “classic” pop punk vocal in English during the songs, but that really is just the way that the influence of US pop punk manifest, and they’re pretty great to watch. It’s also the first glimpse of the venue’s awesome in-house lights, which are far better than you’d expect from a little place like this. The venue also sticks a projection of the bands on the stage on the speaker stacks and plays the video with audio out in the bar, so it’s a great continuous experience of the band even if you need a break for a beer.
On the subject of beer, you get a drinks token with the entry price of the gig and if you’re a member of the venue, you also get half price beer. Otherwise, expect to pay 600¥ (£4.20) for a 330ml cup of Kirin. The maths is a little bit sickening with the entry price, but it does encourage watching the bands and drinking sensibly…
Next up, Living With Lions come on stage and do a fantastic set that has the crowd overexcited from the word go (though you wouldn’t quite notice that from the traditionally awkward between song reactions of the Japanese crowds). It’s the last night of the tour tonight - and you can tell that the language barrier cuts down on stage banter a little – but the band seem grateful to be there, and their set could have been a headline performance in itself.
After a short delay waiting for vocalist Ben Kotin had triggered some fairly ridiculous on-stage chatter – largely lost on the crowd – from their magnificently bearded bassist, Such Gold took to the stage, and what followed was clearly an excellent way to end their tour. Every box was ticked this evening – from stage dives, crowd surfs and in-crowd singalong moments to the vastly entertaining performance from the band all round. Such Gold seemed like the most grateful band in the world tonight, and the crowd gave back in spades. Particular highlights came from the bands more mature material (mostly due to the kids going nuts), but they laid down the law in fine style for the whole set, and it was all too soon that the show came to a close. Meeting good crowds in other other native English speaking countries is one thing, but the reaction from the Japanese kids put smiles on the whole band’s faces, and they looked a bit gutted to be heading home.
In all honesty, it would have been amazing to see more of the local bands tonight (out of pure curiosity), but it was clear that the scene is strong in Tokyo with great venues like Anti Knock kicking around. If you ever make the trip to the city, try and fit in a punk show, because if tonight is anything to go by it’s a great way to spend an evening. Also, the kids don’t seem half as spoiled as the ones who kill the fun in the UK, and seem genuinely up for it.