Perhaps preditably, the second Clear And Refreshing event wasn't quite the stress trip of the first one, with the experience gained, the more convenient Sunday evening time slot, an extra band on the line-up, and more careful scheduling in co-operation with other 1-2-3-Go! people ensuring that everything ran at least a little more smoothly.
That's not to say that there weren't any problems though. For some reason, most of the headaches seemed to be drummer-related. Randy And The Pyramids are playing their first gig with a new drummer; Bonzo's don't even have one, but have been making cryptic utterances about the possible appearance of a "secret drummer"; Guerilla Television's drummer can't make it to rehearsals and has to dash across Tokyo directly from his friend's wedding in order to make the stage by 9.30. Oh, and the keyboard player is sick and might not come. And they had to get a stand-in for their pregnant bass player. And not only has their guest guitarist never rehearsed with the band but he and the regular guitarist have never even met. With all the things stacked against them it's down to their musical skill, their hard work, and their life-consuming passion for music that the gig can happen at all.
Then there's the problem of clothes. I've got it in my head that this event is red in colour, but the other half of Clear And Refreshing does not wear red. This battle goes on for weeks and in the end we're both wearing red shirts but I've had to drop the black tie in exchange for a psychedelic cravat, which nevertheless proves equally satisfying. Making the sample CDs (Cover / Back), printing event programmes, the baking of free chocolate cakes for the audience, the preparation of birthday gifts and another cake reading "1-2-3-Birthday!" to celebrate Sakamoto out of Randy And The Pyramids' 30th birthday are dealt with as calmly and efficiently as we know how (i.e. not very) and somewhere in all that, the blizzard of flyers and promotional items that we were planning doesn't quite get off the ground. Arrogance? Sophomore laziness? Not sure, but the nagging feeling that we could have done more casts a cloud over the build-up.
As the day comes round and we arrive at the UFO Club, a lot of the bands are already waiting for us. Rehearsal time is the most interesting time of an event. For many of the bands performing, this is the first time they've seen each other and for us, most of whose work has been taken care of in the preparation stages, we can sit back with three cans of beer on the table in front of us, mentally labeled "breakfast", "lunch" and "dinner" respectively, and watch everyone's reactions to each other's music. Hotty, a paid-up-yet-unpaid Clear And Refreshing staff member for the day, arrives with her camera; tonight's DJ, Atsushi from The Students, arrives and starts massacring The Happy Mondays through enthusiastic over-manipulation of the CDJ's speed settings; and guests start to trickle through the doors.
It can't be emphasised enough how good it makes an event organiser feel to see that the bands you have gathered are making an effort. Randy And The Pyramids have illuminated the stage with Christmas lights and new drummer Tsutomu Goto is like a psychotic, badly dressed Keith Moon behind the kit, wreaking all manner of explosive baggy-punk mayhem over song intros that we thought we knew. Together with Sakamoto's continuing emergence as a bona fide rock star it suggests that Randy And The Pyramids might finally be developing into the modern psychedelic pop monster that they've always threatened to become.
The reason I love The Mookees is something that runs contrary to a lot of the accepted logic of music criticism, but perhaps that's what makes it so real. There's nothing original in what they do. I dare anyone who got the CD (Cover / Back) that we gave away to listen to The Mookees' track inbetween "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen and "All Day And All Of The Night" by The Kinks and see if there's a crack of daylight. That's the easy part. What's more difficult is to explain why it is that you still can't stop your feet from moving every time you listen to them. It's pure, simple dance music that's built from the rhythm upwards and that affects your body a long time before your brain gets a chance to ruin things.
Bonzo's are always a difficult band to schedule because you've never got much of a clue what you're going to get. The last time I saw them they consisted of just Tetsurou Suzuki, a harmonica and an acoustic guitar. Today lead guitarist Katoken is added to the line-up and bassist Shunsuke Miyagawa makes a welcome return and is dressed like a geography teacher to celebrate. Or something. The "secret drummer" doesn't really materialise as they play "Girlfriend" as a threesome, and then things get confusing as they embark on a furious bout of instrument-swapping that culminates in a couple of hilarious guitar and bass solos and Miyagawa pounding the fuck out of the drum kit for what seems like an hour, using his palms and fists when his drumsticks flee from his grasp.
I always like to have an intermission in the middle to give the DJ a chance to restore the atmosphere and to give people a chance to talk amongs themselves, but we're running behind schedule and by the time we've made our speech, Misaki from The Glam has presented Sakamoto with his birthday gifts, we've all sung an unplanned rendition of "Happy Birthday", and I've drunkenly mispronounced DJ Atsushi's name, we've only got ten minutes left before the next band.
Like Bonzo's, you never really know what Guerilla Television are going to provide. There are seven of them on stage today, with regular bass player Wacky hiding in the corner, intoning nonsense into a microphone while Suzu from Denki Shouyu fills in on bass. They start with "Science TV" and lead into the first half of "I Don't Know" before launching everything into the psychosphere. Those who are able to follow them get one hell of a ride.
The Meatballs bring everything down to earth again and, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable here, U-ji Nakajima is possibly the sexiest rock and roll star in Japan. There's something in their songs that refuses to be categorised as well, and plants the music firmly in the now, whenever "now" might be. It's not just that that makes them so great though. All three band members play together like a family and there's a bond present in their music that gives everything an incredible warmth.
To call this event a success might be an overstatement. We lost a fair amont of money and our audience, while respectable, is not the kind of thing we could start a putsch with or anything. The important thing is that there were more people than last time and that if we keep working hard and seeking out new and different bands, there is the chance for something bigger and better. Laziness is the curse of the indie music scene. Laziness, narrow-mindedness and negativity. You wake up in the morning, look out the window and see the salarymen going to work, and you think "I'm not one of them. I don't fit that society. Fuck the lot of them!" and crawl back under the covers. You listen to music and you think "These people don't feel the same as me. This music can't describe the way I feel. Fuck them!" and you ignore the fact that these are other people in your position, trying to express themselves in as creative a way as they know how. You see some bands that you love and you think "Why are these bands only playing to tiny audiences in tiny venues like the UFO Club? What's the point in making music when no-one listens to it? Fuck it!" and you don't do anything. You don't form a band. You don't start a fanzine. You don't put on your own event.
Frankly, fuck you.
The bands, the staff, and all the people who came on 12/12 are different. They are people who care, and if "our" culture is going to be strong then we have to care about it. Clear And Refreshing's next event is at Higashi-Koenji UFO Club on February 13th 2005. At the time of writing The Glam, Miami and Drive To The Forest In A Japanese Car are confirmed to appear, with two more bands to be announced. On March 4th, Randy And The Pyramids will be putting on "Music For Elevators" at Okubo Hot Shot, and then on March 28th, Clear And Refreshing will have an event at Koenji Showboat.