photos by Isao Amano
interview by Damage
translation by a04/project elektra
If you wanted to get the latest update on the Japanese goth/indus/indie scene, here's your ticket. We couldn't have found a better guide to all things gloomy, chic and nihongo than the most prominent DJ in the scene, SISEN. He talks parties, habits, insider knowledge and luckily, a lot about himself!
THE DOSE: Apart from the playlists and party pictures available online, the Japanese club scene is somewhat of a mystery to us. Please tell us about it!
DJ SISEN: I'd be more than happy to! There's actually a variety of interesting clubs happening around Japan now. Over the past few years the number of goth and fetish club happenings has been steadily increasing. In Tokyo, there's Tokyo Dark Castle, STIGMATIC in Nagoya and there's Black Veil in Osaka which have basically become the flagships of the Japanese goth scene. The gothic lolitas are more apt to go to Alamode Night. Perhaps the most popular fetish club is Torture Garden Japan.
I am a resident DJ at Tokyo Decadance which is an interesting mix of fetish, drag queens, and Shibuya "gals", rockabilly and all this other stuff that just makes for a cool club. I definitely recommend it to people!
The cyber and raver kids are more drawn to the harder fixed beats of NRG and Hard Core, so for them is a club called NRGetic Romancer. I actually like this club quite a bit. DJ Yoji Biomehanika is seen is a god to the cyber kids. I sometimes go dancing at the club GIGA that he organizes. He is really good at working the floor into a frenzy. And of course there are clubs dedicated to anime and video game costume players.
In the Japanese goth/industrial scene right now, I think there's probably about 40 or so active DJs. As for styles getting played, you can expect to hear Dark Electro, Industrial, EBM, Electro, Gothic, Future Pop, Synth Pop, Trip Hop, Dark wave, New wave, 80's, Gothic, Batcave, Death Rock, Loud Rock, Glam Rock, Positive Punk and Rhythmic Noise.
The number of people attending these events differs, but it can reach anywhere from 150 to 400 people. In contrast to scenes in other countries, there are probably more women than men coming to the clubs.
THE DOSE: You are an active participant of the MySpace community. In your profile you mention that you are not satisfied with the Japanese club scene, what's the reason behind it?
DJ SISEN: There are two reasons. The first reason being that I tend to compare the clubs in Japan to the clubs in London. Two years ago in October, I went to London for the first time. As it turned out, I got to see Hocico perform live at Slimelight while I was there. The cyber kids that were at that show were so cool and intense, that was entertainment in itself!
And in London, this type of club was happening every week. There were also a lot of other cool clubs happening!! People in London seemed to know how to enjoy themselves. Japanese tend to be shy, and a lot of people just aren't used to clubbing. Of course there are some good things about the Japanese scene as well... Another reason is that for all the goths and gothic lolitas in Japan, only a fraction actually come to the Goth clubs. But that's more likely because there really aren't that many people that know that these Gothic and industrial events are happening.
I really think that Goth and industrial clubs are cool, so once the word gets out, I think more and more people will get into it, so I keep at it as a DJ and otherwise participating in organizing club events so that the scene will get even bigger!! If you keep at a club or a band and the number of younger clients increases, I think that's the best thing. There's nothing more unsettling than when there is no forward momentum.
THE DOSE: You also mention that culture/fashion is left to strict classification that creates barriers. Do you mean that the gothic/industrial/glamour scene is looked upon as some sort of abomination by other subcultures or the mainstream?
DJ SISEN: In Japan, there is a common misconception that associates goths with the gothic lolita and visual-kei community, and the goths rather abhor that connection.
THE DOSE: Where do you see a possible way of evolution for the underground club/music scene? More promotion, more marketing, more community-based events or websites or is it just the human factor that the scene misses?
DJ SISEN: Maintain individuality, mix in a few ingredients and elements to bring about a positive growth and hope that the movement continues to spread. Rivalry and pride are definitely hindrances and keep things from moving in a positive direction.
THE DOSE: You spin at different parties, from Tokyo Dark Castle to Tokyo Decadance or Alamode Night. How much DJ'ing do you do a month, how do you relate to these different types of parties?
DJ SISEN: I'm DJing about three times a month at present. I'm still learning a lot about music and being a DJ as I go along.
THE DOSE: What do scene participants use to communicate and to spread info? Do you have fanzines or do you use web- and mobile WAP sites?
DJ SISEN: We distribute and promote through flyers, use the web, mail magazines, and Mixi,
etc. Mixi is something like the Japanese version of MySpace.
THE DOSE: Your photos show that you put a respectable amount of work into dressing up for the parties. As much as I've seen, this also stands for other DJ's as well - this is something very special DJs don't care about in Europe. How do you decide about your costumes, where do you get new inspiration from? Do you create your make-up all by yourself?
DJ SISEN: You find it interesting? In the Japanese goth scene, it comes somewhat naturally. Everyone seems to have their own style and music that they want to get played. We generally get dressed up according to the style and theme of the club where we play. I do all my own make-up. I have been influenced by drag queens in the past, and so sometimes I get dressed up that way as well.
THE DOSE: Elegant Gothic Lolita is pretty much hyped in Budapest nowadays. How much does EGL overlap with the gothic/industrial scene?
DJ SISEN: I'm happy to hear that. There are actually fine distinctions in Gothic Lolita styles: EGL, Sweet Lolita, White Lolita, and Classic Lolita. There are a lot of Gothic Lolitas that go to goth clubs, but the majority are into visual-kei bands and are more likely to be going to see these bands at live venues. There are some that are merely costume-players that just get dressed up when they go out, and others addicted to fairy tales that do the gothic lolita thing every day. There are even "Tea Parties" where gothic lolitas will get together.
THE DOSE: How did you get involved with the scene and how did you end up DJ'ing?
DJ SISEN: I first learned about Goth clubs through an article that was in the Japanese fetish/subculture magazine BURST. As it turns out, the first goth club was "Club EVE The New Church" which had started six years before with a monthly event in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. It was both startling and shocking to learn about where the vampires were dancing.
The reason that I became a DJ was because there were things that only I could express. Because the goth/industrial scene is still so largely unknown, I thought it would be cool to do my own part make the scene more visible.
THE DOSE: How come you also DJ under the name of DJ Violet and DJ 666Fox? Different personas playing different kinds of music?
DJ SISEN: I use the name DJ 666FOX when I am spinning at "Junk Children" or "Junk Baptism" and I'm playing a much harder set than when I DJ as DJ Violet.
THE DOSE: Judging by your Club Golgotha playlists, the genres you touch are diverse - you spin from Die Form and Lamia through The Azoic and Pzychobitch to X-Dream and Infected Mushroom. What genres do you limit yourself to? Is there any one style that's the love of your life?
DJ SISEN: I use a lot of different music in my set, but I especially like female-fronted electro-industrial and strange classical-sounding tracks.
THE DOSE: What Japanese artists would you showcase?
DJ SISEN: I can probably recommend JLHA at jlhapower.com more than anyone else. JLHA has an elegant and sometimes deep and startling electro sound, a sound that translates equally to both techno and goth clubs. JLHA does everything herself, from programming and vocals. Her talent is entirely amazing. She performed live at “ANDOROID 666" an event that I organized, and I also performed as a backing dancer at one of her other shows.
THE DOSE: What do you listen to when you're not working (e.g. not behind the decks)? Actually, what do you do beside DJ'ing, what do you read, what movies do you watch, what quality timespending activities do you participate in?
DJ SISEN: At home, I listen to a lot of goth and industrial, and I've been listening to a lot of classical music since I was young. I really like Bach. I also like Gregorian chants.
I also listen to Kuroyuri Shimai, Cacchinica, Kokushoku Sumire, VEXATION, Ali Project and other classically influenced though somewhat different Japanese artists. Believe it or not, I also occasionally listen to old Japanese pop music (Ri Koran, Yoshiko Yamaguchi) and chanson (just a little).
I won't get into the ugly details, but I do have a job during the week. Occasionally I work as a model, and I sometimes I'm asked to do the drag queen thing at clubs.
I don't really read books. If I read anything it's more about what's happening in the real world right now.
As for movies, I'll watch pretty much anything, but I must admit that older films have a certain character that modern movies can't really capture. Older movies and horror movies from the 70s and 80s have that whole dated feeling... they could only have made that movie at that time. I kinda like that. I can't say that I've had any free time recently. If I do, I go out! I like walking around in Harajuku or Shinjuku, shopping or just looking around. I also like going to shrines and temples. I want to go out to the countryside. I like the city, but it's nice to be able to get into a natural setting once in a while. For my health, I'm thinking of taking up swimming regularly.
THE DOSE: You have a project called Seirenes you do with Selia. This reminds me of Schwartz Stein with some more opera/dramatic overtones. What's the concept behind the band?
DJ SISEN: I really like classical music, so I can't really deny the influence of artists like Lamia and Qntal. I had never heard dark electro with countertenor vocals, so we decided to experiment with the idea.
THE DOSE: Do you have any plans for releasing a Seirenes EP/LP soon, PVs perhaps?
DJ SISEN: Of course I want to release something!! If I'm going to release a CD, I want to have several bands remix our tracks. However, I still have a lot of things that I need to learn before we can release anything.
THE DOSE: Before the Japanese scene started to appear on MySpace, the youngsters who were interested in Japanese Gothic got their music influences and information from visual kei materials. Obviously there were some true gems like Art Marju Duchain, Schwarz Stein or Velvet Eden but still there is a misconception that visual kei and J-Gothic are the same. Could you please make the difference clear for the European readers?
DJ SISEN: Ah, that is a very good and very important question that you have asked. And to answer it will be very difficult, indeed.
As a matter of fact, the explanation and understanding is going to differ from person to person, but this is a good opportunity for me to explain things the way I perceive them to be. I'll be blunt. J-Goth is NOT visual kei. J-Goth is the Japanese gothic and industrial scene. People that are into J-Goth bands are generally not into visual-kei bands. The misconception that visual-kei and J-Goth are somehow linked is not appreciated by either.
However, I do believe that visual-kei is an original expression of Japanese musical culture. As someone who is Japanese, I am happy to hear that there are people around the world that are getting into visual-kei bands. Malice Mizer, Schwarz Stein, Amadeus, Art Marju Duchain, Velvet Eden, Blam Honey, Kilhi+Ice and others all had their roots in visual-kei, but in fact their sound and style has evolved to a completely different level. Though they are unfortunately not active now, they had a big influence on me. I want the J-Goth scene to become more of a distiguishable presence in the future.
THE DOSE: Learning about Japanese industrial culture, we came through the movies of Shojin Fukui (Pinocchio 964, Rubber's Lover), Sogo Ishii (Electric Dragon 80.000V) Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo), Mamoru Oshii (GITS) or Hiroki Yamaguchi (Gusha no Bindu Me). How much do these movies influence you and the scene?
DJ SISEN: Wow! You know a lot about Japanese films, don't you! There seem to be a lot of cool underground films being made in Japan. Probably the film that had the biggest influence on me was Shuji Terayama's "Den-en ni shisu". This film could probably be best described as J-Goth. The soundtrack by J.A. Seazer is disturbingly cool.
THE DOSE: I think we can agree that the main keyword of the industrial subculture is revolt. How positive and constructive is this revolt? How do you see the situation in Japan's society, how do you and how does the scene react to the strong social tension and in what do you and they express the need to revolt, if you do at all?
DJ SISEN: Japan is still peaceful and pleasant at the moment, but I feel that we are missing out on something important. As a country, we need to be stronger, and raise our own individual consciousness in regards of what it means to be Japanese.
THE DOSE: As a big question - what would you recommend to tourists who come to Tokyo and are interested in the scene? What shops should
they visit, what magazines should they buy, which parties should they attend and which bands should they absolutely check out? Any info websites you would recommend to them?
DJ SISEN: Possibly the biggest thing about the Japanese goth scene is the abundance of clothing shops. Including all the independent makers, there's probably several hundred brands out there. There are lots of different designs, the majority of which are genuinely high quality. "alice auaa" products in particular, which could easily be considered works of art, have a design and quality that sets it a level above other brands in the scene.
There are lots of goth and gothic lolita fashion magazines as well. One of the more popular publications is the Gothic and Lolita Bible, and a lot of people here in the scene get their information from this.
In the Harajuku area of Tokyo there are lots of shops that cater to the goth and gothic lolita customer. You're pretty much set if you go to the "OIONE SHINJUKU". In that department store, everything from the 5th floor upwards is basically dedicated to the goth and lolita brands. A first-time visitor would probably be blown away. If you're going to go to a club in Tokyo, of course I'd want you to come to either "Tokyo Dark Castle" or "Tokyo Decadance", but there are goth and fetish parties pretty much every weekend so it all comes down to timing. Definitely come out and play!!
Some good homepages:
KIKIRARA SHOUTEN - www.kikirarashoten.com This is just a costume shop that I particularly like. The designer here is one of my friends. Most of the items there are one-of-a-kind and if you let them know what you're looking for, they can probably make it custom! Their hats and corsets are especially good. I've actually participated in a fashion show for this brand.
gROTTESCOsEPHIRAH - www.grottesco.net This is a performance group that puts on events on an irregular basis. I am their friend and also a fan. Their performances for me literally define Japanese goth and underground. TRICK OR TREAT - www.5f.biglobe.ne.jp/trick_or_treat This is a bar and general goth hangout in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. The inside of the bar is something you might imagine being in "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The owner (master) of the bar is really cool and looks like Rob Zombie. They occasionally have events.
THE DOSE: Thank you so much for honoring us with this interview. Do you have any final message to the DOSE readers?
DJ SISEN: I'm really happy that there are so many people interested in Japan. I said that visual-kei was not J-Goth, but I am by no means slamming the visual-kei community. It is probably difficult, but if there could be some kind cooperative mixture of visual-kei and goth , I think that a lot of people would really get into it. There are a lot of Japanese people that really don't like English or other foreign languages, so it's somewhat difficult to blend the two subcultures, but I think it would be cool to mix with the goth scenes of different countries.
Please, please, come to Japan!
And I want to extend thanks to all of THE DOSE readers who have taken the time to read the special issue on the Japanese scene. Thank you very much.