interview by Damage
Standing solid in the Tokyo alternative/gothic crowd, Kenzo Amishiro serves with two creative hands. He plays guitars in two bands, those being Gadget. and Geeks and he also is - first and foremost - an underground fashion designer. If you hear the name Sexy Dynamite London from now on, be on the lookout!
THE DOSE: Please describe your early musical interests, in terms of both listening and playing. What is your musical background in terms of formal training?
KENZO: Well, my first love was Kenji Sawada aka Julie. He at that time was like the only major glam rock star in Japan, with makeups and glitters and all that. This is when I was at age of 3 or something. Then, the 80's slapped me and opened up my eyes to the foreign pop and rock culture. The Duran Duran was my favorite at that time. Shortly after that, I was introduced to Heavy Metal and that changed my world completely.
Bands like the Mötley Crüe, the Twisted Sisters, the Kiss, the MSG, the Hanoi Rocks, the G'n'R, the Aerosmith were the gods for me. Through the Glam Metal, I encountered with T.Rex and David Bowie, and they became my all time hero ever since. I dug up all the roots of the Hair Metal, from the Led Zeppelin to the Sly and the Familystone, from Robert Johnson to the Bauhaus, then branched off from there to every direction I could lay my hands on.
Then, there came 90's Alt Rock craze. It seemed to me then to be like a trade fair of the whole rock culture of the 20th century, mostly revolved around psychedelia. So, for me as an omnivorous animal, it was totally my scene.
I never had "formal training" in rock music. Well I learned to play the piano when I was little, and I had music classes in schools which I hated and that's about it. Listening to all the giants and playing with friends and creating what I wanna hear have taught me how to rock.
THE DOSE: On the MySpace profile of gadget. you list influences such as T.Rex, Jane's Addiction, Velvet Underground, Placebo or The Jesus and Mary Chain and your music coincides with these genres and guitar sound. You play in Tokyo not only for alternative but also for Goth crowds.. how do they react to the non-Goth sound?
KENZO: Roughly, there are two kinds of Goths in this scene. One is people who know a lot about the "alt rock" in wide sense. Another is people who doesn't even know or care how the classic goth sounded like. So there are those who understand and who don't know. Some love us and some don't. Most of the crowds, they are only in it for the style. I guess Goth IS about the style as a matter of a fact. Style of expression. We dress kinda like Goths, our music is definitely rooted in Goth, so the crowds are accepting us alright I guess. But what's "Goth sound" in your term, anyways? Would you call Nine inch Nails Goth? Each Batcave band had unique sound, right? You see, in bands like Placebo, Jane's Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, you can see the Goth influences. I consider this kind of music to be one descendant of Goth. Just as Industrial and Goth-metal and all that genres are. Yes, I do hear few people saying "why are the gadget. in this event?" Well, because I love Goth and the event organizers want us. Simple as that.
THE DOSE: What does this genre, the psychedelic jamrock give you that no other type of music can?
KENZO: "Psychedelic" is the essential ingredient when I get to like a music. It's a synonym for Art to me. I use the word "Jam" meaning improvisational. In impro music, everything is happening right there in front of your eyes, neither prepared nor worked beforehand, through a communication between musicians with only sounds not words. That's a miracle, or what?
THE DOSE: You also play on guitar in Geeks that features Ana of hardcore electroindustrial band Despair. Geeks reminds me of Whale or 4 Non Blondes with some weird mood surgery dating back to the indies boom of the 90s. How did you come across Geeks?
KENZO: My job is a fashion designer. When we were recruiting models, I met Ana and Uri (former bassist of the Geeks). They described their band - Geeks - as an Alternative Rock band. Man, I was surprised to hear the term "Alternative" from the punkie look young girls! You see, Alternative movement itself is not popular among kids in Japan today. So I invited them to the gadget. show and they invited me to the Geeks show. I and Ana became big fans of each other. Then I got her in to the Goth scene. In fact, I am the one who introduced Ana to the Despair. The geeks at that time sounded more like the Hole or the L7, you know more Punk Rock oriented stuff. Ana wanted to go further into the 90's Alt rock psychedelia, so I joined.
THE DOSE: Do you plan to release some solo work or to play in another band?
KENZO: I've always wanted to do some techno stuff, but I haven't. I have fooled around some though. Actually I and Ana might gonna do electronica project in the near future.
THE DOSE: How do you see the progress and prospect of rock and alternative music in 2006?
KENZO: Definition of "Alternative music" can be very broad so I'm not sure what you mean by that but if you mean what MTV would call "Alternative Rock" , well let's see... I guess it's progressing towards to better form than how it was back in the beginning of this century. It still is mostly like just a grunge revival or the alumni reunion but I see the Indie rock boom and some other stuffs, consciously or unconsciously, carrying on the spirit. So maybe the name "Alternative Rock" is too old for what it's supposed to represent.
Any anti-standardizational creative new stuff is always The Alternative to me. You see, thanx to internet and people who are willing to seek for a good art by themselves, there are and will be more opportunity for independent artists to spread their work all over the world. If you really want something more than what mass media feeds you, you can go on the net and ask around.
The treasure hunting for the indie art used to be a hidden joy for very limited enthusiasts just a few decades ago. But now, it's becoming one of the home entertainment. You know, major musicians don't make as much money as back in the 80's. Yeah, I bet this is gonna be a chaos! And I love it!
THE DOSE: How do you see Tokyo now as a musical and cultural palette and how do you envision a future Tokyo in 2056, 50 years from now on? How would you feel if you had to live in that future city now?
KENZO: This is related to the prior answer. The majority is still in a bird cage of mass media now unfortunately. But more and more kids are waking up through the information technology and discovering or inventing their own thing. Tokyo upper ground music scene, in another word J-pop scene, is cool only on mixing up genres. That's what the underground scene misses. They mix up genres because they don't know or ignore the differences and primal philosophies of the cultures. I think it's alright as long as it bears something new. If they ignore the differences on purpose, it could've been cooler though. I mean if they are completely aware. I don't see as much mixing in the underground. In the underground, each crowd is exclusive and cliquish. They still got that street-gang-ish custom. There are some groups of people trying to break the walls but not too successful so far.
50 years from now? Man, I don't know. 50 years is a long time when things pass by so fast. I would probably be dead or a cyborg by then.
THE DOSE: Is that something you miss, or look for, in musicians today?
KENZO: I guess we're doing alright. I just hope the audiences to be more open minded and adventurous to music.
THE DOSE: What subcultures are you or were you interested and involved in?
KENZO: I was a youngster in the mid 80's band boon in Tokyo. I participated in the early 90's Alternative movement and Rave craze in Los Angeles. I'm older than I may appear, you see. And I am involved in Harajuku Punk/Goth fashion culture as a fashion designer. I'm interested in "subculture" itself as a phenomenon.
THE DOSE: Who are your gurus musically and spiritually?
KENZO: My guru is my antenna. I only trust my own intuition. I get to encounter with what I need to encounter. Then I judge them with my own perceptivity. I love to walk on my own feet. There is an unprecendented amount of musicians (lots of them actually talented!) who release their material through MySpace and other community sites or even p2p systems.
THE DOSE: The labels - on the other hand - are closing their doors before newcomers due to the risk they bring, the amount of money they have to invest in them and all the loss the p2p scene inflicts on them. What do you see, what is a possible way out of this huge globalized playground?
KENZO: Well, I guess I've already answered this question. Even though both the gadget. and the geeks are signed to indie labels, I'd say don't be a slave. I'm proud to be an independent artist, not an artist signed with independent label.
THE DOSE: The future of the copyright system is another crucial point. How do you see the MP3 warez scene and do you see any major change on the event horizon of the copyright mechanism?
KENZO: Well... it bombs me out when someone steals my work and claims it's his own. But that's got nothing to do with MP3 or p2p. For the listeners, I don't care. I want them to enjoy my work that's all. I'm not intending to make money out of it so... but for musicians who tries to live on it, it must be a big deal. If you make real good music and move people then some are gonna want to pay for it as a gratitude or something. I don't know... maybe I'm too romantic?
THE DOSE: You embark on a galactic voyage with one CD, one book and one favourite visual art product - what would those be?
KENZO: How long does the voyage take? One CD, one book, one art product won't never be enough. I'd rather take a pen and a sketch pad and a guitar.
THE DOSE: How did fashion designing emerge in your life? When did you decide to also work in this field? What is more gratifying as a job, a musician or a fashion designer?
KENZO: Drawing had always been my favorite hobby since I was a baby. I've designed flyers and T-shirts for bands and events and stuff. I went to college majoring art. Fashion designing is a visual art for me. It's not just a clothes making. When I decided to do music for its sake not for money, I chose to be a shop clerk for some altie fashion store. Simply because I wanted to dress the way I wanted. After some job-hops, I landed on a rock fashion store. I started the career there. I started with designing original T-shirts. At that instant, I knew this was it.
THE DOSE: How do the expressive possibilities of fashion design and music complement each other - any energy left that you cannot express through these two?
KENZO: They are just two different mediums. Actually I do other expressional activities too. Like oil painting, illustration, poetry, writing, film making, directing fashion shows etc, etc. It's just that in my case, fashion design was best accepted by the world. My friend who is also a designer/creator/director once told me "fashion makes money". Well it doesn't make me that much money but... I guess more people pays for strange clothes than strange music. Most of them feel they need clothes more than music maybe. I don't know but I can tell you it's easier to make money out of fashion than music. I'm not saying fashion design is money. I'm not saying that at all but you have to make living somehow right?
THE DOSE: When designing, what is the most important factor for you? The design/form, the material or the model who will wear your clothes?
KENZO: The design, of course! The pattern and the material are the most important factor in making actual product, but as far as designing, the vision is all you've got to have.
THE DOSE: JP Gaultier once said, "In fashion it doesn't mean anything to say what is good and what is bad". Please comment!
KENZO: I don't know what exactly he meant by that. But, I would agree to how Perry Farrell had put it. "There ain't no wrong, there ain't no right. There's only pleasure and pain." I'm just hoping my clothes to make people who wear them excited. As a professional, I must say what doesn't make money directly or indirectly is bad design. It's lame but true.
THE DOSE: What traditions do you follow, if any?
KENZO: Hmm... that's a tough question for me. Let's see... I try to follow my heart. I like Zen as a philosophy. The answer for your question may be "none". I tend to keep my mind neutral.
THE DOSE: Who is your dream model who'd you love to dress the most?
KENZO: Oh, too many to list here. But Katie Jane Garside would definitely be on the list. If the Bauhaus performed in my clothes, that'll be ultimately awesome. Marilyn Manson inspires me quite often so it would be cool to see them in my clothes. The Cinema Strange would be great too. For another brand I do, Addiction, the Prodigy would fit perfectly to the image. But yeah, like I said, too many to list here. I don't care much for pro models though. I'd love to dress any indie models and performers with unique talents and good perceptions of my work.
THE DOSE: What is your philosophy about the art of underground Tokyo fashion?
KENZO: The unique and interesting point about underground Tokyo fashion is that it's so deformed in so wacky way. Traditionally, Japan has been very good at adapting and processing foreign cultures. You can say Japan is not very good at adopting foreign cultures as they are. By the way, If you come to Tokyo, you'll see a city full of cartoon characters and billboards with overly exaggerated expressions. Tokyo-jin's brains are exposed to such stimulants full time. We grew up surrounded by so many animes and mangas. I think that's the culprit of the wackiness of the underground Tokyo fashion today.
The lame side of the scene is that there are so many imitators and pretenders of the alternative styles. I mean surprisingly high percentage of the kids you see here are weekenders. I guess they are the ones who prop up "underground scene" though. This habit to grow uniform is in Japanese tradition. It's the quality to avoid conflict and maintain peace between people on a such a small land. What's changing now is though, since more and more European people like you being interested in Tokyo underground culture, more kids are plucking up their courage to go further into the core and to grow originalities. For me, this is beautiful. Not everybody has to be an innovator but I want more people to judge and enjoy art through their own heart.
THE DOSE: What or who inspires your designs?
KENZO: Again, too many to list... I get inspired by anything my antenna catches.
THE DOSE: If you could do anything else, what would it be?
KENZO: As a job? Anything totally creative and supplies others with joy and pays me enough to live.
THE DOSE: You design for Stigmata and Addiction. What keywords or concepts would you describe these two brands with?
KENZO: OK, here I'll quote from the official press release. Stigmata: The avant-garde Gothic-Punk brand expressing beauty of a human dark side. Addiction: The alternative brand inspired by the series of junk cultures of the end of the last century.
THE DOSE: When designing clothes, what places inspire you the most?
KENZO: If I have to choose, I'd say clubs, streets and my bathtub.
THE DOSE: During our brief in-looks to Tokyo fashion through GLB, KERA and numerous galleries of Shinjuku and cosplayer galleries, there were no traces of cyber-inspired clothes. Is there any brand in Tokyo that deals with hybrid technoclothes?
KENZO: Oh, yeah! Big time! Cyber style, I believe a couple of world-famous-brands are originated in Tokyo, but I'm not acquainted with this particular style. I recommend you ask Sisen-kun. By the way, I think your "brief in-looks to Tokyo fashion" is too brief, man! GLB, KERA and Shinjuku galleries (you mean Marui One snap shots?) and cosplayer galleries all cluster on one side. There are far more styles here that are worth covering. Like Kogal & Yamamba (there are whole new versions of them now too!), various types of Gyaruo, Urahara boys etc. etc. Also, there's a few new collection brands rooted on the Tokyo street scene. You might wanna check them out too.