by Dave Thomson

On Foreign Soil: Brother Sister In Japan

by Dave Thomson

On Foreign Soil: Brother Sister In Japan

Celebrating the release of their third EP, ‘On A Roll’ in September 2023, Tāmaki Makaurau sibling synth trio Brother Sister, made up of Dave, Taz and Ben Thomson, toured the islands of Japan one month later. Returning with big smiles, a bunch of great photos and video material in tow, NZM asked Dave to report on their trip.

Our Japan tour was incredible! We were truly overwhelmed by the support we received from local bands and venues. Taking the band to Japan was a plunge into the unknown, and was initially daunting. We started from scratch, with no contacts, and began reaching out to friends of friends to build connections. Fortunately, everything fell into place like the perfect sushi roll.

We had the pleasure of meeting many amazing bands along the way. A friend of a friend named Tim, who had previously assisted other NZ bands in Japan, organised a show for us at the Ruby Room in Tokyo. Tim also introduced us to Mark from the fantastic Kyoto-based band Nice Legs, who helped us connect with venues in Kobe (Make Shift) and Kyoto (Pop Pizza). Mark even gave us a tour of his office, Chuhai Labs, the creators of Nintendo’s 1080 Snowboarding, so we also got to meet some computer game royalty.

Hiroki, the lead guitarist from hip Tokyo band Lotta Love, was another who was incredibly helpful. He warmly welcomed us and even arranged a mini-festival called Vibrant Vortex at the 7th Floor in Shibuya to host our visit. The event showcased various bands and local Tokyo artists. Despite the language barrier – Hiroki doesn’t speak English – communication became a fun adventure. We found ourselves sharing a beer in our tiny Tokyo Airbnb, passing Google Translate back and forth across the coffee table. It was a bit tricky but filled with laughter.

We also had the privilege of sharing the stage with a dynamic Japanese punk band called Hige Duaruma. They made quite an impression with their stunning appearance, featuring long motorcycle gang-inspired beards, tattoos, and fast guitars. Their performance was a fantastic blend of ‘cal punk’ influences. After the show we decided to venture out and enjoy cocktails at the lead guitarist’s hidden gem, a secret Kyoto bar named Bar Summer.

A musical highlight of the tour was our performance alongside the band Kuro Deco at the Ruby Room in Tokyo. They scratched our synth itch in all the right places with their great ’80s heavy synth tracks and guitars, accompanied by an incredible laser light show. The bass player even purchased one of our baseball caps. So ya know…

The unsung hero of our tour was our lone crew member and good friend, Timothy Armstrong. From assuming the role of tour navigator to lugging bass, guitars and duct-taping keyboard stands, Tim played a crucial role. He also was the man behind the camera, filming a significant portion of our tour video footage. Tim and I share a vegan lifestyle, making it convenient to have a like-minded travel bud. Together, we explored the streets in search of vegan hotspots and were pleasantly surprised. Our favourite was the soy burger from Mos Burger, and our go to snack the seaweed rice ball from the local 7-Eleven. Tim also turned out to be surprisingly skilled at the moonwalk…

The sights? So many… but our top picks would be:

  • Shibuya (on Halloween): It was amazing to witness such an epic city, especially coming from a little place like NZ. The atmosphere felt very Blade Runner-ish. We spent Halloween night filming vocal shots for our music video, and it was wild due to the police cracking down on partiers. (Apparently, there was an incident last year where partiers overturned a car.) Hundreds of Tokyo police with megaphones and neon wands urged us and everyone on the streets to keep moving.
  • Studio Ghibli Museum: As fans of the films and animation, this was a real treat. Stepping into another world, we explored the museum and marveled at original animation cells and behind-the-scenes material.
  • Team Lab Planets: An incredible interactive art exhibit unlike anything we’d ever seen. Walking through water in pitch black, getting lost in mirror mazes filled with warehouse ceiling-length mirror balls, and indulging in delicious vegan udon made it an unforgettable experience.
  • Kyoto: A beautiful city with a great vibe, kind’a like the Wellington of Japan. Kyoto offered a more artist-friendly atmosphere, easy navigation, amazing retro shops, shrines, food, and our favourite bar, Cafe la Seasta 8bit edition, surrounded by giant Gameboys and retro computer game paraphernalia!
  • Book Off Super Bazar: A highlight for avid op-shoppers like us. It’s like Dressmart on speed, sooo much stuff from clothing to records that you wouldn’t find in NZ. Be sure to take a spare suitcase to fill up. Watching our bass player Taz in there was quite an experience. High on the dust smell of used opshop goods she ran from isle to isle with a crazed look in her eye.
  • Karaoke: Don’t miss it! We initially put it off due to our busy schedule but decided to try it on the last night before flying out. Stepping through a local street door into a house-like hallway, we were greeted with space-aged electronic sliding doors. As the doors opened with the sound of a light saber, we were warmly welcomed by a small group of locals with beers and microphones. Despite our limited two-word Japanese vocabulary, we managed to line up some songs and sing with the team. The night became a highlight with locals jumping on our backs in excitement and calling me Father Christmas due to my beard.
  • Favourite Venue: Pop Pizza in Kyoto stole our hearts. An underground bar adorned with pop culture references, ’80s movie posters, and props. The aroma of fresh-cooked pizza from the hidden oven behind the tiny bar filled the air. The enthusiastic crowd sang along to our songs, some hearing them for the first time while taking their tops off. The generous bar owner treated us to vegan pizza and tequila shots after the show. It also happened to be one of the loudest venues we’ve ever performed at, adding to the fun.
  • Funny Anecdote: Our drummer, Ben, known for daydreaming, managed to get left behind in the Tokyo train system. As we all quickly jumped off the train at a local stop, we turned around to see Ben holding his hands against a closed train door, reminiscent of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. The train sped away, leaving us wondering if we’d ever see him again. Fortunately, we managed to find him, avoiding the need to replace him with a robot drummer.

Tips we learnt along the way:

  • Venues in Japan: Many are pay-to-play, so if you’re on a DIY budget, seek out those that don’t require upfront costs. They might be smaller venues, but you’ll avoid a financial risk.
  • Backline: Almost all Japanese venues provide all the backline you need, so no need to bring anything.
  • Bass guitar: You may not even need to bring one if you’re travelling light; you can easily borrow from the bands you perform with, or buy a cheap one from Bookoff Super Bazaar .(We wish we had!)
  • Accommodation: Airbnb is a great low-cost option, sometimes comparable in price to a backpackers. You might stay a bit further from venues, but it’s a chance to explore fun spots.
  • Pasmo Card: In Tokyo this card is essential for travelling on all local lines. If you plan on visiting more than two or three cities, consider a JR pass for bullet train travel. For just a couple of trips, buying tickets at the station is a cheaper option.
  • Collaborate with local bands: They will be your best way of promoting and attracting locals to your shows.
  • English-speaking contacts: Work with English-speaking promoters and bands if possible, or find someone who speaks both languages to assist with communication.
  • Booking Venues: Book ahead; most Japanese venues need to be booked at least six months in advance.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a rad holiday and a chance to introduce your music to a new and enthusiastic audience, Japan is an excellent destination!

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