August/September 2013

by Craig Black

On Foreign Soil: HUFF

by Craig Black

On Foreign Soil: HUFF

HUFF is two-piece live electronic band fresh outta Swampton – Palmerston North, that is racking up some international experience. HUFF readily admit to being a basic warehouse-rave-punk-party act. No laptops here, their live set up is all hardware with actual synths and drum machines. Hayden Sinclair orchestrates a conglomeration of machines while Craig Black adds vocal, samples and rolls glitchy reverb on the snare. Craig also contributed this rollicking tour diary of their recent (first) tour of Japan.


Hayden and I have known each other for many a year, but in 2011 the planets misaligned, we formed HUFF and pretty quickly made moves to party in places outside of the Swamp. Some well-timed internets got us to SquareSounds, Melbourne in February 2013, and from June 27 – July 14 we are on tour in Japan! Why Japan? Cos it’’s different, cool, they have synths and the venues are amazing. The size of your lounge with the sound system from R&V in it…
Thursday June 27, Tokyo via Auckland
After flying 11 hours we land in Tokyo along with Die! Die! Die! who are transiting to Europe. We separate our gear from theirs where the helpful oversize-luggage guy has already trolleyed it all up. Immigration and customs, order from chaos, we make it through okay. Tourist visas sure, but what’’s with all the cases? Pick up our rented mobile WiFi box, perfect with maps and internet any-every-where.

Train to the accom, a sweet little place just off the main fashion street (Takeshita-Dori) in Harajuku. Time to sort some logistics for playing in a 100V country with 240V gear. We actually have a song called Electric Town which is the nickname for Akihabara where there’’s massive amounts of electrical goods, comics, maid cafes and more… neon cool. For keyboard stands it’s Ochanimizu, effectively a giant guitar shop, just spread along the street in a hundred smaller stores…
Friday June 28
First show tonight at MOSAiC, with Tokyo band Aonisai. Taichi, their front man, was the first positive email response I got all those months ago. He gave us the ‘‘you can do it’’ push. (Also I was really inspired by Blink’’s book on DIY touring; heart you Blink.)

HUFF subway nzm150James York (Cheapshot) is an 8bit guy we met at SquareSounds, he goes way above and beyond to help us get t-shirts printed, and gets us to the first venue. We have 80kg of gear to transport on some little trollies via the Tokyo Subway. Not for the faint-hearted but the locals have obviously seen it all before. James deserves a medal, but gets a t-shirt, and then HE buys us beer.

Soundcheck, everything works, relief! Before the doors open there is a show and tell, the venue owner and all the bands are introduced and give little talks. Good idea. It’s a typically mixed-genre lineup, acoustic blends into slowcore, Abystore rock out, amazingly tight, then HUFF are on stage. We drop it and… BOOM! It’s going off, everyone is raving. Two peeps we know from the Swamp are at the show, and everyone is friends. Stage invasion, awesome, we’re done.

Aonisai are the headliner, they own it, awesome rock-pop-electro. We all dance like idiots, and sing along to the short punchy English choruses. More beers, more photos, more talk, time to go, please be quiet outside, but we are all out on the street talking rubbish, then some low-key bicycle police pull up down the way… taxi time.
Saturday June 29
We adopt a new saying; ‘‘But is it Pachinko loud?’’ After 15 minutes in the Pachinko parlour, with no idea of how to play the machine, the sound pressure and cigarette smoke chase us out. Tskiji Fish Market is a whole other world, a vast set of warehouses with all kinds of dead everything from the sea. Hayden is keen to devour any snack that he doesn’t recognise. This includes a chicken yakitori place where we make it through the heart, but can’’t quite eat the gizzard… We make a pilgrimage to the 5G synth store. Minds blown.
Monday July 1
Can’’t subway to the venue – our line is closed due to ‘passenger injury’. Club Aim is new, even smaller than MOSAiC and has even more PA in it, including a Yamaha CL3 at FOH. You could maybe squeeze 100 peeps in here… maybe. It’’s a quiet night but nobody cares, the other main act is next level freaky and we make firm friends.

Soundcheck is stressy. I drop Hayden’’s case and now we have issues. The main kick output is intermittent, my FX return isn’t working. Hayden repatches in about five mins and I put the FX issue on ‘fix later’ setting. We change up the set to get more freaky and the small audience goes batshit for it. A next level kind’’a show, freaky, odd, solid, fun. Drinks are cheap and we party. We give and receive gifts before taking a taxi back to Harajuku. A great show but we have things to repair…
Tuesday July 2, Kyoto
First we head back to Akihabara to track down a second hand Korg EMX. No problem, the store has three. Hayden has a new marketing slogan: ‘’Japan, we got it!’’ And they do, every shop has a kabillion of everything in every colour and size. Train to Kyoto, it’’s the start of a heatwave, 35 degrees. On travel days we are moving 120 kilos of gear and stuff, surely it’’s gotta take a toll.

By the time we are having dinner I’’m almost hallucinating. Probably just the heat. While Hayden delves into the machines to change tubes and transfer MIDI, I begin a typical descent into food poisoning. What I can tell you is that while the fever and chills and etc. are no fun, when Hayden takes the keys from my hand ‘cos I’’m shaking so much, it’’s hilarious – well, it will be later.

Hayden saves my life. He hits the streets to find a doctor (thanks for being no help at all unnamed-travel insurance company). The hospital won’’t see me. Tomoko appears from nowhere, puts Hayden in a taxi and tracks down a clinic that will take me.

“Craig man, we gotta go, they close at 1pm and are staying open just for you.”” Tomoko pays for the taxi and makes sure I’’m seen.
Doctor. Meds. Recovery. Hayden heads to the venue to play a solo set. He freakin’’ smashes it! Multiple encores, the bar runs out of beer, the venue is super happy. I’’m improving and show my deep deep gratitude to Hayden the best way I know, next day I buy him a Volca Beats.
Saturday July 6
Kyoto is deeply beautiful and laid back, a Wellington compared to Tokyo’’s Auckland intensity. Tonight we play Socrates, a dedicated hardcore/grindcore club. Six by eight metres in total, with Marshall stack, 8×10 bass cab, fully miked up drum kit and plenty of PA.

“Yeah, but where’’s the rear fill?”” jests Hayden. I look above him and point, yes, there is in fact another pair of speakers pointing into the room from the rear… and we have a new catch phrase. ‘’But is it Socrates loud?’’ We mutate the set going heavy on the weird and keep it tight.

Local grind legends Sobbed close out the night with literally skull-crushing volume. The venue owner shouts gyoza for all the bands post show, so we hang and talk. There is a lot of community here and it turns out the bar guy loves electro and plies us with booze…
Tuesday July 9, Kobe
Tonight our accom is a floor some two metres below the trains. It sure as hell is not the first time w’ve slept on a venue floor, but the trains add a new dimension.

The highballs are very strong and our set is blazing. After us is Aco106, two horns and one guitar, dropping the funkiest funk you never heard. They call us up and somehow we blend the machines with the horns and a “first time we’’ve done that”” jam session finishes the evening.

It’’s something like 2am, when all the venue peeps, musos and hangers-on roll down the street for noodles/sushi/etc. At 8am it’s already a steady 30 degrees out, but I need some air and equilibrium. A walk around the block and it’’s time to move on.
Wednesday July 10, Osaka
Osaka as it turns out is a party town. We are staying in an old Love Hotel, slowly being converted to traveller accom, but keeping the ‘’70s décor. We have our own rooms – our first real time apart since we arrived in country, and we gratefully sleep off the heat in actual beds.

HUFF Battle Formation nzm150Loading up our two trolleys with four cases, four keyboard stands and six kgs of transformer, we roll out towards Shinsaibashi Basso for a 20 minute hike in 34 degrees. Somehow we are becoming used to it.

We’’ve made contact with one of tonight’s acts, NRRY, a free noise artist. After soundcheck he takes us out for iced coffee and insists on organising a show for us when we come back; his wife will be our tour guide… The show itself is a mixed bag, mostly new bands, then us.

NRRY does his set and I’’m on home ground, white noise, bursts of static, brutal volume, indecipherable distorted twisted vocals. And then it gets Japan. The finale is a very tall guy in a multi-coloured fun-fur suit, with speakers built into a jet pack on his back, and get this, a hand crank to power a utility belt of noise generating pods. He wanders the stage and the room, cranking away to generate drones, tones and squalls. Hayden teaches the young bar guy to make highballs…
Thursday July 11
Implant 4 is the Osaka synth geeks hangout. I buy a Mountain to replace my Micron – equipment weight is a serious issue. Club Varon is a five minute roll from Basso. Did I mention Osaka is a party town? Drinks for us (and anyone in our proximity) are free. After the intro/show ‘’n tell, the venue guy gets everyone a round of Jaeger… The club is about 8 x 12m, but has a Yamaha CL3 and a JBL line array.

HUFF got Japan nzm150Plus two stage techs and everything labelled and marked out. Plus quads, 8 x 10s etc… Not only are there plenty of female musicians in Japan, but also a good number of female techs and engineers.

The between set DJ Kazuhide is incredible, his teacher is DMC champ DJ Izoh. We notice a lot more tattoos and learn about a growing alternative subculture; ink isn’’t just for gangsters anymore.
Saturday July 12, Tokyo
Last show tonight and we are quietly relieved – the heat, the travel, the excessive good times. Shopping for presents and Hayden wants a Volca Keys (he got the Volca Beats and Bass in Kyoto) to complete the set. We get the last one. If it’’s rare in Japan, it’’ll be 12 months away and twice the price in NZ.

Our taxi driver pulls out all the stops to get us to The Ruby Room in ultra-hip Shibuya. We see a local version of TurboStill (a Swamp band who would go down a treat here). Surprisingly the early show finishes with a ‘’60s rock covers-band who perform some Stones’’ classics. The late show we’re playing is a free ‘techno’ party so we fit right in and as the crowd builds Hayden finally has time for a highball! It’’s the breakdown. Everything drops away to atmosphere. We get people to play on our machines. The sound engineer who has been going mental for our set gets the count in to hit the drop… 4, 3, 2, 1, Shibuya!

Afterwards we chat with Brigid (an awesome ex-pat who does events and promotion) and kick ideas round for next year’’s tour. We gladly donate our transformers and keyboard stands to the venue. We are already commiting to a return trip to Japan. Constant dancing, excitement, fun and the “When next?”” question cement this idea.