BRUISER Field Report

Some Things are the Same Everywhere

Keep on Rottin’ at Music Bar Hokage in Osaka, Japan, 04.17.2024

After five days we leave Tokyo for Osaka. As the bullet train shoots us from the overwhelm of Shinjuku to the comparatively relaxed alleyways of Namba, we peruse the event pages of a few Osaka live houses. I’d learned about a few that specialize in our kind of rocknroll from @qqwt23—an Instagram account that covers grind, noise and d-beat shows in the area—and we zero in on Music Bar Hokage, which advertises shows for all three nights of our Osaka stay. The Zulu and Blind Equation shows on the 16th and 18th look appealing, but we didn’t come to Japan to see bands that regularly tour in the states. Between the two is Keep on Rottin’, a recurring all-locals weeknight showcase featuring four bands we had never heard of. Choice made.

On the night of the show we get dinner at a nearby vegan spot, where we discuss the advertised 7pm doors—unsure whether the notoriously punctual Japanese have any concept of Punk Time—and decide to pull a Tim Kabara and show up right at 7.

Spread across a couple subterranean floors of a mixed-use building in the busy Amerika-mura neighborhood, Hokage isn’t easy to find. While a lot of Japanese businesses employ some amount of English signage, we have to use mobile apps to find our way and translate signs. Down one level in a cramped staircase, a longhair takes our money (¥2400 includes the advertised ¥1800 cover and the first drink at the bar—a bargain!) and we enter the mostly deserted show space, a black-painted room with a mirrored stage area, a hulking PA system and ample lighting clamped to a pipe frame. A DJ plays to a spinning disco ball. We’re early.

We head back to the stairs, down through a tiny merch zone and into the bar, a multi-tiered concrete room staffed by one patient bartender. We get our drinks and post up, remarking on the space’s resemblance to bygone Baltimore venues—somewhere between a rowhouse and a warehouse space, Hokage feels like a uniquely Japanese hybrid of the Sidebar and Floristree. As the space begins to fill up I spot a VOID long sleeve, an experience I can only compare to seeing your college logo in a different state. We sit on tall bar stools and gawk until the first band starts their brief line check—at 7:30 sharp. No Punk Time.

A true skatepunk band in the mold of early California hardcore, SK8NIKS start the night with chuggy riffs, guitar solos and shout-along choruses. The VOID fan I saw earlier turns out to be their frontman, Hissan. After their set we approach him at the merch table, stumbling through what little Japanese we know to give his shirt the thumbs up, eventually pulling out phones to translate our enthusiastic praise for his band and exchange Instagram handles.

We retreat to the bar to wait for the next set, where we overhear three kids speaking English. We end up on a couch across from them and find out they’re all exchange students at Kansai, a University north of the city. They’re from Mexico, Australia and Singapore, and while we all do our best to get each other’s names over the loud music in the boxy bar room, we all joke that there’s no chance we’ll remember them (at the end of the night I hand one of them a BRUISER sticker, so in the off chance they find this, hit us up!). It’s an interesting reminder—one I get several times on the trip—that Japan is a country where white ≠ English-speaking, and it’s nice to talk to people after a few days of mostly transactional conversations shouted through a dense language barrier.

The night proceeds with remarkable efficiency, each band getting up and running within twenty minutes of the preceding set. And they’re all fucking great, with a refreshing variety of sounds. The eclectic two-piece sore’078 moves between heavy industrial rock and dreamy pop, reminding me most of the sorely missed Baltimore band Wipeout. Los Oxxo Sexxos traffic in a wild combination of ramshackle cumbia and surfy punk, their six members giving the vibe of a bunch of old heads just here to party with their friends. ノラ一味 (Nora Gang) play classic anarcho-punk with incredible enthusiasm and intensity, their magnetic frontman locking eyes with me and insisting I join in their exuberant chant, sounding out the syllables one by one until I’m shouting them, too. At the end of the night he runs after us into the street to present us with CDs.

At some point during the trip we realized when people asked us where we were from, Baltimore” was too specific an answer. We’d have to zoom out to America,” and then maybe near Washington, DC” or even New York” to clarify. It can be sobering to realize how little the rest of the world knows about your city—but then again, I knew almost nothing about Osaka before we got there. Even still, the environment and physical language of the punk gig was a great translator. The Hokage crowd operated the same way we do on any given night at Holy Frijoles or the Ottobar, bumping elbows and chatting amiably with people they must see around all the time. There were skaters, longhairs, old heads, even a skinhead, all raucously supportive and happy to be there. The scenes at Hokage and Frijoles are cut from the same cloth: welcoming, invigorating spaces full of noise and people—potential friends, collaborators and co-conspirators on every bar stool.

Some things are the same everywhere.

Mark Wadley

Twitter: @markplasma
IG: @markplasma

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