Born in Vancouver and now living in Toronto, Tanaka has created a non-profit organization called Next Music From Tokyo and it’s about to host its sixth volume of Japanese artists.
Going to Japan five to eight times a year, Tanaka scouts bands from Shibuya to Koenji, and brings them over to Canada on a whirlwind tour of three cities and countless venues.
Surprisingly his love of Japanese music is a recent affair, but I reckon the bands he brings over to Canada are happy he’s taken such an interest. The concert is also kicking off tonight, May 16, at 9 p.m. at the Rivoli, so please take a read.
Takeshi Kato: This is the sixth time you have held Next Music From Tokyo, why did you decide to embark on this event?
Steven Tanaka: I hadn’t been especially interested in Japanese music, and hadn’t listened to Japanese music as a child. I listened to mostly American and UK music, usually indie and underground. Only five or six years ago, I discovered that anything from Japan’s indie and underground scene is much better than what we can find in America and Canada. There’s a boom of interesting Japanese things in Canada like anime, ramen, technology, and culture, but hardly anyone knows about Japanese music. That is why I wanted to bring Japanese bands to Canada to show how strong the Japanese music scene is.
TK: What do you think what is difference between Japanese music and Canadian music?
ST: In Canada, there are too many bands that sound the same. While there are definitely bands in Canada who think outside the box, when a band become big such as Arcade Fire everyone tries to copy their sound in order to become successful too. That’s why there so few styles in Canada like singer songs writer tend to write similar songs. Even though they may be more lyrical, I found out different musical styles are more varied in Japan, and they try harder to be different from everyone else.
TK: NMFT’s motto is “Will I be able to enjoy the music if I don’t understand Japanese?” What did you feel like so far until today?
ST: Almost everyone comes to see the show, like more than 90 per cent people, really enjoy it. Most of the people come to the show are Japanese and regular Canadian, and even though most don’t understand Japanese language, the music itself feeling of music can communicate to the audience. I think the music itself is language. And, just basically the band performance’s energy, hearts and emotion are that audience is able to understand.
TK: What helps you choose the bands?
ST: When I choose the bands, I already know am going to bring four or five when I look at the big picture. I want to see variety of styles. Usually I pick Rock or Pop groups, but I like to make sure bands’ sound what is different from each other, so I also want to make sure the bands get along and band members who can be like family during NMFT event, so I might pick a one band that I thought of the headliner. This time would be Kinoko Teikoku. Even though they are not very famous yet, I think they are very strong upcoming band, and came to Canada last year as well, so they already have a little bit fans in Canada. And, many people said they want to see Kinoko Teikoku again. I tend to choose one instrumental band in each NMFT. This time is jizue. I think they are one of the best instrumental band in Japan right now. I like alternative bands are more interesting, and have different style each band than straight rock band.
TK: Do you want to make NMFT bigger?
ST: When I go to Japan, I prefer going small live house watching a show instead of big hall. Watching in big hall is like watch television, however watching in the small live house is that we can see performer much more close than big hall, and can feel more connection.
TK: When you talk and give this offer to Japanese bands, what do you talk about with bands or their manager?
ST: I usually talk with band directly or via manager after their performance about there are some benefit for bands like could be interviewed by some newspaper companies and more as previous experience, however even if bands perform at NMFT, they may or may not be famous, but Performing abroad itself has benefit and they will be definitely able to great experience for sure and they can have a free time due to sightseeing. Even though most bands want to participate NMFT eventually, a few bands sometimes say that it doesn’t make sense or it has no point.
TK: How should someone prepare themselves for Next Music From Tokyo?
ST: Sometimes, it is very difficult because many of the bands perform at NMFT are the minor, so it is difficult to get access to their music, so usually on YouTube, most of the bands have a list of music, music video and live performance. It depends on people. Personally, I prefer to be excited to music, which I know and listen to band’s music before their performance. Besides, I reckon singing together is also good point. Last year, I amazed that some Canadian audience are around 20 or 30, who had sung with exactly correct lyrics while Kinoko Teikoku was playing one of songs is Taikutsu shinogi. I had felt like how they have known that lyrics.
May 16: Toronto @ the Rivoli
May 17: Toronto @ Lee’s Palace
May 19: Montreal @ Divan Orange
May 21: Vancouver @ Biltmore Cabaret (w/ guests: Sprïng)