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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room 8/9, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Monday, 10 February, 2020 - 17:00 to 19:00

DIY music, DIY lives: the new realities of making music in Tōkyō

East Asia Seminar Series

In Tōkyō today, musicians are readdressing the meaning of a music career. Many are discovering that corporate contracts, label support and established routes to success and recognition are no longer available. These trends match the broader patterns of Japan’s “gap society” (kakusa shakai) and the associated disappearance of regular, well compensated work.  In the Kōenji neighbourhood of Tōkyō, I conducted fieldwork with amateur musicians for whom hopes of music “professionalism” faded soon after their arrival in the metropolis. Over two years I followed their adjustments to a life of irregular work and uncompensated, or even pay-to-play performances. In this presentation I will demonstrate how individuals developed music and performance styles that suited their new, lived realities in the city and the audiences they found there. Broad dreams of discovery and success were exchanged for local, tailored approaches to neighbourhood spaces and support networks based upon sharing and informal economies. The pace at which they changed tack suggests a positivity and propensity to adapt: qualities hitherto underrepresented in the discourse on youth and Japan’s labour crisis. I argue that the musicians’ creative reimaginations of a music career without financial compensation move us away from a focus upon precarity, isolation and insecurity as the dominating narratives of their lives. They have utilised music to discover new directions, framing them as opportunities for creative self-development and alternative socialities despite the inherent risks and contradictions of these new lifeworlds.

Robert Simpkins an anthropologist specialising in youth, creativity and precarity in Japan. His current focus centres upon the relationship between creative practices, irregular employment and isolation.

His work also concerns issues related to urban space and contemporary music cultures. His doctoral research investigates the lives of musicians seeking a career in the music industry after arriving in Tōkyō from prefectures across Japan, the adversities they face and the readjustments they make in order to keep going. He explores how a train station forms the centre of their performing lives, and challenges common categorisations such as the division between public and private space.