Sunday, July 17, 2011

Special #2: Reports from the Enban Summer Festival. Day 1, #1: MARK

What: Harrowing songs from Tokyo's most horrible vocal cords

Let's get the sexist bullshit out of the way. There's nothing "cute" about MARK. She's a relatively unfetching Tokyo gal, singing horribly and at length about life and love. Also, despite my limited Japanese ability, I get the feeling that her lyrics are sometimes incoherent. There's no possibility of attaching some "cute Japanese girl doing noise" fetish to her.

(Honestly, I feel shitty even bringing up issues of gender and attractiveness when writing about music, but it's *a thing*, especially when so many of the fans of weird Japanese music are white men, so I can't help but feel it's worth noting that MARK exists outside that world.)

I distinctly remember the first time I heard MARK's voice, in a music store/venue in Ochanomizu. I didn't realize that the shows on the second floor were piped through to the first floor music store P.A. I'm ashamed to admit my superficial reaction now, but as I heard the decidedly non-dulcet tones of her voice come on after a series of unremarkable J-indies tracks, I felt like I'd discovered some unknown  "outsider" music from Japan's past, and I went to ask the staff what CD they were playing. As it turned out, there was no CD and the music was very much in the present being performed on the second floor by a 20-something girl with the stage name MARK. At that performance, she had a backing duo on keyboard and bass, who seemed to be snickering at her as she hacked her way through lengthy original ballads.

MARK's performance in the 6th floor lounge for the Enban summer festival was a solo one, but the sense that people were snickering remained, with some incredulous audience members clearly catching MARK for the first time, and unsure of how to react.

MARK's music faces the same objections that all "outsider" music (Taguchi-san chose to use the word "cult" to describe her in the Festival notes) faces - the charge that she is in some sense "putting it on", that she's singing terribly on purpose to attract attention. Personally, I don't think it matters one way or another. To me Mark's ear-hurting vocals and generally unseductive music suggest the human fear of being unlovable and not entirely blameless for being unlovable.

I should point out that this is just my spin on MARK. She clearly had admirers and friends among the audience at the summer festival (heck, I'm one of the former) and I wouldn't want to leave the reader with the impression that she's some abused joke of the Tokyo scene. Given the fact that she's a competent guitarist and pianist as well, it's clear that she knows what she's doing to the music when she throws her vocals into the mix. However calculated it may be, I still find something brave about her willingness to present such an ugly sound to an audience which largely had no idea what to expect.

No comments:

Post a Comment