Exploring the Japanese Underground Music Scene with Kaala Music
In February 2022, I had the pleasure to interview Matt Ketchum from Akiya & Inaka, and he shared his expertise on vacant houses in Japan. During the course of that conversation, he mentioned his passion and involvement with the Japanese underground music scene, and drew some unexpected parallels with the vacant houses problem.
The Japanese underground scene is hard to access for the neophyte, which is one of the reasons why Matt and his long-time friend Chris decided to build Kaala Music, a service designed to help bands who would like to tour Japan, as well as fans who would like to dip their toes in that rich music ecosystem.
Read on to learn what makes the underground scene difficult to access for first-timers, the difficulties foreign bands may encounter while touring Japan, and the solutions Kaala Music offers to provide enjoyable music trips for bands and audiences alike.
The Difficulties of Entering the Japanese Underground Music Scene
My impression is that the Japanese underground music scene is difficult to discover if you’re not invited by friends who already know the places to go or play. How did you start exploring that scene, and what keeps you drawn to it?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the US, and got into hardcore punk when I was 13. There was a venue there called the Mr. Roboto Project which was the go-to place for independent musicians, a lot of them being punk. Pittsburgh is not a small city but it’s not on many tour circuits. Still, for some reason, during summer vacation, many Japanese bands would tour the United States and play in Pittsburgh at that venue. In fact, that’s the reason I started learning Japanese — to talk to all these people.
In 2008, I went to my first venue in Japan, Earthdom in Okubo, a highly regarded venue for the metal scene. I went to see a band called Coffins, which is quite big. However, underground venues are literally underground. At the time, the venue had a sign which was in the staircase, behind a corner. Nowadays they don’t even have a sign. So, unless there are audience members with t-shirts and battle jackets hanging out outside, you cannot see the place. You have to know exactly…