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One hell of a rope

There’s something about London for me that makes it a deeply appealing place to live in while at the same time fuels a deep hatred of it. It’s a love/hate relationship, one that’s lasted 13 years so far. I’ve discussed it at length with my flatmate in the last year, partly because it’s something he also feels strongly about, even if I think we both look at it in different ways.

I’ve been back in Japan for just under 5 weeks. I’ve got 10 days left. The time away has afforded me to be able to look on my time in London, both past and present, something which I’d hoped would happen by coming back here – a place I feel spiritually and emotionally attached to. The other day I did a gig at Heavy Sick Zero in Nakano – which has to be my favourite venue in town I think thanks to its ‘ghetto’ vibe, great people and limited space- and I was talking with Repeat Pattern, a producer based in Gunma who I’d originally thought was Japanese but turned out to be American. We talked about this and that, mainly music which is how we got to this thing about London that drives me mad – just how self-centered everyone seems to be in that city. Maybe I need to clarify this before I get hated on.

This idea first came to me on my return from Japan in 2009. Before coming back to London I’d spent six months in Italy, during which time I set up the Original Cultures project with some close friends of mine. I moved back to London partly to try and continue to build the project in England, now that its base in Italy was solidified. It’s been nearly 2 years since our first show, and in that time I have learnt one very important lesson about London – it’s incredibly difficult to find people who will buy into an idea that isn’t theirs and in turn dedicate their time to it for little or no financial return. Hence my self-centered remark. In Italy, in roughly 6 months, I managed to find a core group of people who have been willing to put just as much into an idea that wasn’t originally theirs as I did, the person who came up with the idea. All for no money by the way. In fact we’ve all lost money so far. It’s a constantly evolving thing of course, another point I made to Repeat Pattern when we were chatting – once the idea takes shape, it becomes a living thing which has changed my relationship to it as its ‘creator’. But despite this, one thing I never cease to hold onto is the knowledge that the idea managed to echo and motivate other people just as powerfully as it did me. I’ve struggled with my own motivation towards the idea in the last few months if I’m honest but it still gives me strength to think about how it started and what it created in other people.

In England though, I’ve struggled to find anyone willing to put in anywhere near as much energy into the project as I or the guys in Bologna have. Don’t get me wrong people have helped – and I am grateful for their help – and others have advised, but finding someone willing to put their actions where their mouth is has more or less fallen short. Why I’m not sure, but I’ve got a vague idea. London’s a deeply negative place at times. It sucks energy out of you. And London is also where nowadays everyone seems to be something or someone. Nearly 10 years ago when I started writing about music I interviewed Chris who used to run MSM records in Camden, and went on to found ATC recordings. He said something to me then which has marked me forever and which, sadly, I’ve found has only got more true as the years go past. He said ‘the problem with hip hop today is that everyone is a DJ, everyone is a producer, everyone is an MC or everyone is a promoter. No one is a fan anymore’.

That single sentence marked me profoundly. It’s what has driven me over the years to remember that I am first and foremost a writer, not a DJ or producer or whatever else might be cool to be in the music business. Don’t get me wrong I like to spin tunes, I love curating podcasts and I like to fuck around with music software or the likes, but I’m none of these things. I’m a writer, which is a lot more boring than it might seem. I’m at peace with that though. I just need to remind myself everyonce in a while when I lose focus.

Back to the point. That’s also why I say London is a deeply self-centered place. Because everyone in London has an agenda of some sort to be this thing that often I struggle to see them being at all – and here I talk about people I know, not random strangers. I know lots of producers, lots of DJs, lots of promoters. Quite a few are my friends, even close friends, and I sincerely believe that they are doing what they should be doing because I can see their passion, their drive, just as clearly as I see mine. The rest of the time though I struggle and instead find myself looking at people and wondering why? So much more could be achieved if people worked together instead of attempting to be the king of their own little slice of an increasingly gigantic, and at times pointless, creative machine. It was Repeat Pattern who made this point to me on Saturday, talking about his experiences in the U.S. That’s when we both agreed that one thing Japan has is a stronger sense of community within the creative arts. It has its own traps don’t get me wrong – for one I’m always amazed at how close yet separated certain Japanese artists are. But in Japan people do stick together more it seems, they more willingly band together to find strength in numbers. Just like people do elsewhere on the continent.

Which I guess raises the question as to why I’m still living in London. That’s a question for another time, I’m still debating it and despite what I hate about it, I love it just as much.

I think I’ve finally caught earthquake fear. Since last week, and even more in the last couple days, I keep feeling earthquakes regularly even when there aren’t any. As I write this I cannot for the life of me get rid of a shaking sensation on the chair I’m sitting on. It’s starting to really disturb me.

Quakebook, a curated collection of stories about people who lived through/survived the March 11 earthquake, came out today. As I mentioned before I’ve got a short story in there – actually edited to what is more of a passing thought, which I quite like actually. I’m incredibly proud and honoured to have been included in the final cut, especially considering people like William Gibson are in there. You can see the contents of the book here and order a copy here via Amazon (for now). I believe a physical version is happening soon. All proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross. I’m particularly amazed that they’ve convinced Amazon to give up its cut of the profits, I was skeptical at first but if anything it is proof that perseverance pays off.

Our own fund raising efforts are also doing well. We released the Nihon Kizuna Bonus last friday, four weeks after the earthquake hit. It’s already raised over $1,000 despite being a free download and has added another thousand to the donations for the compilation itself. We’re having some parties to celebrate on Friday in Tokyo and next Wednesday in London – come join us. All details here.

To tie this with my original, rant about London – being here witnessing what’s happening back in Europe while being neck deep in the Nihon Kizuna project and life here has reminded me just how much some people seemingly don’t care about projects they have little involvement in, despite face to face promises and other things. I mentioned it in a previous note, and I won’t say more but I’ve been shocked by some of the responses, or lack of, which the Nihon Kizuna has created. I can’t make sense of it still, and I don’t think I will or ultimately need to. But I need to remember that it has happened, and somehow use this as a way to continue doing what I think is the ‘right’ thing, or at least the thing I want to do. Whether it be my own idea or someone else’s.

As my time back here draws to a close I’m wondering if I should just give London another break for a while. It’s been nearly 3 years I’ve been back there, and both times I’ve spent extended periods away from it (and funnily enough in Asia) I’ve felt better and changed my life in some way. Food for thought I guess.

Oh yeah updated slideshows for Shikoku and Tokyo in the last 5 weeks below.

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