Japan's Must-Read Magazine

This Ain’t Easy Listening

For the past few years, the monthly Test Tone nights at Super Deluxe in Nishi Azabu have been titillating Tokyoites with their peculiar brand of audio and visual weirdness. Japanzine had a quick chat with event co-organizer Cal Lyall about what goes into making the perfect hipster happening.

What is Test Tone?
Depending on the night, Test Tone can be a noisy carnival, a delight to the senses, or a gala evening for the stars. It’s also a lovely free event on Tuesdays for people who like irregular music and art.

What isn’t it?
Well, it isn’t reliably for everyone, every time, and there are no ‘resident’ DJs or VIP rooms. We also try to keep the rows of laptops to a minimum, preferring to focus on hands-on electronica or groups of musicians who are trying something new.

What can punters expect at an average Test Tone night (assuming such a thing even exists)?
Since we are, in our heart of hearts, musicians and fans of improvised music, there will always be live improvisation in one form or another. We try to do this with the event as well, by never doing the same thing twice. Thanks to this, we’ve been lucky to host performances from close to 200 individual artists and musicians over the past 3 years. There is also a push towards getting more live visuals, like artwork from Shantell Martin and Hiraku Suzuki (whose last collaboration with Christophe Charles was sublime). Oh yes, and Tokyo Ale; quality drinks are important.

What’s been your favorite night so far?

Difficult question, but there have been a couple of memorable ones. The night with 20 butoh dancers, 14 musicians and Daniel Rosen’s incredible clay sperm exhibition (he still insists they’re tadpoles) was a wonderful circus, with the dancers climbing in his clay pots and ripping things off the walls. Having Damo Suzuki join us for an ‘instant composing’ session recently was also a highlight.

Have there been any outright disasters?
When we tried to take the concept outdoors to Yoyogi Park last summer (in cahoots with PingMag), we grossly underestimated the audience and the security necessary for the park stage. We had people stage-diving and a rowdy mosh pit for Tucker, who bloodied his head on the pavement after finding himself in the melee. Quite fun, but we were a little worried at the time because we didn’t have any insurance if one of those joyous party-goers got smothered.

What kind of feedback have you had? Is it generally positive, or do you get complaints from people who feel affronted that they’ve just paid nothing to see a gig they didn’t like?
We get both. We’ve had people parade out en-masse to some of the noisier units, but we’ve also had people exhilarated by the performances. Often punters seem somewhat confused by the fact that we can offer all this for free.

You’ve got four hours of stage time to fill and all the money and good will in the world to work with. Who’s on your line-up?
Hmmm… my greatest nightmare! I would definitely want Napalm Death to play with bald Britney, or something like that. Then maybe Survival Research Laboratories versus Kool Keith? Raising Shuji Terayama from the dead as a stage director for a night might also be up there on the wish list.

I imagine you must have met a fair few of the avant-garde glitterati by now. Who had the nicest hair?
No one can ever top Keiji Haino, except perhaps one of his most loyal fans (my friend Phil calls them the ‘Hainettes’) who sports the same haircut. U-zhaan and Yamato from OHPIA are tied for second place in the ‘Best Afro’ category.

Test Tone vol. 24 is at Super Deluxe on Tuesday 12th June. For details go to the Test Tone website.