Digging deep and finding your way into your local underground music community
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of CONNECT.
Ryon Morrin (Hokkaido)
From the very first time I stepped foot into a musty, dimly lit venue, I knew such places would become my second home. For 15 years and counting, I’ve seen countless bands and artists in a variety of settings. Arenas, festivals, coffee shops, living rooms, amphitheaters, and my personal favorite: basements.
Punk, metal, and all subgenres in between belong in a basement. The toilets are barely functioning, stickers and fliers serve as the wallpaper, and nobody there “accidentally” stumbled upon it. It’s dark, loud as shit, and encased in concrete. It is an incubator for alternative music that doesn’t simply aim to appeal to listeners. These artists write and play what they want to, first and foremost.
When I first arrived in Hokkaido in August 2019, I was thrilled to discover local music through live shows. However, my plans were immediately halted; I wouldn’t see the inside of a concert venue for years. Slowly, unrestricted live music returned to Japan, and nearly four years later, the scene is back to its pre-pandemic self.
While live music had returned, finding venues was a more difficult task than I had anticipated. Searching Google was mostly unfruitful. Arenas, stadiums, and large-capacity halls quickly popped up, but the smaller independent venues I was looking for did not. I was disheartened and in disbelief; a city the size of Sapporo has to have an underground music scene.
I pressed on, finding a local band’s instagram account by chance. That one account led me to discover a healthy number of active indie and punk venues in Sapporo City. From then on, I’ve become a regular at shows, attending whenever I can make the trip from the countryside.
The first thing I noticed is how welcoming people are. Hardcore and punk scenes often operate like cliques of elitist gatekeepers. Ironically, they simultaneously complain about poor attendance without the self awareness of how unfriendly and intimidating it is for someone new in the atmosphere they’ve created. It’s fair to say this is a way to keep out anybody who isn’t serious about the music, but it’s also guaranteed to stunt the growth of any scene.
In Sapporo, people look happy to see a new face at a show. They’re appreciative that you came to watch their set, regardless of whether you’re a regular or it’s your first time. I love the sense of community. No bullshit, everybody is just there to have fun and support each other’s bands.
The most recent show I attended was at my favorite venue: Pigsty in Shiroishi-ku, Sapporo. And yes, it is in a basement, as it should be. Pigsty looks and feels old and worn down in a comforting and nostalgic way. The lineup was stacked with bands and went from 6:30 p.m. until almost 12:00 a.m. In order to fit so many bands into one night, they utilized both the stage and the floor. This way, they could seamlessly go from set to set without waiting for bands to break down and set up. It was a jam-packed mixed bill with a variety of genres. Two of my favorites out of the Sapporo hardcore scene, Is Survived By and Viewmore, lit up the main stage with their intense performances.
For your consideration:
Is Survived By is a two-piece unit out of Sapporo, Hokkaido. While difficult to pin down to one specific genre, the band’s sound blends elements of hardcore, the signature blast beats of grindcore, and the slow, dragging riffs of doom metal. Is Survived By’s songs are spurts of dissonant, unpredictable chaos that spiral out into a devastating, neck-snapping breakdown. Despite the lack of a guitar player, they sound massive with their filthily distorted bass and punishingly beaten drums. Is Survived By’s stage presence is violently aggressive and pumping with energy; it’s impossible to ignore, and the band made an instant fan of me the first time I saw their set.
Viewmore is a hardcore punk band from Sapporo, Hokkaido, and they are committed to being the funnest band in the whole damn city. Viewmore is fast, too, and they keep it that way from start to finish. Guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are all racing at high-speed through each song; it’s a strong cup of joe in audio form. Two-steps are plentiful, and they work hard to get everybody in the building moving. Members frequently jump off the stage with a mic stand in hand, throw it in the middle of the pit, and recruit backing vocals on chant-heavy tracks such as “I don’t mind!” Viewmore never takes things too seriously, keeping the atmosphere positive with jokey banter and lots of smiles. Their shows break down the separation between the floor and the stage, turning it into one big banger of a party with friends.
You can stream albums from both Viewmore and Is Survived By on Spotify now.
Ryon Morrin is a fourth-year ALT living in Shintotsukawa, Hokkaido. He’s a guitarist, a mountain climber, and a vocaloid fan. He enjoys going to shows and music festivals, learning Japanese through TV and books, and writing creative nonfiction.