The man behind JunKroom
I try to make it as varied as possible: a dancer, a musician, a band, a lot of duos and people who’ve never performed together, collaborations, visual arts, video… It’s collaborative performances I’m really keen on… I want to try to incorporate manzai as well! If I can get a comedian in, that would be great! I want to try to get a new genre of music called “noise manzai”!
(Sean Roe on JunKroom)
Born in London and raised in South Africa Sean Roe has divided much of the last twenty years in either the UK or Japan pursuing his varied interests in art, ceramics, photography, film and music. Over the last 18 months he has been making his mark in Kyoto with JunKroom: a multidisciplinary event combining music, dance, video and other visual arts. Originally held literally above the junk room of a recycling shop, the event became popular and is now regularly held in the Kiyamachi club Urban Guild. Sean Roe himself is a one-man multidisciplinary event, combining within himself the roles of performance artist, DJ, photographer, teacher and organizer. I sat down with him one evening in Cafe Independants to talk about his life, about JunKroom and about his involvement with the awareness and fundraising group “For Gaza”.
DK: How did JunKroom get started?
SR: There is a recycle shop on Kitaoji Doori called Aoi Recycle, I’d been popping in there for a while, and I’d befriended the woman that ran it. Her name is Yuriko Sumida. I’d go in there and buy a huge pile of records every time. Though the shop’s on the ground floor, the upstairs is just cluttered with all kinds of valuable items… and she took me upstairs to see some jazz records. Anyway, they had a bar on the second floor above the recycle shop that was very small but it had a stage. And she was saying about ten years ago she had had events there. They had concerts there with Mikami Kan, a very famous folk singer from the ’60s. So I was going “Wow! This place has got pedigree!” There wasn’t much room in there but it seemed like well if I organized an event, how many people are going to come anyway? If you have a full house with ten people, there’ll always be a nice atmosphere. So I suggested to her using the bar on the second floor. And she said “Oh, ok. When?” So that’s how JunKroom started. Literally above a junk room.
DK: Ah! I was thinking maybe it had some kind of metaphorical meaning, you know like a collection of different things, different kinds of music, dance etc…
SR: Well, yes it does have that meaning as well.
DK: Any reason why the K is capitalized?
SR: Well, basically I wanted to create an alter ego whose name is “Jun Kroom”. I started capitalizing the K when after about 9 months it became impossible to do gigs at that venue. We were getting 60 people and in the summer, there was no air conditioning so it was great in the winter. Body heat would warm the place up. But come the summer, July 2008, it was just impossible…
DK: So you moved to Urban Guild. How did that come about?
SR: Through a guy called Hide. Hide is a key figure in the Kyoto music scene. He was organizing events at Urban Guild and it was because of him that I approached Jiro there [ED: Jiro is the manager at Urban Guild]. I was at a bit of a loss at the old venue in Kitaoji. And because I had DJ’ed for Hide a few times he said “Why not use Urban Guild? It’s a great space”. And the first event at Urban Guild was great. We had like a hundred people or something. So I thought, “I’m going to stay here from now on!” And it was at that point I started calling it JunKroom with a capital K, because I wanted to keep the name but I wanted to make it slightly different. And also I set up a JunKroom record selling blog as well. I’ve spoken to Jiro about doing a record fair at Urban Guild. Within a year or so I’m hoping that JunKroom events and JunKroom Records become one singular financially viable entity. I would like to do a record fair on Sunday from mid-day till 6 pm and after that – have an event. I might make a record fair connected to each event. That’s one thing I’m considering.
DK: You could DJ at the event. And then when someone says “Hey, what’s this music?”, you could sell it to them!
SR: That’s what I’m thinking of doing!
On the Performers
SR: I have a policy that I want to pay the musicians. In Japan most places don’t pay people to play. You often have to pay to join an event. I really thought that sucked. One of the other things about JunKroom is I’m not going to have two or three performers, I’m going to have like ten. It’s going to be excessive, to make it a really worthwhile evening for everybody. The more people you have, my expectation is that each of those performers has a crowd of people that they might bring, who would pay. So the friends of the performer are effectively paying the performer.
Ultimately though, after doing it for a year or so now, I realize why people don’t get paid. At Urban Guild, I get 60% of the door which is pretty good, but after paying the engineer and figuring in other costs the musicians end up getting maybe a thousand yen each and it’s not a big money maker for me either.
DK: But good for the soul?
SR: Well, I feel good that I’m paying people even though it’s hardly anything, just paying for their transport costs. It could make money, in the future. All I need to do is double the price. The thing is I’m getting some interesting people in now. People are emailing me because of the website.
DK: I was looking at the blog and there are people there from Korea, Switzerland…
SR: …all over the place. Yeah.
DK: So it’s not just local people.
SR: No. Word gets around. There are JunKroom links on a lot of people’s myspace pages and it just sort of snowballs. Tomoko Sauvage from Paris, I had no connection with her whatsoever. Just got an email out of the blue. She just happened to be coming to Kyoto.
DK: What did she do?
SR: I did a special event for her basically. She plays tuned water bowls. She gets these porcelain bowls, fills them with water and she mixes electronics with water. She has water dripping… and the porcelain rings, when you bang it on the side and when she puts her hand into the water it raises the water level and changes the tone and the pitch. It’s really amazing. [ED: You can see a video of her work here]
DK: Do you have any regulars?
SR: If you look back through the website you are going to find a few faces, like “Das Kapital Punishment”. They are two guys, a Canadian guy called Jet Vel, and Hide. He’s the guy I mentioned earlier. A punk veteran he started a record label with the Dead Kennedys in New York. Anyway, they call themselves “Das Kapital Punishment” and they are really great.
DK: A punk band.
SR: They are not punk at all no. They are more like 1980s electro New Wave. Like a kind of very, very nasty Pet Shop Boys. And Jet sings. He sounds a little bit like Jim Morrison mixed with a little bit of Ian Curtis. And then – you know a band from San Francisco called Three Day Stubble? There’s a guy, he goes by the name of Donald the Nut, he’s the singer from Three Day Stubble. He was playing music in San Francisco’s alternative music scene since the mid-’80s. He’s been living in Japan for about three years. He gets around quite a bit as well.
On For Gaza
The next JunKroom event is entitled “For Gaza Vol. 2”. Sean is a member of “For Gaza”: a Kyoto based collective that creates events to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, combining art, music and politics with guest speakers, films and discussion. I asked him how he became involved.
SR: For Gaza was basically a reaction to the assault on Gaza last December. As a South African, in South Africa I was involved in the anti-apartheid movement… And then I had Palestinian friends in London… So the situation in Palestine is such that you have to be aware of it. It’s in the news all the time. And there’s a very strange relationship between Israel and South Africa. All through the apartheid era it was Israel that was breaking boycotts. Despite arms embargoes, Israel was supplying weapons to South Africa that were being used on the students who were demonstrating there… So there is a strange and negative connection there. But just out of frustration, just seeing this on satellite TV, I felt like “God, I really am going to have to do something” but I didn’t quite know what to do in this extremely apolitical society we have. And then fortuitously by Demachiyanagi station, I saw somebody handing out flyers about a meeting… and there’s a Palestinian Peace Center near Demachiyanagi station! I discovered there was a meeting at this Peace Center and I met much younger people with a bit of gumption who knew what they were talking about. So I befriended them and we decided to start “For Gaza”, and there are twenty members now. And we were saying why don’t we try to organize an event and do something modeled on the kind of things the anti-apartheid movement were doing in London during the eighties, really galvanizing people and educating people about what was going on.
DK: So basically one of the main aims is to raise awareness?
SR: Yes, but also, we decided which charity to raise money for and we decided on the Japanese Volunteer Center (JVC). They work in Gaza and they work with children. And all the organizers, about ten of us, we all paid – I paid to get into the event that I had organized. And in this case because it’s a fundraising event there’s no money for the musicians. They are all performing for free.
Anyway I raided my list of previous JunKroom performers and sent out an email asking who would like to be involved but I also wanted it to have a connection with the music of Israel and Palestine and something a bit more raw and Akiko Igaki, she’s an incredible violinist, she knew a band called Freylekh Jamboree so anyway they ended up forming a super group with another band called Romatica Orchestra (ロマチカ・オーケスター), and calling themselves Denki Gypsy Special, a mixture of klezmer, European and African music, clarinets, trombones and a guitarist who looks like he’s out of Guns & Roses! They were the headliners and thanks to them we had a fantastic vibe. The whole of Urban Guild was jumping up and down. Really, really nice. Well over a hundred people came that night. So after paying the engineer and so on we made about 40,000 yen for JVC.
Ticket Price: 1900yen at the Door
Advance Tickets: 1600yen (Students also 1600yen)
All tickets include 1 drink and a raffle ticket!
All proceeds go to JVC