A Time for Individuals to Think and Judge Independently – The Role of Rock Music in a World Monotonized by COVID-
2022/10/31 Report on live performance event "LIVE AT Shinjuku LOFT 25th" by musician KIYOHARU
On January 27, 2023, the government announced the status of the new coronavirus would be moved to “category 5” under the Infectious Disease Control Law starting May 8th. This is the same category as the seasonal influenza. On the same day of this announcement, counter-COVID measures for professional sports and large-scale events were also changed. Loud shouts during events is allowed. But there are still many people who keep quiet at live concerts, perhaps because the announcement had not spread far enough. The government's current policy on masks does not require people to wear masks outdoors. When the policy is changed to category 5, masks will be unnecessary in principle. The wearing of masks will be "left to the discretion of the individual.” However, in Japan, where people have been wearing masks for more than three years, it may take some time before we see people enjoy live performances without masks.
There is an artist who has continued to resist this mask-wearing custom. KIYOHARU is a musician who himself has been acting and spreading the importance of “thinking for oneself” to those whose minds were swept away in the environment during the COVID outbreak.
The following is a description of a special live performance by KIYOHARU. Although COVID is definitely heading toward the end, the habits that have been ingrained in this country under the COVID situation will not change so easily. He believes that each one of us needs to think for ourselves and that we should do what we need to do to enjoy music from the bottom of our hearts.
On October 31, 2022, that special live concert took place. It was KIYOHARU's live event "LIVE AT SHINJUKU LOFT 25TH" held at Shinjuku LOFT. One of the reasons why this concert was so special was that it was the first "no-regulations" concert (the audience were allowed to shout out and even be maskless) in the two and a half years since the COVID outbreak. The day before, KIYOHARU had performed at a birthday concert in Ebisu, and the two consecutive days were special for him, his fans, and the live house. As KIYOHARU is the original vocalist for KUROYUME, it was the 25th anniversary of KUROYUME’s now legendary live performance, "1997.10.31 LIVE AT SHINJUKU LOFT," and a day when rock music came back to life for the first time in two and a half years.
- Posted on
- 22 Feb 2023
〝LIVE HOUSE NEVER DIE〟
KIYOHARU created and donated T-shirts with the bold message “LIVE HOUSE NEVER DIE” to LOFT. These shirts lined the merchandise section of Shinjuku LOFT created for the LOFT Project which has fought indefatigably against the severe business conditions caused by COVID. Live music venues were perceived by the public as “dangerous places that create COVID clusters,” and restrictions were called for. The music industry had no choice but to “die,” and many live houses disappeared. Those that remained in business continued to operate at a loss. During those two and a half years, knowledge of the new coronavirus was accumulated, and vaccines became widely available. In addition, it is now possible to predict trends in domestic outbreaks by keeping a close eye on the situation overseas. However, as of October 2022 (when the live concert was held), the strict restrictions on music activities overall remained the same as they were in 2020. The guidelines, which have been gradually eased through the efforts of industry groups, still require that in addition to temperature checks, disinfection, and mandatory masks, social distancing and restrictions on raised voices were demanded. Due to social distancing, the venue was deserted, and it was difficult to return to the lively atmosphere of the pre-COVID days. This situation forced the people who had supported the music industry to leave.
LOFT Project, which operates 10 live houses including Shinjuku LOFT, has taken various measures to change this situation after receiving advice from experts and they have been trying to do what they can at each stage of the project. They held two concerts, “Solar Rhythm” in April 2021 and “Outdoor Live House LOFT” in April 2022, which were held outdoors to reduce the risk of infection. After these live shows, they decided to hold a full-capacity live concert at a live house, taking in account the situation of live concerts overseas. The project approached KIYOHARU and the concert was to be held at Shinjuku LOFT on October 31.
”It’s important to keep track of the risks and to carry out measures scientifically. ” – Masahiro Kami
On the other hand, KIYOHARU, who accepted the LOFT’s proposal, did not simply decide to go ahead with the unrestricted full-capacity live concert. KIYOHARU has always stressed the need to think about how to perform live concerts in the face of COVID situation as he saw the music industry blindly accepting the government’s policy. His thoughts were not based on his personal preference, but he based his decision on the opinions of experts and confirming the low risk of infection.
KIYOHARU asked Dr. Masahiro Kami for his opinion on the risk of infection if live concerts were held in October without restrictions. The two have previously spoken in KIMINITOU and developed a close friendship. In response to KIYOHARU’s question, Dr. Kami advised, “The risk of infection is low at the end of October, when the event is scheduled. The epidemic is expected to subside in Japan and abroad, and the risk of infection is low if the CO2 concentration at the venue does not rise.” Taking this into account, the CO2 concentration at the venue was checked beforehand, and on the day of the live concert. The ventilation of the venue and the CO2 concentration were monitored as well. The live concert was held based on scientific judgement.
The CO2 concentration on the day of the concert was about 500ppm with the doors open with all the audience in the room. Dr. Kami, who also came to Shinjuku LOFT, commented, “The building seems to have a good ventilation capacity. This should not be a problem at all. Since there is no epidemic at this time (end of October), we should go on with holding live concerts. There is no reason not to.” The following is a comment from Dr. Kami received after the show.
Kami: “First of all, I think it is wonderful that they made decisions based on their own values and judgment while everyone else is uniformly refraining from holding unrestricted live concerts. When COVID-19 was just beginning, an little was known about the disease, the risk of infection and the mortality rate were high, but those circumstances are over now. Since the Omicron strain became prevalent and has since passed, it is no longer a scary disease. Then it is up to the individual to decide how much risk he or she is willing to take. Those who do not want to get the disease should not go, and those who say they are fine should go. At this live house, I believe that everything that could be done to prevent infection, including ventilation, was done. Of course, with this many people gathered on the second basement floor, the risk cannot be zero. The level of risk is different for each individual, so it is not something that can be uniformly decided by the government. In that sense, I think Mr. KIYOHARU should be applauded for his leadership in this project.
I think it is important to continuously keep track of the risks and to carry out measures scientifically. We should not be overly fearful. Of course, I do not recommend that the elderly and other high-risk people come to these places during a major pandemic, but I think we should go ahead and relax restrictions during periods when the outbreak has subsided. Such events can be held by using a scientific approach, such as targeting events for young people and those who have been vaccinated and are at low risk of serious illness. As for “physical contact,” which is unavoidable at live performances, because COVID is an airborne disease to begin with, the impact of contact itself is negligible. As the risk cannot be reduced to zero, it is advisable to vaccinate, ventilate, and, of course, wear a mask during an outbreak. Because masks can reduce infection by about 20%. As long as you do that, I don’t think you need to be so afraid.
The ventilation of the building itself was extremely good, as CO2 was 400-600 ppm before the live show started. When the doors were closed and the live concert started, it rose and at one time exceeded 4000ppm. If it were an epidemic wave, the risk of infection would be higher in this environment, but it is not during an epidemic wave now, is it? In that sense, the risk is low. Those who are at risk, or those for whom it is undesirable to be infected, can make the decision to refrain from participating.”
”If rock music doesn’t break through, who will?” – Umezo Kato
Umezo Kato, president of LOFT Project, which organized the live concert, said, “I’ve been able to protect this place thanks to the support of many people, and I feel like I’ve finally reached a point where I can feel a sense of relief. I’ve been enduring for two and a half years, wondering if I would be able to continue this live house, as I could not take on more debt. I also saw many musicians losing energy” he said, looking back on the past two and a half years. The following is a comment Kato made after the show.
Kato: “In 2020, when the state of emergency was declared for the first time, the situation was not well understood at that time and regulations were put in place. As businesses gradually reopened, we should have been able to relax the restrictions as we learned more about the virus and have a vaccine, but many industries, including live music venues, were stuck with 2020 restrictions. I understand these restrictions hit the industry hard, but rock music is about how much you let yourself go in the first place. The audience is supposed to come here to get away from their daily routines and ‘be liberated,’ but if there are so many restrictions, it must be hard for both the artists and the audience. We have been talking about how to make it a place where people can ‘relieve stress’ as before. KIYOHARU and I had been talking about a year ago that we wanted to do this as soon as possible. It was difficult to arrange a date, but October 31st was available, and it was a memorable day for KIYOHARU’s fans. I proposed the idea because it was the 25th anniversary of ‘1997.10.31 LIVE AT SHINJUKU LOFT,’ which is well known to all KUROYUME fans.”
“If rock music doesn’t break through, who will? I’m not saying we should be reckless, but I’m searching for a safe line by having experts supervise the event and by studying the situation in Europe and the United States. The guidelines already allow us to conduct the event at 100% of the venue’s capacity. The infection control measures have become ingrained in us all, so we have to reconsider how effective they actually are. People who are not feeling well can just rest at home. Each person should take care of their own health. It’s as simple as that.”
“Rather than just going back to the pre-COVID days, we need to think about what kind of live performances we should do after our experience with COVID and take a step forward,” says Kato who is always looking forward.
”Each of us should make up our own mind.” – KIYOHARU
The live concert was about to begin, and more than 500 fans, having been eagerly awaiting the event, lined up to wait for the doors to open. One by one, they entered the venue after completing the registration process.
The concert started a little past schedule. There were no COVID-related restrictions inside the venue or when buying tickets. When KIYOHARU took the stage, the audience naturally cheered out loud. It had been about three years since the cheers had echoed through the packed Shinjuku LOFT. KIYOHARU sang the first song, “JUDIE,” and it was hard to believe he had performed a nearly four-hour show the day before.
Moreover, KIYOHARU’s vocals had evolved overwhelmingly during the pandemic. That’s not all. The band on this day consisted of only guitar and percussion. With the genre less sound and KIYOHARU’s overwhelming vocals, it was clear that the audience was being liberated from various restraints.
After singing the 15th song, “Gaia,” KIYOHARU chose his words carefully and conveyed the importance of “thinking and deciding for yourself”.
KIYOHARU: “Shinjuku LOFT, the place where I had my first solo live show since playing here in KUROYUME. It’s the place where I felt I had finally come this far. It’s a place I want to come back once in a while. With today’s show, LOFT has gone back to the original LOFT and while also changing into a new LOFT.
I believe that life is full of regrets, for example, if someone you care about invites you to a concert but you decline because of circumstances, you may regret later that it was your last chance. Now live houses are reopening in many places, but there are still restrictions. I think ‘you’re the one to decide for yourself whether you will regret it or not.’ Non just looking at someone else and say, ‘What about you?’ but making up your own mind to do things.
I think true peace is when each person makes his or her own decision. But for the past two and a half years, everyone has been thinking the same thing: ‘Live music clubs are dangerous.’ I felt that this was a terrible thing. While we are thinking that it’s someone else’s problem and staying away from it, these places are disappearing. This place plays an important role in lending us ‘our space’. If possible, why not Shinjuku LOFT? This is the live house I have always dreamed of. I have many memories of coming here. A place where you can say, ‘I’m back!’ A place where you can think, ‘I’ll be back again!’ I don’t want people to regret the loss of the live house, or regret that they should have met that person..
I think other musicians should also think more. I have felt it for the past two years. Musicians and their production companies have been atrophying by restricting their activities. And this has spread to the fans as well, who feel that ‘if the musicians are saying that live performances are not allowed, then we can’t do anything about it. It’s no good.’ Saying ‘no good’ so easily is ‘no good’. I often say, ‘It doesn’t matter if the production or the musicians say so,’ but I actually don’t think it doesn’t matter. Because I don’t like seeing everyone else being uncomfortable. But only a few independent people, including myself, can express opinions that differ from the mainstream. I was entrusted with this ‘re-opening ceremony’ live performance to play that role (of being independent from mainstream). People often say, ‘You are an edgy person,’ but it’s just that I don’t waver. I do what I do because I want to be this way. I think it’s better to stop trying to play it safe when you are popular. Looking back, we did some pretty messed up things even during our prime time as a band. It was not because we were young, but because we chose to live our lives that way.
I have a different way of thinking, other musicians have a different way of thinking, everyone has a different way of thinking, and fans of other artists have a different way of thinking. And even among the people who came today, each one of us is different. I think it is wonderful when a live concert is held in a place where each person has different thoughts, visions, and values, and yet the audience is united as one. That’s why live music venues are special places. I don’t want to have regret for hundreds of days for cancelling one show. I intend to do more live shows at Shinjuku LOFT in the future. Each time I’m going to put in more effort and try to entertain the audience to the best of my ability, so please come to LOFT again.”
In this live performance, where they did not limit cheering and raising voices, KIYOHARU continued to interact with the audience. The last song of the encore was “Shonen,” which was also performed on this day 25 years ago at Shinjuku LOFT.
“Repeat a little prayer, the boy believes, more than anyone’s voice, more than anyone’s dream.”
The audience responds.
“To defy, to defy, to defy.”
“To doubt, to doubt, to doubt.”
KIYOHARU shouted loudly, “We Are Rock’n Roller!”
And at the end of “Shonen,” KIYOHARU repeated over and over again, “Forever and ever.” I felt that he was expressing the same sentiment as when he wrote “LIVE HOUSE NEVER DIE” on the back of his T-shirt.
When KIYOHARU came down from the stage, I said to him, “That was a great show.” He replied, “Thank you. I’d rather change things than let them change me,” he said, smiling.
Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1968. Debuted as Kuroyume in 1994. In 1999, after the de facto dissolution, re-debuted as “sads” in the same year. In 2003, he stopped band activities and made his third debuted as KIYOHARU. Active as singer andsongwriter.
Masahiro Kami (M.D., Chairman of a non-profit organization “Medical Governance Research Institute”
Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1968. Graduated from the University of Tokyo, School of Medicine, and completed the Graduate School of Medicine at the same university. Since October 2005, he has been leading the Institute for Advanced Medical and Social Communication Systems at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, where he conducts research on medical governance. He actively disseminates information as editor-in-chief of MRIC (Medical Research Infomration Center), an online magazine to which about 50,000 people, including medical professionals, are subscribed.
Umezo Kato（CEO of Loft Project）
Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1967. Used to be regular goer of the LOFT, left IT company and joined LOFT as a part timer. After having experienced a variety of positions including a manager of “LOFT/PLUS ONE” in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, he’s been in current position since April 2018.