Japan: Green tea ice-cream, painting, and why their underground music scene is the weirdest shit I've ever seen

After what started off as a super busy year, I somehow managed to fit in a three week holiday to Japan. Thinking back, I can't remember how I managed to do this without having a nervous breakdown, but I made it through and now I finally have time to write about what we got up to in the month of February.

Before I left, I was working on two huge projects with a two week turnaround time. It was stressful but the end result was rewarding. Coincidentally they were Japan themed as well. You may or may not have seen me post about these on Instagram but one was them was the 'Taste of Japan Yummy Fun Truck' ice-cream truck characters I did for QANTAS and The Japanese National Tourism Organisation (JNTO). They commissioned me to design a bunch of characters to go with each flavour of Japan-inspired ice-cream. The ice-cream flavours were created by Gelato Messina and were free for all to try around different areas of Melbourne to promote the new MELBOURNE TO TOKYO direct flight path. You can click here to read more about the event.

I had also JUST finished hand-painting the four giant panels that were on display at The Galeries Victoria during the two weeks of celebrating Lunar New Year. I know that Japan don't celebrate Lunar New Year as it is a Chinese tradition, but they were on the bill somehow despite that, along with China, Thailand and Malaysia. I have the entire project on the 'portfolio' section of my website which you can view anytime.

Basically the reason I was in Japan was because of my friends who are in a punk band called The Nuclear Family. They wanted to tour Japan with their friends who are in a Japanese punk band called The Wameki and they needed a bass player to fill in so they asked my boyfriend, and I tagged along because - why not. So all of these events that occured during February was completely unrelated to one another despite what it looked like.

I'd been to Japan only once before and I'd never traveled with a large group of people so it was all really exciting. During the first week, we stayed in a little house in Shinjuku that had sliding doors and a bunch of cute stray cats that lived in a box outside the front door. The area around our airbnb was really picturesque. I couldn't help but take lots of photos of all the buildings and houses that surrounded us everywhere we went. 

One of the highlights about Japan is that there are convenience stores on every corner and all the food on offer is adorable and delicious. I love onigiri, and after my first time in Japan in 2015, I had been craving it since. The tuna onigiri is a favourite late drunken night snack of mine so I ate tons (along with all of the delicious ramen and katsu curry they have over there).

Me and my boyfriend arrived a day before the others, but on the second day we took everyone to Golden Gai where there are many different themed mini-bars in tight alleyways that only fit about 5 people maximum. There is also a similar area nicknamed 'Piss Alley' where a ton of tiny restaurants sit side by side, serving fresh yakitori and alcohol all night long. If you've never been to either of these places I would highly recommend them for a truly Japanese "cultural experience".

The first show TNF played was at a small venue called 'Shinjuku Jam' on the 3rd of February. They didn't play til 3 in the morning so we quietly drank lots of alcohol and watched the other acts. The bill was very mixed, with a variety of punk bands and rappers performing on opposite stages facing each other (yes, there were two stages in this venue). One of the rappers was a horror-core dude with super, super long black hair and bleached eyebrows. I instantly thought he was very cool.

During one of our walks home I came across this flyer taped to a fence near an elementary school. I am unsure what it says, but it reminded me a lot of one of my drawings and I found it very cute so I took a photo.

The next stop of the tour was Kyoto. We stayed in a two-storey house that was minutes walk from one of the best katsu curry restaurants. It was owned by a very nice lady who cooked the pork katsu to order so it was fresh and melted in your mouth. 

TNF played at another small venue called 'Socrates' while in Kyoto. It was a lot smaller than Shinjuku Jam, with just one stage and a tiny bar at the entrance that offered Karaoke while you drank. One of my favourite bands of the tour played that night and they were called Calpis Geneki (spelling?). They were a 4 piece consisting of a female drummer, bassist, vocalist and a male guitarist who basically just fed back the entire set, but it was still cool. They had a bunch of little effects gadgets, including a theremin and a SMALL BOOK that they rigged so that every time you closed and opened the book it would make a sound. They were kind of a 90's alternative sounding band. A bit like Cibo Matto, Shonen Knife and maybe The Breeders?

Calpis Geneki

Calpis Geneki

We only stayed one night in Osaka but it was a lot of fun. TNF played with a bunch of noise punk bands, one most notable was called KKManga. I didn't know if I liked them at first because it was mainly just very, very loud obnoxious banging of instruments. Like Converge if they had no song structure. There were about 10 people in the band and each of them were just trying to make as much noise as possible. Plus the guys were kinda dicks and made fun of us all night. One of them called me an alcoholic because I was drinking an entire milk carton sized container of plum wine during the show, but the only reason I had to carry the carton around with me was because they had no cups in the venue as it was BYO (imagine a venue in Australia that would allow you to bring your own alcohol). We later found out that KKManga weren't actually assholes but that it was just the "osaka sense of humour", and they turned out to be really nice guys.

Sapporo was up next, and we stayed for 3 days in a really cute hostel. It snowed the entire time we were there which was amazing as I'd only ever seen snow fall one other time in my life and that was at the top of a mountain in Yosemite National Park. Even though it snowed in Japan I never felt extremely inconvenienced by how cold it was. It was the perfect temperature everyday despite the fact that it was mostly 3 degrees celsius. 

We visited the Sapporo Snow Festival and saw lots of ice sculptures crafted in the likes of Star Wars, Arale (one of my favourite anime characters from my childhood, created by the people who made Dragon Ball Z) and Pikachu amongst others.

The shows were all very mixed billed here too. Japan seems to have a lot of bands that shamelessly take influence from American bands. One night we saw a band that was basically a Smashing Pumpkins rip-off (they even played a Smashing Pumpkins song as their intro), another sounded like At the Drive-In, and even one that sounded like Foster the People. One band I really enjoyed watching was a two-piece metalcore band called Nobody Celebrates My Birthday. It was very entertaining watching two small Japanese dudes who looked about 13, screeching vocals and playing really hard Converge/Zao-esque songs. Off-stage they were quiet and very polite. We exchanged Facebook details after the show before parting ways.

One band I actually HATED was a group of leather jacket-clad gentlemen who called themselves Cunt Pussy More. They walked on stage, took off their leather jackets and t-shirts and played their entire set topless while staring the audience members dead in the eyes. During one of the songs the singer actually chose to COUGH the words instead of sing them? Very confusing. 

Sapporo was the last stop of the tour so we said our goodbyes on the last night. I went back to Tokyo and spent the next five days in Shimokitazawa with my boyfriend. We shopped, tried some very fluffy pancakes, took lots and lots of photos again, and on one lucky day it even snowed!

Throughout the tour we hung out a lot with The Wameki guys. They took us to many great restaurants after shows and we became good friends. On one of the nights when we were back in Tokyo they invited us to see their bassists' other band Gisiri at a venue called 'Heaven's Door'. They were a Lucha Libre themed punk band. Halfway through their set they'd start wrestling. It was actually very entertaining. 

The bands in Japan seem to exist in an entirely different world to those of western countries. It is extremely hard to find music by the bands in that country because no one really uses Facebook or Spotify, so you'd have to buy a burnt CD with their music on it at their shows like it was 2004 again. They seem to take influence from American bands but turn it into their own fucked up thing by incorporating a lot of theatrics during their sets. There was A LOT of nudity and a lot of costumes and every band had their own little gimmicks. 

Writing about my trip has made me feel very nostalgic and I can't wait to go back again. This trip was definitely one of the best I've ever been on.

Urge Records Mural Process: How I use reference images

To welcome in the new year, I wanted to start a process blog where I can post BTS shots, process, inspiration, reference images, etc that I don't often (or never) show anyone. It all sits in folders on my computer or in a messy pile next to my desk and it felt like a waste to not share with anyone as it's often the most interesting/frustrating part of my job.

I spent a lot of time in 2016 doing a lot of commissions which I really really enjoyed but this meant I spent less time than I liked on personal projects and this always takes a toll on me mentally, so the year was full of up's and down's for me. The mural I painted for Urge Records last month was one that kind of fell between a commission and a personal project, which is why it was my favourite project of the year. 

My friend Jai Love as well as his bandmates in The Nuclear Family started their own live music venue and record store in Thirroul, Wollongong. I met Jai a couple of years ago at my last solo exhibition 'Paranoid' which was held at Goodspace Gallery in 2015. He asked me to paint a mural on his shop wall. There wasn't a lot of direction, I could basically draw whatever I wanted which was awesome.

Going through folders and folders of reference images I have collected over the last 3 years or so, I managed to dig up some really cool images of satanic rituals/witches I'd saved as inspiration for previous projects that I never wound up ever looking back on for some reason. 

Before I start, I always do a crude sketch of what I have in mind based on the reference I gathered. I try not to copy reference images exactly as they appear to be, rather I kind of 'collage' ones I really like that may be at a certain angle/perspective I need, or if I can't find any reference I will take my own photos (which I did for the witch in this one) or just draw from my head. 

After I complete the artwork I mock it up to size on photoshop. Usually before I even begin the draft sketch I would draw directly onto a photo of the surface I will be painting on to make sure I get the proportions right, as this will determine the overall composition of the piece.

As you can see on the left of the image below, I have cut out spaces for where any electrical boxes, cords and light switches are and make sure that I do not draw anything in that general area.

Once I am happy, I am ready to start painting!