Techno set

Y is a musician. Before each performance, her band will practice several times a week. She makes a point of always saying she can only play, not ‘make’ or ‘read’ music. So each practice session in a rehearsal space or at home with her impromptu setup is her way of remembering the sequence of every song. She repeats, fumbles, re-tunes and plays them over and over again, until each song is so indelibly lodged in her brain that she can play with little effort and concentrate on something more important, like pitch, tone, and rhythm. Every performance is ‘sport’ by her reckoning. And every 30 or 40 minutes an unwinding of all that practice into one very clear singular moment.

The band’s output varies, physically as well as productively. From the fast and furious sound of a band, to the delicately construction of electronic music. At one point it involved 3 other people but now there are only 2. For many years the band performed, even recorded with the hope that one day it would lead to something bigger. Then 5 years ago the band ceased being, and everyone went their separate ways. They remained in touch and would meet regularly, but as friends and not musicians. The bass meanwhile stood upright in the corner of the room back home, gathering dust. The spark along with the stress that had fizzled out had now been replaced by a sort of competitive calm, where each person simply celebrated themselves, in that way that friends do sometimes.

Mid-way through last year they were invited to play with other bands by a mutual acquaintance in Osaka. Now everyone had been scattered all over town, would they even want to reconvene? The drummer was less-convinced, but Y and fellow guitarist Sa were intrigued by the idea. So they set about reimagining themselves, and the songs they’d played so often before. Originally the guitarist, Sa was now drumming, with Y as ever on bass. There was only two of them now, and for 3 months they went to their local rehearsal studio and bashed out reinvented versions of their old songs. Except now they had been drawn-out and rearranged as hypnotic and beat-ridden, in place of the short, sharp, stabbing versions of old. They christened this their ‘techno set’. Having seen them play in their earliest form and now altogether as grown-up version of themselves, it was wonderful to witness. They were relaxed, fearless, almost laconic, but most important of all, confident. Like never before. And as I watched, I began to recognize something of their change in me.

I began to notice people creeping into the photographs I took. For the most part they appeared briefly or not at all, but when they did they were integral. There was no narrative, no meaning, no collective story being told. No emotion except for the feeling of being joined by others. I began to realise I had a habit of going over old stomping grounds, or returning to old ideas. I locked into thinking about a photo or a song to the point of exhaustion. The songs Y and Sa slowly remembered were impressing upon me a wish to ‘cut my own coat to suit the cloth’. The mantra became repeat, change, forget, omit, remake, repeat and so on. I can’t write music and certainly can’t read it either, but I can trick myself into remembering a feeling that the presence of something gives. Memory is after all a trick. Something we tell ourselves to convince us of the ability to perform without constraint. Free of fear, and certainly failure. In that sense, memory becomes a sort of performance in itself.

Performance is a set of photographs that remember the same thing by taking the same picture over and over again until these things become so familiar they feel commonplace, effortless, or even boring. Maybe this is too personal, too reflective. But I think the notion of performance is no stranger to photography, or film for that matter, especially when it comes to the city. Last year, there were countless occasions where I would come across someone making the space around them through intuition, or a fearless sense being deliberately planned in advance. There is no better example of this than with photography. Not only does the street give unending cause to celebrate—whether perfectly well-timed, or lesser so—the natural highs and lows of living in amidst the populous, but also a freedom to think of the street or street level as less a stage and more as a backdrop to that mantra of working out what is important given the circumstances: a literal case of cutting your coat to suit the cloth.