In which the Dutch indie-rockers’ visit to Tokyo involves earthquakes, terrorist attacks and food poisoning; floods, fish eyes and the flu; and suspicious undergarments.
BY PETER VISSER
Our band was invited to play at the MIDEM Festival in Cannes, France.
Just 2 hours before show time Carol, our singer, got the 48-hour-flu, with heavy stomach-pains, high fever and all. Doctor came and we had to cancel the show.
Now, in the audience there were some Japanese people. They were there to check out our band, but since we didn’t play they started to get curious about us and decided to invite us to Japan to do some shows. So some time later we flew over to Tokyo and got off the plane, welcomed by the very friendly people from the Japanese record company and a slap in the face from the overwhelming heat and 100% humidity. We got a hotel with tiny rooms on the 11th floor with the toilets with all the modern gadgets.
Next morning I woke up to a roaring sound and the bed was shaking.
On the ceiling there was a lamp hanging, perfectly still, but the room itself was moving from the left to the right: it was an earthquake. Scary!
That day we played our first gig. When we left the venue after the show we were welcomed by hundreds of flashlights from people who were waiting outside for photos and autographs. They also brought homemade gifts. We were very moved by all this.
After the show we went back to the hotel with the subway.
Later we found out that the next day there was a terrorist gas-attack on the very same subway where we were the day before. Jet lag added a surrealtouch.
A day later we had dinner with the people from the record company.
During the second show, while playing, I saw that Herman, our bass player, was looking very pale, uncomfortable and sweaty. Turned out he had food poisoning of a very severe kind. We had to drag him to the hotel and into his bed. Not a single bucket to be found in the entire hotel. We called for a doctor, but doctors don’t make house calls in Japan, as it turned out. Poor guy: while he was suffering we were exploring the Tokyo nightlife.
The itinerary was filled in by the minute. If our Japanese driver would be late for a couple of minutes he could be sacked. The following day we had an in-store in a big record shop. We got stuck in traffic. The driver got very nervous. In the store the power was shut down. Nobody dared to turn it on: afraid to get fired. So we did it ourselves. The people that came to see us were drilled like in a military fashion, to watch, to walk a certain path to get the autographs and finally to leave the store.
Later, while walking in the city, we saw a guy standing on a car with a megaphone, shouting very fanatically to the people passing by. We asked our translator what this man was talking about. Seemed he was ranting fascist slogans. Then we were informed about the flood that came towards Tokyo; the papers and radio warned the citizens that in worst-case scenario, the city had to be evacuated. Herman was still in bed, sweating like a pig, looking green en throwing up all the time. The next morning we had to carry him to the elevator, into a cab, towards the nearest doctor. “It’s food poisoning,” the doctor said, and Herman could go.
That night we had the farewell dinner party in a traditional Japanese restaurant with the folks from the record company. So we all sat on the floor with the low tables. Small plates with what looked like hairy spiders or hairy-what-ever-creatureswere served. Carol, our singer, didn’t dare to put it in her mouth. “If you don’t eat it, the people who are taking us to dinner will be very offended.” Not sure how she did it but the hairy creature disappeared. A bigger platter with a big fish was served. The skin of the fish was removed, except for the head that was still intact. You could see the eyes of the fish looking nervously into every direction. The fish was still alive, sort of.
A lot of sake was on the table. We never had sake before. It was warm and also very strong. Our hosts were used to it, but it also had an impact on them: they took their chopsticks and started poking in the eyes of the fish, while laughing hysterically.
Next morning we had to leave for the airport to get back home. We said goodbye to the people from the record company. One of them was a very friendly girl who had accompanied us all week, so we knew her a bit. While saying goodbye, Herman gave her a kiss on the cheek: a very modest way of saying goodbye, because in Holland it’s usually 3 kisses on the cheeks. The girl felt very uncomfortable and blushed. In Japan it means you’re supposed to get married.
On the airport I randomly bought a Japanese magazine. On the plane I opened it to find out that there was a section of pages about dead corpses dug out of the ground, photos of knickers of 14 year old girls candidly photographed, a “humor” section, and about 12 pages of Japanese people in power or in government attacked with swords etc. I didn’t feel good after seeing all this so I put the magazine away.
We’d been away for less than a week. It felt like years. When I got back my girlfriend asked: “How was it?” I answered: “ You’re not going to believe this!”
Peter Visser is the guitarist for Bettie Serveert, and he is joined by vocalist/guitarist Carol van Dyk, bassist Herman Bunskoeke and drummer Joppe Molenaar. Their new album is called Oh, Mayhem! and it’s out now on Second Motion Records (BLURT’s sister business). Below, watch the Betties’ eye-popping video for key track “Had2BYou.”