The essay examines the Japanese alternative scene in the early 2000s and the role of the now defunct gallery and performance space Off Site.

Japanese journalist and author Kazue Yokoi shared an essay as part of the Initiative REMAIIN (Radical European Music and its Intercultural Nature). The project, launched in 2020, investigates non-European cultural influences on avant-garde and experimental music. In keeping with the philosophy of REMAIIN, Yokoi’s essay reflects on now-defunct gallery and performance space Off Site and the role it played within the Japanese alternative music scene in the early 2000s and beyond.

The essay begins with some background on the location of the venue (“a few minutes’ walk from Yoyogi Station in Tokyo”) and the building itself. “The Off Site opened in an old house in this forgotten neighborhood just as the Docomo Tower was nearing completion,” Yokoi writes. “The first floor was a gallery and free space, while the second floor was a CD/book store and cafe. It was the year 2000. In addition to serving as a gallery, the twelve tatami the mat space (approximately 19.8 m2) on the first floor also served as a space for musicians to play improvised and alternative music of the kind that did not sit well with established concert venues. [sic]

Continuing, she writes, “From the mid-2000s, exchanges flourished between Japanese and foreign musicians, and many foreign musicians visited.” [sic]

Yokoi continues to discuss the Onkyō-ha musical movement – which is commonly referred to as Onkyo by international audiences. The movement was characterized by minimalism and quiet improvisation. Writers and scholars covering the movement saw it as born out of Off Site and the artists who spent time there.

“Was Off Site then comparable to Minton’s Playhouse for bebop or CBGBs for punk in New York? Yokoi asks. “As someone who was familiar with Off Site, the idea doesn’t sit well with me. Yet we might as well not overlook the interrelationship between place and the music scene.

Later in the essay, Yokoi views the evolution of Off Site as both a place and a cultural center. “Off Site has become an intersection of international improvised music,” she writes. “Visiting musicians brought his name back to their communities and the venue became part of their networks…For improvised and alternative musicians, this type of exchange has been an unbroken tradition for many decades since the free music scene . Yet it was not until twenty years ago that these exchanges became as active as they are today, with Japanese musicians regularly inviting and booking visitors from overseas, or foreign musicians coming to Japan relying solely on personal relationships.

She also reflects on the site-specific nature of the sounds permeating the whole place. “Live performances at Off Site weren’t just about volume,” she says, “it also had to address the character of this twelve-carpet space with white walls, including restrictions on sound levels.

Read the full essay on REMAIN websitewhere you can also learn more about the project.