Clock Hazard and the Egalitarian Musical Utopia of the Kansai Underground

When you go to a Clock Hazard show, you never know what to expect. There are no set members; there is no set genre; there is no set equipment; there are no usual venues.

The only thing you can expect is to have a euphoric experience dancing to some sick music. They are absolutely what’s happening in Kansai.

CHD at MAMF
Clock Hazard doing their thing at the Mai Asia Music Festival, Osaka, on April 29th.

So, what is Clock Hazard, and why all the ambiguity? Clock Hazard is an underground rebel dance music collective and music label based in the western Japanese region of Kansai – the area surrounding Osaka and Kyoto – and perhaps its most defining hallmark is that it’s explicitly anonymous. There are currently around twenty members – the exact number is neither clear nor important – and while many do solo gigs under actual monikers, Clock Hazard’s anonymity was purposefully implemented with two specific goals in mind. Coming into existence in January of 2014, the founding members (who, true to form, asked to remain anonymous in this article) were first and foremost frustrated with what they detected as a particularly unsavory aspect of the Japanese underground, namely… names. They feel that the scene places too much importance on the draw of big-name musicians and through their anonymity are trying to reemphasize actual music-making while encouraging audiences to prioritize the same. Secondly, Clock Hazard opts for anonymity in order to create a highly egalitarian environment where musicians can feel free to share, express, experiment, and inspire with various musical styles, without the pressure of operating under the strict hierarchies that normally define Japanese social interactions.

The back-to-basics philosophy behind Clock Hazard is palatable in all of their various manifestations. Their website, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud pages feature such a constant stream of new material that it’s nearly impossible to keep up; there’s a real sense of urgency surrounding Clock Hazard, a real excitement about making music. And as a recent feature about the group in Vice Magazine points out, many of Clock Hazard’s members are well-known producers and DJs in their own right who opt for anonymity to uphold the group’s lofty and laudable ideals.

But their egalitarianism is perhaps most palatable in their live performances, which are just on another level in terms of not just music, but also atmosphere: they really know how to throw a good party. Anywhere from one to over a dozen members perform at a time, with everyone simultaneously using their own gear – or even each other’s. The idea is that all of the music on the Clock Hazard label is fair game, and the members manipulate and remix each other’s music – even from the members who only release music online – during live performances in real time. Because each member brings their own unique vision to the table, they range anywhere from house to jungle to techno to dub to experimental; I once saw someone from Clock Hazard sample from an amplified GameBoy. Really, classifying Clock Hazard in terms of genre is useless.

A small cross-section of what Clock Hazard is up to…

Instead, you’d be better off thinking of Clock Hazard as an idea, as a feeling, as an attitude, or even as a kind of contagious spirit. In fact, they have even described themselves as bound by a kind of spirituality and, although the Clock Hazard guys are too humble to admit it, I would say that they have something of a cult following. Go to a Clock Hazard show and look around: nearly everyone will be wearing Clock Hazard shirts, pins, patches, or perhaps even playing with a Clock Hazard yoyo (yes, they actually made yoyos with their logo and yes, they are amazing). Given how sick and funky and fresh their music and approach is, it’s no surprise that they have such a dedicated following.

CHD Yoyo
Their yoyo!

But really, I can’t help but wonder if this following also has to do with the egalitarianism that permeates the atmosphere of their shows. It really is special, especially when juxtaposed to what’s happening in Tokyo. Tokyo is an amazing, bewildering, demanding, whimsical, ever-changing, unapologetic behemoth of a city that, much like New York City, requires its residents to build a kind of emotional wall to survive. I am probably one of the bubbliest people you’d ever meet, but in Tokyo my “resting face” could scare off Anton Chigur from No Country for Old Men. As a result of the Tokyo lifestyle, the underground music scene there has a kind of detached, alienated quality to it that you can hear in its music. It’s fascinating, mind-bogglingly creative, and highly experimental and, as strong of a sense of community that there is, we in the Tokyo scene often find ourselves bonding over serious and thoughtful considerations of the bloop-blorping of synthesizers in basement and back-alley holes-in-the-wall. In a word, Tokyo’s scene is extremely cool, in all senses of the term.

In contrast, the first time I saw Clock Hazard perform back in November, one of the members wore nothing but a giant gold chain, oversized novelty sunglasses, and rainbow-colored, sequin-covered shorts. Needless to say, I was hooked from that moment on.

I’ve tried to make it to whatever shows they do in Tokyo, but since they’re primarily based in Osaka, I hadn’t had the chance really to connect with the group until I took a two-week trip to Kansai about a month ago. Needing a break from Tokyo and wanting to get more acquainted with the Clock Hazard crew, I took a bus from Tokyo to Osaka in the beginning of April. With my back as well as my morale utterly destroyed by the journey (I’m still upset that the bus stopped at rest areas literally every hour… was that really necessary? Couldn’t we just get there?), I ditched my stuff at a capsule hotel in the gritty but always entertaining America Town district of Osaka – complete with a fake Statue of Liberty – and headed out to see Clock Hazard. That night they were playing in the back room of an Indian restaurant (remember what I said about no set venues?) and as soon as I stepped foot into the club my spirit was healed. Two of the Clock Hazard guys greeted me with hugs and smiles and cheers, and when they went on at midnight the room just came alive. Everyone was smiling, laughing, grooving out and completely lost in the music and atmosphere, and that included me, the world’s most awkward and self-conscious dancer. Their hour and a half flew by, and I felt transformed – completely uplifted – by their show. And that’s their goal: the lines between Clock Hazard Member and Clock Hazard Fan are blurred because, really, they’ve created a reciprocal music-making process. Their music directly feeds off of the atmosphere to which we in the club are responding, which creates feedback loops of energy and – here’s that word again – an egalitarian atmosphere that’s memorable, unique, and contagious. So contagious, in fact, that I’ll be spending a month in Osaka this summer because I just can’t get enough of them.

Clock Hazard makes music to connect. Be sure to check them out, and don’t be surprised when you inevitably surrender to their spirit and join their cult following.

One thought on “Clock Hazard and the Egalitarian Musical Utopia of the Kansai Underground

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