MAZEUM Festival – Interview with Yuko Asanuma

“We all felt like we can create something bigger and impactful by joining forces”

Antibodies Collective by Eizaburo Sogo

The first ever edition of MAZEUM Festival, which claims to be a new international music festival with the focus on the most cutting-edge musicians and artists from Japan just took place between 30.11./1.12. in Kyoto, Japan across six venues in the heart of the city including three Buddhist temples. Kaput talked to co-organisor Yuko Asanuma about her experiences of launching the festival.

Yuko, how did the idea to the festival come up and how did it grow into existence?
The idea of starting a new festival in Japan with a particular focus on the cutting-edge Japanese artists emerged from our experience of putting on various music events in Japan over the years. The festival team consists of four main independent promoters – Black Smoker Records which is also a record label, DJ NOBU who runs Future Terror, Noiz Nakamura who runs a live Jazz venue called Velvetsun in Tokyo, and myself Yuko Asanuma, a Berlin-based music journalist and a booking agent. We all promoted events independently but also in collaboration with one another in the past. We all felt like we can create something bigger and impactful by joining forces together to support a lot of the artists we work with or have worked with before. We were also confident that we have enough experience and network of people to put together something vey unique – that’s different from any of the music festivals that existed before. Given the growing interests in Japanese music and art from international audience, we felt like now is the right time to launch it.

DJ Nobu by Eizaburo Sogo

Was it hard to convince all the people involved (from artists and venues to city politicians and cultural embassy folks)?
We basically reached out to the people we knew and had mutual trust in each other. So everyone we spoke to were extremely supportive of our festival concept. Nobody was unsure of the outcome though! So it didn’t require much of convincing. We also didn’t really have to deal with the local authority, politicians or embassies. We only had corporate sponsorship and support, and didn’t apply for any public funding this time.

What could you tell us about the name? What’s the story behind MAZEUM.
We discussed a lot about the name and we didn’t come up with a good one in a long time… but JUBE, a rapper and the A&R of Black Smoker Records one day came up with this name. We all liked the name as it combines the words MAZE and MUSEUM that implies the exploratory nature of the festival and it’s visually striking when it’s written. It gives a sense of mystery yet welcomeness for viewing or involvement.

Why in Kyoto?
Kyoto is simply a beautiful city that everybody loves visiting. Not only for tourists from abroad but residents of Japan. It’s an ancient capital city of Japan and cultural centre of traditional Japanese aesthetics. What’s less known is that it always had a very strong avant-garde music, theatre, and performance scene for many decades, and extremely liberal political current as it’s also a student town where 10% of the city population are students. It’s dense with liberal arts universities and art colleges. We also felt like Japanese music industry is too centralized in Tokyo especially in recent years, and we wanted pay homage to the cultural importance of this region and also bring some exciting entertainment to the locals.

Hidenka by Yoshikazu Inoue

What was the highlight moment of this very year?
There were 40 acts played during the two-day festival and it’s difficult to pin-point the highlight, but I think the day-time concert circuit on Saturday across four venues including two Buddhist temples went very well. Having some hip rappers in the temples was really cool, and Fuyuki Yamakawa’s extraordinary performance in front of a large Buddha was impressive. Special collaboration between an industrial noise duo ZVIZMO and contact Gonzo where the performers went in among the audience created powerful tension and chaos. Another special entirely improvisational session between a Kyoto-based band Kukangendai and a hiphop act The Lefty (Killer-Bong and Jube) was also very unique and well received moment.
However, the best moment for us (the festival organisers) was receiving overwhelming amount of feedback not only from the audience but from the acts and staff that agreed to take part in the festival for compromised fees and conditions. It was really rewarding to see them really enjoying the festival experience.

And what was the toughest moment within the process?
When we didn’t sell tickets… until very last minute!! We only sold very few tickets in advance, so we certainly weren’t comfortable. We were all very stressed out and had so many discussions what we could do to sell tickets until it started. Many many people told us that Kyoto is a very tough city to make an event like this successful. We didn’t have any “crowd drawing” headliner on purpose, and we were not sure if that was too ambitious until we saw people showing up on the day. To see so many people showing interest and giving support to such adventurous program in the end was very encouraging and rewarding at the same time. We all worked crazy hours to make this happen, but it did make us feel like it all paid off!

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