Csaba Toth

Csaba Toth

Academic & professional gig-goer


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009

Photo by James Hadfield

Photo by James Hadfield

What is your job, and what does it involve?
I am a professor of US history and cultural studies at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I teach various courses (Popular Culture, US Urban History, and team-teaching courses in Comparative Girl Studies and Experimental Music/Electronic Culture) and do research concerning social movements, gender identity formation, and soundscapes in the city.

How does Tokyo fit into this?
These days, as it pertains to my book project on Girl Studies and Urban History. What makes Tokyo different from New York, Berlin and London is the incredible density of clubs in relatively small areas, each of which plays a different kind of music for markedly different audiences—a difference that shapes age, gender, generation and the gender mix on the dance floor. In Tokyo’s vast urban sprawl, female clubbers follow specific urban markers on any given night in an effort to reach their favorite clubs—in the plural. Clubbing in urban Japan is a crucial site in which young women can construct their own representations of girlhood—either as a challenge to or in conformity with hegemonic gender narratives. These clubs function as outlets for the expression of anger, pleasure and hope.

When did you first visit Tokyo?
I first came here in 1998 and stayed for a little over two years. I’ve been a Japan “regular” ever since.

How do the club and live music scenes now compare with when you first came here?
Although Japan was still reeling from the recession in the late ’90s, it felt like a new dance club was opening in Tokyo every weekend. This kind of excitement and sense of expansion seems to be gone; nowadays, the city has a stable club scene. I was also lucky to be here when Japanese noise performance was at its peak, with Merzbow, Masonna, Incapacitants, Astro and the late MSBR conquering the music world.

How did you enjoy Fuji Rock this year?
It was fabulous: good times, just like last year. I love the collectivist aspects of the festival—living together with other festival-goers in cramped quarters, sharing the travails of the weather—in addition to the music featured, of course. One feels like being part of a large commune cast in a paradisiacal setting (the Japan Alps): a true temporary autonomous zone.

What has been your musical highlight of the year so far?
That’s a tough one to answer. Nine Inch Nails in Roskilde, Antony and the Johnsons with the Goteborg Symphony Orchestra in Goteborg, Peaches and Bright Eyes at Fuji Rock, Mattin’s performance in Pittsburgh, and Kevin Drumm and Prurient at No Fun.

Is there anywhere you always make a point of visiting when you come to Tokyo?
I’m a bit like a dog—I keep re-visiting the same clubs (and also lament the demise of places like Yellow and Velfarre). But I’m also like a cat that takes risks and goes into the unknown… which, in Tokyo, rarely disappoints.