'Chaos Engines' by Arrow




Chaos Engines
arrow | 1:27pm, wed 17 aug 2005 | Tokyo Technopolis

reprinted from Undergrowth #7 - Nomadology - http://www.dislocated.org/nomadology/book.php

So I met this character in Darwin in January claiming to be running some kind of underground magazine or something, says he’s just set up a new part of it; travelling blogs, nomadic style. Said I might be interested. I was, but it’s taken me a good few months to get my shit together to contribute to this li’l thing. Let me tell you why.

I’ve been travelling round the world for about six years now, hopping from one mad gypsy community to another, trying to avoid the backpacker circuits, donning chameleon skins and invading high rise towers in Japan with anti-capitalist samurais, slumming it in temples of India with Hari Krishna funk musicians, hitchhiking across the South American continent looking for shamans but mostly finding backbreaking poverty, getting bored in the malls of Australia wasting my life. I wont bother y’all with the details, yeh? That’s the past and I’m still going. Let me just say, everywhere you go there’s the same shit going on, different smell. New accents, same humanity. Nothing surprises me too much any more, but everything intrigues me. That’s why I keep travelling. There is organised crime underneath the layers of everything, activists who think they’re changing the world as it changes around them, land being raped, poets raping language, beautiful beautiful multicoloured rainbow flavoured women that blow my mind everywhere with endless shades of desire ...
I haven’t written any of my travels down up to this point. Haven’t needed to, and to tell the truth, some of it has been too illegal to really document safely. But maybe I’m just being paranoid? The world is one big fucking chaos engine, no one really knows what the fuck’s going on, except one stoned Zen monk I met in Japan called Hiro – and all he could do was laugh uncontrollably.
Another thing: no one really knows what anyone else is really doing. The cops haven’t got a clue about the kind of lunacy that transpires inside the temporary autonomous zones, the priests don’t want to know the sins we commit underneath the sun’s gaze every single day, and you don’t know who the fuck I am.So I may as well tell you everything, eh?

<strong>Akira’s Semen</strong>
In the last few weeks I’ve spent many days wandering aimlessly in the techno-wilderness thanks to the inscrutable Tokyo address system. For some reason the buildings in any city block are not number sequentially. Oh no, of course not. They are numbered by the order in which they were constructed, which is rarely sequential. All I know is that I just follow people and wander aimlessly through the digital bazaars. It seems like the best trick for not getting lost in a place which doesn’t seem to have any real logic, for such a logical country. Actually, where did that myth come from? This place is a just another human zoo, and I feel like a child from some mythological past, looking at what all the clever futuristic animals have made to entertain themselves.

Oh look! Wrist-watch lobster phones – amazing! Robot security guards – wow! Origami television sets to burn at ceremonies – interesting. $600-plus shoes on sushi trains in shopping malls while homeless people drift outside – no thanks. Astroboy panties with authentic schoolgirl scent – Hmm.

I’ve been staying in the Shibuya-ku ward with my friend Hiro who just laughs at all the trinkets as we pass them. He’s a confirmed post-pop-consumer-fetish-connoisseur, which means that even though he has no money to buy any of this crap, he still enjoys wandering the hypermarket and laughing at all the latest, strangest collectible techno-gadgets on display.

Hiro is the closest thing to a ninja I have ever met. When I met him a few years ago he was coming out of a phase of heavy meditation, studying Zen and Osho in a radical anarcho-shinto monastery in the mountains. Nowadays he’s metamorphosed into a hip-hop artist of dubious quality who ‘wields words like they were shurikens.’ His words, not mine. His band name translates to something like ‘Akira’s semen.’
At least he looks the part. His long straight hair is dyed a golden orange-blonde and he has calligraphic tattoos that cover his arms. He still wears his kimonos everywhere. It’s standard amongst the radical fashionistas, but odd against the ‘modern’ jeans-and-jacket globalised culture of mainstream Japan.

I gotta say, I’m no stranger to using digital technology over the years, but I’m a little overwhelmed by the kind of techno-fetishism here. Everyone is so incredibly plugged in. On the streets, I-pod bubbles are so common people think you’re strange if you are alone and don’t have white wires coming out of your ears. Everyone has a mobile video phone too. Shit, Hiro even has a sampler on his phone which he freestyles to at parties. He complains that the only problem is he can’t record at the same time. All the apartments are plugged in and wireless, let alone the TV, DVD sound system animal which seems to have become the neo-replacement for a garden. And the robots. Those fucking robot toys that everyone has.
I hate them with a passion.

Akira’s Semen is performing tonight at a club called ‘Disobedient Machines’. Entry is through a non-descript door next to a McDonalds then down three flights of stairs. The stairwells are filled with people, soaking up the stairwell atmosphere. Inside, it’s packed. Of course. I have to watch out I don’t get stabbed by one girl’s mad spiky red hair sculpture. Another is wearing Tank Girl boots so huge she can barely lift them. I love Japanese fashion.
On stage there are big, 50’s style robo-go-go dancers. I gotta say, there’s some seriously weird robophilia going on in this country. Tokyo must be the robot capital of the planet, and I’m not being symbolic here. Is there really anywhere else you can buy a range of robots at the local convenience store? And what do they actually do?
Hiro sees us and runs over, handing me a new designer-drug which he says is the latest greatest alchemical cocktail called ‘Fictions’. Usually I think we’ve got enough fiction in our lives, and we need a little bit more non-fiction. A bit more reality. But maybe in this inhospitable, info-overload Mediapolis, it’s hard to find drugs that will give you the truth ...

Standing next to me is Shuyo, Hiro’s brother. He’s only , but Hiro’s worried that he becoming a shut-in, addicted to the virtual reality sim called ‘Elseworlds’. Hiro decided to drag him out with us for a night on the town. Even though he’s the local and I’m a newcomer, I feel like his chaperone, scared that he won’t know how to deal with the reality of Tokyo. He tells me he’s tried fiction before. Everyone here has, it’s not too scary.

Thirty minutes later and I’m having a great time. The drugs are kicking in, whatever they are. They’ve got me dancing. I think I’ve got a handle on it, it’s kind of like soft-edged DMT. Just enough to make reality vortex on the edges, but not enough to send you all the way down the rabbit plughole. I’m beginning to see the music moving around me, synaesthetic colours shifting through the crowd. I can feel the bass vibrating through my whole body like big invisible whales.
Suddenly, everything starts running backwards.
I kid you not, everything is running backwards.

The beats become like weird cuts through the crowd, shh shh shsh shsh shshs hshssh. The VJ has digital clocks counting down. Dates moving back. Big hands circling anti-clockwise. I’m spinning too. I’m dizzy. It’s like I’m getting hypnotised. Whatever the lyrics were have become some kinds of strange abstract glossolalia. It takes me a moment or two to realise the dj is just fucking around with our minds, preparing us for the band that’s about to start. Akira’s Semen.
At first it’s all white noise and taiko drums. My Japanese isn’t good enough to understand the lyrics, but Shuyo tells me mostly it’s about translating Buddhist texts into contemporary form. I particularly like the one they introduced as ‘life is suffering’, which sounds like an earthquake on the horizon. Big taiko drums booming through the speakers. Louder and louder as video footage shows an American bomber cruising over the pacific ocean. There are samples of radio dispatches. I get a sick feeling in my stomach as I begin to realise what’s about to happen. The whole inevitability of it is disgusting. The drums get louder and louder. The static of the radio dispatches. A button is pressed. The bomb falls through the open hatch. It falls in slow motion as the drums get louder. And just as they are about to land.
The lights go out.
Even the ecstasy babies who weren’t paying attention to the performance have stopped dancing.

The drums stop.
There is silence.
The whole club is silent.
Even the ecstasy babies who weren’t paying attention to the performance have stopped dancing. There’s no music. Just a moment of sickening silence as we swallow the whole bitter wave of history in our imagination.
Suddenly a spotlight appears on the stage, lighting a television set. It’s playing ‘duck and cover’, the US cartoon made for kids during the war. Hiro gets on stage and attacks the television with a samurai sword. Sparks fly all over the room, like some sadistic pyrotechnic display. Microphones capture and amplify the strange static sound. The room is filled with squealing and distortion, as the other band members tweak nobs behind him. It’s like some kind of weird electro-torture is being conducted on the machine, and suddenly I feel sorry for the poor little bugger. I feel like jumping on stage to stop the cruel assassination of this medium, shouting, ‘Stop! Don’t you realise it’s not the TV’s fault! It’s just an innocent medium for all of our demons!” But I don’t. I watch the whole performance in shocked awe. Everyone does. Hiro has us in the palm of his hand.
He slays the evil robot.
The end.

The whole performance only lasts a total of fifteen minutes.
Afterward, Hiro comes up to me sweating and excited and asks what I think of it. It tell him I think it was horrible. And he hugs me in glee at my response.
“Yes! It was, wasn’t it! So fuck-ing horrible! Perfect!”
That was my Hiroshima Day in Japan.
I think, no wonder Shuyo doesn’t want to leave his room.