Jay Shogo Live Art at the 2015 #TnTCafe “New Year Jam”

“This&That Cafe” is a monthly event that goes down at Nishi Azabu’s renowned creative hub SuperDeluxe, originally designed as a way to fill the empty nights in the venue’s schedule. Over time it has grown to become one of the most diverse and creative events on Tokyo’s arts calendar, with live music and performances from a enviable array of genres, coupled with real-time projections and visual artists.

The creative force and curator behind the event, D.H. Rosen, hails from Philadelphia in the US, but has spent the past two decades in Japan working as a visual artist, writer, curator and creative director of events, films and multimedia projects. After graduating with a PhD in fine arts from Tama Art University in 2010 he established TokyoDex, which he describes as “a multifaceted artist cooperative that encompasses all of my creative endeavors to date.”

With This & That approaching its 25th installment this month (on August 28), we’ve been lucky enough to take some time out with the man himself.

Question: You’ve been involved in many creative endeavors over the years. What is your involvement with This & That Cafe and the greater arts scene in Tokyo these days?

D.H. Rosen: These days I am doing much more direction than hands-on artwork, but I would say that This&That Café is a huge creative outlet for me. I do all of the curation, and sometimes perform myself as a VJ, but more than anything, it is the one project where I feel I have complete creative control. Though we sometimes have sponsors, there is no client to please, so I have final say in which artists perform, which band collaborates with which VJ, etc.

I have been trying to delegate more and more to other TokyoDex team members on other projects, but This&That Café is the one project that I am not willing to turn over to anyone else.


Multimedia artist Omodaka Performing at #TnTCafe Vol.21

Q: For those that haven’t been before, what is This&That all about and how did it start?

DR: This&That Cafe is an event open to the public in which artists from all genres and backgrounds donate their time and talents in the spirit of sharing. It is a place where music and visual arts meld in unexpected collaborations. A forum for artists from afar to meet with local luminaries amidst the dense and eclectic pool of talent in Tokyo.

Tokyo is a tough place for artists and musicians. It’s a “pay to play” town in a lot of ways; musicians often have quotas when they play a show, which means they have to guarantee the venue a certain number of customers or they could actually end up owing the venue money. Often gallery spaces also cost a fortune for visual artists to rent. I wanted to create a space where there was no pressure for the artists, and no pressure for the audience either. A place where that was “free” in every sense of the word. Where artists could try something new without the expectations of a traditional show, and the audience could casually stop by for a drink on the way home from work.

I am quite careful with the curation in some ways—I am definitely selective when it comes to artists. But at the same time, I try not to make too many requests of the artists once they are on board. I want them to feel like TnT is a place to try new things. The collaborative aspect is also really important to me. A standard show involves three to four music acts paired with VJs or video artists that I think would work well together. I try to let them know who they will be performing with ahead of time, but for the most part I want this collaboration to be spontaneous. There is usually a live-art element to the show as well, and sometimes we even do 1-day hangs of full-on art installations. I’m pretty much up for whatever, as long as people treat the space with respect!


Feeling the love at This&That…

Q: The event coming up this month is Vol. 25. What have been some of the most memorable moments of the last 24 installments of This & That?

DR: There are several, but the one that stands out for me personally was during the first year “New Year Jam” (Vol. 7) that christened the SuperDeluxe calendar in 2012. I was doing a visual back drop for a piece that involved two musicians, a dancer and a painter. We all had traded some videos and photos ahead of time, but we hadn’t actually gotten together to rehearse anything. On the day of the event, the sound check was running way behind and we only had about 15 minutes to do a run through. So when it came time to actually perform, we were all sort of watching the piece for the first time just as we were performing it. But it was just one of those things—it just gelled in the moment. There were a lot of surprises, but at the same time every moment seemed perfectly choreographed. I’m not up on stage much in front of people, so I really wouldn’t know if this were a normal sensation for performers, but there were moments where I felt this intense joy and exhalation at being a part of this thing larger than myself, where I felt this intense connection to everyone in the room. That’s the way I remember it anyway.

Q: You must have an impressive curatorial eye to continually program an event like this. How do you keep your ear to the ground and stay in the loop with Tokyo’s arts scene?

DR: I feel like the process of curation has become so enhanced by technology. I used to go out all of the time to see live music and visit galleries, and I still do as much as I can because I love the live experience, but these days people are constantly sending me links to audio visual content so I can check out new bands and artists without ever leaving the house. My network here is my lifeline, it is my business to get to know people doing cool stuff in the city, so its partly me being proactive and seeking these people out, and it’s partly me being in the scene long enough that artists are starting to reach out to me as well.


Shamanz will be celebrating their CD release on Friday night

Q: What inspires you most about living in Tokyo?

DR: Tokyo is at once the most civil yet scintillating city in the world. Just think about the level of craziness you see on the streets everyday –  the fashion, the “costume play,” the buskers, the random kids practicing their dance moves on the corner at night. And no one bothers anyone. There is madness everywhere yet virtually no violence. How cool is that?

Q: Vol. 25 is billed as “Shamanz’s CD Release Party”. What can we expect from the night?

DR: This is a very special night because the Shamanz guys are all good friends. I feel like we all kind of came up together. They played some of their early gigs at TnT and we helped them build a fan base. So this event is kind of like a homecoming for Shamanz, and they have invited a lot of talented friends to celebrate their first recording release with them. This band is going places, so I look forward to the day when they are playing stadium tours and I can say, “I knew Shamanz before they were big man, I used to VJ for those cats!”

On the visual side of things, you won’t want to miss Akiko Nakayama doing “Alive Painting,” which is basically live projection of her paint collages that are ethereal and beautiful. I paired her with a group called “Harp & Soul” and can’t wait to see how that collaboration unfolds.

Also of note is “illopetals,” a 2-person art partnership. They are new to the Tokyo scene and will be painting a 4-meter canvas in the back of the room over the course of the evening.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DA: We are always looking for new collaborators. If there are any artists/musicians/dancers that want to participant, please send ideas and links to [email protected]. Please also be sure to tag #TnTCafe when you post on Twitter and Instagram!

This & That Café Vol.25 at SuperDeluxe

Full lineup: Shamanz, The Stone Sun, Harp & Soul, illopetals, Akiko Nakayama, Yuya Takeda, Maiko Miyagawa, D.H. Rosen, Unusual Club.

More information: https://www.super-deluxe.com/room/3947/

How much: ¥700 (includes 1 drink)

Images: D.H. Rosen

—Chris Zajko