I’ve known Satomi Kurogane, the secret power behind Die Database, ever since she moved to Berkeley, California in 2005. Not that she lives there now – she was only in the US for a few years, but she made a big impression on me during that time. In any case, I’ve been taking unfair advantage of our friendship ever since, and this interview is a perfect case in point.
Junk Magnet: How did your trip back home to Kamakura go?
Satomi: It was great, but I wish there had been better circumstances. The earthquakes and tsunami have been a horrible burden – even if much of the trauma was localized, it affected everyone.
Junk Magnet: Is your family doing OK?
Satomi: There’s been a big hit when it comes to tourism, but it’s starting to pick up a bit for Spring. In the end, no one can stay away from the Daibutsu for long, and what better way to commemorate the trip than with refrigerator magnets and pencil toppers?
Junk Magnet: I know I couldn’t resist. I wish you were able to be there in 2009.
Satomi: You’ll never forgive me for that. I know you went to see Masae in Yokohama and Yuma in Hakone during your trip, but I was out of the country for Agartha Labs business. Next time.
Junk Magnet: Speaking on next time, so you’re really going to come back to the US for a tour?
Satomi: That’s the plan. Right now we’re just trying to get a buzz going, but it was a big drag not being able to attend SXSW.
Junk Magnet: I think the Street Team idea has a lot of promise, though!
Satomi: You would, considering your constant pestering for us to start one. I have to agree, though – we’re already starting to get some attention, although mostly in the non-music-buying set.
Junk Magnet: You mean just-about-everyone?
Satomi: Well, yes. But I have been happy with the cover songs so far – thanks.
Junk Magnet: I wanted to bring that up, and get your official comments. So – what do you think of [Karmic Freedom] by Baby Teardrops?
Satomi: Oh, that was brilliant! Very different from the original, but I really like the paired down arrangement. And the male/female chorus is quite nice.
Junk Magnet: How about [Massive Cloud Burst Theme] by Ben Morey and Nick Maynard?
Satomi: Really amazing…. I would have never taken that lo-fi direction, but it really works. In some respects I think it’s actually an improvement on the original, mostly because it has a lot more room to breathe.
Junk Magnet: I’m still negotiating with a few more bands for you – I’m hoping the one I told you about pans out.
Satomi: I get the feeling you’re shaping this interview so I’ll have to constantly thank you. Are you still that desperate for validation?
Junk Magnet: You had to go there! OK, I’m going to take off the kid bicycle gloves now….. In our last interview, you said that you studied English at the Berkeley Adult School, and that “I took just enough classes so I could stay on a student Visa”. You and I both know that after 1996, the US cut out a lot of loopholes, including the ability to use adult school ESL classes to satisfy a F-1 visa.
Satomi: No comment!
Junk Magnet: In fact, this was one of the first things we talked about when we met at that concert. A few of my friends did just that in the early 90s – take a few easy classes and then fill their spare time with adventure. I was assuming you were doing the same, but you gave me an impromptu immigration reform lament.
Satomi: You’re really not going to drop this, huh? Let’s just say that I had a visa, and that I spent some time in school. That’s all we’re going to discuss about that, right?
Junk Magnet: Fine. I’ll take another path to get to the heart of the story. Tell me about you and Jenny Samuels.
Satomi: Really? Are you trying to make me mad?
Junk Magnet: Quite the opposite. I know that your breakup was rough, but I’m more interested in the beginning, because that’s where I see the real genesis of Agartha Labs and Die Database.
Satomi: I’m going to owe you a beating when we go on tour…. Fine. When I was in school, a school that shall rename nameless to prevent potential incrimination, I actually did study English. I was always pretty good at it, but when I first came to the Bay Area I was overrun by strange and powerful idioms and slang, and I didn’t want to sound as foreign as I was. So, I put an ad on Craigslist for an English tutor in the East Bay, and Jenny answered.
Junk Magnet: What was the first thing that went through your mind when you met?
Satomi: I thought she was totally crazy! In retrospect…. well, maybe I shouldn’t use the word “crazy”. Let’s just say she was intense. Brilliantly locked on and ready to fire.
Junk Magnet: Oh, I like that! And I have to say that I like such intensity in a woman, but when we were still talking, it became a bit much.
Satomi: Is that why you stopped publishing antizine for her?
Junk Magnet: Do you really want me to go there in your interview?
Satomi: Why not? Especially if it’ll make you look stupid.
Junk Magnet: I’ll ignore that. Anyway, I knew Jenny and Laura when they were working on antizine. We go back a long, long way, since we were teens.
Satomi: Now that’s a story I want to hear more about!
Junk Magnet: And you already have, in private.
Satomi: You mean just like our private visa conversations?
Junk Magnet: Well played. So, around antizine issue 26 or so, I started to publish my own zines, and I included some of their “stories” as a favor. A few times I came right out and credited them, but after they stopped working together in late 1994, I just took everything they funneled me and published it under my own name. It all stopped after the year 2000, but I kept up the charade and posted everything online, as instructed.
Satomi: Jenny asked you to do that?
Junk Magnet: God no. Frisbee. She kept it all coming until she died. None of the interested parties really cared, because we’re talking 200 largely-unread copies of each issue. Online, it all just faded into the noise.
Satomi: OK, I’m trying hard to bring Jenny back into this. What point are you trying to make?
Junk Magnet: Right. So, she was your intense tutor.
Satomi: Correct. We worked together every week for months. At first, it was purely a professional relationship – we would meet at Au Coquelet on University and just go over my lessons and questions. Then… it became more personal.
Junk Magnet: I’m not going to push it. I’m just amazed at how much the both of you changed once you started going out.
Satomi: For a while, she was my pulsing, guiding light that kept me from crashing into the rocks.
Junk Magnet: Where did you live again, in South Berkeley?
Satomi: Yeah, on Alcatraz. It was a really dismal one bedroom, with bars on the windows and barely any natural light, but we did our best to make it work. Not that we spent much time at home – almost every night we went to whatever concert, gallery, installation or event that would have us, and she really came out of her shell then, especially when it came to photography.
Junk Magnet: Which makes sense, considering – she was the “staff photographer” for antizine, and personally documented the rise of innumerable punk bands. We used to keep running into each other at 924 Gilman, and she was so perfectly in her element, she could blend into the wall graffiti at will.
Satomi: I’ve seen some of her pictures of you, and your mustache and afro stage – watch yourself or I’ll post scans!
Junk Magnet: Watching!
Satomi: Thinking back, Jenny and I had some amazing nights – all of the art events, that is! But the days… is it safe to say that she can be a bit of a zombie?
Junk Magnet: I’m not sure that’s strong enough. And, I don’t want to talk about her this way without giving her a chance to rebut. I just wanted to remind you how much of your current work came out of that time.
Satomi: You know, I think you’re right, for once! In fact, a lot of my contacts in the whole O’Reilly/Maker community came from her. And she always cheered me on though my strange and sparking experiments…
Junk Magnet: You refer of course to your first big gallery show.
Satomi: They never forgave me for setting off the sprinklers! Every time I see the other artists at that show, I still feel like I have to beg for forgiveness.
Junk Magnet: Pay them in Agartha Labs prototypes. They can then start charitable foundations and have a few million left over.
Satomi: You’re such an annoying tease. And now, I’m still not going to send you the tech you want.
Junk Magnet: But you said it was inspired by that first night we met!
Satomi: Ah yes, with you taking incessant pictures of TsuShiMaMiRe – I bet you don’t even remember what I was wearing.
Junk Magnet: Trick question! You were actually wearing nothing. A white t-shirt with “nothing.” in Helvetica across the front.
Satomi: Shit! I forgot you have tons of pictures of me wearing that shirt.
Junk Magnet: You have to remember that I pulled you and Jenny aside, and after our secret visa discussions, I started laying out my vision of simulcast club concerts all over the world. Why blog about Noodles and The Pillows when you could actually see them live, wherever you are.
Satomi: Then I had one in a series of flashes, and decided to run with that idea to the extreme – what if you could actually be at any concert, wherever you are? I had to immediately kiss Jenny for good luck after such a great idea – I even bought her extra merch! A few months later I was already working on the first, early prototype projectors, but the real problem was modeling. The Ghosts were so awful!
Junk Magnet: I like my Ghost 1.0! It’s very Dreamcast.
Satomi: Naomi boards are really useful in a pinch.
Junk Magnet: And now…. I still don’t understand how you’ve done it. How you’ve gone so far since you left Berkeley.
Satomi: Sometimes I don’t, either! I came to the US a girl-woman with artistic dreams, and left a business-woman with artistic realities, and I haven’t stopped a second to look back.
Junk Magnet: Are you still in touch with Jenny?
Satomi: Hell no! Eventually the zombie in her won out, and I just couldn’t wake up one more morning with her standing next to the bed, staring at me. Or following me around aimlessly. Things were never abusive between us, yet I felt so stressed out, like we were constantly fighting without ever laying a finger on each other. The month we finally broke up is when I laid the true foundations for Agartha Labs, and the last time I ever heard from her.
Junk Magnet: I’m sorry. I do see her every so often – we don’t live that far away from each other. However, she never accepts any of my invitations, and she seems so run down – nothing like when we first met as barely teens. Back then, she was a powerhouse punk that could punch holes in guitars…
Satomi: Figuratively speaking
Junk Magnet: No, she actually punched a hole in the back of a steel string acoustic once, at a Fuck Traffic show. Then she started to play it from the inside out. Man, she was awesome back then….
Satomi: I just realized – what about Masae and Yuma? Don’t you want to embarrass them as well, under the flag of promotion?
Junk Magnet: Don’t worry, I’ll post the other two interviews soon. Any last words for now?
Satomi: Just that my visa usage is beyond reproach, so much so that there’s no reason for any Immigration Officials to pay my upcoming paperwork any mind. I not only love the laws of countries that aren’t my own, I want to marry any and all statutes that will have me.
Junk Magnet: That sounds like awesome performance art – marriage between pro and anti-gay laws.
Satomi: If two state constitutions fall in love and have children…. that’s it. I’ve got nothing else.
Junk Magnet: That, and your new album [Knee], coming soon to all major US retailers.
Satomi: All’s well that ends in shameless promotion….