Monthly Archives: September 2015

mechaniphone: i ∞ u

Mechaniphone are a band I encountered when I was in Nagasaki back in May. They were one of those bands where the moment they started playing a ripple of electricity went around everyone who was seeing them for the first time. Little glances between me and my friends from Tokyo, those knowing looks that presage a torrent of effusive, excited praise waiting to be unleashed as soon as the final song finishes: “Who the fuck was that? They were fucking cool!”

This EP inevitably doesn’t quite have the raw, wired intensity of their live set, but there’s more than enough in the way of lo-fi thrills in here to give you a good sense of what they have to offer. In the combination of complex, stop-start post-hardcore rhythms and rough-edged garage rock, there’s something nostalgic about it for those of us who privately and not so privately mourn the passing of Afrirampo, the self-imposed hiatus of Tacobonds and the grindingly slow pace of new material from Hyacca.

Killkilli, with its pounding waves of scuzzy hooks, squeaks and shrieks, is the art-punk disco contender of the EP, while the closing instrumental Theme alternates between off-kilter melody and squalls of ferocious noise. The opening one-two of Maware Maware Maware and Pool shows a more inclusively and multi-layered side to the band’s song construction, with the former combining a hypnotic, cyclical vocal melody with some righteously heavy riffage and moments of sublime harmony. The latter, meanwhile, alternates between octave-leaping vocals and instrumental duels, with overlapping sonic layers and rhythms adding a layer of complexity to the simple loops that define the song’s surface.

This juxtaposition of superficial accessibility, playful musical contrarianism and a rather elegant touch of multilayered complixity marks Mechaniphone as a band well worth seeking out, and we can only hope that the small but creative and diverse underground scene around them in Nagasaki can support them long enough for them to get the breakout success that they deserve.

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Strange Boutique (August 2015) – Fuji Rock and making the audience work

My Japan Times column this August kind of follows on from what I was writing about in July, where I discussed some of the problems I have with Rockin’ On Japan magazine and the Rock in Japan festival. In this instance, I look at the same issue from the other side, focusing on Fuji Rock.

What I like about Fuji Rock is that it actively makes life difficult for you, forcing you out of your comfort zone. It can be annoying at first, but once you get past that wall of irritation and absorb yourself into the festival’s way of doing things, it opens out into a much more reqwarding experience. I shan’t go into the specifics of that here, since you can just read it for yourself in the actual article, but I’ll mention briefly that Moon♀Mama (Pika from Afrirampo’s solo work), Oshiripenpenz, Hysteric Picnic, Bombori and Jim O’Rourke all did a great job of representing the Japanese underground scene, while Manic Sheep flew the flag for Taiwan with pride.

Instead, it’s this idea about making the audience work that I think is interesting. I’ve mentioned this before, but the meaning behind the label name Call And Response (apart from retaining the same CAR initials as this site, Clear And Refreshing) is really about the relationship between music and audience. We will reach out to you, but we expect you to meet us part way – you have to do your part of the exchange as well: you have to contribute your half of the conversation. To put it another way, music is not a service industry.

Except of course that for most people music really is a service industry, which is really at the heart of my dislike of the philosophy behind Rock in Japan. It’s also an attitude that filters through into audiences and can lead to a particularly obnoxious sense of entitlement and incredibly lazy listening habits. “I paid money, so entertain me!” sounds like such a hard-nosed, sensible, bottom-line thing to say, but by even considering money as part of the transaction, you’re shifting the whole meaning of art onto commercial terms, which is something I don’t accept.

Exchanges of money happen all the time in the arts, but they are separate, parallel operations to the actual experience the artist and audience share – and the prices have pretty much nothing to do with the actual value of the work to which they are assigned. The really important transaction that’s happening in art is between the extended hand of communication that the artist offers and the open palm of acceptance that the audience extends in return. It’s a transaction that has more in common with sex than commerce.

Fuji Rock isn’t perfect, and anyone who would voluntarily have sex of even the most metaphorical kind with the vile Owl City should be sectioned as a menace to both themselves and to society at large, but it deserves praise as an event that recognises the importance of breaking down the traditional framework in which audiences consume music and constructing a fresh context of its own that you have to make an effort to enter. More generally, I think this process is important in recognising that music isn’t a “pure” thing, free of the sort of lifestyle-orientated branding that I often complain about, but at the same time, that lifestyle can be constructed in a way that is more amenable to a positive and openminded relationship with art and music.

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