This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a song from a “dark shoegaze” band hailing from Shizuoka.
With all the action happening in Tokyo, it’s some times easy to overlook other regions in Japan for quality music, especially if it’s not that far away.
Hailing from Shizuoka prefecture (which is only about an hour away from Tokyo by bullet train), The Piqnic perhaps have benefited from their isolation, melding traditional shoegaze sounds with a more gothic approach, creating a sound that’s unique from other bands in Tokyo.
“Saoirse” is the lead track off of their debut EP. Clocking in at seven minutes, the track goes from a quiet guitar drenched intro to a steady eight-beat, while vocalist Shuya’s androgynous vocals float throughout. The track may remind people of fellow countrymen Boris’s quieter moments (think “Rainbow” or “Präparat”)
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a song from a new band that unashamedly makes feel-good, mellow indie pop.
Awesome City Club: “Lesson”
The Tokyo underground is full of all sorts of unique, strange, and at times abrasive sounds. And there’s always that weird indie stigma that comes along with it. And mainstream Japanese music is so candy coated and manufactured, that while despite all the fun it does get a bit grating after a while. So it’s nice to occasionally find good pop music that’s as sincere and unironic as Awesome City Club.
Inspired by disco, soul and R&B, along with American indie and Britpop, Awesome City Club formed late last year. But don’t let any of that fool you; these guys have all honed their chops through various bands, such as Thatta and This Is Panic, and are anything but amateurs. They’ve only released two music videos so far, “Children” and the above “Lesson”, but it’s clear that with their clever, rhythmic arrangements and beautiful melodies that Awesome City Club are definitely a band to look out for.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a new song from a completely DIY band dabbling in electronica and folk, with a decade-long history.
Tokyo’s independent music scene is rife with all types of bands. But when it comes to the truly original, independent artists, there are only a handful of acts. Mothercoat is definitely one of those bands.
Formed in 2002, Mothercoat have been combining elements of electronica, folk, rock, and hip-hop for more than a decade. The band are known in the Tokyo scene for constantly evolving their sound and also for being a truly DIY entity, producing and distributing their records exclusively by themselves at their private studio, Bonjin Studio, in Fukaya, Japan, where the members live together (complete with their own vegetable garden). Constantly touring, the band have also played in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. They are scheduled to play at SXSW 2014 in Austin, Texas in March.
“Trickster” is the lead track from their new EP “5 – 1 + 1=“. The track is the first song the group have released since welcoming new guitarist, Fukunosuke Abe, into the band. The music video, also directed by Abe, displays the guitarist’s playful energy both visually and musically, adding a layer of whimsical youthfulness, complimenting vocalists Giga Dylan and Tokirock’s quirky call and response singing.
It’s amazing for any band to be around for more than a decade, but even more so when it has been done with the sheer determination and willpower Mothercoat have consistently displayed to do things their own way.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is an unlikely mainstream hit for one of the world’s finest experimental free jazz musicians.
Yoshihide Ōtomo and the Amachan Special Big Band: “Amachan Theme”
Yoshihide Ōtomo is a name which will ring a bell for anyone who has dabbled in experimental Japanese music from the ‘90s. A pioneer in noise and free jazz, Ōtomo’s name can be placed alongside other great titans of experimental and free jazz music, from John Zorn, Glenn Branca, and Derek Bailey.
So imagine my surprise when he appeared on “Kōhaku Uta Gassen”, the annual end of the year music program on Japan’s NHK channel. The program has been a long tradition of Japanese New Years Eve, bringing together the year’s most popular acts. Naturally, the show attracts a wide demographic; not a place you would expect to see an avant-garde noise artist.
The performance was a fantastic finale to an extraordinary year for Ōtomo, who received significant mainstream attention (perhaps the most attention he has had in his entire career) for providing the theme song and score for the extremely popular NHK daytime drama, “Amachan”. The show revolves around a school girl from Tokyo, who moves to the Tohoku region where she becomes a local idol. She returns to Tokyo to try for the big leagues, finally returning to Tohoku after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March, 2011 to help revitalize the area.
Anyone familiar with Ōtomo’s work, particularly his jazz compositions under the Otomo Yoshihide Jazz Quintet/Ensemble/Orchestra moniker, will recognize the “Amachan” theme song and score as being distinctly his music. While the score is definitely more playful and fun than his experimental work, it oozes with Ōtomo’s sensibilities, from the sweeping, breathtaking brass sections, to the dissonant freak-outs accompanied by his brittle and instantly recognizable guitar tone. After a career of more than 30 years, Ōtomo is finally in the spotlight.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a new dream-pop, shoegaze supergroup.
The relationship between visual-kei and shoegaze is something that has been hinted at since the early 90s, with bands like Luna Sea and Plastic Tree creating lush walls of guitars backing more solid and sophisticated pop melodies. Despite the make-up and theatricalities, it’s clear that many bands in the scene had an affinity for bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride, and new wave acts like The Cure and The Smiths.
While the debate on whether L’Arc-en-Ciel are visual-kei is old and tired, it’s undeniable that drummer Yukihiro has a knack for shoegaze, and here he brings it to the fore as he’s joined by two other well-known musicians for Geek Sleep Sheep.
Geek Sleep Sheep are a supergroup consisting of Mo’some Tonebender’s Kazuhiro Momo, Miyoko Nakamura of Ling Tosite Sigure, and Yukihiro of L’arc-en-Ciel, one of the biggest arena rock bands in Japan. It’s intriguing that these three established musicians have come together at this point in their careers, to create what is essentially a throwback to early-Supercar, one of the most influential Japanese indie rock bands of the 2000s, who dabbled in shoegaze among other experimental genres. Complete with soft girl-boy vocal exchanges and swirling guitars washed in reverb in the chorus, the song has a dreamy, yearning quality for more simpler musical times; basically, the 90s.
The band is interesting in that they sound nothing like the respective musicians’ day jobs. It’s clear that this group is more a labor of love, and perhaps even a way to unleash suppressed musical desires. Considering that My Bloody Valentine played three shows in Japan this year, along with the release of their new album, there seems to be a revival of shoegaze going on in the country, and the appearance of this group perhaps confirms the extent of the genre’s appeal and influence.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a frantic rocker from an up-and-coming new-wave duo.
Hysteric Picnic are a two-piece new wave band who channel the sounds of 80s new-wave acts. Formed in 2011 by vocalist Sou Ouchi and guitarist Shigeki Yamashita, the drum-machine backed duo return with a new EP entitled Cult Pops, scheduled for release from Call and Response Records in early December.
The lead track, “Cult Pop”, is a frantic, forward-charging new wave rocker, complete with pulsing bass lines, industrial noises, handclaps, a deep feeling of dystopian isolation. Oouchi’s eerie, yet playful vocals sound like a more new-wave Jello Biafra, tumbling across the reverb-laden guitars and pre-programmed, repetitive drums. The overall sound is very much in the vein of 80s new-wave bands, however there is something distinctly unique about Hysteric Picnic that set them apart from other Joy Division facsimiles, whether it be the quirkiness of Ouchi’s vocals, the unconventional guitar riffs, or just how simple and catchy the melodies are. “Cult Pop” also shows off that the band aren’t all about the atmospheric doom and gloom of the industrial world, but that they can also rock out pretty good.
The track is as lo-fi as everything else the band has done, but it’s sonic traits are obviously a part of their aesthetic and charm. Past tracks with references to Nick Cave and Krautrock should assure anyone with doubts that the band very much know what they are doing.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a song from a noise-pop duo formed in London, who are now based in Tokyo.
Umez are a noise-pop Japanese duo consisting of vocalist/bassist Sachiko Fukuda and guitarist Koichi “Niiyan” Niizato. Originally formed in London in 2012, the group have since moved back to Japan, and have recently become active in Tokyo.
The pair’s music has just as much duality as their stage presence: Fukuda, hardly moves as she sings simple, but catchy melodies, while Niiyan wears a gas mask and goes all out, climbing on top of equipment and letting his guitar wail. Their music ranges from catchy, shoegaze-influenced pop to disgusting, chaotic, walls of noise. Many times they have both elements present in their songs.
“Rainbow” is featured on their compilation, “International Pop Underground Sounds (Sickness of a Fourteen Year Old Girl) Vol. 1,” which was released in September. The compilation is released from Fukuda’s label, 14 Years Records, and features artists from around the world, such as Brutes from the U.K., and a solo track from Taigen Kawabe of Bo Ningen. “Rainbow” is a fine example of the duality found of Umez, with the lo-fi beats and Niyan’s soaring guitars, fronted by Fukuda’s calm vocals. The breakdown in the middle featuring a playful keyboard part, bookended by the main guitar riff and vocal melody. Not all their tracks sound like this of course, but it’s a good taste of the band condensed into a three minute pop song.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a song from a trio of women who have become household names in Japan.
One of the biggest acts in pop in Japan, this trio from Hiroshima – consisting of Ayano “Nocchi” Omoto, Yuka “Kashiyuka” Kashino, and Ayaka “A-Chan” Nishiwaki – have captured the hearts of idol fans, anime otaku, and hardcore music fans alike. They released their fourth album, Level 3, earlier this month, with the lead track, “1mm”.
Perfume’s appeal lies not only in the looks and moves of the women themselves (as proven at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France), but also the talents of their producer, Yasutaka Nakata. Responsible for other Japanese pop acts such as Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and his own group, Capsule, Nakata is what makes Perfume special. The group is produced exclusively by Nakata, who is solely responsible for the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering of their records. “1mm” is a fine example of his sound; candy-pop melodies, distorted synths, and auto-tuned vocals, all of which have become ingrained into Perfume’s futuristic image.
“1mm” is one of the more chilled-out tracks on Level 3 – the album itself is an eclectic mix of sing-song-y pop songs with aggressive electro. It’s certainly not your typical J-pop album, with some sections leaving you wondering how Nakata manages to get away with such madness. It’s precisely this eagerness to push boundaries that makes Perfume one of the most compelling groups in modern J-pop.
This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is the triumphant comeback of one of the premier acts in the Japanese underground.
Melt-Banana: The Hive
Any connoisseur of Japanese underground music will be familiar with Melt-Banana. Going 20 years strong, they have managed to gather a cult-following around the world, thanks to touring Europe and the States relentlessly, with luminaries such as Mike Patton, John Peel, and Tool as part of their legion of loyal fans.
The band triumphantly return this week with Fetch, their eighth studio album. Now touring as a duo, they’ve come a long way from their Steve Albini-produced, tinnitus-inducing cacophony of their early days, with now a heavy emphasis on electronics and danceable beats (and still just as loud as ever).
“The Hive” is the lead track from Fetch, and has everything you would expect from a Melt-Banana track, and then some. Guitarist Agata’s sounds seem to be beamed down from space, the line between guitar riffs and samples becoming more blurred than ever – music pundits claiming the guitar to be dead should take a few notes. Vocalist Yako provides the searing track with a poppy, sing-along melody, until delivering the goods with the meticulous precision she’s become known for.
Fetch is a culmination of a band who has been through everything – from a constantly rotating roster of drummers, running over deer while on tour in America, and earthquakes and nuclear melt-downs. Don’t let the slimmed down line-up fool you; this is the tightest, most daring the band has ever been.
British newspaper The Guardian is starting a bloggers’ network introducing new music from around the world weekly. Ian and Ryotaro already do the “Quit Your Band!” Japanese indie zine together in addition to their pop culture blogging exploits, and they have teamed up to push Japan’s corner in this new project. Ryotaro has taken the lead with this first post, revisiting BiS-Kaidan’s ‘Suki Suki Daisuki’:BiS-Kaidan:
Suki Suki Daisuki Japan is currently in an “idol” boom, and they’re seemingly creating groups catering to every type of subculture imaginable. In the midst of it all is BiS. Branding themselves as the “anti-idol”, they’re the group tailor-made for fans of 80s hardcore punk, Einstürzende Neubauten, and David Lynch films. Here,
with Japanese noise rock legends Hijokaidan, they’re covering “Suki Suki Daisuki”, a song originally by 80s new wave icon Jun Togawa.
The track is another example of BiS’s recurring juxtaposition between underground aesthetics and a cute, “school girl” idol image. While the song choice and collaborator give BiS a lot of underground cred, the song loses the original’s subversive punk feminist message when an “idol group” sings it. Listening to the two back to back is a good look into how subculture — and society — in Japan has changed in the last 20 years.
Jun Togawa: Suki Suki Daisuki