Tag Archives: DYGL

Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.2 – DYGL – EP #1

I’ve already written a lot about DYGL and their position as the most vibrant act in Japan’s small but increasingly hip indiepop scene, but this rundown of last year’s best nevertheless provides a good opportunity to underline just what an important band they are.

Opening track Let’s Get Into Your Car has been knocking around for a few years now, but this version perfectly captures its jangly energy – like Head on the Door-period Cure, all chiming melody (with echoes of Angelo Badalamente’s Twin Peaks theme) delivered with an edge of yobbish charm. I’m Waiting For You builds slowly but surely to its fist-pumping climax of melancholy euphoria, while Just Say It Tonight returns impressively to uptempo jangle pop territory, buoyed by Yosuke Shimonaka’s gorgeous, wandering guitar line.

The closing All The Time is the track that perhaps points most clearly towards the band’s future, and could in the long run prove significant beyond DYGL’s own musical development. The most recent track on this EP, it draws less on ‘80s-influenced guitar pop and more from new wave-influenced early 2000s indie rock, most notably The Strokes. Newer material the band are playing out live recently suggests the band see their direction lying more in a spikier sound, reminiscent of bands like The Libertines. The same amount of time has now passed since The Strokes’ Is This It as lies between Is This It and The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, so perhaps the time has now come round for young bands to start resurrecting and reinterpreting the music of that first millennial generation.

Where it leaves the rest of Tokyo’s indiepop scene if their most accomplished flag bearers are starting to leave the jangly riffs and sweet, emotional sentiment behind and start cutting and bouncing their way through gritty tales of urban life, I don’t know. I don’t even know where it leaves DYGL, but as a high water mark of this generation of melodic Japanese indie, this EP is vital.

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DYGL: EP #1

DYGL are the best indiepop band in Japan, a feat made all the more impressive by the fine line they walk between the obvious influence of British and American indie rockers like The Strokes or The Cribs and the expression of their own inherent charm and energy.

It could so easily tip over into embarrassing pastiche, and you can hear wobbles on the tightrope in the affected estuarine glottal stops vocalist Nobuki Akiyama doesn’t quite nail in Just Say it Tonight. Akiyama and DYGL remain aloft though, largely through the way they barrel through the songs with such effortless good humour and sincerity.

I’ve written before about DYGL’s rare knack for delivering UK/US-influenced indiepop with the sort of passion and punch that many of their more delicately constituted peers can barely dream of, but it’s only recently that their recording has begun to catch up with the impact of their live performance. On EP #1 the lead guitar chimes clearly over the crunching rhythm guitar, while the drums clatter away beneath, giving the sound a thickness at its base to balance out the prettiness of the trebly high end. At the same time, with every passing year, Akiyama’s voice grows more and more into the cracked, angelic, lovelorn bad boy persona he seems to be writing the songs around.

The increasingly high profile of DYGL’s sister band Ykiki Beat, whose When the World is Wide album was absolutely everywhere this summer has set alarm bells quietly ringing among some of DYGL’s fans (myself included) but this EP is arguably the superior release and for now we can just hope that some of Ykiki Beat’s success bleeds through and ensures DYGL have the continued impetus to keep going and realise more of their apparently still enormous potential.

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Batman Winks: All Babies Sleeping

All Babies Sleeping

CD, self-released, 2015

If you spend a lot of time in the Tokyo indie scene, you’ll maybe have noticed that the limited range of stuff I cover here falls loosely into two categories. On the one hand, you have “Chuo Line bands”, who loosely trend more punk, more experimental, a more male audience, more likely to play in places like Koenji and Shinjuku, and more in a tradition that goes back to the 70s psychedelic and rock underground. On the other, we have “Setagaya bands”, who generally lean more indie, more pop, more international, a more female audience, more likely to play in places like Shimo-Kitazawa and Shibuya, and more in a tradition that includes 90s Shibuya-kei and neo-acoustic. These two worlds often overlap musically, but the fans and associated culture less so.

By the above definition, Batman Winks are roughly in the category of Setagaya bands. While strictly speaking the project of one guy, the live band draws on members who play or have played in melodic indiepop bands like DYGL and Groves, they collaborate with indietronic mellow disco princess Aya from Gloomy, and tend to play in a circle of bands, venues and events that marks them as decidedly Setagaya-type.

This may seem like pointless fussing over labels, but it matters. If Batman Winks were a Chuo Line band, the most striking point about them would be how pop they are, with an easy way with a melody and a pop hook running through the album in a way that would mark them out as a strange and rare fish in that more experimental and abrasive context. And the tunes on All Babies Sleeping are consistently top-drawer, from the frantic, bouncy, high pitched Smurfsong of Littlefag, through the murky, drowned melody of Celebration and Blind But the Brightest Light, to the soaring “ra-ra-ra-ra”s of the magnificent closing Strange Love.Blind But the Brightest Light

But in the context of their own background, the most striking thing about Batman Winks, and what marks them out from their particular crowd is how wild and experimental they are. The album opens with Intro, all chirping electronic wibbles and chirps, and droning, fuzz-soaked krautrock, like a condensed version of Yo La Tengo’s Spec Bebop, and the band constantly undermines and taunts its carefully constructed pop melodies with willfully out-of-tune vocals, sarcastic, Zappa-esque backing vocals, buzzsaw guitars that dive in from leftfield, and indecipherable distortion.

All of this is delivered with a mixture of shambling, lo-fi amateurishness and raw, swaggering confidence. On Strange Love, Batman Winks share with DYGL (Batman Winks’ song Nobody To Get Into My Car may very well be a self-pitying riposte to DYGL’s Let’s Get Into My Car) a yobbishly exuberant vocal delivery that stands in stark contrast to both the sissy mumbling that still characterises most Japanese indiepop and the tormented atonal yelling that prevails in the punk/alternative (Chuo Line) scene. In fact, what it reminds me of more than anything is the insistent, insurgent insouciance of The Stranglers’ 1979 hit Duchess in its combination of classic pop craftsmanship and punkish couldn’t-give-a-fuckery.

One of the most common touchstones for people describing Batman Winks is typically Ariel Pink, and there’s definitely something there. There’s also something of the anti-pop of 13/Think Tank-era Blur, but most importantly there’s absolutely nothing like it happening in Japan right now, and whatever you say, there is no doubt that Batman Winks are happening.

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DYGL: All The Time

If there’s a better way to start a new year in Japanese music than with a new song from Tokyo’s best indiepop band, it’s probably not completely legal. For those of us who remain upstanding, law-abiding citizens and members of the public, DYGL have just put out All The Time. It’s another step in the band’s evolution from jangly twee pop pretty boys into a garage rocking, denim- and leather-clad Japanese Strokes, like they’re trying to do a condensed tribute to Lawrence Hayward’s career at ten-times speed.

It’s also cheering evidence of the developing quality of DYGL’s recordings, really capturing the electric energy of their live performances while remaining just on the right side of Pollardian lo-fi. It’s the sort of music that if it hits you when you’re still in your teens, it’ll stay with you for life: the soundtrack to nights jumping around in a circle with your mates as all the confusion of the world seems to burn away in the heat of the strangled but euphoric moment. In fact, even if you catch it late, it’ll remind you of all the songs from your youth that had that exact effect on you anyway so the result will be more or less the same. In any case, All The Time is a welcome reinforcement of DYGL’s status as one of the purest, most jubilant pleasures in the Tokyo music scene.

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Ykiki Beat: Forever

If Ykiki Beat appear familiar, it may be because the band shares a number of members with one of this site’s favourite young bands, the guitar pop quartet DYGL (who seem to have reverted to that name after briefly being known as Leather). There are certainly similarities between the two bands, but while both bands draw from 80s-influenced sounds, Ykiki Beat have tended to be more eclectic, pursuing and discarding multiple musical styles (their Soundcloud page regularly undergoes purges that would have made Stalin blush), perhaps indicating a greater need to find where they fit in the ever-changing contemporary indie rock scene.

Forever sounds like the sort of music that would play over the final scene of an episode of Veronica Mars, which is to say that it’s not at all the sort of thing I’d usually approve of. That said, it’s a kind of music Japanese rock just isn’t traditionally very good at and Ykiki Beat do it so, so well. The delivery is shamelessly euphoric, not just in Nobuki Akiyama’s vocals but also in the way the whole package is conceived. The insistent drums, the bass and rhythm guitar hammering away on roots, and the way it eagerly reaches for the most soaring, inspirational chord progressions, give Forever an intensity and immediacy that J-pop very rarely has and that stands in stark cobntrast to the dreary, washed-out delivery of most Japanese indie rock. While it may leave the too-clean sensation of someone extolling the joys of the Alpha Course or trying to sell you Apple products, Ykiki Beat also demonstrate talent and confidence to match their ambition.

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Leather: Demo Tape #1

As one of the brightest upcoming stars in the Tokyo indie scene, this melodic guitar quartet have gone through several band names — De Nada, DYGL, and most recently Leather — in search of something simple but distinctive enough to satisfy them in their growing ambitions. Throughout all this, however, their music has remained outstanding, and this four song demo collection is the closest they have yet come to documenting it on tape.

That’s not to say there isn’t still a long way to go though, and the recording quality on Demo Tape #1 is very uneven, with the vocals mixed way too high on I’m Waiting for You and way too low on River, while the audio quality on Waves is all over the place. That said, it’s a demo, and lo-fi as it is, the quality in the songwriting comes across. Mixing aside, I’m Waiting for You is as stomping and anthemic a song as Japanese indie has ever produced, and Next Day is a spine tingling Strokes-soundalike (although knowing the band, Finnish indie rockers French Films are perhaps a more likely source of influence), while River is plaintive and really quite beautiful.

We can just hope that sooner rather than later the band will get themselves into a studio and make some proper recordings soon (or ideally that a label with lots of money will pay for them to do it) because they have a solid body of really great songs that deserve to emerge clean, clear and blinking in the sunlight. Still, the four tracks on Demo Tape #1 are a step in the right direction.

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Diary of a Japan tour part 4: March 16th secret gig at at Koenji Art Bar Ten

The day after Nagoya, we were back in Tokyo for a secret gig. The event was Tententen, a show I organise together with my friends Eric and Julian, a.k.a. Gotal and Ralouf from the band Lo-shi on the third Sunday of every month at a tiny little music bar in my home neighbourhood of Koenji called Art Bar Ten. I do two monthly parties in Koenji, the other being the DJ party Fashion Crisis at the nearby Koenji One. Since Ten has a proper drum kit, we focus more on live acts, but we also incorporate video, art and DJs into the show, while at One it’s more about chilling out and listening to the DJs, although we do sometimes have live electronic or semi-acoustic performances. One and Ten are not connected in any way other than being down the street from each other; the naming is just coincidence.

Koenji Kitty

Koenji Kitty

Anyway, there are a couple of advantages to having these regular events going on. One is that it anchors my activities in the Koenji neighbourhood, which helps establish an identity for what I do. The Internet does great propaganda about breaking down boundaries, and to an extent it does do something along those lines, but region and locality are still very important, even within Tokyo itself. Just look at the way anime over the past 10-15 years has increasingly focussed on real locations, almost fetishising the sheer locality of the place. Koenji itself has played stage to a few anime series, the tedious looking (I haven’t watched it) Accel World and notably parts of the bizarre Penguindrum. Hello Kitty has a special mascot for practically everywhere in Japan (Koenji again has its own version, dressed in Awa Dance costume) and everywhere has its own “special” ramen and manju or biscuit souvenir. Locality still carries weight, and local music scenes have a lot of appeal, perhaps more so the more the Internet appears to make them irrelevant.

The other advantage of these monthly events is that they gradually build their own audience. Fashion Crisis has been going for five years now, and while Tententen only started last September, it carries over a lot of the same audience. It helps foster a core audience for Call And Response events and provides a slightly looser environment for me to try new or different things that wouldn’t fit easily into any of my bigger and more strictly genre-focussed events.

With the N’toko tour I didn’t want to skip Tententen, but at the same time I didn’t want to be promoting another N’toko gig in Koenji just a couple of weeks before his big Tokyo release party at the nearby 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu on the final day of the tour. Ten costs me nothing to do, but do something at a proper live venue and you have to guarantee about ¥100,000 in takings, so I didn’t want people looking at the tour schedule and thinking, “Let’s see, the release party is on the 29th, but oh, I can see N’toko for a quarter of the price two weeks earlier. I’ll just go to that instead!”

So N’toko was a secret guest at Tententen, although a lot of our regular crowd (the people who tend to show up to my events anyway) already knew he’d be there either because I’d told them or just through the simple art of deduction. We needed an event that would work on its own regardless though, so Eric suggested Communication Breakdown, a sample-based instrumental hip hop unit formed by two of the guys from avant-garde rock band Bathbeer and indie-dance band Nacano. I was wary of booking another hip hop act with N’toko, but their sound was reassuringly old-skool and since they were from an indie background, it helped smooth the transition to the next act, Gloomy. Gloomy is basically Aya Yanase, an indiepop singer with a synthesiser in the mould of someone like Grimes. She is sometimes joined on drum pads by Kohei Kamoto of indie bands DYGL and Ykiki Beat, leading to some charming stage interactions that remind me of nothing so much as a couple in a car arguing over a map but trying to keep their voices down unless they disturb the kids. Aya has also worked with N’toko before, albeit remotely, providing guest vocals to mine and his band Trinitron’s Valentine’s Day cover of Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

Anyway, the room was packed more tightly than any Tententen so far, which is to say there were about 35-40 people over the course of the night in a room that can really hold comfortably about 25 max. If there’d been a fire, people would have died, but the only fire was in the hearts of the musicians and audience. We were all burned, but it was a nice burning, like eating a spicy curry, or drinking strong liquor. Gloomy would have finished the show perfectly in their own right, but N’toko put in one of his best shows of the tour, and the Tententen crowd proved themselves one of the best audiences he could have asked for.

It was an interesting comparison with Bar Ripple in Nagoya the previous night, with both shows in similar small bars with no stage, both shows bringing in a mix of Japanese and foreigners in the audience, and both shows having a decidedly non-“scene” vibe without compromising the essentially nerdy musical atmosphere. You could have transplanted ONOBLK and Rock Hakaba from Nagoya to Koenji and done the same show and it would have felt very similar even with totally different audiences.

By this point in the tour, it was starting to feel like the motors were beginning to run. Most of the shows had been in unusual places and were far from typical gigs in proper live venues with the exception of the first night at Shibuya Home, which had been on a weekday night, but there was plenty of that to come. The next few dates would all be very far from home so we had many hours of planes and trains to look forward to. The next block of gigs, which would form the core of the tour would be in Kyushu, where Call And Response at least has fairly credible past form, so there was a lot to look forward to. I’d never done so many dates there all at once though, so we were trying a few new things too. In Hollywood terms, this was the end of Act 1.

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