Tag Archives: Free City Noise

V/A: Life is Music

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Cassette, Touch Records, 2018

Kicking off with Fukuoka alt-rock band tepPohseen’s sprawling, ten-minute Joukei (which accounts for a third of the whole cassette’s running time), this seven-song cassette compilation of ‘90s-influenced lo-fi alternative bands from around Japan is a piece out of time with a music scene increasingly characterised by hyperactive bedroom beatmakers, slick-sounding, commercially-ambitious “city pop” and quirky so-called alt-idols. Getting past the rather generic title, Life is Music features all new recordings, but is still a collection proudly of its time. And that time is about ten years ago, with bands like Nagoya’s Sonic Youth-esque Free City Noise, Tokyo-based instrumental noise-rock band Fukuro, and the more sweetly melodic Joshua Comeback. It’s not strictly a genre collection, with Kobe/Osaka’s Merry Ghosts (the band formerly known as Trespass) calling back to the late-‘70s/early-80s postpunk era and Osaka’s Shoki no And Young (presumably an early lineup of stalwart local crazy horses …And Young) winding a coil of ’90s guitar distortion around a core of ’70s rock. At the same time, though, it’s a compilation that, despite being released in 2018 was, forged in the Japanese music scene of the early 2000s, when the band scene was defined in large part by the mainstream success of acts like Number Girl and Shiina Ringo back when she was still interesting. This compilation doesn’t offer much in the way of a path forward for Japanese underground rock, but it’s nonetheless a welcome reminder that those days were a period that produced a lot of the most interesting underground rock bands still playing today (and a lot more now sadly vanished).

 

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Top 20 Releases of 2014: No.18 – Free City Noise – Leaving

Leaving

CD, self-released, 2014

Free City Noise first came to my attention through their connection to the Nagoya indie scene, documented on Knew Noise Records’ wonderful Ripple compilation, to which they contributed the superb, Sonic Youth-esque Permanent Touches. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to note then that this distorted, doom-laden shriekfest has a lot of New York’s finest about it. The influence of fucked-up sounding American music from the ’80s on the Japanese underground scene is deeply rooted though, and the almost prog or jazz rhythms of VS (a Mission of Burma reference?) have a broad hinterland in Japanese bands like Panicsmile, Tacobonds, or closer to home in Nagoya other Ripple bands like Dororonica. The relentless march of minor chords and the way the band let the songs breathe, resisting the temptation to tighten up and hone the technique into finely tuned mathy perfection goes against the grain of much of the way the Japanese alternative and underground scene has been heading basically ever since about 2001 when Shutoku Mukai gave up on punk music.Golden River (live at Akihabara Club Goodman)

Leaving is as rough and raw as alt-rock gets, and is steeped in the sounds of the ’80s and ’90s. Despite the loose, seemingly freeform atmosphere, the songs are also intelligently and imaginatively structured, with noise and melody both playing a role, often at the same time, and the wash of distortion and feedback over songs like VS and Nun Falls providing a cover under which radical changes in the rhythm can take place without becoming jarring. The result is a tense, tortured, emotionally wrought mini-album, very much of another era, and all the more necessary for that very fact.Implicit Mirror (live at Akihabara Club Goodman)

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Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.2 – V/A– Ripple

I’ve written about this Nagoya bands compilation album extensively, with a Japan Times review, an accompanying blog post, and a mention in my review of the year, so there’s little extra to add, but two small points come to mind. Firstly, I love compilations. Secondly, and related, I love finding out rich seams of new music that I hadn’t known existed before. Ripple introduced me to bands like Dororonica, Freedom, and Free City Noise, as well as giving me excellent new tracks from Pop-Office and Sekaitekina Band (their contribution, New, also appears in a re-recorded form on 51 Records’ split album Underrated).

While Ripple includes more melodic tracks like The Moments’ lovely indiepop janglefest Shining Eyes and Yoshito Ishihara’s yojohan folk style New Mexico Midnight Cowboy No.1 (I don’t wanna be killed by your romance any more), fundamentally Ripple is a punk album. It’s also the best punk album to come out of Japan this year, and it set down an essential marker in terms of quality and style for me in the organising and selecting of music for my own compilation album, which I put out later the same year.

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V/A: Ripple

There’s a review I wrote of Knew Noise Records’ excellent new Ripple compilation of contemporary Nagoya indie and postpunk music in The Japan Times now, so please pop over there and check it out.

Here, I’m just going to add a few things that there wasn’t really enough space to go into over on the JT piece. Firstly, to expand on the comparison with the 7586 Nagoya Rock series, I feel that Ripple is kind of being pitched as a sort of “export-ready” compilation, focussing on bands who are going to be, or at least sound, familiar to non-Nagoya audiences. These are the kinds of bands that could support a good, offbeat, John Peel style UK indie band on the Nagoya date of a small Japan tour or that could satisfy a small crowd of Tokyo indie hipsters. It generally avoids the really esoteric, psychedelic or quirky acoustic stuff and keeps centred on stuff that satisfies some wider, more generic kind of cool. A compilation that says, “Look, Nagoya can do this too!” rather than, “Look what Nagoya can do that you all can’t!”

This isn’t a criticism, and in fact it’s something that’s close to what I try to do with my own music promotion activities in Japan. There’s enough stuff that sells itself on its quirkiness and wackiness, and Japanese music is already cursed enough by the perception of its pop culture as mad and (ugh) inscrutable, so it’s good that there’s someone out there showing that Nagoya participate in national indie pop culture on a level playing field with Tokyo, Fukuoka, Kyoto etc. just as I would hope that Japan itself can compete with the UK, US etc. on those same terms. Sure, express your uniqueness, but don’t wall yourself in. This compilation is a small but important part of maintaining that balance.

One reason it all hangs together so well, I suspect, is that so many of the bands share musicians. There seems to be some kind of crossover between various members of Nicfit, Free City Noise, Sika Sika, 6eyes and Dororonika at least, and those bands are very much at the core of what makes this album tick.

There are some bands that I didn’t mention, so sorry Dororonica but your track was a great piece of raw, uncompromising, jazz-inflected prog-punk, reminding me a bit of fellow Aichi punk-noise types The Act We Act. Jubilee’s track was a solid piece of high-octane punk too.

I drew a contrast between the 80s UK-style indiepop of The Moments and the 70s Japanese-style folk music of Yoshito Ishihara. You can hear The Moments’ track on their Soundcloud, here:
And you can get some idea of Ishihara’s more rambling, freeform style in this rather distant live clip recorded at London’s Cafe Oto:

Possibly my two favourites from this were Freedom and Free City Noise, and I was able to track down some interesting clips of them. This one of Freedom doesn’t feature their track from Ripple, but it’s interesting in its own right. Experimental and imaginative, but still fun and approachable.

Freedom: Noise Disco

It’s certainly reminiscent of Kansai stuff like Afrirampo and particularly the kind of thing Ni-Hao! were doing six or seven years ago, but it’s carried off with aplomb and a lot of charm.

Free City Noise have a full half-hour set online and it really is very good, as long as you take “very good” as meaning “exactly the same as Sonic Youth”, which let’s face it, is as comprehensive a definition as you’ll ever need.

Free City Noise live at Bar Ripple (appropriately)

I say in the review that Ripple makes a good jumping-off point for some of the other bands in Nagoya and Aichi, and you can find out about some of them in a pair of articles I wrote for The Japan Times last year. I’ve also written about Pop Office on this blog twice, so check those out too.

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