Tag Archives: Gloomy

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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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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