Tag Archives: MacManaman

Interview: macmanaman

Another feature I had in The Japan Times recently was this interview with Fukuoka post-rock band macmanaman. There’s not much to add here, but it does feel relevant in relation to a little incident that happened recently.

I launched into a bitchy little rant on Facebook a few weeks ago about the quality of English language coverage of Japanese music, which was provoked by a mixture of annoyance at the fawning idol worship that comprises most of the J-Pop blogosphere and my own frustration at the limited range of places for me to pitch my own ideas. A lot of people seemed to agree with my sentiment but it was also pretty clear that they all agreed for different reasons. Everyone had their own frustrations with the media but they were all different frustrations born out of their own particular pet faves not getting coverage, which is of course all I was really complaining about as well — I can’t honestly claim any higher motive.

Anyway, one friend of mine commented that for him The Japan Times was one of the worst because most of the bands featured were just groups that it felt like no one apart from the writer and a their friends cared about. Now I have strong doubts that many of my friends care about the bands I write about either, but I think this cuts to the core of the problem. Now I’ve had pitches to places rejected by editors because the band wasn’t big enough, and I get that. Media, especially on the web, runs on hits. Whenever I write about Babymetal or Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on this blog, my page view stats shoot through the roof, and in a media world where page views are money, it’s natural that media tends to naturally start skewing idol after a while. On the other hand, if music media isn’t about introducing new artists to people who’ve never heard of them before, what is the point at all? The fact that The Japan Times is the only place writing about so many of these bands is precisely the reason The Japan Times is valuable.

I’m lucky enough that I have an editor who trusts my writing to be interesting enough in its own right that I can write about bands like macmanaman and he’ll let it through without rigorously screening it for page view potential, and I daresay the fact that the JT still runs a paper edition helps too. Anyway, in my lonely little corner of the blogosphere, they’re an important band and they deserve every column inch they get.macmanaman: AxSxE-ken

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Diary of a Japan tour part 7: March 21st at Fukuoka Utero

After the Thursday night DJ party, we were ready to kick off the weekend with a live show at the same venue. This was perhaps the show I’d been most looking forward to on the tour, partly for the reasons I outlined in the previous entry in this tour diary (Fukuoka is always an enormous amount of fun, and it’s great to hang out with friends there) and partly because of the bands.

As I’ve said before, I always keep in contact with Harajiri from Utero over the lineup, and make suggestions where there’s something I think is relevant, but at the same time, I will nearly always defer to his judgment when it comes to booking. He knows my events and my artists well enough by now to be able to choose bands who fit the sound and the vibe I’m looking for, and he’s also eager to constantly introduce new people into the mix, which ensures that through my roughly twice-annual events there, I’m able to keep a step ahead of most other people in Tokyo when it comes to cool music from Kyushu.

There was another reason why Friday was a big one for me as well, because it was the day that my friends Futtachi from Kagoshima would be hooking up with us for part of the tour. Futtachi is the new band that Iguz Souseki formed after the implosion of Zibanchinka, and their first recording was a song they did for Call And Response’s Dancing After 1AM compilation. They’d also contributed a track to my recent Black Sabbath Valentine’s covers project, and Iguz and I had been working on plans to put out their first full album through Call And Response. Futtachi are a psychedelic band, but grounded in garage-punk roots which gives them an earthiness and directness that lots of other psychedelic bands lack. They operate on quite complex principles though, with the band existing in four different incarnations depending on which members are present, all of which play quite different music.

The recordings they had done for me had been of the group’s four member incarnation, Futtachi’s most common touring incarnation is a duo of Iguz and guitarist Omi, and Fukuoka was the first chance I’d had to see them. Based around a slow, minimal, throbbing rhythm loop, Iguz wails hypnotically over spectral guitars and droning keyboards. It’s psychedelic but it teeters on the brink of industrial, insistently coaxing you into a hallucinatory, nodding trance. It’s an amazing sensation when you see a new band do something that just plows you away, but it’s something else when someone you’ve known and admired for years does something totally unexpected and completely brilliant. You’re knocked sideways not just by the surprise, but also by the fact thay you’re able to be surprised. Futtachi were astounding.

The first band up, however, were Escape From New York, a sort of progressive/post-rock band of a sort that you get a lot of, especially in Tokyo, but nonetheless a very good example of the form. They don’t have much in the way of recordings but you can get a bit of an idea from this rough-edged demo from Soundcloud.

The Perfect Me were another very good, young Fukuoka band. A difficult band to describe, they’re essentially an avant-pop band, with elements of postpunk, a little something of Animal Collective to them, and a bouncy, almost Madchester party vibe. If that isn’t very helpful, it could be that after a month, my memory is a little foggy, but I remember being mightily impressed. Their recordings are a bit more low-key and lean more towards the postpunk elements of what they do, with Joy Division, Fad Gadget and Wire jumping to mind, but it really has to be stressed how much fun they are live.

AmrFas is the current preferred spelling of Amorphous (the illogical English spelling was probably causing problems for their Japanese fans), a dance-pop duo who had played with N’toko on his previous Fukuoka tour. They’re one of those bands you suspect would be dreadfully fashionable and end up playing exclusively in cafes and boutiques with other bands who sound exactly like them if they lived in Tokyo, but being in Fukuoka they’re often forced to play together with punk, post-rock and other assorted noisy fuckups, which I’m going to suggest here is definitively a Good Thing. The multiple layers of sound they employ gives their music a richer, more textured feel than the Tokyo boutique bands they sometimes resemble, which is perhaps partly the result of being forced to stand alongside other bands on their music alone and not just the quality of their wardrobe and rolodex. They also helped balance out the lineup to place N’toko closer to the centre ground in a lineup that inclueded at the other end the furious funk-punk of Accidents In Too Large Field.

N’toko’s set was probably the best show I’ve seen him do in Fukuoka. In the past, he’s struggled with the sound system a bit, but the venue seems to be getting used to him now and he was able to hit as hard as any punk or post-rock band. With the almost industrial throb of Futtachi and the richly layered electronic pop of AmrFas already burned into the audience’s minds alongside the more conventiopnally guitar-structured bands, he was positioned in just the way I had hoped he would be on this tour, and being his third visit to the city, there were a growing number of people there who knew him. It gave that warm feeling of making progress again.

Accidents in Too Large Field are local legends and they blow the roof off pretty much any show they play. They’re one of those bands who whenever I meet them, they always seem to be looking at me sidelong with this mocking twinkle in their eyes, as if everything I do and say is hilarious and deeply uncool, so I’m always torn between the conflicting urges to hug them like brothers or punch them hard in the face. There’s something of that in their music too, mixing these joyously funky dance beats with music full of discord and aggression. They drove the audience into a crowdsurfing frenzy, as you might expect from a crowd many of whom had been charging around piggyback at the same venue the previous night over not much at all really.Accidents In Too Large Field: Nonfiction Rakka

I was DJing again, this time alongside TKC from macmanaman, one of my favourite DJs and an old friend from back when he was with the wonderful Ruruxu/sinn. With none of the technical problems of the previous night, it welt off pretty well, and playing between bands allowed me to come off whatever the previous band had been doing and then work my way towards the kind of thing I knew the next band would be playing.

One of the best nights of the tour so far, I was worried it had set the bar impossibly high for subsequent shows, but neither of us were complaining. By this point, we were more or less breaking even on hotel and travel expenses, although the next few dates would see us exploring more challenging ground in towns without the musical heritage and scene magnetism of places we’d played so far. But then what kind of progress would it be if we were just going over the same ground again and again?

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CAR-84 – V/A: Dancing After 1AM

Dancing After 1AM

CD, Call And Response, 2012

This is part of a series of posts talking about music I’ve released through my own Call And Response label. I explain in a bit more detail here.

As 2012 rolled around, I started thinking it was time to do a new compilation. It had been four years since my last one, the Post Flag Wire covers album, and obviously I’d discovered a load more bands since then and picked up new audiences along with them, so it was time to lay down another marker about where Call And Response was. I settled on the title Dancing After 1AM in response to Japan’s absurd anti-dancing laws that saw a bunch of club owners arrested in 2011 and 2012, and completely devastated the club scene in Osaka. In Tokyo we weren’t affected, but on tour in Kyushu you could see the poisonous effect it had had on the club scene there. I added the subtitle “Japanese electric music in the year 2012” as a way of instantly dating it, and then wrote some text in Japanese for the sidecap/obi strip reading “Compilation albums are a waste of time because they’re already out of date as soon as they’re released”. I did a little illustration of a dancing policewoman with a hippy flower in her hair and N’toko contributed by designing the sleeve around my drawing. I kept it to Japanese bands, which meant the design was his only contribution, but I tried to get all the other bands from the label involved. Praha Depart were very much doing their own thing by this point though, and when I mentioned it to them, they gave the impression that it would be difficult to get any new recordings done. Zibanchinka agreed to do something and then promptly imploded, but vocalist Iguz was keen to keep things moving with her new band Futtachi, who contributed a thundering psychedelic monster of a track in Kaiko no Oto. (One other band I really wanted to get on the album was the brilliant blues/Krautrock band Buddy Girl and Mechanic, but they were absorbed in the recording of their own album, which they released finally in early 2013 and was one of the best albums of the year, so they obviously used the time well.) Neither Mir nor Hyacca had released anything for a long time, so getting them involved was essential for more than just their role as the heart and soul of the label. They both needed a kick up the arse to get on and do something. Mir had lost their drummer somewhere between their recording of Wire’s Mannequin for 2008’s Post Flag and 2010 when some electronic recordings they’d done as a duo emerged. It was from these sessions that the version of their perennial closing number Dance (which naturally closed out the album too) came from. I chose that over their excellent 2010 version of the song TV partly because of its appropriateness to the compilation’s title, and partly because Mir’s TV is a song I’ve over the years become very superstitious about. it’s a beautiful song and the 2010 version of it is brilliant, but there’s a sadness at its heart that starts sucking you into itself the more you think about it, and the closing refrain of “Sayonara, sayonara” feels way too much like tempting fate. In Hyacca’s case, the bassist, Seiji Harajiri, was by this time managing the coolest and best venue in Fukuoka, Yakuin Utero, and so he and his band used Utero and its PA engineer to record a new song, Uneko. Uneko was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for from them, both catchy and musically intelligent — the exact right balance of smart and dumb that only they can really pull off in this particular way. The video we later made for it where I filmed them with a cheap pocket camera just goofing around and getting drunk in a karaoke box was actually one of the spare ideas for Zibanchinka that their indefinite hiatus had left us with, and Hyacca attacked it with gusto. Looking to the label’s future, Hysteric Picnic went on to record an EP/mini album for Call And Response, while hopefully Jebiotto and Slow-Marico will follow in one form or another.Hyacca: Uneko There were a lot of other bands on DA1AM who were in similar positions, having been out of the recording game for a while and happy for the opportunity (and the deadline) that the compilation gave them. Extruders had just recorded a wonderful live album at a Buddhist temple, and were looking to go into the studio to record an album proper soon (the result, Colors, was another of 2013’s best) and so they came up with Collapsing New Buildings (translate it into German and see what you get) with its constant electric buzz running through the whole song in the background, causing me and the friend who was helping make the master copy to spend a while debating whether it was intentional or not (it was). The Mornings’ debut had been my album of the year back in 2011, and they were just starting to put together material for the follow-up (Christ alone knows what’s going on with that — I heard a full album’s worth of rough mixes last summer but no final version has yet emerged) so Fu-ji was what got them back into gear. Puffyshoes contributed the short and sweet girl-group garage rocket Oh My God, went on to have a busy 2013 and released a great cassette album before exploding in a shower of unfulfilled potential, while Otori recorded the brilliant Hanten (which is their best song and I’m incredibly smug that I got it), Anisakis did the XTC-esque Popcorn Bata ni Kuroi Kage, She Talks Silence gave the album the eerie Long Ways, and New House did the sampledelic Natural Blessings (the last song to arrive, just a couple of days before the album went off to press, and which much to my shame I misprinted as “Nature Blessings” on the jacket — and which also ensured I’d be an insufferable grammar nazi come time to print the Hysteric Picnic CD jacket the following year).She Talks Silence: Long Ways The main problem was in knowing exactly what was going to be on the album, and as with the New House track, right up until the final day or so it wasn’t completely fixed. It wasn’t just a problem for printing the track listing, but also for the CD itself. Bands like Futtachi and macmanaman delivered songs that ran to over seven minutes, and at one point there was real danger of it becoming a double album (I went as far as making an alternative track list where I worked out how the tracks would divide over two discs just in case). There were also moments where tensions ran a bit high. New House didn’t make a fuss over the mistake on the jacket, but one of the other bands (no, I’m not naming names: they did a very good song and it didn’t turn into any kind of feud) was very particular about every aspect of how they wished to be presented with tempers flaring on both sides. The problem of projects like this where everyone (myself included) is working pro bono is that you never have the cushion of money to fall back on, so everything comes down to self satisfaction, and often in a related sense to pride. In a small society like the indie/underground scene, however, the axiom of “don’t piss people off” is a solid general rule. It’s a contradiction of rock’n’roll and punk: both bands and labels are in it in the first place because they’re in some way dissatisfied or disaffected, but within the circle you find yourself, you often have to keep under control the same impulses that led you there in the first place. In addition to Hyacca, fellow Fukuoka crazies macmanaman (the best band named after a twinkle-toed former Liverpool winger in the whole world) recorded a live version of their song Michael, which I retitled Michael in Utero partly because it was recorded at a venue called Utero and partly because the combination of a Michael Jackson reference and a Nirvana reference amused me. Along with Tokyo postpunk trio Tacobonds’ superb Ane with its deft boy-girl vocal call and response (by now you must know how I dig that sort of thing) and slowly building dynamic tension, that made three superb recordings at Utero by the same engineer. You want to do good recordings cheap? Get yourself your own live venue and get the staff to do it.Tacobonds: Ane Still in Kyushu, Kobayashi Dorori and cynicalsmileisyourfavorite from Kumamoto are also on there. The former contributed an oddball nursery rhyme about whales called Shepherd, while the latter contributed the baffling Carnival. I’m still not sure what I think of Carnival now. It has so much going on, with the insistent dance beat, the post-hardcore shrieking, and you’ve got to admire the balls of the way the one guy just throws everything he’s got into his bit of the vocal melody with zero regard for whether he even gets close to the right notes. But at the same time, cynicalsmileisyourfavorite are one of those bands that are all about what happens in the moment. Carnival is usually a chaotic babble of freshly improvised nonsense, but for the recording they tried to work something out and make a proper song of it, and so while the results are, well, they’re something, they’ don’t quite sound like the band when they’re just left to be themselves. Jebiotto are a very similar kind of band in that regard, but their track, Deacon Punk, with its mad cat meows, dirty synths and semi-inebriated sounding vocals, treads that path more assuredly. But like I said, with cynicalsmile you can’t not admire the sheer weight of passion they hurl at it and for some reason I always come out of hearing Carnival with a smile on my face. I’m just not sure why.The Mornings: Fu-ji One of the biggest motivating factors for me while putting DA1AM together was the existence of Nagoya label Knew Noise’s wonderful Ripple compilation of local Nagoya bands. Throughout the production process I was listening to Ripple and my gradually forming compilation and comparing them. I would just not be beaten by this collection from one mere city (and not even Tokyo!) Pop-Office contributed to both Ripple and DA1AM, and it’s interesting that both they and Extruders off this CD went on to make albums for Knew Noise. In any case, both albums to me seem to come from a similar kind of taste, and I’ve been keen to make more connections in Nagoya ever since. On the current rate, Call And Response’s next proper compilation is due towards the end of 2015, which will be just in time for the label’s ten year anniversary. In the meantime, there were new Mir and Hysteric Picnic releases to think of.

Dancing After 1AM is available now from Call And Response’s online shop.

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Top 20 Releases of 2012: No.19 – Macmanaman – Drugorbaseball

Drugorbaseball

CD, Sleepwell Records, 2012

One of the best things you can be as an indie band in Japan right now is an instrumental postrock or math rock band, preferably with complicated drumming, highly technical guitars and a strong jazz influence. Groups like Toe, Lite, Mouse on the Keys are pretty much the only type of band that can cross over from the underground scene into playing the big summer festivals like Fuji Rock.

Which brings us to Fukuoka four-piece Macmanaman. They made their debut appearance at Fuji Rock on the “Rookie A Go-Go” new bands stage in the summer of 2012, just in time for the release of Drugorbaseball, and in many ways they are an ideal band to step up to the next level. They have all the elements in place: technical, atmospheric guitars, astonishingly tight rhythm section, and songs formed into sprawling, expansive soundscapes that on this album range from the ten-minute Michael to the near sixteen minute Ase Ken.

And yet one suspects that they might not do it because not to put too fine a point on it, they’re just a bit too good. There’s a rawness and a fierce, often destructive punk energy to their music and their performances that flips a snotty bird at the more slick, sophisticated polish that seems to be a prerequisite for bands like this to succeed, which is perhaps inevitable given that drummer Setoguchi moonlights for hardcore noiseniks Snarekills. And despite the undoubted technical prowess of all members (and despite the fact that the production on this record inevitably misses some of the immensity of their live performances), it’s Setoguchi’s wild, flailing, intense drumming that drives everything on this album. You can practically smell the sweat and the alcohol by the end of the violent, hedonistic fifteen-minute freakout of Guruguru Chop Guruguru, and it leaves you exhausted.

And like Natsumen (of whom Macmanaman are obviously big fans), they do all this without ever seeming to miss a beat, the energy and raw power flooding out of the speakers unrepressed, unpolished and rarely letting up, while at the same time keeping the most complicated rhythms seemingly metronomically precise. They may come across as too much of a garage band to ever be allowed into the more refined and rarified world of fringe-mainstream rock respectability, but Macmanaman should at least carve a niche for themselves among those looking for technical thrills you can get drunk to.

(Full disclosure: A live take of the song Michael also appeared on my own label Call And Response Records’ 2012 “Dancing After 1AM” compilation album.)

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Strange Boutique (July 2012)

My Japan Times column this month is on the Fuji Rock Rookie A Go-Go stage, where indie bands (not necessarily “rookies” since many of them have been around for ages) get a chance to play and since last year to compete for a place on one of next year’s main stages. A bit of weird phrasing aside (I was super-late filing it and I’m still not entirely sure what “up-and-coming dadrockers” means), I say pretty much everything I wanted to in the article so not much to add here except to drop a few links to bands I recommended in the article.

First up there’s Gezan, from Osaka, whose violent onstage antics really lose something on record, so for heaven’s sake check them out live if you get a chance:

Also on Friday there’s The Keys, who are a fine example of the sort of jangly guitar pop that Japanese indie retronauts have been keeping on life support since the late 80s. I slag off old British guitar bands in the article (because they’re shit and they deserve it) but I have no particular problem with melodic guitar music when it’s done with charm and intimacy like this:

Another good Friday night band is Kanazawa’s Ningen OK, who seem to be rocketing up through the hipster-credometer with their fiddly brand of avant-garde postpunk/prog:

I mention Kettles, although I’m not quite sure about them yet. They just seem a bit too down-the-line J-indie, although they can definitely write a song when they put their mind to it, and they’re probably my pick from the more mainstream Saturday night lineup:

Sunday is mostly rock’n’roll stuff, but the best band by far is Fukuoka psychedelic postrock instrumental band MacManaman, who have rocked a few of my own events now, both in Tokyo and Kyushu, and who really stand out on Rookie A Go-Go’s third night:

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