Tag Archives: Mir

Quit Your Band!

Slow posting this month and last month has been partly due to event preparations but mostly due to something called Quit Your Band!, a Japanese-language punk/indie zine I’ve been putting together with Ryotaro Aoki from Don’t Cross The Streams and my darling wife Kaname.

Quit Your Band!

I’m not going to go into loads of detail about the content but it covers a lot of the same stuff I write about here in English and one of the articles is a slightly updated translation of my Nakigao Twintail/idol music post from earlier in the year so Japanese readers can get their knickers in a twist over a willfully misinterpreted reading of my argument just like their squealing overseas brethren. It also includes a Japanese version of my interview with the Extruders and various original articles and art contributions.

The other thing it includes is Mir’s new mini-album Я не могу без тебя (“Ya ne mogu bez tebya”, or “I can’t live without you”) in its entirety. As I’ve mentioned before, Mir were one of the first bands I released on Call And Response and so it’s fitting to feature them with the first issue of the zine.

Anyway, the zines, CDs and jacket artwork all arrived in time and we’ve finished packaging it all up. Releasing a new CD always feels satisfying, but releasing a new CD as part of something that we’ve all had creative input into is a very different feeling. Creating a physical paper zine feels so different to blogging or even writing for the newspaper as well. The release party is in about half a day and if it goes off even a tenth as well as the show with Hyacca last month, it’ll be a great welcome for the new zine.

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Live preview: Shinda Shinda Shinda (June 15th 2013)

A bit of self-promotion this, as after a long break and some touring, I’m back to organising reasonably regular live events in Tokyo now. I tried a small show at the lovely Art Bar Ten last month, which went off so spiffingly that I’m planning to make it a regular monthly thing from August, so now I’m ready for something bigger and louder, at my favourite venue in Japan, Higashi-Koenji 20000V (Ni-man Den-Atsu).

There’s a bit of a story behind the venue. 20000V or 20000 Volt was a famous punk venue in the lower basement of a building on Koenji’s Pal shopping arcade. It catered to hardcore, alternative and noise bands, while the slightly smaller Gear on the upper basement floor was more orientated towards pop-punk and garage bands. The booking manager of 20000V was Hayakawa from punk legends Kirihito, and when he left, Ishida from Firebirdgass and Mochizuki from Groundcover. took over, maintaining the uncompromising spirit of the place. On the second floor of the same building there was an izakaya called Ishikari-tei which had the most awesome staff and stayed open until 10:00am every day, so that’s where you went after the gigs finished down in the basement.

The trouble came in October 2009, when a fire at Ishikari-tei gutted the building and killed four people, including two staff. It made national news and was a terrible blow to the local scene. I was friendly with one of the waitresses, but she was in Paris at the time with a dance performance group and I don’t know to this day who the people killed were. I don’t want to know.

Fortunately, apart from a small amount of water damage, 20000V wasn’t harmed, but the owners, SOS Group, decided to close it and Gear down anyway. One suspects they’d been looking for an excuse to shut it down for a long time, and this gave them the chance they’d been looking for. The team who ran the venue were a close-knit crowd, who worked together brilliantly. They were widely respected in the local scene and had a lot of loyal bands and events, but the decision was final, 20000V was shut down and they were out of their jobs.

So obviously, they did what any right thinking punks would do and they opened up a new venue just across town near Higashi-Koenji Station. They got a new sound system that was even louder than the one they’d had before, and this time they would run it themselves. SOS Group refused to let them use the name, so they called it Ni-man Den-Atsu (the four kanji literally mean “20000 Volt”) and lots of people who know the venue’s history still call it by its old name anyway, as they should. Anyway, it’s a venue I’m very close to and where whenever I can, I try to do shows there (the Penguin House on the north side of Koenji, where my wife and I had our wedding party, is the place it shares space in my heart with).

So this Saturday, June 15th, 20000V is where I’m organising my show, which I’ve put together in collaboration with the band Jebiotto, also veterans of the original venue. It’s named “Shinda Shinda Shinda” as a pun on the high school girl rock band movie Linda Linda Linda and the Japanese for “Dead Dead Dead”. I put the full details up on my label’s blog here, but here are some clips previewing the bands who are playing.

First up, there’s the brilliantly named I Know The Mouse, a young band who if they have any web presence at all, I’ve been unable to find it. They’re an instrumental guitar and synth-based band, whose demo shows elements of new wave and krautrock, but to find out more, you’ll just have to go and see them.

Then there’s Jebiotto, another synth-based band. Time Out Tokyo describe them as a “scrappy indie-disco trio“, but they’re heavily postpunk influenced too, with a sense of rhythm focused on dancing, but with an approach to playing that emphasises energy and enthusiasm over technical perfection. The vocalist Madoka has an alarming habit of screaming “Rape me!” at the audience at inopportune moments during the set (she’s a Nirvana fan) and making everyone in the room feel deeply uncomfortable, but she’s also a charismatic, brilliantly frazzled frontwoman.Jebiotto: Beat End

Probably the best-known band on the lineup is Kuruucrew. Mostly instrumental, although they have been known to yell stuff over the top of their music from time to time, their music falls into a couple of patterns, both characterised by extreme noise and a high level of technical skill. Firstly, there’s rhythmically diverse, stop-start avant-garde rock, and secondly, there’s repetitive, groove-orientated psychedelia, heavily influenced by krautrock and I suspect also by genre-defying 70s oddities like This Heat.Kuruucrew live

Mir were one of the reasons I started Call And Response Records in the first place. Their music is fragile and beautiful, but shot through with a kind of anger, intensity and desperation that carries over into their live performances, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. I’ve seen them play sublime sets, but I’ve also seen their gigs collapse into drunken incoherence, tears, violence or all of the above. Watching Mir live is like watching a man put his head into the mouth of a lion. If he survives, the joy is tempered by a huge sense of relief, and if he doesn’t, it’s horrible, but hey, you did just see a guy getting his head bitten off by a lion. It’s always an experience.Mir: Machiawase Basho wo Kimete Yokou

Mir used to be a more rock-orientated three-piece but they’re currently down to a synth-based core of the twin male and female vocalists, whose onstage relationship is often quite a fraught thing. The tension that often exists between them is reflected in the music, which often plays out in the form of duets that set Yoko’s sweet, glacial female voice against Kyohei’s emotional, often tortured, yowls of alienation.Mir: Ya Ne Mogu Bez Tebya

Finally, there’s Hyacca, who I’ve written a bit about recently, and who are another of the reasons I started Call And Response. They’re another band who make use of multiple vocalists, although they have a more obvious frontperson in Hiromi Kajiwara. One of their great talents is in taking something musically quite complex and making it into something that feels very natural and accessible, never losing sight of the fact that what they’re making is fundamentally dance music.Hyacca: Stress / Sick Girl

Sorry for using this space to big up my own projects at the moment, but in the end, this blog, my label and my events all come from the same place: the need for a forum to shout about bands I think are worth listening to (and since most of my readers are based in the United States, it’s probably only on this blog that most of you will be able to hear these bands anyway). There’s more of the same coming next month as well, with another five bands playing on July 13th, this time at the Penguin House, so forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

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Nakigao Twintail: Em (live)

I raved about this band earlier in the year, using them as an example to demonstrate the attributes that underground music has that an idol group cannot. It was a long post that was misunderstood by J-pop fans who chose to read it as a simplistic “rock is better than pop” attack from an indie elitist (which I admit I am, but that’s not what I was doing there) rather than the nuanced call for underground music, which has lately been having a drawn-out love affair with idol pop, to take stock of itself, look at its own strengths again, and start having a conversation about what “authenticity” means once more. Nakigao Twintail were partly chosen because of who they were — at seventeen years of age, they were the same age as most of Momoiro Clover Z, and they share some of the same energy, but because of the different types of groups they were, the results in all areas of their music diverged massively. Nakigao Twintail did everything themselves, and the rough edges and naivety in their songwriting show that, whereas Momoiro Clover Z are far more polished, musically sophisticated and professional, but in the end, they are a product. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just a bald statement of what the difference between the two groups is.

The other reason I chose Nakigao Twintail to write about was completely irrelevant to the point I was making about idol music — simply that I had just seen them a few days before and they had blown my mind, and that’s what I want to talk about here. They were playing at Utero in Fukuoka, the venue run by the bass player from Hyacca, and the event had been the final date of the release tour for my label’s Dancing After 1AM compilation album. Harajiri from Hyacca/Utero had called me prior to the event in a frenzy of excitement, saying that he’d found an absolute gem of a band and asking for permission to book them. Not knowing what he was on about but trusting his judgement, I’d said sure, go ahead.

Arriving at the venue for the soundcheck, I’d found five teenage girls bobbing around the venue in the funkiest shoes. One of them refused to take off her sunglasses even in the gloomy, cramped subterranean live hall, while another was painting her eyes to look like either a ghost or a panda, I wasn’t sure, before dashing off to the shops and returning with hundreds of safety pins, with which she proceeded to mutilate the pyjamas that she was wearing (I forgot to say, she spent the whole gig in her pyjamas). Of the other people playing, me (the DJ), TKC (the other DJ), Kobayashi Dorori and Hyacca had been out until 7AM for the previous night of the tour in Kumamoto, and Mir had arrived in Fukuoka from Tokyo night before and immediately gone on the lash, so there was a stark contrast between the jaded vibe that us older sorts were giving out as we went through the motions of the rehearsal and the sort of club summer camp adventure atmosphere that followed the girls around.

The gig started and everyone started to perk up, then after a while Nakigao Twintail started playing and the reaction of everyone in the room was unanimous. In the clip here, you can’t hear much applause because everyone was still picking their jaws up from the floor. People weren’t really dancing or going crazy like they did with Hyacca later, because Nakigao Twintail’s set was more like some kind of event that just happened to you, not something you participated in. It was like being punched in the face.

You can’t separate how young they are from what they did, because it was integral to the experience. It’s the kind of thing you can only do when you’re a teenager, or at least you can only do in this way. As an older musician, you’re making conscious choices to behave in a certain way, to pitch your performance this way or that, construct the music in a certain fashion, and the message you send is tinged with cynicism or irony. “I don’t care about doing things the proper way,” is what you’re saying, when actually you care very much indeed — you care enough to break those rules onstage, in front of a crowd of people. With Nakigao Twintail there’s no statement because they genuinely don’t care. It was raw, unbelievably silly and a complete mess, but it was still one of the most inspiring things I’d seen in a long, long time.Nakigao Twintail: Em (live at Utero,”Dancing After 1AM” release tour final date, January 27th 2013)

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Lo-shi: Flasque

Flasque

Spice jar, self-released, 2013

In a world where Mos Def can release an album as a t-shirt and bands all over the place are releasing music in the form of tote bags and worse, the idea of releasing music in an unusual format is not without precedent, but there’s still something rather charming in the sheer, dadaist  pointlessness of Tokyo-based French electronic duo Lo-shi‘s decision to sell their debut album, Flasque, as a memory stick in a spice jar (with real spices).

The message-in-a-bottle delivery form is quite apposite as well, given the plaintive, drawn-out, alien drum’n’bass/krautrock (kraut’n’bass?) instrumentals that the album comprises. While the beats reveal Lo-shi as at least in part children of the 90s dance music revolution, the sweeping synths and reverb-heavy guitars of Piston also point to a duo of only partially closeted goths, and the distant telex of Calling Mir is a love letter to Tokyo’s loneliest synth-pop romantics (note to bands: If you want to get a good review on this blog, make a reference to Mir on your record). The music ranges from the grinding beats of the opening Rampant, through the propulsive Underworld-meets-The Shadows of Mother K, to the final, ambient docking of Yu-kaku, demonstrating familiarity and confidence with both electronic music and guitar pop without the two ever seeming to jar. Taken together, the six tracks and fifty-odd minutes of Flasque make for an atmospheric and curiously affecting transmission from a lost soul, an SOS from a deserted traffic island.


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Things to look forward to in 2013

With 2012 fading in the rear mirror, it’s worth looking ahead to some of the things worth getting excited about over the next year. Some of my favourites from last year are already working on follow-ups, and doubtless more will have come out with new material by the time the year’s out. In addition, my own label, Call And Response, is looking to release in one form or another some of the bands I’m excited about at the moment. So here’s a few suggestions, largely drawn from Call And Response’s immediate circle of bands, of things to look out for over the course of 2013.

Miu Mau: No.1 in my best releases of 2012, Miu Mau have already finished recording two new songs, which they’re currently thinking of releasing as a vinyl single. They recorded it all on analogue equipment and vocalist Masami Takashima claims on her blog that it has more of a 60s sound than last year’s new wave-influenced News EP. Either way, I guarantee it will be super.

Hysteric Picnic: They’ve already put up a couple of new songs on Soundcloud that indicate a growing confidence in their songwriting if their enthusiasm for noise-inflected doom-laden postpunk remains undimmed, and they’re working on more. Hopefully there should be a new EP out by the summer. If no one else releases this, I will.

Jebiotto: This synth-punk trio claim to be hard at work writing new songs for a mini album or EP to be released some time this year. Their last release, Beat End, came out in 2010 so they’re long overdue a follow-up. They did an excellent song, Deacon Punk, for a compilation I released last year, so the new year looks promising. Again, if no one else releases this, I will.

Hyacca: Another band long overdue a new album, this Fukuoka postpunk band are one of the most intense and just plain brilliant bands out there, but their last mini album Hanazono came out in 2009 and apart from a couple of appearances on compilations, they’ve not released much since then. They debuted some new material when I saw them in Fukuoka last month and again, a new album by the end of the year is on the cards.

Extruders: Another of last year’s favourites, minimalist Kanagawa postpunk/psychedelic band Extruders have a new album entitled Colors coming out on Knew Noise Records on April 3rd. It’s likely that the core of the album will be studio recordings of material off last year’s Pray live album, but the release via the ultra-hip Knew Noise label should see them reaching a much wider audience.

Dorolys: Basically the project of one girl, Hazuki Togo, Kagoshima-based Dorolys is a brand new unit with a really nice line in Velvets-influenced lo-fi indie. I saw them for the first time at only their second ever gig, in Kagoshima recently, and they were ace. I’m currently nagging Hazuki to start recording so we can get a cassette or something out soon.

Mir: I’ve been sitting on two or three excellent unreleased recordings by Mir, some of them dating back nearly five years, but which were impossible to release in any form because the band kept splitting up and re-forming and never got the momentum together to put together a proper release. It might have to be a limited release, but the band and I are determined to get these tracks out in some form, hopefully by this summer. EDIT: And Kyohei Hiroki from Mir just informed me on Twitter that they’re busy recording new stuff as well, so there could be a mini-album in it. Fingers crossed. 

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Strange Boutique (June 2012)

My Japan Times column last month was about the enduring influence of Can in particular and Krautrock in general. One of the points I made, and admittedly it’s a pretty sticky point because with music as diverse as Krautrock was to begin with and as wide-ranging in its influence, there are going to be bajillions of exceptions, was how generally, Japanese underground bands seem to prefer the complex rhythms that characterise a lot of Can’s output rather than the motorik beat most associated with Neu! and Kraftwerk (which to a lot of people in the UK is pretty much the definition of Krautrock). Naturally, given that Britain has traditionally been the biggest audience for German 70s rock and experimental music, this is a gross oversimplification, but I think it holds true as a general trend.

In this blog, however, it’s the exceptions I want to look at, and of course there is motorik Japanese indie. On Knew Noise Records’ forthcoming Ripple compilation (which I should have a review of being published soon) Sekaitekina Band swap their usual jittery disco-punk sound for a motorik beat, and as I mention in the column, Nisennenmondai favour driving beats rather than complex, overlapping rhythms, be it disco, tribal pounding or motorik.

Nisennenmondai: Destination Tokyo

Through my own Call And Response label, I’ve released a couple of tracks that follow the motorik pattern as well. Our first release, the 1-2-3-Go! compilation, featured a track called Neu! by a band called Usagi Spiral A (see if you can guess what that sounded like) and Klaus Dinger fanatics Mir did an excellent track called Yononaka, Minna Hihyoka on their mini-album This Tiny World that paid obvious tribute to Neu! and La Dusseldorf.

My own band, Trinitron, often play around with patterns nicked from Krautrock, albeit sometimes mixed in with some other things as on this cover of 1970s idol group the Candies’ Heart no Ace ga Detekonai.

Similarly, Yamanoi Yuzuru often play about with rhythms if not exactly motorik, certainly influenced by the style.

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