Tag Archives: Panicsmile

Guardian Song of the Week: Ringo Sheena, “Netsuai Hakkaku-chu”

This week’s pickup for The Guardian’s music from around the world guest blogging series is a welcome reminder of an enduring talent and a fuck-you to the media’s puritanical side.

Netsuai Hakkaku-chu

Ringo Sheena is one of the most important Japanese music artists of the past fifteen years or so, so any new material of hers is worth paying attention to. From her early years as a teenage punk in Fukuoka hanging out at gigs by local alternative and avant-garde legends like Number Girl, Panicsmile and Mo’some Tonebender, through her precocious early songwriting career, creating songs for singers like Ryoko Hirosue (at that time, prior to her successful acting career, still more or less an idol singer), her early 2000s position as a generation-defining role model to thousands of wannabe rockstar schoolgirls, and her well-regarded career with the band Tokyo Jihen, she has been an ever-present figure helping to define the musical landscape of post-millennial Japan.

While Ringo Sheena’s best work, the album Kalk, Semen, Kuri no Hana, was a rich, multilayered, cinematic exploration of prewar decadence and Sgt. Pepper-esque psychedelic pop studio gymnastics and very much a work confident in its distinctive character, Netsuai Hakkaku-chu is a work much more in touch with the Japanese music world both of today and of Sheena’s formative years.

The melody recalls the Shibuya-kei style popularised by artists like Pizzicato Five and Karie Kahimi in the 1990s with its sweetly rendered vocals and restrained, sophisticated pop hooks that hark back to 1960s French pop, but the production, courtesy of omnipresent contemporary überproducer Yasutaka Nakata (Capsule, Perfume, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) gives the song a harder electro edge.

The combination isn’t so unusual, given Nakata’s own origins at the tail end of Shibuya-kei and his own career can itself be seen as charting the evolution of the style from its indiepop record-collector music nerd origins into the modern electro-dance age, but he is nevertheless sensitive to the original song, allowing the electro and pop elements to play off each other without one ever taking full precedence.

Also, no discussion of this track would be complete without a mention of the video. Pop artists making videos complaining about the press are always a little obnoxious, but in Ringo Sheena’s case, it’s revealing of something a bit wider. The video depicting the singer beating seven shades of crap out of a kung-fu army of paparazzi comes in the context of some particularly unpleasant press intrusion into her life after she refused to identify the father of her second child. The imagery depicting her dead body in glitter-encrusted retro-60s garb while a sexy black leather version of her takes revenge also reflects the contrast between the sweet, 60s pop-influenced Shibuya-kei aspect of the song and its darker electro edge.

While Netsuai Hakkaku-chu isn’t Sheena scaling the dizzying creative heights that her best work has revealed her as capable of, it’s a welcome reminder of an unflagging talent and lays down a confident, self-assured marker of an independent-minded star  with no time for the puritans and moral guardians who increasingly seek to define the role of women in Japanese media and pop culture.

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Crowdsourcing Japanese indie with Electric Eel Shock and Fan-Bo

The lead feature on yesterday’s Japan Times music page was an interview with Kazuto Maekawa of bubblegum garage-metal power trio Electric Eel Shock about his new crowdsourcing web site Fan-Bo and it’s an interesting read so please check it out.

I wrote a piece a few years back on on EES’ earlier success in raising money via the site Sellaband, and it’s interesting that they’ve now decided to take it a step further by themselves. There are a few points that stand out for me.

Electric Eel Shock: Scream For Me

Firstly the emphasis on carefully selecting the bands and projects they choose to put up. The signal-to-noise ratio on those kinds of sites can make them impossible to navigate and so it’s often the work of a chaotic combination self-promotion and web buzz via a number of platforms that creates success. Having some process of filtering strikes me as a good thing and suggests that EES are in this for the music rather than just going all-out for the money.

Secondly, the people they have involved so far are an interesting crowd. Of course Daniel Robson (who wrote the article) and his It Came From Japan project have a lot of experience with promoting Japanese music abroad and more importantly have a musical identity established over years of promoting bubblegum pop-punk, new wave-influenced electronic quirk-pop and garage howlmeistery, but Hajime Yoshida of Panicsmile’s until recently dormant Headache Sounds label and the Tokyo Boredom event crew are equally important in bringing some Japan alternative/experimental scene gravitas to the project. Thus far, these are all people who have worked with EES for many years and have a close relationship with them, but hopefully as the site grows, they can get more other people plugged into other aspects of the contemporary Japanese indie/underground scene to fulfill a similar filtering/”curating” (sorry) role. Certainly connecting with overseas promoters like Canada’s Next Music From Tokyo would seem like a good idea.

Panicsmile: A Girl Supernova

Lastly, the plan to operate the site in English and Japanese is admirable. Sites like Natalie have tried this in the past but their English page crashed and burned early on. Time Out Tokyo operates bilingually but with very little crossover between the material published on the two languages’ sites. Already Fan-Bo’s content is weighted heavily towards Japanese language material and I can see that as business gravitates towards the Japanese version, the English page will be in danger of being neglected but for a handful of bands with pre-existing overseas fanbases. I really hope this doesn’t happen and that the owners continue to invest in the English page even if it doesn’t bring in much money, because over time and with some of the people they have involved, Fan-Bo could be a really useful portal into Japanese indie and underground music for overseas listeners.

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Bossston Cruizing Mania: Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead

CD, Take a Shower records, 2011

This review first appeared in Japanese on Goblin.mu

No one could accuse Tokyo alternative/postpunk band Bossston Cruizing Mania of being wastefully prolific. “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead” emerges more than seven years after their third album, 2004’s “Comic/Saisei/Cynicism”, and coming up to twenty years since the band formed in the 1990s. Nevertheless, as lynchpins of the Tokyo underground live music scene they have been a constant fixture, so whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback.

Bossston Cruizing Mania share something in common with jazz/progressive/hip hop/alternative duo Uhnellys, with Esuhiro Kashima’s lyrics forming rambling narratives that snake in and out of the music. However, while Uhnellys’ Kim prefers the snappy, cinematic cut, cut, cut of a Martin Scorsese movie, the stories Kashima tells are more abstract and discursive, taking in topics as diverse as YouTube, socialism and Super Mario Brothers and employing a looser delivery, like a Japanese version of Mark E. Smith.

Kanpekina Kakurega

There are also similarities with Shutoku Mukai’s early Zazen Boys-era spoken word rants, although given that Bossston Cruizing Mania pre-date both Zazen Boys and Number Girl, it’s likely that any influence that there might be flowed from Kashima to Mukai rather than the other way round. In fact, rather than Mukai, it’s another late-90s Fukuoka scene figure, Panicsmile’s Hajime Yoshida, who exerts a more direct influence on “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead”.

Yoshida produced the album, and it was his band’s arrival in Tokyo that together with Bossston Cruizing Mania formed the core af a particular corner of the Tokyo music scene that emerged in the late 1990s and influenced a generation of bands, mostly centred around Akihabara Club Goodman (where first Yoshida and now Kashima have driven the booking policy) and latterly around Disk Union’s Take A Shower Records. Without Bossston Cruizing Mania and Panicsmile, bands like Tacobonds (also produced by Yoshida), The Mornings and more would probably not exist in their present form.

This is music that combines the sonic sensibility of British postpunk, U.S. no wave and 90s alternative rock with a mindset that forms part of a distinct Japanese rock lineage going back through 80s weirdos like Aburadako to the disenchanted post-hippy 1970s underground scene that eventually melded with the nascent punk scene. There are parallels with Pere Ubu, particularly in the first half of the album, for example the repetitive minimalism of “Low Down”, there are echoes of the postpunk dub of Jah Wobble and Public Image Limited on “Who is Next” and “Citibank”, as well as the brutal, uncompromising funk-punk of The Pop Group as on “Go On to Be Child”.

Citibank

Nevertheless, these are sounds that are so worn into the Tokyo alternative scene that they have become part of the fabric of the city; at least partially divorced from 70s Cleveland, London or Bristol, but rather than a fashion-conscious affectation, they have found a new home tattooed into the concrete of venues along Tokyo’s Chuo Line and beyond, buzzing with urban frustration, alienation and paranoia.

The jerky skittishness and sparse production are powerfully discomfiting but also relentless, which makes it a difficult album to swallow in one gulp. Contemporaries like Panicsmile would often find ways to break up the harshness of their more experimental and raw moments with, admittedly self-mocking and deconstructive, approximations of the occasional pop song, while the 25-to-30-minute mini-album is becoming the delivery medium of choice for many current underground bands.

Who is Next

Especially given the long gap since “Loaded, Lowdead, Rawdead”‘s predecessor, one wonders if Bossston Cruizing mania might be better off releasing their material more frequently in more easily digestible chunks. On the other hand, and perhaps decisively, it’s difficult not to respect the band’s uncompromising commitment to the ideal, and with the carnivalesque “It’s 4AM in Lynch” they even indulge the listener by rounding the album off with something that sounds almost happy.

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