Tag Archives: Saladabar

CAR-94 – V/A: Post Flag

Post Flag

CD, Call And Response, 2008

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.

By 2008, I was looking to do another compilation. Bands come and go, and I’m always discovering new music, so every three or four years, I always find myself looking to do another compilation, not just of Call And Response artists (there are few enough of those) but also of artists around me, that I like, that I book for my live events, and that represent something of where my head is musically at that time. At about that time, I’d been getting into the alternative scene that seemed to have coalesced around Akihabara Club Goodman at that time. In 2005 it had all been about the Kansai area, but that scene had started to die out by 2007, while there were a lot of good Tokyo bands reaching maturity, if not quite the same levels of buzz. At the same time, a lot of what was interesting about the music these bands were making was in how it seemed to be reconstructing rock outside the constraints of Anglo-American 60s forms. It was like being in a parallel world where instead of The Beatles and The Sex Pistols, the dominant creative forces behind rock and punk had been Can and Public Image Limited. So what I thought of doing was making an album of cover versions of 1970s Krautrock as a way of drawing a parallel between the way bands from 70s Germany and modern Japan were both remaking rock without paying tribute to the Old Gods as it were. As I discussed that project with various people, it seemed like it would be quite daunting, and I found the project running away from me. At about the same time, I heard the album Never Mind The Bollocks “Here’s the Softly!”, a compilation put together by neo-Shibuya-kei label Softly! Records that covered The Sex Pistols’ album track by track. Now I hate The Sex Pistols. They’re the utterly overrated, musically uninteresting and regressive, and they suck suck suck. But the covers album was really interesting, partly because the songs are so simple and stupid that they forced the bands to reconstruct them a bit in order to add their own character to them. This got me thinking about another, much better but still minimal and musically simple 1977 album: Pink Flag by Wire. Now to say Wire are my favourite band ever would be an understatement. Nothing comes close to them for me. They opened my eyes in a way no band had previously and I doubt any band will be able to again (maybe Guided By Voices had a similar impact on me… maybe), giving me that inspiring feeling that anyone can make music, but at the same time steadfastly refusing to be normal, laughing at convention, and delivering everything through a cloak of lyrical mystery. Chairs Missing remains my favourite album, but Pink Flag is simpler, probably still better known, more iconic, and most importantly had 21 songs on it, which meant I could get a really broad range of bands involved. So the project became a Wire covers album, taking apart Pink Flag and reconstructing it track by track. I wanted to do it properly, so I spent $1,500 buying the song rights through JASRAC (I still legally can’t sell the album in foreign shops or on iTunes), and set to work recruiting all my absolute favourite bands. Getting Totsuzen Danball involved was a coup, because they were one of the very first Japanese punk bands and are in many ways a kind of Japanese equivalent of Wire, and getting Panicsmile was perhaps even more important given their role at the time as a lynchpin of the Tokyo alternative scene. Of Call And Response’s own bands, Mir and Hyacca both joined, the two bands representing the two different angles bands involved in the project were coming from. I didn’t want the album to be a “tribute album” so much as a radical act of reinterpretation, so I didn’t restrict my recruitment to bands who were already Wire fans and the end result was a mix of musicians who knew and loved the band and those who were approaching their music for the first time. Mir were enormous fans (one of the reasons I fell in love with them was that Yoko used to have a Wire reference in her email address) whereas Hyacca despite their similarities and second- or third- hand influence had never heard of them. Some artists took it even further. Groundcover. leader Ataru Mochizuki knew the song they were doing, Lowdown, but didn’t let the other members hear it, instead letting them jam with him on it until something that sounded like Groundcover. came out. Hajime Yoshida from Panicsmile took it even further, recording Strange (based on the REM cover from Document rather than the original) alone in the studio on one night and then giving the result to his band members to improvise over the following day. Eiko Ishibashi (also then a member of Panicsmile, and the only musician who took part in both the Sex Pistols album and this one) just listened to Fragile a dozen times over and over again, and then played an improvised solo piano instrumental based on how the song made her feel. Electric Coma Trio turned 40-second instrumental track The Commercial into a twelve-minute NDW electro-dub epic. When I heard Yolz in the Sky’s version of Pink Flag, I was at first a bit disappointed because of the straight approach they had taken to the source material, which sounded a lot like Wire, but not much like Yolz in the Sky themselves. Once placed in context, however, it became clear how necessary their track was, as a rare anchor in the original amid a swirling sea of radical oddity. This was a lesson I had at the forefront of my mind when doing the Black Sabbath Paranoid covers Valentine’s gift earlier this month, and I made sure that somewhere in it there would be at least one straight take on the song. I was surprised that more bands didn’t do anything with the language, with Mir translating the lyrics of Mannequin poetically into Japanese, Groundcover. gutting Lowdown of most of its contents and just bellowing the title over and over again, and Agolay Culkin just free-associating brand new Japanese lyrics over the chords to Brazil, but as a rule, bands stuck to some approximation of the original English words. With ramshackle and gloriously cute punk-pop party band And About Hers, this was essential, and the sweary lyrics of Mr. Suit work brilliantly with their irrepressibly happy vocals, emphasising the absurdity and satire of the original song (surely Wire were taking the piss out of the dumb anti-authoritarian stance of so many of their contemporaries with likes like, “I’m tired of fucking phonies, that’s right I’m tired of you! No no no no no no Mr. Suit!”) The cover art was done by my friend Akiko Yoshida, who is one of the most important people in my whole involvement in Japanese music, with her band The Students being the first group I really discovered and who really were singlehandedly responsible for introducing me to the live scene back in 2002. Unable to hold down a steady lineup and never satisfied with their own recordings, Akiko was at least able to contribute to this project by doing her own “cover version” of Pink Flag‘s jacket art, reconceptualising the flag as half a dragonfly in a way that no doubt seemed logical to her. Again, her approach was just right though, preparing you for what you’re getting before you even break open the case. Given that Wire remain pretty much unknown in Japan and bearing in mind the idiosyncratic approach to recruiting bands, it was never going to be a big commercial success, but it did OK and seems to have achieved some sort of cult respectability in underground circles. I’ve always been rather wary about Wire themselves hearing it though. I informed them that I was doing it during the early stages of its production, but never tried to contact them after that. The whole don’t-meet-your-idols thing really, but I think the resulting album in its utter lack of respect for the sanctity of the original material is at least true to the spirit of what Wire continue to stand for, and more than that was a teriffic document of the Japanese underground scene.

Post Flag is available now from Call And Response’s online shop.

Leave a comment

Filed under Albums, Call And Response, Reviews

CAR-99 – V/A: 1-2-3-Go! Tokyo D.I.Y. Music 2005

1-2-3-Go! Tokyo D.I.Y. Music 2005

CD, Call And Response, 2005

This is the first part in 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.

Finding my way into the Japanese music scene was a slow process of trial and error. There was next to no information in English on what was going on, and precious little even in Japanese. Promotion was largely done through flyers either handed out personally at gigs or distributed by venues in packs at the door (which quickly made their ways, unread, into the bin), and bands were at a pretty primitive stage when it came to the Web, contacting fans via email, and spamming each others’ BBS pages. The advent of Myspace in 2003 provided the opportunity to check out bands’ music before listening, but it was mostly treated as just another BBS.

Anyway, the result of this was that I felt my way blindly through the live music scene, discovering bands by following other bands to their gigs and checking out who they played with. It was a habit I got into out of necessity but it’s still the main way I find stuff — the thought of spending hours scouring Soundcloud for music seems like such a joyless way of discovering music, not to mention the way Soundcloud’s format is inherently biased towards certain types of beedroom indietronica at the expense of bands with genuine stage presence and energy.

Anyway, 1-2-3-Go! Tokyo D.I.Y. Music 2005 was the result of my first two or three years crawling through the live music scene. Listening back over it now, a very naive compilation, and I can feel my younger self’s dizzy and slightly confused enthusiasm in the way the track list barrels back and forth between all sorts of mad sounds. Something similar still exists in chaotically thrown-together free or CD/R projects like that Black Sabbath cover album I did recently, but anything I’d press professionally nowadays would probably be more poised and less giddy, or in a more critical way, more self-conscious.

You can also see some of my early conceptual idealism in there. The catalogue number is CAR-99 and right from the start, I had this idea, nicked from Sarah Records, that regardless of what happened, the label would end after 100 releases. After eight years, I’m only a quarter of the way towards that even with free downloads and stuff, but it’s a rule and I’m sticking to it. There’s also the way it’s divided into “phases”, which was copied (I think) from Julian Cope’s album Jehovahkill, and which was a nod to the distinction vinyl used to make between the two sides (for some reason something I associate very closely with Gordon Giltrap’s album Visionary). The decision to stick “2005” in the title was a deliberate piece of self-destructive inbuilt obsolescence. It was always intended to be a snapshot of a time and place, and I wanted that limitation embedded in the title even if it put people off buying it. I know it wasn’t smart, but sometimes it’s more important to be right than to be smart.

Anyway, “Phase 1” was mostly punk and underground stuff. Deracine were this amazing and still very original hardcore band from Fukuoka who had settled in Tokyo and made this hyperkinetic punk-noise racket with drums, bass and a table full of effects pedals, samplers and children’s toys, with these wonderfully camp, affected vocals. Uhnellys are one of only a few of the bands on 1-2-3-Go! who are still around (Call And Response compilations can be a kiss of death) and they’ve gone from strength to strenghth to the point where they’re really quite famous now. It’s a claim to fame of mine that Call And Response were the first label to release anything of theirs, although they’d self-released one or two CDs or CD/Rs before. Anyway, they’re a wonderful but hard to describe duo, based around a series of loops made on a delay pedal. They’re far more sophisticated than this nowadays, but there’s a rawness in the track they did here that I feel is still very appealing. Saladabar were a fake-Hawaiian punk-influenced jazz-prog band led by former Natsumen drummer Yuuki Yashiro, and Usagi Spiral A are still going, now augmented by guitarist Matsuoka, formerly of the brilliant no wave band Elevation. Usagi are basically this relentless, brutal wall of Krautrock/postpunk noise that just pummels you until they get tired, break all their equipment or get the plug pulled on them by the venue and thrown out. Meanwhile Drive to the Forest in a Japanese Car were a more straightforward and song-based postpunk band in a sort of Gang of Four style (although the name is a PiL reference).Deracine: Clap Your hands — Doesn’t feature on this compilation but gives a good sense of the kind of band they were. Also, if you look closely, you can see Ponta from The Mornings and probably a bunch of other Tokyo underground scene faces in the audience.

“Phase 2” was more new wave and technopop-influenced. Audipop were one of the bands on the cult classic compilation Tokyo New Wave of New Wave ’98 that alunched the career of Polysics, although they were always at heart more of a Weezer-ish college rock band, and you can see both influences on the track here. Mosquito were one of the most important bands for me in my early discovery of the Japanese live scene, and their unclassifiable jumble of influences did more than anything else to demolish my Anglo-American indie rock frame of reference when trying to understand Japanese bands. Lie Lie is a classic piece of oddball avant-pop, bringing together catchy and noisy elements in a way that’s joyous and celebratory in a way few bands I’ve discovered since have managed. The bass player used to bring a box onstage that he’d step up onto when he did the little funk bass solo in this song. The other song on here, Momoiro, is Mosquito at their epic best, sounding like three completely different songs jammed together. Frottage (named after the art style, not the sexual perversion) shared some members with Mosquito, but were more firmly musically rooted in Shibuya-kei, while Shoot My Disco’s track is a another genuine oddity, combining shoegaze and rap in a way I’d never heard before and never have since. That sort of willful eclecticism and battering together of genres is something people still do, but it’s something I mostly associate with the early 2000s: bands influenced by the mix-and-match approach of Shibuya-kei, but needing to rock out at the same time. The last track is by Miami, who were just one of the most original groups I’ve ever encountered in Japan. A sort of technopop/rap duo with violin, but that doesn’t really describe quite what a distinctive, bouncy proposition they were. They could have been huge but their first proper mini-album came too late and didn’t quite hang together the way their earlier self-released recordings had, so the momentum ebbed away and they split up. You can hear the version of their song Shiratama Disco I released above, but I was surprised to discover this idol group cover version of it from just a couple of months ago. It’s nowhere near as good as the original, but it shows how far idol music has come if they’re covering Call And Response releases!

I should also add about one band who appeared on both “phases”: Skyfisher. They were another Tokyo New Wave of New Wave ’98 band, and the two tracks on 1-2-3-Go! catch them on each side of a transition. The first, Musubetsu Bop, is them at the pinnacle of their Japanese new wave revivalist period, while the second, Nigotta Kanshoku, sees them moving more towards dance-punk. Leader Takashi Nakayama later formed a more improvisational collective called LABSiCK Man-Machine ReMiX, styled as a sort of !!!-style outfit, with music that was often wildly different from show to show.

Anyway, as I said, most of the bands split up in the eyars after this compilation, although a few remain going. Uhnellys became pretty famous, Usagi Spiral A are still going, Watanabe from Frottage is keeping the project going and seems to be doing lots of Vocaloid stuff at the moment. Nakayama from Skyfisher is still making music, and rumour has it that Korehiko Kazama of Deracine is making music again after quitting to become a philosopher for a few years. Audipop are still nominally a going concern, although with family concerns ensuring that their gigs are few and far between. For me, this album was a very steep learning curve and I did lots wrong with it, but it helped teach me which wrong things I should keep doing and which ones were just silly. It definitely helped streamline and simplify the process for subsequent releases, although it took a heavy toll on my personal life that I was lucky to recover from. As I said, it’s weird listening to it now, and quite bittersweet for me, but I think mostly sweet.

1-2-3-Go! Tokyo D.I.Y. Music 2005 is available now from Call And Response’s online shop.

1 Comment

Filed under Albums, Call And Response, Reviews