Tag Archives: The Fin.

Interview: The Bathhouse Show

For those of you in Tokyo tomorrow (Saturday, February 13th), I recently did an interview with Ella Krivanek and Dorothy Siemens, who have put on this fascinating looking free art and music event at an abandoned bathhouse. The event features Melt-Banana and Hikashu, who are two of the best bands in Japan, as well as relative newcomers The Fin and The Boys Age, so get on down there early and check it out.

Here’s the interview in The Japan Times, so please check that out.

Because of the limited space, there was a lot of fascinating stuff that I just couldn’t include. Obviously as a music writer, the musical aspect of the event was the angle that I approach this from, although the event is clearly designed so that the art and music interact conceptually in various ways. As the person in charge of the music, I was particularly interested in some of what Siemens explained about how the music functions as art and how the borders artforms can be crossed, subverted or blurred.

“I was interested in getting bands that bridged a certain gap between art and music,” Siemens explained, “Koichi Makigami from Hikashu also works as a sound artist, and Melt-Banana have broken a lot of barriers – there’s a juxtaposition there in the whole descriptor of ‘noise music.’ Meanwhile Boys Age make music out of their bedroom – it’s very DIY and it’s very immediate.”

In the context of my travels around Japan and my interest in the relationship between music and the place in which it happens, this event touched on a lot of themes that I find interesting as well. I remarked on the way smaller towns and more remote areas push different kinds of stuff together that would never usually interact in Tokyo, and how this often leads to more interesting, unexpected or imaginative work as a virtue of necessity.

“The most exciting projects have taken place outside Tokyo,” agreed Krivanek, “There’s a side of it that says because there aren’t as many spaces, people have to make do with sharing space, but the other side is that they have the opportunity to do that because space isn’t nearly at such a premium, so you can rent physically bigger buildings. And people who are slightly weird in the countryside are drawn to one another regardless of whether they’re all fine artists or all musicians or whatever.”

There is also a sense that through this approach, it might be possible to point a way towards a new way of thinking about and doing music and art in Tokyo as well. In the music scene especially, I get the impression that some of the structures, like the live house system, are fraying at the edges, with people increasingly looking to alternative spaces to perform.

“There’s a need to look at new ways of doing things and beak out of these rigid structures of ‘this is how you become an artist or a musician’,” explained Siemens, “There are people who get sponsorship from galleries or sign to a major label, but that’s not the majority of people. It’s an opportunity to start a discussion in Tokyo about how we can do this in a new way, how we can create a new community of artists and musicians that support each other here in Tokyo.”

As Krivanek adds, “In terms of an intersection between fine art and music, I don’t think either that’s a new thing or something to be afraid of.”

This also brought to mind one of my pet concerns about music, which is the way that as it loses its value as a commercial product, it increasingly seems to be becoming subservient to lifestyle accessories and fashion, when really it deserves respect and consideration as an art in its own right. Perhaps aware of the near-Satanic position that one particular kind of goods holds in Call And Response Records demonology, this point kicked off a little exchange that made me chuckle:

SIEMENS: “There are so many of these lifestyle-branded bands that come with the pins, the t-shirts, the mechandise…”

KRIVANEK: “The tote bags!”

SIEMENS: “We have this opportunity to pull music back into this conversation of exploring it as a fine art”

All of which I absolutely agree with (even if they were taking the piss out of my irrational disdain for poor, innocent tote bags a bit).

Another related point we discussed was the way they decided to keep enough of a separation between between the musicians and fine artists, so that each has the space to be considered in their own right rather than as simply a soundtrack to the art or a visual accompaniment to the music. However, Krivanek and Siemens are intrigued by the possibilities this juxtaposition might open up in terms of what visitors take with them from the music into the art and vice versa when travelling between areas. In any case, like I say, if you get a chance, check out the show.

The event page on Facebook is here, or on Tokyo Gig Guide here.

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Filed under Features, Live, Live previews

V/A: World Awake

World Awake

Download, Ano(t)racks, 2013

Net labels are something the indie scene (in Japan at least) is still in the process of coming to grips with. In many ways, a net label has more in common with music aggregator blogs that simply introduce new music, functioning primarily as a taste curator rather than participating actively in its creation, and with the financial investment the label makes next to zero, the relationship between label and artist is fundamentally different. However, the boundaries are more blurred than that, and on the basis of this compilation, Ano(t)racks are certainly putting some excellent new music out there.

One of the advantages net labels have is that because money isn’t the same issue that it was, they can afford to take a more relaxed and eclectic approach to the artists they select, with less of the ruthless honing and focusing in on specific types of artist and cultivating specific audiences in real, physical live spaces. The Web allows them to float more freely and catch their audience more passively. Still, the online environment naturally acts as a kind of filter in itself, and where punk labels thrive in the alcohol-fuelled, claustrophobic intensity of small live spaces, the audience for a net label is more likely to be found surfing the web, semi-conscious at 2AM, so it’s natural that the sort of music a label like Ano(t)racks gravitates towards is suited to that listening environment.

Ano(t)racks are a self proclaimed twee pop label, and there’s nothing much on this compilation to dispute that, with the exception of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s vampish, defiantly lo-fi Fanaticalia. Built around a riff that Patrick over at Make Believe Melodies rightly identifies as having been stolen wholesale from The Kinks’ You Really Got Me (to be honest, something that iconic barely counts as stealing now; like the chord sequence from Hang on Sloopy, it’s surely public domain by now) it makes occasional diversions into Rolling Stones territory but fundamentally, like much of Buddy Girl and Mechanic’s self-titled debut album, released earlier this year and sure to be one of Japan’s albums of the year come December, its closest cousin in terms of construction is Can, with the way the music slips and slides over the disorientating rhythm and the emphasis on trancelike repetition.

Eschewing the lo-fi approach and emerging as genuinely lovely indie rock songs as well as highlights of the album are The Fin.’s Floating in the Air and Come to my Party’s Paraffin Lover. I can sense a distant echo of Frozen Years by British pub rock legends The Rumour in the former somewhere, but more than that, it’s simply a pure rush of sentimental, timeless guitar pop comfort food. The latter also provides some tunespotting opportunities for new wave geeks, with the main melody reminiscent of Echo and The Bunnymen’s Bring on the Dancing Horses, although sonically it has a lot in common with Japanese turn-of-the-millennium alternative rock, in particular Supercar (and particularly the song Aoharu Youth), with its mixture of shoegaze, synths and electronic beats. Ghostlight’s Koi no You na Uso also harks back to the turn of the millennium like a more laid back, lo-fi take on Quruli’s C’mon C’mon.

There are more low-key, acoustic numbers such as the gorgeous Coastline by Genki Sakuradani and the quirky, banjo-based 1940s cabaret jazz of Annie the Clumsy’s Gold Crescent Moon, as well as the beach pop of Superfriends’ How True My Love Was and the decidedly Lennonesque blues of Slow Beach’s closing Surfin’ Day and there’s really not a duff tune among the eight tracks on offer.

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Filed under Albums, Reviews