A short afterword on my ten year anniversary event this Saturday gone, and a big thank you to everyone who took part.
My band Voided By Geysers (west Tokyo’s finest Guided By Voices tribute band) took the stage at 3:15 with Carl playing Tobin Sprout for a version of Ticket to Hide, with Ryotaro donning Mitch Mitchell’s cloak in gradually building up a squall of feedback and noise as the song locked into its closing mantra of “It might get louder”. By the time we’d kicked into A Salty Salute, there were already people with their fingers in their ears, and the sound just got bigger as the night went on. Miu Mau’s refined, sophisticated pop boomed out of the PA, while Usagi Spiral A’s brutal kraut-noise panzer assault was one of the most heart-stoppingly joyous things I’ve heard in a long time. By the time Hyacca closed the show, the sound had reached a level of earsplitting intensity. 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu has a reputation as pretty much the loudest venue in Tokyo, but I’ve never seen it like this before – it means the engineers were excited.
Tropical Death Metal were fantastic on their stoner-prog-punk-metal debut, while Mir’s krautrock-sampling icy noise pop was expertly chilled. Macmanaman played a frenzied whirlwind of a set, Futtachi played out half an hour of eerily compelling psychedelic improvisation, Nakigao Twintail said their farewells in characteristically off-kilter and unhinged fashion, and Jebiotto proved themselves matchless in their capacity to make rooms bounce. The attendance was terrific and 20000V’s staff were brilliant as always. Next year, I’ll be trying to move on and get the next ten years rolling in a way that looks to the future.
Some blurry, lo-res camera phone pictures from the night (you want hi-res, you should have been there on the night!)
In my posts over the past ten days I’ve gone through all ten of the bands performing tomorrow (September 27th) at my party to celebrate ten years of doing events in Japan. However, booking the bands isn’t the whole picture. In between bands, there are a few DJs spinning tunes, which can sometimes be a thankless job in events like this where the sound of bands setting up and eking out what they can of a soundcheck can overwhelm most of what the DJs are playing, but it’s nevertheless an important job, helping to keep the mood of the event going and where possible linking one act to the next. DJing this time is James Hadfield, with whom I’ve been running the monthly party Fashion Crisis for more than five years now. Also commanding the decks will be eclectic DJ team 3TE1, a.k.a. Haru and Kaname (the name is a pun on K-pop group 2NE1 and is pronounced “thirty-one”), who will be joined by Kyushu-based friend Emix, who has herself DJed at a couple of my events in Fukuoka.
The other big consideration is the timetable. This is by far my least favourite part of any event, but here’s a bit of insight into how the process works. First up there’s the noise limitations of the venue, which means live music needs to be done by 10pm, and related to that, there’s the fact that no event ever stays on schedule, so there needs to be at least 30 minutes of slack built into it. Very few bands are ever really happy playing first, and the earlier the event starts, the more people there are who you’re going to disappoint. One of the big reasons I’ve had in forming my own band is to have someone to put on first, thus sparing the sad eyes and pointed expressions of, “Oh, that’s a bit early…” from bands. Thus, Voided By Geysers are opening the event, playing a short set right at the start. Since Tropical Death Metal are just starting out and finding their feet, and nearly all their members are also in VBG, they’re on next to minimise changeover of equipment. After that, I’ve tried to balance the louder and more low-key bands so the sound doesn’t become too repetitive, and I’ve tried to space out the Kyushu acts as much as possible. Considering the audience is another thing, and having a rough idea of how big a crowd each band will bring I’ve tried to space out the bands with the biggest followings too, to give the other bands the best chance of catching new listeners. Then there are individual issues. Jebiotto and Futtachi have new CDs out, and this event is at least in part a release party for them both, so I shifted them more towards the end of the bill; Hyacca are notoriously difficult to follow, being both devastatingly intense live and these days really quite popular, and singer Hiromi Kajiwara needs time to switch characters from her more refined role in Miu Mau, so they still play last; and then Nakigao Twintail will be completely new to most people, plus they’re playing their final show, so I tried to give them the best chance of playing to a packed room.
The big challenge for me as an organiser is to mitigate any disappointment the earlier bands might feel by making sure I personally get as many people along right from the start. It’s a good bill, and there’s been fantastic support from some of the participants, so I’m uncharacteristically optimistic in this instance. Anyway, here’s the timetable:
3:20-3:35 Voided By Geysers
3:45-4:05 Tropical Death Metal
4:20-4:45 Miu Mau
5:00-5:25 Usagi Spiral A
7:40-8:05 Nakigao Twintail
In a series of posts that is already characterised by its self indulgence and mitigated perhaps only by the neat, round number of this particular anniversary, this latest post in the rundown of bands at my events’ ten year anniversary party pushes the envelope of egocentrism back still further, featuring as it does, a band I perform with and which has no value to a reader of this blog in any way, having nothing to do with new Japanese music.
Voided By Geysers are a covers band devoted to the work of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices, a band almost no one in Japan knows and even fewer care about, and who even in America split up for the second time just last week. If someone else had a band like this, I wouldn’t cover them on this blog and I’d be a bit offended and uncomfortable if they asked.
Or would I? Well, part of the appeal of the idea for me was that it was not only a covers band, which is pretty much the lamest thing you can do in the indie/underground scene, but also that it’s a covers band of someone who’s completely obscure in the Japanese music scene. The sheer pointlessness on multiple levels of the project made it impossible not to do, and that makes me smile. There’s also something about GBV’s scrappy, unpolished, error-ridden approach to music that puts it at odds with pretty much all Japanese music. In the studio, we actually practice making mistakes with members deliberately switching bits around or missing cues just to keep the others on their toes and ensure we can deal with it if things go wrong or if someone is suddenly swept up on a wave of whimsy during the performance.
The other members of the band are Shingo, Sean and Ryotaro from Tropical Death Metal, with another guitarist Carl Freire, who has played a few of my events solo and contributed to the Valentine’s Day Sabbath/Paranoid download compilation (which VBG also contributed a second-take drunken rehearsal studio run-through to), and who is old friends with GBV’s late-90s Cleveland lineup, even to the point where he was able to solicit tips on guitar arrangements from Doug Gillard himself. Shingo and Ryotaro have until now alternated on bass, but for our very brief fifteen-minute (I couldn’t really justify longer) opening set, they’re both playing, with Ryotaro stepping into his more familiar role as guitar god, bringing us closer to the originals and giving us an extra gear to kick into on songs like Motor Away and Postal Blowfish.
Here’s a clip of us with Shingo on bass and me just out of hospital with a titanium plate in my arm and a head full of painkillers. The songs are (in order) Teenage FBI, My Valuable Hunting Knife, Kicker of Elves and Hot Freaks. I don’t know what’s going on with the blue guy.
Every couple of years or so, my label Call And Response Records likes to put together a compilation project for Valentine’s Day, usually themed around cover versions of one band or another. The idea is always to do something lo-fi and throw together all sorts of things, regardless of genre or recording quality and to release it only in a limited fashion, either as a CD/R or download. Bands are encouraged to spend as little time on it as possible and just to mess around and have fun, although this is usually a pretty futile thing to ask given the neurotic perfectionism of most musicians we know. In any case, the result is always going to be more or less lo-fi.
I’m not sure where the idea of asking every band to cover Black Sabbath’s Paranoid came from, but I’m pretty sure it was partly inspired by the compilation A Houseguest’s Wish, in which 19 bands took turns covering Wire’s Outdoor Miner (and indeed Wire’s own album The Drill, where the band did numerous covers of their own song). The decision to pick Paranoid as a song came out of an ongoing obsession with Black Sabbath that the Quit Your Band! zine’s editorial team developed (and which culminated in our decision to rate albums using a system called the “Sabbath Scale”). It’s a good choice of song I think because it’s so utterly, utterly stupid and simple that it leaves huge amounts of room for interpretation by expanding, elaborating, or honing it in various ways. A similarly well known song like War Pigs or Iron Man would have imposed itself a bit too much on the artist and been less flexible in its scope for interpretation.
I also think the idea of a whole load of different bands covering the same song is artistically incredibly interesting in its own right, with the similarity of the underlying song forcing you to be conscious of what the musicians are doing to it in terms of structure, arrangement and performance. Over the course of an album, the repetitiveness of the same theme, each time in a different iteration, has a curiously trancelike quality to it as well. Rather like the documentary film The Aristocrats (also perhaps an influence), where dozens of comedians tell the same filthy joke in all manner of different ways, each adding their own twist on the familiar theme, I think seeing the same song played by a lot of bands gives an interesting insight into the creative process.
In any case, the response to this project overwhelmed me. I recruited bands pretty indiscriminately over a period of several months, assuming that for such a low-key project, it wouldn’t be particularly high priority for most of them. As time went by, I realised that interest in the project was way greater than I’d anticipated, and I started happily telling people that there could be as many as 15 different artists taking part. The 21st track arrived in my inbox at 8:30 this morning and the finished album runs to almost one and a half hours.
The tracks cover as wide a range of genres as my taste allows. It features mostly Japanese or Japan-based artists, although a couple of tracks hail from overseas. The core of the album was recruited from among the underground music oddballs who hang out at Call And Response’s monthly Fashion Crisis event at Koenji One, and it’s the inclusive, eclectic, but passionately knowledgeable atmosphere of Fashion Crisis that I think defines the overall feeling of the album. Some bands took their tracks very seriously, and the album contains moments of quite staggering beauty, while others followed my initial advice and took it as an opportunity to have fun, creating some moments of laugh-out-loud silliness in the process. Every track approaches the song in an interesting way, and there’s also I think a joyousness that runs though it that’s partly from the inherent qualities of Sabbath’s original song and partly from the sheer scale and expression of human creativity that’s on display.
The album title is 「チョコくれるのはいいが・・・、何を企んでるんだぁぁ！？！？」which basically means, “Thanks for the chocolate… What’s your agenda!?!?” (I’m just going to refer to it as “Choco Kureru…” from now on) and here’s a rundown of the track list:
1. Fidel Villeneuve Originally from Wolverhampton, Fidel is near enough a hometown brother of Sabbath themselves, although with a rather different musical background on Atari Teenage Riot’s Digital Hardcore label and in London powerpop band Applicants. Nonetheless, the same hot Bovril runs through both Fidel and Ozzy’s veins, and his sample-based approach gives early warning of the excesses to come.
2. ロア/Loa I had to get these guys on the album. There’s so much Sabbath in what they do anyway that it would have been criminal not to have them involved, and their high-octane approach to the track plays it more or less straight, but with the emphasis on speed and shot through with a prog rocky virtuosity.
3. 経立/Futtachi This psychedelic band from Kagoshima on the southern island of Kyushu are the latest band from Iguz Soseki of post-hardcore garage-punk band Zibanchinka and their approach sounds like early Captain Beefheart, or maybe Faust covering I Want Candy. Apparently their aim was to do “Sabbath in the jungle”.
4. Human Wife Usually feedback-heavy riff merchants, Human Wife’s take on the track slows it down and draws out the emotional core of the song, turning it into this really quite affecting junkie’s confessional.
5. Client/Server:Q With music where drone and sonic texture are more important than melody and songcraft, the cover naturally takes on a more abstract flavour. you see this a few times on Choco Kureru…, but this is the first, building up a wall of noise and feedback that ebbs and flows throughout the track.
6. Abikyokan Abikyokan are a genre unto themselves, although “avant-pop” serves them well enough most of the time. Here, Paranoid acts as a distraction to them from their current obsession with the influence of early Christianity on the Roman Empire, and they swing at it with all their synthpop electro-funk bats at once. They’re also one of a few bands on here to break down the original song’s structure and reconstruct it around just the bits that they like.
7. うるせぇよ/Uruseeyo This Tokyo post-punk band exemplify something that’s actually true of a lot of the bands on Choco Kureru… in that they’re a band who usually play in a genre of which guitar solos aren’t really an integral part, but at the same time, the solo in Paranoid plays such an integral role in the minimal structure of the song, that something has to go there. They dive eagerly into the challenge and pull off a spiky, dance-punk solo with aplomb.
8. Han Han Art, featuring Fukusuke (Owarythm/Nature Danger Gang) Former Mornings bassist Shingo “Rally” Nakagawa has been on a Z Records tip for a long time now and with his new band Han Han Art brings his love of no wave/disco in spades. The decision to recruit guest sax player Fukusuke came from listening to too much Pigbag, and this was probably unintentional, but I keep hearing the intro to Duran Duran’s Girls on Film in the guitar intro. Also on guitar, this track has another excellent example of a postpunk solo.
9. Under This mysterious artist does another abstract, instrumental, drone-based take on the song, but uses more ambient tones rather than noise. A good example of the extent to which sonic texture alone can influence the mood of a track, and the result is beautiful.
10. Artless Note Clearly recorded on an MP3 recorder or something while messing around in the studio, this track sounds like it’s an edit culled from a much longer improvisation session with the band playing around with a couple of key themes from the song. There are moments where it sounds impossibly messy, and then they do something suddenly out of thin air that reminds you that this is a talented, musically intelligent band. This is actually one of the most interesting tracks on the album, because the studio improvisation setting has seen them jettison the entire structure of the song, all the lyrics, and just focus on the famous, catchy elements, which they return to every time the intervening bits of musical deconstruction seem to lose their way. In that way, it’s similar to The Muppets’ famous rendition of Mahna Mahna and really quite funny in a music nerdy kind of way.
11. Umez When this arrived in my inbox the night before the album was supposed to be released, I was busy working on sequencing the track list and working out how to balance all the different genres and styles, working out what gaps there were that needed to be filled. When I listened to it, a bell rang in my head and I thought, “Drum’n’bass! That’s what I was missing!” So thanks, Umez.
12. スロウマリコ/Slow-Marico Lo-fi indie duo Slow-Marico are heavily influenced by The Jesus & Mary Chain and that shows through in this rough-edged and noisy cover, although the way they play it over a cheap drum machine gives it something of The Vaselines’ indie charm rather than the rock swagger of the JAMC.
13. Trinitron (featuring Gloomy and Ryotaro Aoki) This is one of the ones I worked on, so fair warning about that. I have this idea that as music is more and more easily globally accessible, it also emphasises our mutual incomprehensibility, and Trinitron sometimes play games with this. Trinitron’s members are a mix of British, Japanese and Slovenians, and we speak at least four languages between us, often switching between them mid-song or overdubbing them so as to bury the meaning. In this case we decided to do the whole song in a language that none of us understand either, so we had a friend translate the lyrics into Italian and had the girls read them out without preparation, just as they imagined they might be pronounced. So apologies to any Italian readers (which basically means Mark and Zio as far as I know) but it’s not a calculated insult to your language: it’s art! With the music, we were aiming for a sort of Flying Saucer Attack-style Kraut/shoegaze vibe, with Tokyo synthpop chanteuse Gloomy providing the cute “ba-ba-ba”s in tribute to Stereolab and Ryotaro Aoki on cataclysmic thunderstorm guitars in tribute to the gods of Valhalla.
14. Carl Freire Carl’s background is in the 80s and 90s US alternative and punk scene, and his downbeat, minimal cover has echoes of that, particularly in the Velvetsy repetition and combination of punk and psychedelic elements.
15. Kaki Kaki is the alter ego of Zana from Trinitron, so this downtempo electronic track is her second track on Choco Kureru…, providing a more sophisticated and musically and conceptually pure take on the original than the mishmash of approaches that Trinitron usually ends up being.
16. Loser & Ribbons Indiepop/new wave duo Loser & Ribbons’ track has echoes of Shibuya-kei, particularly early Capsule, in its arrangement, with the introductory synth pattern reminding me of the music that plays when you get the invincibility star in Mario and giving it a technopop, video game music vibe. One of the interesting things about their approach is that they place much more emphasis on the “Can you help me / Occupy my brain?” line that only appears once in the original, rewriting the melody slightly and repeating it over and over until it becomes a proper chorus rather than the interlude it is in Sabbath’s version.
17. Oa (featuring Hatsune Miku) Ryotaro Aoki makes his second appearance on the album with this piece of bubblegum hardcore, clearly influenced a lot by Melt Banana and featuring the vocals of Vocaloid voice synthesiser character Hatsune Miku. As with the Trinitron track, this one plays games with language. The latest version of Hatsune Miku, which this is, can sing in English, but this track uses the Japanese version anyway, phonetically approximating the sounds of the English words, but unable to do so completely because of the different, stricter rhythm of Japanese, meaning that some parts of the song descend into incomprehensible babble.
18. Jahiliyyah The longest track by far on Choco Kureru…, and one of the most brutal and hard-hitting. Jahiliyyah are basically a noise group, but the drum machine and synth pulse that they incorporate into this track give it a lot of industrial and EBM too, taking a page right out of the Throbbing Gristle playbook. The results are fearsome and brilliant.
19. 人魂/Hitodama Dave from Jahiliyyah making his second appearance with another noise track, although where Jahiliyyah are more about melding numerous layers into a single, rich wall of sound, Hitodama allows the layers to breathe, to exist as discrete elements in a salad bowl of sound, dropping in and out as necessary and leading to a track that is more ambient overall.
20. Voided By Geysers Confession: this is another of my bands. VBG are a tribute band to US lo-fi rockers Guided By Voices (hence the name) and it amused us that our only recorded output would be a cover of a different band entirely. The take included here was the second time we’d ever played the song and so there are a lot of rough edges to the performance, but we felt it was the take that had the most heart. The idea here was to have just one straight garage rock take on Paranoid right near the end of the album as a reminder of the original after the excesses that have gone before, although when the Loa track came in doing a similar thing with greater technical virtuosity, that complicated the plan. I’m still proud of this track and it gets across something simple and stupid in the original in a way other tracks on this album don’t, but if I was making this as an album for professional release, I’d have used the Loa track here instead of VBG. However, I was working on a strict principle of “include everything that’s in my inbox come the morning of the 14th”, so Loa and VBG act as kinda-sorta bookends to the album instead. Ryotaro Aoki appears yet again on this track as the bassist, while Carl Freire makes his second appearance, on guitar. Tokyo indie bandspotters might be interested to know that drums are by Sean from Henrytennis.
21. Tiny Tide Basically the solo project of prolific Italian indiepop singer-songwriter Mark Zonda, Tiny Tide’s simple, slowed down version of the song is classy where most tracks on Choco Kureru… fought for the extremes, as well as genuinely touching and quite beautiful. It was the first track I received in Autumn 2013, just after I’d first conceived of the idea, and even before I knew what else was going to be included it was always going to be the closing track. Mark also wrote the Italian lyrics that Trinitron so wilfully butchered earlier, so sorry to him for that.