Tag Archives: Ykiki Beat

DYGL: EP #1

DYGL are the best indiepop band in Japan, a feat made all the more impressive by the fine line they walk between the obvious influence of British and American indie rockers like The Strokes or The Cribs and the expression of their own inherent charm and energy.

It could so easily tip over into embarrassing pastiche, and you can hear wobbles on the tightrope in the affected estuarine glottal stops vocalist Nobuki Akiyama doesn’t quite nail in Just Say it Tonight. Akiyama and DYGL remain aloft though, largely through the way they barrel through the songs with such effortless good humour and sincerity.

I’ve written before about DYGL’s rare knack for delivering UK/US-influenced indiepop with the sort of passion and punch that many of their more delicately constituted peers can barely dream of, but it’s only recently that their recording has begun to catch up with the impact of their live performance. On EP #1 the lead guitar chimes clearly over the crunching rhythm guitar, while the drums clatter away beneath, giving the sound a thickness at its base to balance out the prettiness of the trebly high end. At the same time, with every passing year, Akiyama’s voice grows more and more into the cracked, angelic, lovelorn bad boy persona he seems to be writing the songs around.

The increasingly high profile of DYGL’s sister band Ykiki Beat, whose When the World is Wide album was absolutely everywhere this summer has set alarm bells quietly ringing among some of DYGL’s fans (myself included) but this EP is arguably the superior release and for now we can just hope that some of Ykiki Beat’s success bleeds through and ensures DYGL have the continued impetus to keep going and realise more of their apparently still enormous potential.

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Ykiki Beat: Forever

If Ykiki Beat appear familiar, it may be because the band shares a number of members with one of this site’s favourite young bands, the guitar pop quartet DYGL (who seem to have reverted to that name after briefly being known as Leather). There are certainly similarities between the two bands, but while both bands draw from 80s-influenced sounds, Ykiki Beat have tended to be more eclectic, pursuing and discarding multiple musical styles (their Soundcloud page regularly undergoes purges that would have made Stalin blush), perhaps indicating a greater need to find where they fit in the ever-changing contemporary indie rock scene.

Forever sounds like the sort of music that would play over the final scene of an episode of Veronica Mars, which is to say that it’s not at all the sort of thing I’d usually approve of. That said, it’s a kind of music Japanese rock just isn’t traditionally very good at and Ykiki Beat do it so, so well. The delivery is shamelessly euphoric, not just in Nobuki Akiyama’s vocals but also in the way the whole package is conceived. The insistent drums, the bass and rhythm guitar hammering away on roots, and the way it eagerly reaches for the most soaring, inspirational chord progressions, give Forever an intensity and immediacy that J-pop very rarely has and that stands in stark cobntrast to the dreary, washed-out delivery of most Japanese indie rock. While it may leave the too-clean sensation of someone extolling the joys of the Alpha Course or trying to sell you Apple products, Ykiki Beat also demonstrate talent and confidence to match their ambition.

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Diary of a Japan tour part 4: March 16th secret gig at at Koenji Art Bar Ten

The day after Nagoya, we were back in Tokyo for a secret gig. The event was Tententen, a show I organise together with my friends Eric and Julian, a.k.a. Gotal and Ralouf from the band Lo-shi on the third Sunday of every month at a tiny little music bar in my home neighbourhood of Koenji called Art Bar Ten. I do two monthly parties in Koenji, the other being the DJ party Fashion Crisis at the nearby Koenji One. Since Ten has a proper drum kit, we focus more on live acts, but we also incorporate video, art and DJs into the show, while at One it’s more about chilling out and listening to the DJs, although we do sometimes have live electronic or semi-acoustic performances. One and Ten are not connected in any way other than being down the street from each other; the naming is just coincidence.

Koenji Kitty

Koenji Kitty

Anyway, there are a couple of advantages to having these regular events going on. One is that it anchors my activities in the Koenji neighbourhood, which helps establish an identity for what I do. The Internet does great propaganda about breaking down boundaries, and to an extent it does do something along those lines, but region and locality are still very important, even within Tokyo itself. Just look at the way anime over the past 10-15 years has increasingly focussed on real locations, almost fetishising the sheer locality of the place. Koenji itself has played stage to a few anime series, the tedious looking (I haven’t watched it) Accel World and notably parts of the bizarre Penguindrum. Hello Kitty has a special mascot for practically everywhere in Japan (Koenji again has its own version, dressed in Awa Dance costume) and everywhere has its own “special” ramen and manju or biscuit souvenir. Locality still carries weight, and local music scenes have a lot of appeal, perhaps more so the more the Internet appears to make them irrelevant.

The other advantage of these monthly events is that they gradually build their own audience. Fashion Crisis has been going for five years now, and while Tententen only started last September, it carries over a lot of the same audience. It helps foster a core audience for Call And Response events and provides a slightly looser environment for me to try new or different things that wouldn’t fit easily into any of my bigger and more strictly genre-focussed events.

With the N’toko tour I didn’t want to skip Tententen, but at the same time I didn’t want to be promoting another N’toko gig in Koenji just a couple of weeks before his big Tokyo release party at the nearby 20000V/Ni-man Den-atsu on the final day of the tour. Ten costs me nothing to do, but do something at a proper live venue and you have to guarantee about ¥100,000 in takings, so I didn’t want people looking at the tour schedule and thinking, “Let’s see, the release party is on the 29th, but oh, I can see N’toko for a quarter of the price two weeks earlier. I’ll just go to that instead!”

So N’toko was a secret guest at Tententen, although a lot of our regular crowd (the people who tend to show up to my events anyway) already knew he’d be there either because I’d told them or just through the simple art of deduction. We needed an event that would work on its own regardless though, so Eric suggested Communication Breakdown, a sample-based instrumental hip hop unit formed by two of the guys from avant-garde rock band Bathbeer and indie-dance band Nacano. I was wary of booking another hip hop act with N’toko, but their sound was reassuringly old-skool and since they were from an indie background, it helped smooth the transition to the next act, Gloomy. Gloomy is basically Aya Yanase, an indiepop singer with a synthesiser in the mould of someone like Grimes. She is sometimes joined on drum pads by Kohei Kamoto of indie bands DYGL and Ykiki Beat, leading to some charming stage interactions that remind me of nothing so much as a couple in a car arguing over a map but trying to keep their voices down unless they disturb the kids. Aya has also worked with N’toko before, albeit remotely, providing guest vocals to mine and his band Trinitron’s Valentine’s Day cover of Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

Anyway, the room was packed more tightly than any Tententen so far, which is to say there were about 35-40 people over the course of the night in a room that can really hold comfortably about 25 max. If there’d been a fire, people would have died, but the only fire was in the hearts of the musicians and audience. We were all burned, but it was a nice burning, like eating a spicy curry, or drinking strong liquor. Gloomy would have finished the show perfectly in their own right, but N’toko put in one of his best shows of the tour, and the Tententen crowd proved themselves one of the best audiences he could have asked for.

It was an interesting comparison with Bar Ripple in Nagoya the previous night, with both shows in similar small bars with no stage, both shows bringing in a mix of Japanese and foreigners in the audience, and both shows having a decidedly non-“scene” vibe without compromising the essentially nerdy musical atmosphere. You could have transplanted ONOBLK and Rock Hakaba from Nagoya to Koenji and done the same show and it would have felt very similar even with totally different audiences.

By this point in the tour, it was starting to feel like the motors were beginning to run. Most of the shows had been in unusual places and were far from typical gigs in proper live venues with the exception of the first night at Shibuya Home, which had been on a weekday night, but there was plenty of that to come. The next few dates would all be very far from home so we had many hours of planes and trains to look forward to. The next block of gigs, which would form the core of the tour would be in Kyushu, where Call And Response at least has fairly credible past form, so there was a lot to look forward to. I’d never done so many dates there all at once though, so we were trying a few new things too. In Hollywood terms, this was the end of Act 1.

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Top 20 releases of 2013: Intro

I’ve put off doing this for plenty long enough, so before January ends, I’d like to get started on counting down my top releases by Japanese or Japan-based artists of 2013. As with previous years, I’m basically sticking to releases with three or more tracks, I’m not imposing any particular genre restrictions although given this blog’s focus, it’s obviously going to be more or less entirely indie-biased. In addition, it’s obviously limited to albums that I’ve had a good listen to, and finally, this list and ranking is entirely subject to my own whims and on a different day might look totally different.

This means that singles like Merpeoples’ excellent Silent Sleep and Miu Mau’s (last year’s top placed band) magnificent Monochrome/Spring 7-inch aren’t included. It also means that Hikashu, who released two albums this year if we include the one they did with Charan Po Rantan, don’t feature simply because I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of their new material yet. Likewise I can’t assess Fukuoka indie quartet the Hearsays who I’ve been very excited about for a long time, Yokohama postpunk weirdniks Sayuu, and Tokyo indiepopsters Boyish (who featured last year) because I haven’t copies of their albums.Sugardrop: Breeze Flower

Because I decided to keep this list as a strict Top 20, there were a few albums by bands I very much like that I didn’t have space to include. On another day they might have been in there, and they remain highly recommended, so Pop-Office’s Portraits in Sea is one well worth checking out, as is Ykiki Beat’s Tired of Dreams. Hotel Mexico’s Her Decorated Post Love was another fine album that didn’t make the cut but on another day likely would have and if you haven’t heard it, you should go out and do that right now, as you should Sugardrop’s superb, shoegazetastic Yeah Right. As I said earlier, there’s a strong indie bias to this list, and while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Momoiro Clover Z both put out genuinely good and highly recommended albums, neither album really stuck with me enough to warrant a place among my top 20 of the year. Sakanaction also put out another very good album and remain consistently the best “mainstream” Japanese rock band, but somehow their stuff still doesn’t quite jive with me the way I feel it should. It’s a top notch album, brimming with creativity and thoroughly deserving of its massive sales and huge popularity, but I don’t know. It’s a model example of an album that does everything right and shows signs of maybe even being a classic, but doesn’t make my heart sing the way my real favourites did. It’s good so listen to it and a lot of you will feel it in a way I just can’t quite. It’s not you, Sakanaction, it’s me.Sakanaction: Yoru no Odoriko

Last of all, and again as with previous years, I’m obviously not including albums I released myself through my Call And Response label, which means the brilliant Я не могу без тебя (“Ya ne mogu bez tebya”, or “I can’t live without you”) by Mir and Hysteric Picnic’s fantastic Cult Pops are out of contention, although of course both would be right up near the top if I were honest about my feelings for them.

Anyway, now that you’re primed, I’ll be starting the countdown from tomorrow, so get ready.

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Ykiki Beat: Garden

Sharing some of the same members as the wonderful, uplifting guitar pop upstarts DYGL, Ykiki Beat obviously share some of the same melodic tics, with taste that obviously runs along similar 80s indie lines, a similar sort of guitar jangle slipping through every now and then, and in particular a similar kind of angelic yet slightly cracked vocal delivery. Ykiki Beat are way funkier though, with the beat of new song Garden kicking in like Orange Juice’s Rip it Up. The greater prominence given to backing vocals helps give Ykiki Beat more of a sense of being a multifaceted band who might develop in new and interesting ways, where you suspect that DYGL’s path of development is going to lie in further refinement of their craftsmanship rather than in radical changes in style. The main thing both bands share, however, is the thing that’s on clearest display in Garden, namely the boundless sense of energetic sunshine they bring to their simple, affecting melodies.

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