Tag Archives: You Got A Radio

Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.12 – V/A – Drriill Session

va - Drriill Session

CD, Drriill, 2016

When writing about the Provoke compilation (No.20 in this rundown) I mentioned the balance between consistency and diversity that anyone putting together a compilation like this has to navigate to make an interesting record. Provoke achieved consistency by drawing from a set of artists who all shared very similar musical (and visual) aesthetics with the result that the album felt very naturally a single piece.

Released later the same year and featuring one of the same bands in Burgh (who also graced the Rhyming Slang Tour Van indie compilation in 2016) Drriill Session is another postpunk compilation, this time put together by scene veterans You Got A Radio. Drriill Session aims for consistency by the more elaborate method of bringing most of its five bands together into the same studio and recording them with the same engineer (Jungo from Anisakis, who also released the fine Butsukari Ie no Akaritachi through Drriill in 2016), with the exception of Nagoya-based Vodovo, who recorded under basically the same conditions in their hometown. This No New York-esque approach gives the album a similar sound and weight while at the same time bridging the gap between the minimal synth hysteria of D.I.S. and the almost Britpoppy Black & White.

There’s a ragtag feel to the selection of songs, as if the bands poured whatever ideas they had to hand into the sessions rather than carefully honed and selected a polished, finished product, with the D.I.S. tracks in particular functioning more as intermissions dispersed throughout the album than as a finished collection of songs. That looseness is part of the album’s appeal though, making it sound like a creative process still partly underway.

Elsewhere, Vodovo are a relatively new band, although their roots in the older Nagoya band Zymotics are audible. With Zymotics already having been a heavily bass-led band, Vodovo literally double down on that sound with a grinding, doom-laden twin-bass-no-guitar relentlessness. It’s You Got A Radio themselves who are the real standout, however, in what seems like it will be their final recorded outing together as band. they contribute three songs, with the first two, Parsec and What I Need? showcasing the band’s emotionally taut, jagged art-punk side, while their fine sense of new wave pop craftsmanship is on display on I Can See The White Horse.
Drriill Session (2-minute digest)

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Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.7 – You Got A Radio! – Carnival

yougotaradio_carnival

CD, Drriill, 2015

You Got A Radio feel like they’ve been around forever, occupying a lonely new wave island somewhere in the no-man’s land between the larger alternative, punk and garage rock scenes, remaining relevant thanks to a revolving cast of tangentially related bands from the surrounding scenes but never quite being part of anything themselves.

They have staying power though, and where some bands and organisers have desperately hooked themselves onto every ridiculous new trend or gimmick that has become momentarily hip, You Got A Radio have remained admirably steadfast in their devotion to a particular kind of vaguely XTC-ish new wave/postpunk. As the cycles of fashion turn this way and that, it’s reassuring to know that a band like this is still there.

At the moment, there are faint hints that a minor cluster of new postpunk bands might be on the brink of emerging – largely thanks to Hysteric Picnic/Burgh (No.8 in this countdown) being young and handsome, not to mention brilliant – so the timing of Carnival couldn’t have been better.

It’s a slightly darker-tinged, more melancholy record than You Got A Radio’s eponymous 2010 debut, with influences of Joy Division and particularly Magazine shining through, alongside the quirkier, more playful echoes of Japanese forebears like the Plastics and P-Model in the boy-girl vocal dynamic and jittery arrangements respectively.

In tense, aggressive, propulsive tracks like Letter and Take Me Out, it’s easy to see how upcoming acts like Burgh might see kindred spirits , but there’s a benefit in You Got A Radio’s less tightly nailed-down sound too, allowing them to play around more freely within their postpunk sandbox, the shifts in tone coming across more natural and less like violent challenges to the audience’s expectations.

It also provides them with the sonic pallette to paint a more nuanced range of emotions, and for all You Got A Radio’s mastery of twitchy dance-punk there’s a sense of melancholy and loss running through the album that a young band just couldn’t pull off convincingly. You need to have lived a bit to sing a song like Summer Has Gone without sounding like a twat, and You Got A Radio deliver it with pathos that keeps them on just the right side of sentimentality.

The five-year gap between You Got A Radio’s first and second albums could have seen them swallowed up and lost in a spiral of “Oh, what’s the goddamn point?” and a lot of bands have perished in that way, so the fact that they have come back so strong is a huge boon not only to their fans, but also to the music scene as a whole.

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Call And Response online store — new stock update

2015 has been a busy year for this blog’s sister label Call And Response Records, with new releases from the label itself as well as a couple of excellent new releases from bands and labels we like in the distribution section.


CALL AND RESPONSE DISTRIBUTION


otori_i-wanna-be-your-noiseOtori: I Wanna Be Your Noise (CD)

This blog’s album of the year for 2014, Otori’s tightly-wired, laser-guided debut was a long time in coming, and turned out to be well worth the wait. These eight controlled explosions take earsplitting no wave ferocity and bottle it, deploying the fury with deadly precision and focus. (Gyuune Cassette, 1620yen)


yougotaradio_carnivalYou Got A Radio: Carnival (CD)

A follow-up to You Got A Radio’s 2010 self-titled debut, Carnival draws on similar postpunk and new wave influences to its predecessor, but synthesises them into a darker, more portentous sound that shares elements of similarity with Joy Division and Magazine. The songwriting revels in this darker palette, with melody and discord playing off each other to dynamic effect. (Drriill Records, 2160yen)


CALL AND RESPONSE LABEL


sharkk-smallSharkk: Sharkk (Cassette)

This five-song EP is the solo project of Sean McGee, who in addition to his own music plays drums with a number of bands in the wider Call And Response circle. Sharkk draws together a variety of alt-rock and punk influences with a clear, pop songwriting sensibility. (Call And Response, 500yen)


hakuchi_chindondingdongHakuchi: Chindon Ding Dong! ~ Minokurui March ~ (CD)

Saga-based spazzcore junk-punk trio Hakuchi’s debut album takes frenetic, lo-fi postpunk and crashes it headlong into a parade of children’s songs and 1970s Japanese pop, with this album the bloody, chaotic result. (Call And Response, 1300yen)


lo-shi_bakuLo-shi: Baku (12-inch vinyl)

Lo-shi are a Tokyo-based French instrumental duo, whose unsettling soundscapes combine electronic beats, samples and effects with ringing, reverb-heavy guitar. This album it themed around the nightmare-eating creature of Japanese legend, in a cathartic journey into a dark dream world. (Call And Response, 2000yen)


looprider_myelectricfantasyLooprider: My Electric Fantasy (CD)

Combining heavy metal, J-pop and shoegaze influences in one album, Looprider’s debut is a bold, brash statement of the band’s refusal to be tied down to specific genres and scenes, but it’s also a carefully crafted pop album that for all its eclecticism is never less than plain and direct in its accessibility. (Call And Response, 1500yen)

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Call And Response Distribution: New arrivals from Half Sports and You Got A Radio

There are some new arrivals in the Call And Response online store now. As with the first batch of CDs I got in stock, they are all loosely in a postpunk/new wave sort of zone, but each offers something a bit different and again, all of them are bands I personally rate and am happy to recommend.

You can access the shop here.

Call And Response Records

The three new CDs are (click the photos to go to each CD’s page in the Call And Response Store):

You Got A Radio

You Got A Radio

New wave/postpunk band You Got A Radio’s self-titled 2010 debut album. You Got A Radio are mainstays of the Japanese postpunk/new wave scene and through their Tokyo Noise events have done a lot to support other bands in a similar vein. This album is pretty much the definitive recorded document of their sound, and it’s fun, spiky and energetic, striking a balance between art-punk and offbeat pop.

Slice Of Our City

Slice Of Our City

Half Sports’ debut Slice Of Our City was one of this site’s best albums of 2012 and it still with all the benefits of hindsight resonates with the same unbridled energy and outright tuneful joy. Released through You Got A Radio’s Drriill label, it’s also another example of the way one band’s support of their peers can produce creative dividends.

Mild Elevation

Mild Elevation

Mild Elevation is Half Sports’ 2014 follow-up to Slice Of Our City, and it retains the same confidence with a catchy melody and an anthemic chorus, but this time sees the band incorporating slightly more psychedelic pop elements.

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Strange Boutique (April 2013)

My Japan Times column last month talked about the collapse of the Tokyo Rocks festival that was due to take place this coming weekend. Rather than examine the specific reasons for its failure, which seem to have been internal management issues, I focused instead on the reactions of fans, because I think they revealed something different about the festival and what it might have done wrong. I gather from some comments people made to me afterwards that the point I was making in the article wasn’t very clear, so I’m just going to re-state here, I wasn’t really interested in the internal gossip of the event organisers, I’m more interested in what they actually did, how they presented and promoted the event, and what impression that approach gave. Because really, when the cancellation announcement came, no one was in the least bit surprised. In fact, for some people I spoke to, the cancellation announcement was the first they’d even heard of the event.

In addition to what I said in the article, there are some spurious and unsubstantiated comments I’d like to make here. Firstly, the rumours going around that despite being booked to take place in a 60,000 capacity stadium, Tokyo Rocks only sold a few hundred tickets, and secondly that the event producer Takashi Yano had come into a lot of money and was just playing at being a rock promoter so that he could hang out with bands and feel like a rock star. Like I said, no idea of the truth in these things or where the information would have come from if they were true, but they play into a narrative among fans of the event as being small-time, underpromoted in the Japanese media (as opposed to the UK/US media, where it received a lot of coverage) and the fanboyish way Yano came across in his Facebook comments. Ragardless of any truth that these rumours might have, they’re exactly the kind of rumours that were always going to come out of an event that was promoted and presented the way Tokyo Rocks was.

So while in my Japan Times piece, I tried to explain as well as I could in the space I had what fan reactions revealed about how fans think and how the music scene is structured, here I want to go into a bit more detail and use personal examples relating to a couple of my own musical activities that would be inappropriate to discuss in my column (I sometimes talk about bands I’ve worked with in the Japan Times, but I don’t think it’s right for me to talk about my own projects directly). I don’t want to slag off Yano because that would be kicking a man when he’s down. It would also be hypocritical of me, because the problems he and the Tokyo Rocks team had are like a massive-scale, catastrophic condensation of all the problems I’ve experienced as an indie event organiser in Japan over the past eight or nine years. In fact, a lot of the things he did would have been precisely the right thing to do in an indie environment, and it was only the transference of those ideas onto a bigger scale that made them wrong.

Firstly, the Japanese music press and music media in general is shit. No one reads it, they won’t write about you unless you pay them for the column inches, which means no readers trust anything they say anyway. The kind of promotion major producers do is coordinated across all sorts of media and simply bludgeons fans into submission. It requires a lot of money, but also experienced staff who have personal relationships with all the relevant press, TV and record store staff.

When I released the Dancing After 1AM compilation album on my own Call And Response label last year, rather like Tokyo Rocks, it got much better coverage in the English language media. This was I think partly because I knew more people in English language media, partly because it tends to be more open to submissions from people they don’t know, and partly because Japanese indie music doesn’t have the network of well-read and respected blogs running beneath the level of the professional music press that are always on the lookout for new things. No Japanese media even replied to my mails introducing the album, and the only place I got any serious column inches was Kyushu local free music magazine Time Market — tellingly the one media outlet where I was reasonably well known as already. Tokyo Rocks was a relatively small event trying to jump up to the big leagues and they weren’t able to bring the media with them on the scale they needed.

There’s also the fans. In an indie event, social media is the most useful kind of promotion you can do. Twitter is the main one, but Facebook is growing among Japanese users. In this sense, Tokyo Rocks weren’t so far off base. Nurturing a group of fans via social media works for events up toa few hundred in size. Even so, a homepage is still the primary port of call for music fans, where updates can be clearly presented and linked to. The Tokyo Rocks homepage was sparse, with ugly, navigation-unfriendly Facebook carrying all sorts of important stuff. More importantly though, music fans, even indie and underground fans, get gooey at the knees at slick, professional stuff. My own label and events are as cheap, amateurish and chaotic as anything and then some, but this is why other people waste so much money printing expensive, colour flyers for their tiny gigs in shitty 100-capacity venues — they may not have much direct impact, but they do a lot for the “brand”, telling the audience the organiser is serious and that they care. Now magnify that to stadium-level, and imagine the kind of expectations for professionalism fans have? They want to be bludgeoned into submission, and will feel insulted if you don’t do it.

And then there’s booking. People in the Tokyo music scene always complain about the booking at indie shows focusing on such a narrow range of artists for each event. Musicians say they enjoy playing shows with different kinds of people, fans tend to agree that a range of music is more interesting. Don’t believe them. Everyone says they want variety, but they won’t back it up with their time or ticket money. Tokyo gigs are ¥2000 a throw, and most fans won’t go to a gig unless they already know and like at least three of the bands, which means organisers who want to book interesting shows have to make sacrifices as they navigate the delicate balancing act between booking good shows and getting enough audience to pay for the venue they’ve booked. For example, you don’t book mod/garage bands for postpunk/alternative gigs, no matter how logical it might seem for two individual bands to play together. Mod/garage fans are the most narrow-minded little clique in the Japanese music world and will not go to an event unless every single band sounds exactly the same. Part of the reason Ozzfest the same weekend seems to have worked was because it was a metal-only event with solid, internationally famous bands running quite deep into the lineup. Fuji Rock books a lot of Japanese bands, but again, the core of the headliners as well as most of the bands on the main stages tend to be foreign.

With international bands, they’re usually a wasted booking at an underground event unless they’re already well known. What happens usually is that bands will play with them out of genuine interest and maybe the hope of some help if they themselves try to play abroad, and venues will put them on for the prestige, hoping to recover any money they lose on the night in the long term as their status in the local scene rises, allowing them to attract better local bands in the future. Tokyo venues will almost never pay touring bands, and some will even charge them the same standard pay-to-play “noruma” as a Japanese act (Koenji Roots, to name and shame but one).

With well known overseas bands, the situation’s different. They can get an audience, but it’s a different one to the local bands. International and Japanese music are marketed separately and occupy different sections of record shops regardless of the music’s similarity, and the fans are different crowds of people. Japanese underground/alternative fans may well like overseas bands, but fans of overseas bands don’t necessarily like similar-sounding Japanese bands — in fact, they’re often inclined to look down their noses at them as embarrassing imitations. Not only that, but overseas bands are expensive to bring over. A ticket to see a local band costs ¥2000, but a foreign band will cost ¥6000 or more. A Japanese band supporting a touring foreign band will not bring significant numbers of their own supporters to a show when those fans can see them three times elsewhere for the same cost.

The biggest financial loss I’ve ever experienced off a single event was when I put together a last-minute booking for Bristol powerpop/new wave trio The Stingrays in Tokyo a couple of years ago. When I booked Dutch/German band Anatopia in Tokyo last year, I had to get six local bands to support them in order to bring in the crowd I needed to pay them even the small guarantee I’d offered. When I DJed with Bo Ningen in Tokyo and Kagoshima earlier this year, the organisers needed similarly bloated local band and/or DJ lineups to support the cost of the tour. In all these cases, we had to keep the ticket prices down as low as we could, so that fans from the local indie scene would be able to support the show. When the excellent You Got A Radio supported Gang Of Four earlier this year, I took one look at the ¥7000 ticket price and laughed my arse off. Many others did the same.

So what Tokyo Rocks did with getting a couple of big foreign headliners like Blur and My Bloody Valentine and then populating most of the rest of the lineup with Rockin’ On-ready local bands was doomed to fail to satisfy on two counts. Too expensive for the people who might have liked Andymori etc. it also offended the Blur and MBV fans by booking them with a load of local bands they were either disdainful of, uninterested in or had never heard of.

So while I think Takashi Yano and co. made mistakes, and I find his “stay young” sign-offs as cringeworthy and annoying as anyone, I have to feel sympathy with him because some of his mistakes were actually just cases of doing the right thing to the wrong people, while some were really just actions that reveal prejudices and habits of Japanese music fans and the music scene here that I also find infuriating. In the end, I think he might have just got too full of the success of his earlier, smaller one-day festivals and overreached. This is a temptation that every organiser is sometimes subjected to, myself included. With each success, like a gambler you think “I’m on a winning streak, lets raise the stakes!” and you have to step back, look at the reality of the music scene, assess the danger, and hedge your risks.

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