Tag Archives: z/nz

Connect And Receive – Winter 2021 Japan underground picks

As a year-end answer to my earlier summer 2021 mix, I decided to make a follow-up of some of the other Japanese indie and underground music that interested me this year. In tune with the wintry times, this one mostly skirts punk, in favour of various eerie and melancholy shades of experimental music and a few indie bangers. I’ve added Bandcamp links where they exist, and you can listen to the mix here.

Phew – Snow and Pollen
Phew has been not only prolific in recent years, but in perhaps the best form of her career. This opening track off her latest album, New Decade, is a suitably sinister introduction to the album, the times and this wintery mix.

z/nz – Days
Always great to have some new material from this mathy yet always playful Fukuoka-based trio. Taken from the second volume of the Mitohos compilation series, put together by Loolowningen & the Far East Idiots and featuring a solid cross section of contemporary Japanese experimental indie.

Loolowningen & the Far East Idiots – Concorde
As well as their work on the Mitohos series, Loolowningen also put out another new album of their own new material in Pareidolias, which comes quite swiftly after 2020’s Anökumene and continues their journey through surreal landscapes of sparse, intricate arrangements and offbeat melodies.

LeakLeek – China Doll
This track comes from these Nagoya-based psychedelic punks’ new mini-album Leak, which came out from my own Call And Response label at the tail end of the year and sure to kick off a wave of hysterical violin- and saw-led no wave. Look out for members Charley and Kuwayama’s other band Nicfit in the January releases of UK label Upset the Rhythm.

Non Band – Ti’s Worq
Non Band’s 1982 debut has been gaining increasingly broad recognition as a hidden masterpiece of the Japanese punk canon, and they have been gradually becoming more active in recent years, culminating in this second album after nearly a 40 year wait, hanging idiosyncratically between punk, no wave, folk and psychedelia.

So Oouchi / 大内聡 – Niji / 虹
As the vocalist from noise-drenched post-punks Hysteric Picnic/Burg, you’d be forgiven for being surprised that So Oouchi’s first new release in years is an EP of Nick Drake-esque solo acoustic ballads, but as an artist who never had much regard for people’s expectations, it’s still somehow on-brand (and quite lovely).

mmm, Takako Minekawa – Hachigatsu no Mado / 八月の窓
Singer-songwriter mmm (pronounced “me-my-mow”) has been slowly working her way through a series of collaborations with other artists over the past couple of years, working with Shintaro Sakamoto and Oh Shu last year, and this year following it up with songs featuring Takefumi Tsujimura of Kicell and this immersive musical mystery with the wonderful Takako Minekawa.

re:lapse – f
The first of two tracks on this mix from the Dreamwaves shoegaze label, re:lapse released a debut EP this autumn, pushing the dreampop end of the shoegaze spectrum with, all gentle washes of guitar and synth (on this track synth arrangements courtesy of Azusa Suga from dreampop-tinted Tokyo pop band For Tracy Hyde.

softsurf – It’s OK
Also from the Dreamwaves label came Softsurf’s Returning Wave EP, with this song jumping out as what’s essentially a punchy indie-rock anthem, with just enough gliding and fuzz to remind you that it’s shoegaze.

Pulsnug – Turnoff
Given his troubles over the summer, 2021 was probably a bad year to be a massive fan of Cornelius and an even worse one to have built a huge part of your sonic identity around recreating the skittish avant-pop of Fantasma, but Tokyo’s Pulsnug came out with Fanfare for Farewell towards the end of the year anyway, packed with the shamelessly 1990s fun (am I imagining it or is the intro to this song a nod to Blur’s It Could be You?) and nary a scandal to be seen.

Susumu Hirasawa / 平沢進 – Yurei Ressha / 幽霊列車
Since the later days of P-Model, Susumu Hirasawa has been farming this grove of melodramatic synthetic grandeur, and the trees keep growing bigger. His epic appearance at the covid-limited Fuji Rock was one of the highlights for those of us watching at home.

former_airline – The Air Garden
Last year, Tokyo-based bedroom krautwave/dubgaze musician former_airline put out the full album Postcards from No Man’s Land, and he followed it up swiftly with a new self-released EP, with this song a motorik highlight.

Daisei Stockhausen – It’s too late
With roots in older punk-underground bands like The Hasshin Telepathies and Nemo, there’s a bit of Psychic TV to these weirdos, a bit of EBM, a bit of psych-rock, but hard to pin down. It appeared via a split cassette with the always enjoyable Shizuoka punk band Half Kill and it was intriguing stuff.

Buffalo Daughter – Times
There’s always something a bit oblique and out-of-time about Buffalo Daughter, like a band looking at the future from a half-dozen fragmented starting points at various points in the past. In some ways, this track, from their new album that dropped online in September, feels like something lost in the 1990s, but there’s also so much Kraftwerk in there that it starts drawing lines that place it not in a specific time so much as in a (paradoxical) tradition of looking forward. “We are the times” they sing, and sure, but which times?

Greeen Linez – The Call
If Buffalo Daughter’s music often seems to be looking to the future from a variety of starting points in the past, Greeen Linez can be seen as looking to the past of the 1980s from various starting points over the subsequent decades. There’s an affecting sort of romanticism to the duo’s hauntology on this track. Taken from the album Secrets of Dawn.

Seiichi Yamamoto / 山本精一 – Terminal Beach
In a way, a collection of experimental offcuts, underground legend Seiichi Yamamoto’s album Cavinet was a strangely warm and inviting album, like wandering through a series of misty, mysterious landscapes in an old videogame.

Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 – Monologue
Regular favourites of mine, Aichi duo Noiseconcrete x 3chi5 put out a couple of releases this year. One was a sort of hits compilation — a digest of early material — and the other a curious and understated EP on most of which 3chi5’s vocals take a low-key role, but which covered a lot of interesting musical ground.

Her Braids – Midnight Blue
Following on from the lovely song Forest from 2020’s Soko ni Iru indie compilation, this Matsumoto indie trio came out with an equally tender and touching three-song EP in 2021, with this the heartbreaking closing song.

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Top 20 Releases of 2015: No.19– z/nz – Nanka Festa

znz - nanka festa

CD, Headache Sounds, 2015

The key reference points that are most inescapable when confronted by Fukuoka avant-rock trio z/nz are This Heat and Sonic Youth. You can hear both within the first few seconds of Nanka Festa’s opening track Happy Dance, and they remain constant touchstones throughout, even if the band themselves claim ‘90s US post-hardcore as a more direct set of influences.

More than simply a collection of influences, however, the group’s own curious internal dynamic is what gives the music its own distinctive character, the juxtaposition of Toya’s complex and highly technically proficient drumming with the overlapping twin guitars of Sassy and Tori, whose unconventional and defiantly untechnical style nevertheless allows them to pick out unexpected harmonies with each other. The tension between harmony and discord extends to the rhythm as well, with the guitars and drums struggling to hold together, teetering on a precipice that they constantly threaten to tumble over, but always pulling back in the nick of time.

The title Nanka Festa means literally “something festival” and the song titles themselves are all cryptic with no obvious bearing on the music they describe, most likely assigned via a sort of, “Hey, shout out the first word that comes into your head on the count of three!” method. The overarching feeling Nanka Festa evokes is one of disorientation coupled with a hard-to-place sense of fun. “I’ve no idea what this is, but it’s setting off fireworks in my head and my feet want to move like a drunk goose on a speedboat,” – it’s that sort of album.

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Diary of a Japan tour part 6: March 20th DJ Party at Fukuoka Utero

Fukuoka is by far my favourite place in Japan outside of my adopted home in the Tokyo suburb of Koenji. It’s not so much for the town itself, although it’s a lively city, a little more spacious and les hurried than Tokyo, with an buzzing central shopping district in Tenjin, a nice fashion district in Daimyo, a scary nightlife district in the Oyafuko-dori area, a beautiful park in the castle ruins and nearby Ohori Koen, a neat little shopping street district in Nishijin, and a fascinating and weird reclaimed seafront development in Momochi. Other towns have similar things, but Fukuoka does all these things a little bit nicer than most. The main reason I love Fukuoka is just that I know a lot of people in the music scene there, there are lots of great bands, and the people in them are generally really friendly and easygoing. Whenever I go there, it’s always a source of great regret that I can’t stay longer, and it’s always the highlight of any Kyushu tour for me.

Last year when I was talking with Seiji Harajiri from the live venue Utero about plans for my next tour, he suggested I come down a day early and we do a free DJ party on the Thursday night before the main gig. I have no doubt this was largely because of the difficulty in getting audiences out on weekday nights, but since N’toko usually stays in Japan for longer and spreads out his live shows, interspersing them with DJ gigs, often at my Fashion Crisis event in Koenji, it felt like a nice interlude in the tour for me as well.

I mentioned in the last post about how while Kumamoto has always been good to me, I’ve also always felt a bit of distance. One way I experience that most strongly is when I’ve played there as a DJ. The reactions to songs just doesn’t quite match the reactions those same songs usually get in Tokyo, so it’s difficult to judge the right thing to be playing. At most of the events in Tokyo I take part in, if people don’t know a song I’m playing, they come up to me and ask. In fact, that’s how you know you’ve got the balance right: if no one’s asking you what you’re playing, it means your set was too obvious. It sounds snobbish, and it can be sometimes, but as a rule, it just means people are curious, eager to find out about new stuff, and confident enough in their own knowledge and taste that they don’t feel self-conscious admitting when they don’t know. In Kumamoto, no one ever asks. Maybe it’s a cultural thing and they’re shy to interrupt, maybe it’s a self-conscious thing about seeming ignorant in front of a visiting DJ, or maybe they’re just not interested, I don’t know, but I’ve never felt quite right. The only time I’ve ever got a noticeable reaction from a crowd there was when I played the (excellent) song Fire by K-Pop quartet 2NE1 after Bo Ningen’s set.

Party time

Party time

Fukuoka on the other hand has always been a pleasure to DJ at, especially Utero. The crowd there reminds me so much of the little scene we have around us in Koenji in their behaviour, listening and drinking habits. They’re not just curious when they don’t know something, but they’re enthusiastic when they do know something, which makes it a really fun atmosphere to play in. Usually I’m just playing between bands, so having a proper set together with N’toko and local Fukuoka friends was just a great opportunity to draw out our stay in this great city.

As with many of the most fun events of the tour, I talked it through with the local organiser first, and based on my experience with Fashion Crisis gave him some suggestions about what kind of schedule would work best. Since the room would probably only fill up gradually, giving each DJ an hour split into two 30-minute sets seemed like the best option. Sometimes if you have a DJ playing dance music, it’s better to give them a single, longer set, but certainly when most of the DJs are playing indie and punk music to audiences who are primarily live music audiences, it’s best to treat the sets the same way as live sets and aim for a similar attention span. I also gave him a list of the Fukuoka DJs I personally liked and he talked over his own recommendations.

I didn’t know some of the people he put on, but the variety was about right to keep the night interesting and to prevent it falling into a rut of too many people mining similar record bags. I was particularly stoked that he was able to get Hajime Yoshida from Panicsmile to DJ. I saw him DJ a few times when he lived in Tokyo and he was always an interesting selector who I’d tried to get at Fashion Crisis before, so now that he was back living in Fukuoka, I was eager to get him involved. to-ya is the drummer from the excellent z/nz who I’ve had play at my events in Tokyo before, while Harajiri himself played under his nom de disque 100hip.

To be honest, my first set didn’t go brilliantly. I was still getting to grips with the soundcard and DJ software on my laptop (no way I was lugging a pile of CDs and/or records around Kyushu with me for five days) and I was having problems with popping that disrupted things at one stage. Yoshida was playing a mix of vinyl and CDs and had problems with the balance at first as well, although the way he divided his two nostalgic sets between old underground music, including (quite movingly actually) a great track by his friends Bloodthirsty Butchers (whose leader Hideki Yoshimura died unexpectedly last year) and a retro J-Pop set. It was handy for me too that he divided things along those lines, because it left me free to play the stuff by Wire, The Feelies and Stereolab that I might otherwise have worried he was planning on playing.

Sleep time

Sleep time

One thing Utero did that no bar in Koenji would ever be stupid enough to try was set up an all-you-can-drink offer, giving people six hours worth of unlimited booze for ¥2000. Even on a Thursday night, the result was lively, with people alternately riding around on each other’s shoulders and collapsing elegantly on the bar. Given the way DJ events in Tokyo are often so closely demarcated by genre or scene, it was great to play at something that fit so closely with the combination of nerdy musical depth and anything-goes genrecide that I’ve tried so hard to cultivate in my own parties. After the solid organisational competency of Kumamoto the previous night, it was also a welcome blitz of unstructured mayhem before the big event at the same venue on Friday.

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