From this month I will be contributing to the Keikaku website. This doesn't mean that you have to stop visiting it - there's still lot's of other good stuff. Go there. Now. What are you waiting for?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Finding places in Japan is part of the fun of going to them. I foolishly made a rough drawing of the map to 20000V in my notebook because I couldn't be arsed taking the computer upstairs, connecting it to the printer and running off a quick copy. I should know better than this by now but even after this most recent lesson, the wandering about for fully forty minutes, the phone calls back to my girlfriend asking her to check the internet and guide me, and the streams of curse words uttered, will make no difference. I probably won't learn anything from this experience and will do it all over again the next time I go to a venue for the first time. Unsurprisingly, I'm not in the greatest of moods by the time I do find the place and it takes me a while to realise that the odd, and occasionally brutal sounds filling the room are not just the white noise of a speaker that's been left on but the live DJ set of Spastic Cucumber. I pay more attention and strands of sound start to form themselves into something resembling songs before disintegrating again. It's like end of Terminator 2 when the T-1000 is melting and random human shapes appear before being sucked back into the molten steel.
Akai Giwacku are ace again. I've only seen them a couple of times but I get the feeling that they just don't do average shows. The gospelly a capella that takes them through the audience before they take the stage, something that could easily be gimmicky in another band's hands, seems like the greatest idea since Robert Johnson decided he'd trade in his soul, and the songs have a hint of Satanic malfeasance about them too. As I'm watching them perform H.I.L.L.T.O.P (available to download free from TownTone's MySapce page) I realise that what this song really needs is to be performed at a huge summer festival, the sun shining, a largely drunken audience shouting the chorus back at the band. If there's any justice in the world this will surely come to pass someday and when it does I hope to be right down the front, jumping about like an idiot.
If Akai Giwacku had improved my mood then unfortunately the ensemble duo of Nagasawa Tetsu & Ozawa Aki bring me crashing back down to earth. The instrumental duo play everything well and as far as I can tell, the guitar playing is probably virtuoso. However, their music does nothing to grab me and, in a true sign of supportbanditis, I find myself standing on the street outside checking the score of the Ryder Cup on my mobile and hoping that by the time I get back down there they'll be done. They're not, and I catch bits of their last couple of songs. They're capable of occasional flashes of something more heartfelt and bollock-grabbing, but these moments soon pass and we're plunged back into a sea of fret-wankery. Ho-hum.
A beer later I'm hoping that solo-artist Paradise Garage (aka Toyoda Michinori) is going to be the cure for my supportbanditis. Things start well as he races through his first song in a haphazard punk way, looking like Ian McCulloch but sounding a lot rougher. I soon relapse though as it becomes apparent that his between song banter is the same length as, and sometimes longer than, the songs themselves, so I'm soon left standing there praying for the magic words 'This is the last song'. Finally, at the end of another long and rambling introduction I hear them and I'm able to relax my sphincter. The final song is the best one in the set, and not just because it's the last one. Toyoda swings between short sharp blasts of punk-pop and Sonic Youth-esque ear-shredding noise, seemingly singing a paean to someone or something (my Japanese isn't that good). If only he'd cut the intros down and stick to the music.
Things are not going well. What would improve my mood now? How about a beer? Check. A visit to the indiest toilet in Japan (see below)? Check. A poetry reading. Now you're just fucking with me. No? Cue swearing at a similar intensity to the time earlier when I was trying to find this place. My mind conjures up images of bad Beat Poets in smoky San Francisco book shops, wearing black, clicking their fingers, and stroking their goatees. But thankfully things don't always go to plan. As far as I can tell (like I said earlier, my Japanese isn't that great) the first poem is about travelling around Japan on trains and it's great. Japanese is a fantastically onomatopoeic language and the writer has taken full advantage of this to nail the experience of travelling on Japanese trains. The stations flying past the still-futuristic bullet train, the officious staff, the lunch-boxes, it's all here. I'm not so clued in on the other poems until we get to the final one which seems to be an epic piece about the history of communism, American interventions in Asia, and a general run down of the major global political events of the late Fifties and Sixties. It goes on for days and I'm starting to feel like this is something of an endurance test, but my overriding thought is the wish that I had studied Japanese more so I could understand this better. It's sweep is truly enormous as it seems to take in numerous aspects of the Cold War, the wars in Vietnam and Korea, the assassination of JFK, a German Shepherd dog, a soldier, and Christ only knows what else. I don't even think about going upstairs and checking the score in the golf.
I'm not sure if it's something they've always done or something that they've picked up from the mighty Giwacku, but Mattia Colleti and his co-conspirator make their way to the stage through the audience, one playing a small guitar that looks like it was picked up from a hundred yen shop, and the other manipulating some kind of effects box. They eventually take the stage and play their first song, which is probably the only 'song' they play all night. The rest of the set is the aural equivalent of a trepanation carried out by someone humming snippets of the gentlest melodies, and it's fucked up even more by the fact that I can barely see the stage and the two figures on it who are doing this to the audience. It's beautiful, horrific, ear-bleedingly and bowel-shakingly loud, and never anything but captivating. The supportbanditis is gone, replaced by a slight sense of bemusement as my senses try to work out how to deal with what they've just experienced. It was worth the wait and when I speak to the duo after the show it's easy to see just how much they've put into this tour, especially tonight's show which Colleti says has been the best of the tour. I haven't seen any of the other shows but it's difficult to see how they could have topped this. The music they make is often brutal and extreme with snippets of iridescent beauty, and it is possibly best experienced live (but then isn't all music?). Have a look at Mattia Coletti's MySpace profile for more information and a chance to hear this extraordinary music.
Posted by Graeme at 1:53 pm
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Foods is Group_Inou's first mini-album and it's more of a taster rather than a fully-fledged statement of intent. The album's five tracks (four songs and an alternative version of the opener, Status) are a good introduction to the duo's mix of skewed 90's electronica (think Orbital or Everything Must Go-era Moby underpinned with a Parliament bass line) and hip-hop vocals, but they don't really capture the frenetic energy of their live shows or the sheer level of noise that two people can produce. Then again, given that M.C cp is wont to wander off stage and perform from the audience, and imai (the musical manipulator) spends the show alternately pummelling his electronic box of tricks and flailing around like an electrocuted squid, it's difficult to see how they could ever reproduce this on C.D. They also have a D.V.D available and it might be a better way to showcase their talents.
Each of the songs are strong (although the alternate version of Status seems to be little more than padding – after all, four is an unlucky number in Japan) but the second song here, ROD stands out in particular. The first couple of minutes are fairly sedate (by Group_Inou's standards), with cp at his least manic and imai backing him up with some gentle burbles and squeaks. Normal service is resumed in the final minute of the song though when it appears that imai is imbued with a junglist spirit and all hell breaks loose. However, unlike most drum and bass tracks this song is gone in less than three and half minutes. While short may be sweet, on more than one occasion I was left wishing that Group_Inou had extended their songs and taken the chance to explore the soundscapes that imai seems to create effortlessly. This is especially true of PR which clocks in at barely a minute and a half. I'm not advocating a return to the dark days of prog and the twenty minute drum solo, but perhaps when Group_Inou come to release a full-length album they'll feel more comfortable letting the songs stretch out a bit just to see where they go.
Group_Inou are proof that there's much more to Japanese hip-hop/urban music than the bling-bling and faux-gangsta posing of the wannabe homeboys and girls that dominate the mainstream and Foods is a very promising début. However, they're at their best when they're frying your synapses in some Shimokitazawa sweat box so beg, borrow, or steal (or even just buy) tickets for one of their shows. Foods ought to keep you going in the meantime though.
Posted by Graeme at 4:52 am
Saturday, September 23, 2006
This is an all day show organised by Ian Martin from Call and Response Records (see the link). In his own words the line up is as follows:
And About Hers: Sunny-sounding all-girl indiepop band.
Lender: Weird and quite creepy boy/girl technopop duo.
Audipop: Another sunny guitar pop band but a bit more new wave style.
Abikyokan: Pan-national Japanese/American/British techno-jazz trio.
Techma!: Eccentric non-gender-specific technopop act.
Drive To The Forest In A Japanese Car: Post-punk band, sort of along
the lines of Gang Of Four or something like that.
Clisms: Twin-drummer rock&roll jazz-punk band.
Yolz In The Sky: Very loud jittery discopunk band from Osaka.
Worst Taste: Difficult to describe their music, but it's basically
violent experimental punk.
It all kicks off at two and goes on until about ten.
Posted by Graeme at 1:07 pm
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
In the next while, if any James Blunt songs appear above in my recently played tracks there is a valid excuse for this. I'm using the Pete Townshend defence, i.e. it's for research. I'm in the process of starting another blog (I realise that I probably haven't been posting on this blog as much as I should be and another blog might not help that, but we'll see) and I need to listen to the album for that reason. Trust me, it's not something I'm proud of and it's not something I really want to do (so far I haven't even managed to get to the chorus of You're Beautiful without cursing and changing the track) but it has to be done. Ah, the dangers of blogging. It's not all great concerts in little dives around Tokyo, sometimes we have to suffer too. Anyway, enough of my whining, this is just so you know.
Posted by Graeme at 7:22 am
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
A band who list influences as diverse as The Bee Gees, The Velvet Underground, Woodie Guthrie, and Philip Glass (among many others) are an intriguing proposal. You know it could go one of either two ways: the band take the best parts of these artists, add their own touch, and throw everything together to create a sound that is unique to them; or that old adage about cooks and soup comes into play and you're left with a sonic train wreck where no-one survived. Aloha's fourth album, Some Echoes mercifully falls into the former category. Certain songs have recognisable styles and nods in the direction of the band's forebears: the gentle psychedelia of If I Lie Down, the strains of early/mid-period R.E.M in Brace Your Face, and the full on blast of the closing Mountain, but Aloha never sound like the 80's/New Wave copyists that have proliferated for the last couple of years. Firstly their songs are too intricately crafted (yet slightly skewed) to be lumped in with the angular guitars and scatter shot drumming preferred by whichever band sounds most like Wire this month. Secondly, the lyrics on Some Echoes manage to be both abstract and illuminating at the same time. There is a sense of isolation and loss running through this album, but one which is tempered with the hope of reaching out and making a connection, a hope which seems to be realised in the final song. The press release proclaims that the songs are “Lifetimes of sound distilled into 3-6 minute bursts... The music will say it better than we can.”, and it's hard to disagree.
Aloha will be touring Japan in October:
Oct 3 2006
Oct 4 2006
SHIBUYA O-NEST TOKYO-JAPAN
Oct 6 2006
Oct 7 2006
BORO FESTA KYOTO-JAPAN
Oct 8 2006
HELLUVA LOUNGE KOBE-JAPAN
Oct 9 2006
UNAGIDANI SUN SUI OSAKA-JAPAN
Posted by Graeme at 9:35 am
Friday, September 08, 2006
A tiny venue, sweat dripping off the ceiling, ears still ringing two days later from standing too close to the speakers while all the time thinking what the fuck have I been doing and why didn't I start this blog sooner because all this stuff was out there and I just didn't get off my fat arse and find it. The lack of knowledge and the need for more thorough research being made clear to me when I find out that Akai Giwacku are a band, not a solo artist. The joy of being able to drink from a glass bottle in a venue and use a toilet that is cleaner than many people's homes. Brutal noise that makes sense within the confines of four walls and CDs that remind you of the night you had but just don't come close enough to capturing it. Sitting at home trying to think of a way of encapsulating and explaining to people just how good this all was and do it in a way that will make those who can go and see those bands, and make those that can't wish they could jump on a plane and arrive in Tokyo just in time. If you book that flight I'll happily put you up for a few nights as long as you're willing to put up with my rambling and the inevitable putting on of CDs preceded by the words "you've got to listen to this, it sounds like the bastard child of a and b and it's the missing link between c and d, and it's going to blow you away and make everything make sense at the same time, it's that good, and yes I may be a little drunk but you will hear this music sober and it'll still make sense because it's not the drink that makes the music sound good but the other way around, and wasn't that always the case even when we took drugs to listen to music that people had made by taking drugs to make music to take drugs to?"
First up, Idea Of A Joke. The drummer beats her drums and stares at them as if she expects them to hit her back at any moment but I think she's beaten them down. The bassist has a huge grin on his face as he wrestles his bass around the stage. It was a struggle but the rhythm section seem to have won the battle with their instruments. That leaves us with a guitarist who looks a little out of place among these people. He's wrenching some unholy sounds from his guitar but he's doing it with such a beatific look on his face that you can't help but think that somewhere off stage Mephistopheles is directing things and this guy is nothing more than a front. Then there is the singer. I've sat over this keyboard for ten minutes thinking how to describe him and do him justice. He sounds like Jello Biafra. He looks like Duncan Goodhew. He is utterly captivating as he kicks controlled fuck out of his mike stand, hooks his mouth with his finger as if he's a fish that's been caught (is this Satan's reel pulling him in from off-stage?). They inspire a four man moshpit that threatens to destroy the place and they're gone before you've even had time to realise it.
Time for a quick beer and a curry (this venue just gets better and better). The bonkers DJ who was playing a mix of We Are The Champions, old J-Pop songs, and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers before Idea Of A Joke came on is back and he has painted his body with pink and white stripes (not sure why but it suits him) and is entertaining us between bands. Group_Inou are next, but there's only two of them and they look like they should be in a computing lab on a quiet university campus somewhere. The only instrument is a synthesizer on a table: after Idea Of A Joke's ear-shredding set Group_Inou appear to be somewhat timid. This is why I am not in the FBI or the CIA, I am clearly a shit judge of people and situations. Group_Inou sound like Everything Must Go-era Moby and Orbital fighting for control of a studio and neither side is getting on top of the other. It's like pre-Queensbury Rules boxing when the pugilists used to knock fuck out of each other for as long as it took. The other half of the duo is rapping over this and I have no fucking idea what he's talking about (time to start the Japanese lessons again) but it's a world away from the shite J-Hip Hop wannabe gangstas that you see on TV: there's no bling here or macho posing, just a demonstration of how good Japanese hip-hop/urban music can be when the marketing cunts haven't been allowed anywhere near it.
ECD makes a similar point but in a very different way. One man, a sax and a little box of electronic tricks. It's a set-up that brings me out in a cold sweat: is this a Japanese Kenny G with a degree in electronics? Am I going to be sent running for the nearest exit and a convenience store where I can buy a can of something strong and fruit flavoured to try and wash away the pain? No. He looks monastic and his songs sound profound (even the one about Zombies), relentless monologues over a hypnotic and brooding backing. I bought one of his CDs and it's good, but as with many of these bands, it makes much more sense live.
Akai Giwacku tune up. Then they leave the stage, heading off into a back room somewhere. A few minutes later they reappear at the back of the club, the three of them walking in a line chanting doo wop backing vocals and clapping their hands. They make their way to the front of the stage through a crowd that parts biblically, the heads of those who've seen the band before nodding and smiling in the knowledge of what is about to come. After a brief bit of improvised MC-ing, and stories about the drummer who has apparently dragged himself out of his hospital bed to play tonight they take the stage and blow me away even more than they did the first time I heard them on MySpace. I found myself a good spot just to the right of the stage, got my notebook out, and proceeded to write absolutely nothing in it. All the bands before now had been outstanding in different ways and Akai Giwacku seemed to take elements from each of them and hammer them together to create their own sound, their pop sensibility taking off some of the rougher edges of what had gone before. Content with what they've done, they doo wop their way off stage and back into the same back room from where they came. Fucking genius.
Posted by Graeme at 12:02 pm
Saturday, September 02, 2006
The Tokyo Freeter Breeder himself is playing tomorrow night at Shimokitazawa ERA, along with a few other groups. Doors open at 6, show starts at 6.30 - 1700/2000 Yen (advance/on the door). Instructions on how to get to the venue (from Tokyo Gig Guide):
ERA Shimokitazawa. Website.
Prima veil Shimokitazawa 4F, 2-34-5, Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku.
Take the north exit of Shimokitazawa station and turn right at Mizuho Bank. Keep going straight until you reach a T-intersection. Turn right here and ERA is ahead on the left hand side, on the 4th floor of Prima Veil.
Posted by Graeme at 6:04 am
Friday, September 01, 2006
Remember Y2K? Planes were going to be falling from the sky, landing on nuclear power stations that were melting down while the world's entire financial system would be lying in tatters. Those who didn't die in the computer assisted carnage would have to fight for their survival in a post-Apocalyptic world familiar to us all from years of films like Mad Max and Escape From New York, haunted by marauding gangs of mutants, escaped convicts, thugs, buggerers, and Methodists (see, they weren't just films, they were public service guides training us for the future). We all now know that it was nothing more that an elaborate ruse by IT people to ensure that they could charge immorally high rates for just turning on your computer and pretending to make it Y2 compliant, an act that mysteriously involved them playing Solitaire for five minutes before buggering off and leaving you with a bill for a couple of hundred quid. Nothing happened, midnight approached, we held our breaths and puckered up for what we all thought might be one final kiss before all hell broke loose, the bells rang and all of a sudden it was 2000. We looked out the window but there were no falling planes, bank machines still worked (and only gave out twenties), and the only marauding gangs were the usual drunken punters trying to find a taxi driver to take them home (and only charge them slightly less than the IT guy had done).
If everything had gone tits up then today Nisennenmondai (Y2K Problem) would be the soundtrack of our miserable lives, blazing out of our hand-cranked radios and scaring off the Methodists. In their own words Nisennenmondai are:
3piace girls band from tokyo japan since 1999.
nisennenmondai mean "computer bug problem".
"bijin record"since 2006 are self rabel.
"bijin" mean butiful man and women.
G-takada B-zaikawa D-himeno
This doesn't even begin to tell you what they are. Click on the link above and listen to the two songs on their MySpace profile and you'll see that they're much more than this. Tribal drums, relentlessly repetitive sheets of guitar noise, sudden unexpected changes of tempo, brief moments of relative quiet that allow the band and the listener a moment of respite before the eye passes over and we're plunged gladly back into the maelstrom. If the Four Horsemen have iPods this band are on their on-the-go playlist. I'm listening to these slabs of noise on my laptop and they sound and feel Satanically good - I can only imagine what they are like live. I've contacted the band to find out if they've got any shows coming up and I'll post any info I get. As good as the recorded songs are I imagine this is a band that are at their best live. Here's hoping they're playing soon.
Posted by Graeme at 11:58 am
'Post-rock' is often spoken about in derisive tones that should be reserved only for use when mentioning the evil Blunt and pish of that ilk. While I'm not a huge fan of the term - I think it's too easily applied to anything instrumental or anything that doesn't fit in anywhere else - I do like a lot of music that falls under its umbrella, so I was lucky to find The Silent Ballet website (link below) through a group on Last FM. It's a well-written and informative webzine about this kind of music, and they have a compilation available for download. Anyone who's a fan of bands such as Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, Tortoise, Slint et al; or anyone who wants proof that not all music is mass-produced homogeneous pap should download the CD and have a little of their faith restored: all is not lost.
Posted by Graeme at 3:55 am