Our neighbourhood also has a nice cozy coffeeshop. Going there for late lunch last Sunday, we bumped into a cool impromptu concert by an awesome local swing/calypso band. Perfect for a less sunny weekend afternoon.
Tonight, Anri had invited me to go check out the band of a friend from high school, giving a concert for the release of their second album, so we traipsed to Shibuya at the usual Japanese concert time of 6:30pm.
Opening for them was The Vottones, hailing from (I think) Fukuoka and playing some awesomely old-school punk rock. Having only been told about the main act, whose style is a lot more on the whimsical, not to say downright bubblegum, side of rock, hearing four angry punk rockers insult everything in sight in the dirtiest kansai-ben I had ever heard, was a bit of a surprise… But a good one nonetheless.
Just to give you an idea, their last song had the bassist taking over the vocals after stripping to his pants, at which point the original lead singer apparently decided to play a very special version of hide-the-sausage, with the pointy end of his guitar handle as the sausage… and the butt crack of the unfortunate bassist as the hiding place. After failing to properly impale the guy, he settled for what could possibly be described as a hybrid position: part atomic wedgie, part simulated sex act. All that while both still singing and playing their respective instruments. Punk rock concerts are brilliant.
Don’t think 雨先案内人 (the headliners, whose recent big break was getting one of their track featured as the end credits song of a TV cartoon series) had any misgivings about the somewhat different artistic direction of the Vottones: they were right in the middle of the crowd, moshing with the best of them. In fact, their own between-song banter was entirely spent praising and thanking the opening act. No joke1.
The tone and energy undeniably went down a few notches with the main act, whose sound signature could be described as the crossing between experimental rock, modern jazz and real-life cartoon soundtrack. In terms of continuity, think Peter, Paul & Mary following a particularly vicious set by the Ramones… Not to say they weren’t energetic and fun in their own way.
Interestingly, A’s friend was both lead singer and the drummer in the band, standing at his drum kit while leading most songs. The girl playing the keyboard had the most indefectible smile throughout the whole set and the third guy played what looked like a very streamlined (and cool looking) version of an electric upright bass, giving the trio a faint air of jazz band, if not for the upbeat lyrics and crazy sound effects.
Kick ass music, good fun and awesome night out in Shibuya…
- I ♥ you, Japan [↩]
That stuff about racism (in Japan).
I am a little hesitant to dive into that murky swamp of a topic, especially considering it has already been covered to exhaustion on practically every Japan-related English-speaking blog, resulting in previously mentioned wave of publicity for the book (exhibit A, on your screen).
For all its merits, I just don’t think Loco’s book is very good at addressing the ever-fascinating problem of Japanese racism. I doubt I would do any better, and I am too lazy to even make an articulate summary of my problems with his approach, so I’ll just randomly throw a few items here:
Save for the occasional academic non-fiction, I do not read newly-published books: I tend to prefer my authors long cold into the ground. A few tomes on the perennial “Japan Experience” managed to escape this rule over the past decade, but even that came to an end quickly: only so many times you can read lurid first-person recounts of Roppongi debauchery1, to say nothing of these self-annointed experts on Japanese society who think their two years teaching their sub-par English to bored housewives and excitable twenty-year olds with a Western fetish make them the new Levi-Strauss of the orient.
Yet not only did I read Hi, my name is Loco and I am a racist, but I purchased it as one of them newfangled “e-book” thing the kids are all about. And I hate reading more than a dozen paragraphs on any support other than dead trees (freshly-tanned baby seal leather parchment will do, in a pinch). Fuck your iPad: if I wanted text to glow at me, I’d read my books over a 300W lightbulb. Now get off my lawn you damn kids.
- I worked there, I was there (and sober) when you “pulled that hot Japanese sex-kitten” and we both know she was 40, looked 60, probably a dude and her face covered in enough rice powder to make a dozen mochis. [↩]
This draft has been clogging Dave Corps’ backlog for ages. Now that it is no longer even remotely relevant, I figured it was about time to finish and post it.
Actually, one of the reason I did not rush to write anything of our brilliant TaicoClub weekend, was that James’ professionally-edited report of the event, more competent than I could ever hope to be, made this drivel even more redundant than usual.
Anyhow, James’ generous sharing of guestlist love was the reason I managed to join the gang at the last minute, long after hopes of snagging a late ticket on Yahoo Auction had all but vanished. The press passes also meant we could go monkey around backstage. But the front of the stage was usually a lot more fun.
The whole festival weekend was the usual tightly packed ball of musical awesomeness (check James’ review for the meaty details), with very few disappointments save for some lulls in the programming. I must be one of the rare few people who wasn’t particularly taken by Animal Collective’s performance, but then again, I have never been an unconditional fan. To be fair, I felt it was more of a casting error than a bad performance: largely non-danceable, experimental low-energy rock with all lights off, did not seem the best way to headline the night… But that’s probably just me.
On the other hand, morning headliner Ricardo Villalobos was just plain bad: once the fun of watching him peacocking his way around the stage subsided, all that was left was a rather uninspired set opening, with flat mixing and horrendous sense of timing (pro tip: that ‘kill bass’ knob is not magical… twiddling it at random against tempo does not improve the mix). There’s no doubt that he can be a very talented DJ, but on that day, he seemed a lot more interested in hanging out with his entourage and basking in fans’ adoration than actually playing music.
According to those who stuck around, his set ostensibly improved in the second hour (probably when whatever he was on eventually wore off), but we were long gone to the other stage for Pepe Braddock, who deserved a much bigger crowd, but did a very good job nonetheless (and whose greek amphitheater-like stage had the added benefit of nice expanses of grass under the rising sunshine).
All in all, tough to top Boredoms’ quasi-opening slot: 6 drummers, twice as many guitarists and a demented MC hitting with a broomstick what seemed a contraption made of a dozen electric guitar handles.
I must also apologise for having ever expressed doubt toward the ability of Josh Wink to do a proper daytime set (based on my memories of one seriously hardcore-beat set at Metamo 2008). The man turned up one hell of an awesome closing set: nicely blending harder techno and more melody-driven beats, and an overall awesome soundtrack for a sunny afternoon.
Last weekend was the Star Festival: a newly-minted, small-scale electronic music festival.
After a measly hour-and-a-half car ride (yay for local Kansai festivals!), Rei-the-man, Fanfan, Junko and yours truly arrived there early afternoon, somehow managing to be the very first car to enter festival grounds and probably not far from last to leave. In between: twenty-four (and some) hours of non-stop music, fun and dancing, the details of which shall remain safely out of the internets, just in case I do decide to run for public office one day.
Getting us into our afternoon groove upon arrival, was friend of the gang Bayon, pushing his usual nice selection of techy and dubby house.
To be honest, I could have rocked it to east-Mongolian goa trance if necessary: just for the pleasure of dancing barefoot surrounded by forests and mountains on a warm late-Spring afternoon.
In a concerted decision, our entire carpooling group decided to retire to our majestic campground for a replenishing afternoon nap (that’s what happens when your breakfast consist of one onigiri and two large-size kirins).
Sleep, food and drinks later, we parked our funky butts in front of DJ Harvey: club music veteran that had faintly entered my radar in the past, but I had never heard live. Definitely one of the two best of the weekend. As with most of my personal DJing heroes, his set was a very eclectic mix of styles spanning the range from funk/disco all the way to hard techno, with healthy doses of electro in the middle. Highlight among the highlights: his epic set-closing 15 minutes of I feel Love (most likely the Patrick Cowley remix, but, erm, my notes for the evening are a bit blurry). A nice homage to the recently departed Queen of Disco & Godmother of Electro.
Aftermath was a little more hesitant, with time spent between stages, getting glimpses of DJ Nobu and mainly enjoying 80kidz‘s DJ set (more than 5 years since last hearing them at some tiny Shibuya club). Solid electro, as always.
The transition to DJ Aki around midnight prompted a hasty retreat to other stages where the music did not associate so closely with vivid memories of hoodie-wearing tweakers joylessly dancing in some damp East-end basement (sorry hardcore D&B fans, I love you but that Amen break’s gotta die).
Rest of the evening/night was spent in the vicinity of the third and smallest stage (“Chillmountain booth”), enjoying some damn funky grooves till late. Unfortunately, I have no idea who the two-three guys taking over the decks in succession were, and the official website’s section for this stage only gives artist names with no timeslot information.
Eventually, 3-4am was deemed as good a time as any for a retreat to our tent, followed by some attempt at sleep. Incidentally, the overall small size of the festival grounds (less than 5 minutes to walk one end to the other), while contributing a great deal to the brilliant atmosphere, made for very trying sleeping conditions: forget ear-plugs, it takes some particularly advanced skills (or lots of alcohol) to get to sleep when not one, but two booming basses are shaking the ground under your ears.
Early morning tunes and good vibes were also courtesy of anonymous DJs at the nearby Chillmountain stage (I woke up to some loungy downtempo female cover of 上を向いて歩こう, which is more than I can say about most mornings). As it turned out, sleep was a lot easier to achieve, lying on the grass under the sun in front of the stage, than up in our tent…
After some tasty Thai breakfast, courtesy of the Japonica booth, we got treated to a brilliant closing set by Calm: old acquaintance from way back and easily my favourite Japanese DJ. Hearing his very special blend of deep house, electro, soul, jazzy disco and the occasional true-to-form reggae track (among others: a beautiful downtempo cover of Minnie Riperton’s standard) makes it easy to see why he is a staple of day-parties across the country: his music is the perfect soundtrack for a shiny sunny day.
With an unprecedented hour of extra dancing, way past official closing time (if you’ve been anywhere in Japan, you know that even the most free-form, disorganised, hippie event will end on freaking schedule, not one minute after it is supposed to), we slowly packed our way back. An hour drive later (did I mention: yay for local festivals!), we were replenishing our energy in Kyoto with some kaiten-zushi before heading home for some much-needed quiet sleepy time.
Finally getting around to uploading this small compilation of bouncy jazzy electroswingy tracks I patched together for some party last year:
It’s been forever since the last mix, but I am a few weeks away from freedom and unprecedented amounts of free time… So fingers crossed: I might even resume playing with my home studio (it’s somewhere around number 4 or 5 on my To-do-list-of-freedom, just after sleeping and eating a normal meal).
I should preface this somewhat-less-than-glowing review of Sonic Mania (aka Summer Sonic for people who dance at night) by mentioning one important detail:
I don’t really like music festivals.
More exactly, I don’t like a certain kind of music festivals (that kind). I think I have spent enough of my youth, dancing half-naked on Californian beaches or through Black Rock Desert that I don’t need to defend my record of appreciation for spontaneous music-oriented gatherings. I just still can’t figure the draw with mainstream music festivals: horrible acoustics, quantity-over-quality line-ups and uninspiring settings.
If I wanted to dance in the middle of stadiums, I’d be a football cheerleader.
Acts at major music festivals fall into two categories: bands that were cool 20 years ago (and whose sole surviving member badly needs to pay his taxes) and up-and-coming bands you will hear a 100 times better at a smaller, more targeted venue. The packaging of the two together, along with laundry-detergent levels of sales/marketing based more on PR momentum than musical coherence (complete with nonsensical stage schedules) are what make music festivals such a profitable deal for major industry players and a miserably pointless experience for everybody else.
Sonic Mania certainly followed that pattern. In fact, every other headliner on the line-up could accurately be summed-up as: “That guy you’ve never heard of, with ties to that band you definitely knew [and perhaps liked], back in the 2000s/1990s/1980s”…
Considering how much whining is liable to follow, I should add I had a perfectly OK night, fun even. But my enjoyment of the event was entirely down to being with a cool group of people and, most importantly, being comped and not having paid 10,000 of my hard-earned yens to attend that semi-debacle of a festival night. I feel I kinda owe it to the poor saps that paid out of pocket to let the world know what passes for top-yen-worthy festival in Japan these days…