The Scooby Gang on the way to TaicoClub

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.

But that still leaves room for a good ol’ festival acts blow-by-blow recount (don’t worry: more like this one than this one).

Afternoon

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).

Evening

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.

Morning

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.

This post originated as a comment to this entry on the eminently readable blog of a scientist living in Osaka. Midway through writing it, I remembered I had my own soapbox for that sort of drivel: better than crowding some innocent bystander’s comment section.

Usual limited-interest-topic disclaimer applies: unless you are have a vested interest in getting your PhD (in Japan), you are better off skipping this entry and waiting for more pictures of awesome Shanghainese moped-riding cats.

By and large, I agree with everything Jan wrote. The operative quote, I think, is that it depends more on university/faculty [and advisor] than anything else.

As a freshly-graduated PhD student (from a Japanese university), I figured I could offer some extra pointers, gleaned from personal experience and that of close friends in similar situations at a couple “major” Japanese universities:

As of today, I am officially offering my services as Human Rain Cloud for hire:

For a modest fee (and travel expenses), I will visit your city and bring unseasonably cold and wet weather for a duration of time equal or longer to my stay. No matter how naturally arid or sunny your local climate, my rain cloud-conjuring abilities have been tested on a variety of European towns, with a perfect 100% success rate to this day.

Hire me and ensure your crops do not go dry and your golf course lawns remain a healthy green, even in the middle of the draughtiest summers.

My service fees will go toward paying hospitalisation costs for the pneumonia I am developing.

PS: to all my friends in Paris, Bordeaux, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin: I am sorry for fucking up your sunny Spring weather. I’ll be going soon and normal weather should resume immediately.

April 20 – April 23: Hong Kong

April 24 – April 27: Paris

April 27 – April 28: Bordeaux

May 1 – May 2: Antwerp

May 2 – May 5: Amsterdam

May 5 – May 7: Berlin

May 7 – May 11: Paris

May 12 – May 13: Shanghai

May 14 – May 17: Tokyo

Still a few details to set up, a few stops to confirm and probably a few more European cities to be inserted at a later time, but that’s the bulk of it.

Get in touch if you will be anywhere near my path in the next 6 weeks!

This update is a long time coming. In fact, except for a couple stalkers and my cat (who still refuses to friend me on Facebook), most people who care already know. But the whole point of that blog thing is to document and archive, preferably with more depth than allowed by biting 20-word status updates:

As of the end of last month, I am officially a Doctor in Bioinformatics from the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Kyoto University.

I know: doctor in pharmaceutics… If the rave-going friends of my early 20s could read that, they would have a chuckle. I fully intend to test that new doctoral title, next time I need something from my local pharmacy (if I can’t write my own scripts from now on, really, what’s the point?).

This whole phd thing is, without a doubt, the longest project I have ever lead to fruition (so far). In fact, thanks to the wonders of blogging, I can date the very day I announced to the world that I was embarking on a quest for knowledge and glory in the academic world (can you believe it’s been nearly six years?).

I wish I could say that it has been a long, difficult and formative path, strewn with near-unsurmountable obstacles and valuable life lessons. The truth is, it really wasn’t that bad.

Sure, there was that year’s worth of missing undergrad credits crammed into one stressful, panicked, semester, made even more interesting by the cancellation of half the classes that Spring, due to widespread student protests. There were never-ending battles with administrative trolls guarding the magic forest of French Academia with all their bureaucratic might. Two challenging yet exciting years getting my Masters. Years spent travelling between Paris, Tokyo and a dozen other fun places, alternating periods of hardcore studying and steam-releasing travels. There was much waffling over different math-infused Computer Science topics, toying with neuroscience-oriented AI and even spending a Summer pretending to be an NLP specialist, all topped by the most exciting class of my Masters: an intro to bioinformatics. After a few small hesitations (can you guess where I nearly went to work in the Spring of 2007), I finally signed-up for three more years.

Some research, a few papers and a healthy dose of whinging about suburban Kyoto life later, here I am: ready to start my career as one of the most overeducated baker/coffeeshop owner in the northern hemisphere.

The point is: it really wasn’t that hard. Or at least: no harder than getting up everyday to go to work anywhere else (a lot less hard, if that work is to spend 8 hours a day on a factory line). You don’t have to be exceptionally smart to get a PhD, you just have to be ready to spend a sizable chunk of your (fading) youth on it, with little money or anything else to show for it at the end. You don’t even need to be that driven or motivated: once started, the whole of academia is leaning over your shoulder, ensuring your work comes to fruition one way or another.

PhDs don’t make geniuses out of people: at best they make decent researchers out of them. Often, they just make incompetent assholes into pompous incompetent assholes.

So I guess I finally answered my own existential interrogations of 6 years ago: turns out gathering a couple pieces of paper with your name in a fancy font, does not make a big difference.

It does, however, make it a lot easier to find an interesting job that makes use of my skills for purposes other than devising inventive new ways of squeezing cash out of the financial markets. Which is why I will be moving to Tokyo in June to start my new research position at AIST in Odaiba.

Until then, I have a couple years’ worth of travels to catch up. Detailed route and dates should follow shortly.

(*) Yes, I know. I promise this is the first and last time I do that.

Amidst the work, chaos and queasiness, a few snapshots of fun and loveliness:

Gavin doing his best impersonation of a mid-90s Ibiza DJ at some improbable makeshift rooftop thai bar in Tokyo, Fang-chan’s enthusiastically taking on a bucket of Hoegaarden at Pig&Whistle’s, 5pm sunset near the house, schnappy crocodile, playful lemurs and jackass penguins at Ueno zoo, remnants of snow in that small cemetery tucked in the back streets of Akasaka… oh yea, and the good ol’ camphor tree wishing me おつかれさま after my defence last week1.

  1. don’t rush with the congratulations: I do not have the title yet, and I still have to hand in the final version of my thesis in two weeks []