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…

10pm-ish: Arrival, Primal Scream

Last Tuesday, I was serendipitously told of a talk by Anna Baltzer in Yoshida campus. I remembered seeing her on the Daily Show a while back and was curious to hear her talk in more details about her experience and views on the current Middle East situation.

As it happens, I even ranted not long ago about the lack of rational and moderate discourse, in the neverending clusterfuck™ of a situation that is the Middle East. How timely.

No point copy-pasting Anna’s bio, but the skinny is: as a Jewish-American grown up in the US and backpacking her way through North Africa and Asia, she came by herself to the conclusion that many of the views commonly held by her fellow countrymen and community members with regard to contemporary Israeli politics were perhaps overlooking a few teeny details… In particular: serious human right issues with the current treatment of Palestinians in Occupied Territories.

Yesterday’s concert by Yugao (夕顔) at Zac Baran was absolutely brilliant.

Yugao combines traditional shakuhachi, jazz piano, classical cello and tabla to make music that covers the spectrum from atmospheric folk to very energetic jazz, with a good dose of western classical in the middle.

Surprisingly, all four instruments blended together in a very natural way, with none of the gimmicky feel that sometimes come with these far-fetched collaborations. It was my first time seeing a professional shakuhachi performance live, and I was blown away by the complexity and texture of the sound that guy could get out of his flute, not to mention the obvious physical effort and precision that went into the process (as someone who could probably not even get a sound out of a pan flute, I am always amazed by wind instrument players). Hard to go wrong with tabla (although I wasn’t too crazy about the wind-chimes addition on some of the more atmospheric pieces). Cello and piano mostly played on scores apparently composed by Yoshida Koichi, the shakuhachi player, and made really solid jazz, avant-garde and whatever you can call music made with a shakuhachi, a piano, a cello and a tabla. Some of it sounded vaguely reminiscent of older Sakamoto Ryuichi pieces, but it might just be the whole cello-shakuhachi thing. Their interpretation of the sinfonia from Bach cantata BWV 156 was moving beyond words: the near-weezing haunting sound of the shakuhachi far surpassed what any oboe could ever achieve in expressing the sadness of the original piece.

You can see some of the videos from a past concert (also at Zac Baran) here and most of their tracks on their MySpace page. They also play next week at UrbanGuild and I strongly recommend you check them out!

Sweet Sixteen

It appears that I am geared to turn sixteen at the end of this week (I started counting the years backwards a while back).

In celebration, a couple merry friends and I, will be drinking, spinning records and being a general nuisance to the gentle people of Shibuya, on Friday, August the 24th. This is all taking place at Cozmo’s Bar, from 9pm on (presumably until last train’s time).

So feel free to pop by and have a drink or ten with us !

Thanks to a last minute spare ticket provided by lovely Dame Kozlika, I went yesterday to a production of Lohengrin, at Opéra Bastille (the ugly 80’s monsterchild one of the two). I figured I may as well post a quick personal review – I’m told this is what this whole blog thing is about: empowering the People, all that… So here goes…

The Story

I’ll let you peruse the Wikipedia entry for a complete synopsis, but story goes a bit like:

  • Beautiful Damsel in Distress is saved in extremis by Handsome Stranger from Unknown Origin, who washes her honor by pounding on Manipulated Semi-Vilain Consigliere.
  • Beautiful Damsel in Distress offers own hand to Handsome Stranger from Unknown Origin, who gladly accepts it with proviso that she shan’t ever ask for his actual name or try to uncover his Unknown Origin.
  • Evil Manipulating Witch manipulates.
  • Naive Beautiful Damsel in Distress is manipulated.
  • Beautiful Damsel in Distress lasts all of 24 hours before asking the forbidden question: Handsome Stranger no longer from Unknown Origin, turns out to be none other than, theretofore unmentioned, opera’s titular character.
  • Swan this, swan that, swans are everywhere.
  • Handsome Stranger Better Known as Lohengrin leaves, pissed off. Swan becomes a prince. People rejoice, broken love mourns, evil pouts.
  • The End.

    [rough outline]

    Lohengrin was one of the few remaining major Wagnerian works I had not seen. Which must now bring my compounded Wagner experience to a few trillion hours. That is, like every other of his other opera, this one is long, very long. Unlike the Nibelungen tetralogy, though, it isn’t particularly fast-paced.

    I must confess to a couple yawns during the first act, while second and third act peaked up a bit, both story-wise and musically.

We had a couple tix for the Qwartz “Electronic Music Awards” last Friday (went, despite knowing this would imply spending the rest of my week-end, reading up the works of Messrs. von Neuman, Morgenstern and Nash, a coffee IV hooked to my arm)…

Despite grand ambitions and a few catchy headliners (most notably: Bjork and Pierre Henry, both a last-minute no-show), the whole event had a very homemade vibe to it. Most of the MC’s time was spent calling for people to come on stage who often had apparently picked that time to go drink champagne or weren’t even attending to begin with… The show ended up running a couple hours late (we gave up and left shortly before the end, leaving only a very scarce crowd behind us).

All this bickering notwithstanding, we had a cool evening: the live sets were very eclectic, ranging from über-experimental stuff, to dancefloor-friendly, beat-heavy electronica. The people were friendly and the venue absolutely gorgeous.

A few random rantish thoughts:

  • Despite the lack of an artificial commodities market where such could be sold at inflated prices, music does have its dubious “white-on-white-with-white-shadows” school of contemporary artists. They tend to make 10-minute long tracks using a sine wave generator, some bubble wrap and a microphone for sole instruments.
  • On the other hand, being a “serious” cutting-edge electronic artist making “dancefloor-friendly” tracks, apparently means 90% of the time, using the played-out-to-exhaustion Amen break like it’s 1998 and Drum’n’bass is the new cool shit.
  • Erm. Was Drum’nbass ever cool? Yea, nevermind.
  • Vitaminsforyou played one of the very few live acts I would have paid to dance to.
  • Cocoon had infinitely more ambition than substance. I have seen better post-situ art performances, waiting in line for Alcatraz at Pier 23.
  • Leonard de Leonard performed some pretty bouncy electro-hip-hop songs. Yet I couldn’t help notice they had little business being there: for all its cheeky joviality, the rapping wasn’t exactly Public Enemy-quality (kinda tried for it, though) while the “electronic” part ranked in the straight-outta-mom’s-garage league.
  • Try as I may, Pierre Shaeffer’s Musique Concrète still bores the hell out of me. Oddly enough, Soares Brandao’s “Hommage to Pierre Shaeffer” wasn’t completely devoid of interest (watching more than listening, actually).
  • Nominees and tracks that caught my ear : Wang Lei, Matmos (++), Electroluvs, Coloma, dr Bone, Hypo & EDH, Bostich…
  • Most of which (Matmos excepted) I wouldn’t dare putting up against any major mainstream electronic act (say, at random: Laurent Garnier, Matthew Herbert etc.) or even many smaller indie producers…
  • Despite a list of nominees spanning (only?) half-a-dozen countries, the whole music selection had a heavy French feel to it. Perhaps a little too much systemic bias within the selection process.
  • Foie-gras & marzipan gingerbread makes for truly divine petit-fours.

For somewhat more constructive insights on that event, you can check out this post (in French) from a blogger in my feed list who, as it turns out, also went.

Picture CIMG1479.JPG A somewhat public-interest announcement for once:

If you are in Paris today and looking for a way to spend an early evening, there’s a free pyrotechnics show near la Villette (19th arrondissement) tonight at 9pm. Seems like the weather should be nice, but I’d bring a warm sweater and a tarp to sit on.

We went yesterday and it was a good time. Much flames and explosions to be marvelled at.

Only downside, was the very forgettable smooth jazz soundtrack to the whole thing. If the sound of elevator-riding saxophones deeply offends your ears, I recommend you bring your iPod or large amounts of psychedelic substances.

Access map (in PDF format)

Do you know how hard it is to get rid of a fridge in Tokyo without either parting with half your bank account or breaking a dozen local laws? Hard. Very hard.

But it’s all behind now, the move is over, all that’s left is a few days to enjoy Tokyo and say bye to all friends before heading for Europe, by way of Hong-Kong (Thursday to Saturday, if anybody’s around and wants to meet for a beer).

So anyway, tonight, I, with a few friends, will be busy getting drunk on cheap sangria and reminiscing the wacky hijinx of the gaijin life in Japan, all the while spinning a few records and, who knows, shaking some nails to it…
It’s all taking place between 8 and 12, at Cozmo’s Café in Shibuya. About 2 minutes from the station, near the Post Office. Here is the map

So whether we’ve met in the past or even if you’ve never got a chance to spot me in the flesh during my stay in Tokyo, do come and say hi! I’ll be the one either drinking my 20th Gin&Tonic under a table or haphazardly spinning a few records at the turntables…

A few cool things coming up:

Wednesday (07/20)Japanbloggers Meetup – Zest, Harajuku

A group of people from all horizons and many countries, brought together by a common love of blogging, tech gizmos and cheap somewhat reasonably priced beer.
Newcomers always warmly welcomed.

Thursday (07/28)Laurent GarnierYokohama Museum of Art [Note: I got the date wrong initially. This is taking place next week, not this week. Thanks to Martine for pointing that out!]

Reels of silent early-century B&W movies, with live instrumentation by worldwide famous, veteran techno DJ and producer: Laurent Garnier.
Sounds very experimental, but the man is insanely talented, should be interesting.

Update (also playing on 08/06):

Friday (07/22) – screening of Bondi TsunamiSuper Deluxe, near Roppongi Hills

An indy surf-movie about a bunch of crazy Japanese and their adventures in Ozland…
Miss Tracey blogged about it a few weeks ago. Turned out last week-end that my friend, the awesome Stacia, is going steady with the lead actor… It’s a small, tiny, star-studded, world, after all.

今週の面白なイベント:

水曜日 (07/20)Japanbloggers Meetup – 原宿のZest

毎月にブログを書く人がバルで合う。外人と日本人も来る。誰でもきてもいい。

木曜日 (07/28)ロラン・ガルニエ 横浜美術館 [注意:さっきに日付は間違えた!来週ですよ。]

有名なフランスのDJ/producer、Laurent Garnierは古いな映画間中ライヴ曲を作る。彼は80年のMandchesterで始めた。可笑しくて面白いでしょう。

金曜日 (07/22)Bondi Tsunami (ボンダイ津波) – Super Deluxe Club, 六本木ヒルズの近く

オストラリアでサーフィンが好きの日本人は車で旅行する。本当に楽しみ。友達は映画の役者と一緒にです。先月にTracey見に行った ブログで 書いた

About Laurent Garnier: