Last weekend in Tokyo was Audio 2015 festival. An one-day outdoor party featuring a solid line-up of techno/house/electro artists and a chance to dance to Vitalic’s pumping electro, surrounded by Tokyo Bay’s evening lights…

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After finally deciding to do something with some of my records, I braced for the dreadfully boring process of ripping them one by one to a digital format more befitting of the 21st century (and considerably easier to carry around)…

As it turns out, nowadays, you can literally grab any track ever made, already digitised, on the internet.

Out of some one hundred records, only about 5 were nowhere to be found. That’s including white labels (others’ and my very own).

To think of the amount of sweat and money I poured into acquiring and keeping these records…

Record Covers

Amidst a bunch of mediocre-to-abysmal blockbusters, the in-flight entertainment system on my Delta flight had on offer a movie I had never heard of: The Host.

Figuring that a movie about body-snatching aliens could not possibly be that bad (or rather: no matter how bad, would have to be somewhat entertaining), I ended up subjecting myself to what turned out to be 90 tedious minutes of some of the worst moviemaking I have ever seen, only made bearable by occasional bits of unintentional hilarity through sheer ineptitude. I belatedly gave up somewhere around the two-third mark.

All along, I could not quite put my finger on it, but there was something vaguely familiar in the movie’s over-simplistic linear plot, incredibly dull treatment of otherwise time-tested genre tropes, barely-defined one-dimensional characters and empty dialogs masquerading as profundity… not to mention the obvious (though badly muddled) religious undertones. Despite having never heard of that movie until then, it felt as if I may have watched it before.

And then today, while browsing Detroit airport’s equally indigent Travel Bookstore, I happened upon the book that apparently inspired that abortion of a movie. And it all made sense.

Just in case the author’s name alone may not have been enough, a big sticker above it proclaimed, in big gaudy gold letters: “By the author of the Twilight™ series“.

Taicoclub 2013

Another year, another TaicoClub. Still as awesome as ever (in fact, quite likely the best mid-size music fest in Japan these days).

This year too, you can find a much more adequate write-up of the event by James on the TimeOut page. I’ll pitch in with my own trainspotter rant nonetheless (focussing on the music and leaving the personal antics and class A felonies tastefully out of the scope of this post).

Shortly after pitching our tent, we spent our first couple hours regrouping and chilling to the increasingly awesome mix of beats of one Kubota Takeshi (first time I saw him): liberal doses of latin beats (some Cumbia here, some Salsa there), eventually turning even more eclectic (transitioning from some unknown vintage latin beats to the Dropkick Murphys onto the Négresses Vertes. No kidding).

Unfortunately, the disco-nap that came next made us miss a large part of Colin Stetson‘s indescribably awesome performance. Possibly some of the most moving 20 minutes of non-stop sax vibrato I have ever heard.

Clammbon @ Taicoclub 2013 Next was clammbon, which I assume was formed by locking a hundred Japanese indie jazz-folk artists in a pitch-dark basement with a bunch of rabid ferrets and selecting the three last survivors still wearing a smile while keeping their quirky jazzy singing at whisper level the whole time. I mean it in a good way.

Diamond Version, on the other hand, was closer to what the non-surviving members of such a selection process might have sounded like, mid-mauling and attempting to defend themselves with a broken neon light (at least those last 10 minutes of their show we managed to catch).

Tycho was very beautiful. And also a bit soporific for a 10pm show (but that’s definitely a standard feature of TaicoClub programming). Meanwhile, Travis Stewart was performing at his first of many appearances during the night: first solo, as Machinedrum (seen last year), a couple hours later as a half of JETS (which I hear was awesome, in an old-school rave kinda way, and am very bummed on missing for sleep-related reasons) and finally, I can only presume, as Ricardo Villalobos, wearing a very convincing rubber mask (which would explain the intense sweating). He was last seen regulating traffic at the festival’s exit gate.

More than the fact that TaicoClub booked Japan’s most commercial techno act of the 90s (contrast with the rest of the line-up), what surprised me most about 電気グルーヴ was how absolutely all friends and acquaintances were openly keen on checking them out (considering how much scorn is usually heaped upon them by the more dedicated dance heads, let alone indie electronic fans). The show certainly delivered in cheesiness and (much welcome) easily-danceable beats. Pierre Taki, in his usual Mardi Gras top hat, pacing the stage and emceeing, while Takkyu Ishino manned the machines. Let’s not kid ourselves: for all the cheap beats and past-freshness singing, it was tough not to get a few goosebumps and launch into some maniacal dancing when the first turbocharged beats of Reaktion started filling the place (and somewhere in the back of my mind, the annoying music geek was wondering if the titular German-accented sample might have been lifted from Kraftwerk‘s Tour de France album, by any chance1).

A short walk and a stage change later, the lyrics had gone from infantile to post-adolescent, with Of Montreal‘s brand of hormonal pop rock. A good energetic set, even though the band somehow mistook the Japanese alpine hippy setting of Taicoclub’s upper stage with Glastonbury, mid-90s-brit-pop era. The former probably not the best place for witty banter (in English) or for crowd surfing.

Camping in Style Would have loved to go listen to Magda up close, but had to do with the soothing hardcore techno bass at a distance, from the comfort of our tent, getting the rest we needed to restart fresh and early in the morning. Not quite early enough to catch more than the closing notes of XXYYXX, but still too early to miss Ricardo entirely.

Like every year, Ricardo Villalobos prompted much anticipation among Taicoclub regulars eager to know 1) how many more people had been added to his entourage since the previous year and 2) how much colombian dust had found its way into his system by the time he’d start his set. The unsurprising answer to both being: a fucking lot indeed.

With about half-a-dozen hangers-on loitering in the back of the admittedly vast and empty stage, up from a consistent 2-3 last year, there is a serious risk that next year will see more people behind than in front of the DJ. My best guess is that if you happen to be anywhere within close distance of Ricardo on the night he leaves for Japan, you get to share his business class seat ticket and sit on his laps. That or each of these people has a crucial role in the logistics of his performance (poodle trainer, line tester…).

Also much like last year, his set was at best mediocre (and barely mixed), with a few rare touches of brilliance: yes, it is 2013 and I danced to some vague progressive remix of KLF‘s What Time is Love2. That aside, Ricardo would occasionally dive and disappear behind the decks table, apparently looking for something and unaware that his record bags were sitting on the table behind him. This was obviously making him quite cross, because he would reappear each time a little more tense at the jaw and a lot sweatier at the brows.

I’m told he came back as the “surprise guest” (schedule read “???”) for the last slot on that stage an hour later. That man works way too much, if you ask me.

Charla ready to go home Other Taicoclub alumni Nick the Record closed the weekend in perfect fashion. I wish I could remember more specifics of his (very eclectic) set, other than it was awesome, funky and full of love, but sleep deprivation (among other things) claimed these last few hours and clarity is retrospectively lacking.

A few hours of train and train stations later, everybody was back on their respective side of the Kan (sai and tō) and a much longed for shower was had. That should conclude this year’s outdoor festival season: no Fuji Rock and most definitely no Summer Sonic here (hmn, maybe Nagisa?). Next camping will be at the beach and under the stars of Okinawa. Feel free to come and bring your boombox.

  1. Not, according to a very cursory google search. []
  2. FUCK me, this song is 25 year old. Twenty five years. This song is not only of legal drinking age, but it has two kids and lives in the suburbs. []

Kraftwerk Concert in Tokyo: Tour de France Yesterday was Kraftwerk’s last in a series of Tokyo concerts, wherein each night was dedicated to a single album. Yesterday was all Tour de France, followed by a selection of their most famous tracks.

In perfect Kraftwerk fashion, all four members spent the entire show standing in front of identical neon-lit consoles, looking all stern and German, twiddling knobs and occasionally tapping the beat with their foot.

The million-Deutschmark question was of course: could music relying heavily on the technological advances of an era were your modern digital watch would be a pinnacle of computing power, still sound cool 40 years later?

Yea, that's more like the Tour de France I know... By and large it can. With some liberal additions of modern beats (bass and drumkit electronic synthesisers have gone a long way since the 70s or even the 2000s) and subtle production changes here and there, most tracks were perfectly enjoyable on their own merits. In that regard, our pick of the Tour de France concert (fallback after finding out that The Mix was sold-out) was retrospectively a good one: while Autobahn and Radio-Activity might be the seminal albums, they also contain some long stretches of what could only be described as very experimental music1. Tour de France, on the other hand, while being just as much of a concept album, features mostly beat-driven and melodic tracks that could fill a dancefloor on any club night2.

フ.ク.シ.マ The “all hits” second half of the concert was just as enjoyable, although noticeably less musically coherent (as could be expected, compared to a whole album run-through). Counting a munificent 4-song encore, they covered every single track of theirs that you may have heard of. Definite chills for some of my personal favourites (The Model, TEE…) and what is probably their most accomplished production, if not the most famous: Radioactivity, complete with obligatory contemporary alterations (as luck would have it, ‘Fukushima’ is a perfect stand-in replacement lyric to ‘Hiroshima’).

As for some of the more dated fare (Spacelab, definitely looking in your direction), they still sounded dated and a bit cheesy, but seeing them performed live by four older German dudes wearing tight-fitting full-body spandex suits3 definitely helped sell them.

このボタン押せば音楽奏でる Single blemish on the performance: Ralf Hütter’s sparse bouts of naked singing (sans vocoder) were often a bit off (no idea if it was ever that strong to begin with). But given that he is the sole surviving founding member (Florian left 5 years ago), I’ll gladly overlook that detail.

All concert-goers were outfitted with 3D glasses, and videos incorporating varying amount of 3D were projected behind them along each track. The results overall gave a nice enhanced retro-cool feel to the old visuals, with a few badly cheesy ones in the middle (cheap 90s rave home-computer 3D meets German 80s aesthetics, gets old pretty quickly).

Small personal message to all people who insist on wearing a tall hat at crowded concerts: you may think your fedora makes you look cool, everybody else thinks you are an inconsiderate view-blocking asshole and wished you’d die.

  1. I mean, Radio-Activity contains an entire minute of geiger counter noises, ffs… []
  2. Also: perhaps because it was their last night, we were treated to a considerably longer setlist than on other nights. []
  3. Think TRON with more beer gut and baldness. []

Last week, in the course of some trainspotting research into the minutiae of whatever Moog set-up Moroder used on his seminal basslines1, I happened upon this hilarious description of Moroder’s first introduction to the wonders of electronic synthesizers (emphasis mine):

“In 1970, an engineer I knew, called Robbie, introduced me to a classical composer in Munich who had this incredible new instrument.

It was a humongous machine with cords everywhere, and he played me this composition which just consisted of a bass tone that kept changing every half minute. That was his composition! He was using this huge machine to create what was known as ‘musique concrete’.

There were no rhythms, no effects, and it wasn’t too interesting, but then, when he wasn’t around, Robbie took me aside and said, ‘Look, with this synthesizer you can create more than just a low note.’ He showed me a few things and I thought, ‘Wow, this is great!’

Having suffered through my fair share of unbearably tedious musique concrète performances over the years, I can only marvel at the unlikely musical result of that encounter.

  1. I know: I have fascinating hobbies []