Friday, 29 January 2010
I did not come to Japan for its popular music. In fact, I'm rather encouraged to realise there is something about this country which doesn't interest me. Of course, there are Boy Bands and Girl Bands aplenty, all snapped up by mobile phone companies; their stars omnipresent on billboards, and household names. This manufactured pop is on an even greater scale than in the UK yet - unlike back home - I don't know if anything worth discovering lies off-radar, lurking in the shadows. Whether this is because Japanese music goes largely unreviewed in the British press - the same British press which took the time to report the arrest for public indecency of a J-POP hearthrob found drunk and naked in a Tokyo park (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8014237.stm) - or because Japanese music isn't worth discovering, I don't know. Perhaps it's a little early to judge...
So, today (Saturday) being homework day, I'm not going to limit myself to memorising kanji. I have dismissed the manufactured bands, of course, but I'm going to check out a few "essential selections from the decade just gone", courtesy of an article contained in a "Japanzine" I picked up in Nagoya last weekend. It's called "the Gaijin Eye" and contains a rather idiosyncratic rundown of "the top Japanese cds of the 2000s". This is its top 10, as exposed to my jukebox jury of one.
10 Anicore (?) by Onomatopeee is trumpeted by the reviewer as being "for those of you who've ever walked through Akihabara and felt the urge to smash the **** out of the speakers spewing forth that cutsie-ass anime idol pop". This is some recommendation. The review also calls it "plunderphonics", which reads like a new spin on sampling (to a fan of Renegade Soundwave, also welcome) and describes the artist as a demented man with a "condition" where he "hears explosions in his sleep" producing a "vomit comet of utterly depraved breakcore-infused anime songs". So far, so good, and certainly some billing to live up to. But now I have to brave the music... Best clip I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYKeLg4D6A4. Hmmm, not exactly late night mood music. The reviewer is spot-on with his description. It does what it says on the tin but, in truth, I cannot digest the tin's contents.
9 Buck Tick - Mona Lisa Overdrive. The reviewer says "their collaborations with Pig and Soft Ballet cemented their techno-rock credentials". In Nagoya, perhaps? Anyway, I'll take his word for it. I find a track at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_B0mgwZ4Xo&feature=PlayList&p=D85EB7EC257455D1&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=5,
which sounds like Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran turning Japanese, or (worse?) into the Japanese Boy George; I really think so. Did I say it was a little early to judge?
8 Number Girl - Omoide in my Head. These are allegedly "the most distinctive J-rock anthems of the decade". On the evidence of this clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3WLU7rWobU), I can't really tell the (dead) wood from the trees. Seven more to go, and my hatchet already needs a wash.
7 Supercar - Highvision. The name suggests a Kraftwerk imitation band with a limited command of English so it's no surprise that the first track (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyrUAZE1LEk&feature=related) sounds rather like a primitive Orbital, which - following this critical bloodbath - is promising enough to lead me to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQYSMIhniDg&feature=related, where they sound a bit like New Order. Impeccable references, not exactly innovative, but ok.
6 Rovo "live 2003.05.05". The review suggests this is "hippie-trippie progressive rock", which I wouldn't take as a recommendation, but I rather like the footage at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkNsj8kzaLs. It's the kind of music which should be played on steep ascents to temples. Temples which ban hippie-trippies.
5 When you check out a band called Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paradaiso UFO, I think you know what you're going to get. I'm not wrong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhGjgPM19m4. Noone would bat an eyelid if this lot were found naked in a Tokyo park. The world and their career no doubt ends tomorrow, David Koresh-style.
4. Buffalo Daughter - Pshychic. I can imagine myself sitting out in the garden on a hot summer's day, with a glass of a amontillado sherry (thanks, dad) and not listening to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45SqZnXF49U&feature=related . Review states that "it's surprising how little love they get from the foreign press". (Pitchfork, which reported - admittedly in 1999 - that "there's so much great music coming out of Japan" - am I reviewing the wrong decade? - gave their album a 5.2 /10). Sumimasen ga, chotto...
3 Vision Creation Newsun by the Boredoms - I read that this band, described as "retarded art-punks out of Osaka" (a city where Thompson Twin / Flock of Seagulls haircuts are as common as beards), is the precursor to Rovo (see above). I guess you have to have taken huge quantities of psychedelic drugs in your youth to 'get' this, which is perhaps why they're not especially popular in Japan. Obviously, this means I don't 'get' them either. Watching the video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sPxde77NRE) is a bit like getting your eyelashes caught in a kaleidoscope, at a planetarium, on a hangover. Which I suppose would be an average day for someone like the bloke from Onomatopeee. But don't write them off: they matured into the well-adjusted, easy-going chaps that are Rovo. Who needs a Drugs Tsar?
Still waiting for the epiphany.
2 Cornelius - Point. Review describes this as "deceptively minimalist sample-pop cleverly integrating water drops, bird songs and other innocuous sounds". (What: no whales singing?) It is surely only a matter of time before the Gaijin Eye reviewer is deported; in the meantime, he must keep his bathroom cabinet firmly locked. The track is not too bad - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuzNvbHY6yA - and the video shows some pleasant views from the Tokyo Monorail. Didn't hear the innocuous sounds though; perhaps they had learnt instruments by this stage in their career.
1 Shena Ringo - Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana. This one is described as the 'most glorious mix of rock and electronica this side of Kid A'. (Why do people always take Radiohead as a reference point? I just don't see it. For me, that particular high water mark would be something like Depeche Mode's Songs of Faith and Devotion or the third Electronic album - surely Johnny Marr's most underrated work, and really worth playing loud - or early The The). Anyway, back to the artist.. there is loads of stuff by her on Youtube and the descriptions of her career suggest that this particular ringo is an offbeat antidote to the standard lolita-pop fare here. I don't detect much rock but her range of imagery and styles mark her out as a Japanese 'Emilie Simon' (see next post) - or maybe it's more accurate to say that Emilie Simon is the French Shena Ringo. (Some of Simon's videos, like Dame de Lotus, seem not dissimilar to clips like this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2Adt2e2Kdg , identifying her as a possible influence.) I'm not won over as a fan but it's a name to note.
So it's fair to say I'm rather nonplussed. Fair play, though, as these bands have great names which would make their T-shirts, obviously up against stiff competition in Japan, a hot purchase. And that's something I DID come to Japan for. Yes, I hope to be wearing an 'Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paradaiso UFO' design to classes at Yamasa on Monday, and will no doubt attract disillusioned post-millenarians who will accompany me to deserted hilltop shrines at weekends.