Wednesday, January 31, 2007

RIOW89 - No Truth but Batman & Robin

I am so happy! After my last entry, I actually got an e-mail from KDS6700 thanking me for my feature on his video. I know I shouldn't be bragging but it's just so nice to get a little back every once in a while. I have decided to expand my personal links section to include my Flickr, Hi-5, and Mixi (Japanese blogging/social networking site) pages. Please feel free to drop me a line at any of the above - not that I really update them much. Today's video will continue last entries successful theme: a Mash-Up video and an artist with a name containing cryptic letters and numbers.

The term music video has never been more appropriate to describe the work of Riow89, aka Ryohei. Please bare in mind that this guy is only 17 years old and is already doing things that many VJ veterans aspire to do. Between his YouTube page and his diary on Hatena, Riow89 has personally become an indispensable resource on all things Mash-Up. His interests in Mash-Up goes beyond that of the audio sample, judging from the entries in his diary, the end game is to sample audio directly from bits of corresponding video. Much like the work Coldcut has been actively trying to perfect in his live shows for the last 10 years or so.

Often, the sources Riow89 samples come in the form of odd juxtapositions of two (or more) popular music tracks ala Too Many DJ's. Take his mix of No Scrubs by TLC backed by a latin-inspired Basement Jaxx track as an example. I too, have dabbled in this, mixing Christina Agulera with a Beck track - a worthwhile afternoon project but nothing I'd consider particularly ground-breaking. The results of this brand of mashing can often lead to interesting results but what really makes Riow89 blog-worthy is the work he does with less obvious sources. Today's track is from that campy 60's Batman television series we all remember growing up. For Riow89, being a 17 year-old from Yamagata, Japan, to be sampling 40-year-old program really shows he is willing to look past the American top 40 shlock and try something a little more "classy".

And I like Batman, this is a fun little track. If Ryohei keeps pushing his boundaries, come graduation, he will already have his foot in the door as a big-time VJ.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hardfloor/KSD6700 - Boys & Girls Rhythmical Gymnastics

Straight away, I must admit that this entry is not Fishmans centric. I figured I needed a break from my favorite band and wanted to hunt for something new. I half started this blog with the intentions of "teaching" "you" "everything" that I "know" about Japanese music. Please imagine me speaking that last sentence while using annoying finger quotes for each of the stressed words. It makes me look "cool". Further to that, I wanted a reason to continue expanding my own musical vocabulary. In my search to expand the scope of my Asian music knowledge I did a YouTube search for 'Korean Techno' (still waiting on those "block rockin' beats", Beck) and the first few results were good examples of some pretty bad Korean divas belting out the typical Asian fodder. Nothing wrong with that, but not too much GOOD about it either.

It was that next entry that really caught my attention. The description was as follows, "North-Korean boys and girls dance by the techno music." Well, I
was looking for the techno. Not expecting to see much blog worthy, but being a huge fan of the strangeness that is North Korea, I clicked. And, judging by the landmarks in the distance, there are indeed a small group of malnourished boys and girls from North Korea doing a rather robotisized gymnastic routine to the techno music. Any video footage I have ever seen from the isolated country has always had a strange in not downright creepy nationalist vibe to it and this video is no exception.

The thing that caught my eyes and ears while watching this video was how much like a Denki Groove track it was. Upon further inspection, there was a link included on the YouTube page to a Japanese artist collective website called ArtPublicity. The site features videos and live performances by various VJs and DJs. This particular video is brought to you by a DJ on the Inage label who goes by the cryptic name KSD6700. Previously on my blog, I featured the amazing Pierre Taki of Denki Groove fame. Today's clip seems to occupy roughly the same headspace as Taki's own series of gymnastic videos. Taki is well known in Japan for making videos for music performances and I might even go so far as to suggest he may have had some direct influence with the video work. KSD6700 has a number of mp3s available for free on his Muzie site so please check them out. The music is not by KSD6700 but from the German duo, Oliver Bondzio and Ramon Zenker of
Hardfloor. The track is called 'Fried Laces'.

So I guess my quest to include a Korean entry in my blog still goes unresolved. I have something small and silly in the works so in the meantime please enjoy some children dancing for Glorious Leader.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

BONOBOS - Thank You For the Music / Standing There

I first heard Bonobos on Soulseek totally by accident. I would always look at different users' lists and if they had a lot of music that I liked than I would try to download some of the bands that I didn't know. The first song I ever played was from their Hover Hover album and I thought it was remarkable how much like the Fishmans they sounded. It seems that my thinking was in the right place because a few days later I picked up "Sweet Dreams for the Fishmans", a tribute album and front and center were the Bonobos.

While Bonobos owes much of it's sound to their fishy counterparts, the music isn't trapped in time. The Bonobos are constantly reinventing and innovating their music. It certainly doesn't hurt that vocalist Sai sounds very much like Sato. In many ways I think of Bonobos being the literal reincarnation of the Fishmans. As mentioned, Bonobos is fronted by Chung-ho Sai on vocals and guitar, Yasuyuki Sasaki also on guitar, hottie Natsuko Morimoto on bass, Izumi Matsui on percussions and Bondo Tsuji on drums.

I am happy to say that I had a chance to see the band perform live in the 40 degree heat of the Onsen Matsuri mini-music festival held in Osaka's Osaka Castle Park. They are full of cute and quiet energy. The music played at these sorts of festivals in Japan is usually quite varied so it was kinda hard to gauge the audience when it came to their performance (they were sandwiched between a crappy funk band and dull female vocalist on piano) but I could see a few people who turned up especially for these guys. I know I enjoyed the performance but could have done without the minor heat stroke. I think I was the only joker without some sort of hat. Funny I'd be self-conscious of that as being the only white person in attendance kept me visible enough.

Shortly after, Bonobos' Sai performed with members of the Fishmans at the Long Season Review Tribute Concert. These performances resulted in my favorite Bonobos effort, the mini-album, Golden Days. As usual the choice of the perfect video is always a tough one for me so screw it, I'm gonna give you two. First is 'Thank You for the Music' the song that really made me think these guys were the real deal. The second is their brand new single called 'Standing There'. These guys are so genuine and sweet as long as they continue to create new music I'll always be able to imagine the 'what ifs' in a world without the Fishmans.

Friday, January 12, 2007

MECHA NERO - Curtain Call

It's my 50th entry! Again. Apparently my math isn't too good. I blame Blogger as it tells me a slightly different story each time I log on. I'm not complaining though, because I probably wouldn't have written my last entry so quickly if I hadn't thought I had hit the big five oh.

Today's band is Mecha Nero and that's Mecha as in mechanic not as in the Japanese "very" to all you novice Japanese speakers. It was only through my poor katakana skills that I was able to establish that. Mecha Nero seems to borrow largely from bands ranging from Clammbon and Scarlet to heavier acts like the now sorta defunct Number Girl and Zazen Boys. Their first album came out in late 2005 so that makes them relatively new on the music scene. In fact it's only though my search for yesterday's Fishmans video that I came across them. So they are also very new to myself. It's a nice little discovery that I'm happy to share. Mecha Nero is one of those bands that if I were to show up at a live concert people at the door would greet me with one of those "what are you doing here?" faces. And I'd likely spend the remainder of the night standing in a crowd listening contently to my little discovery while the people around me think the same thing. And I don't blame them for that because foreigners are usually at the lame wannabe American hip hop joints trying to get with the Japanese girls. Luckily, some Japanese people would have the nerve to approach me when I was at these smaller clubs and I made a few really good friends. I really wanted to be a part of the "real Japan" and was happy to leave my country (read: rural Manitoba) at the door.

This video is from 'Mekurumeku Sekai' the bands first full-length album which features a 90's alternative sound with sweet Japanese female harmonies. It's a nice bit of pop if there ever was. It looks it was filmed on a cheap little consumer camera and I like it a lot. Many of my days walking down the suburban bits of Osaka felt like this video looks. I'm also quite smitten by the Degrassi Junior stylings of the drummer, if you're reading this please drop me a line!

FISHMANS - Walking in the Rhythm

It's my 50th entry! I am surprised because there are few things in my life I've done fifty times; I'd also be too embarrassed to name most of them. I thought a blog might be different than trying to maintain an entire website. I've tried running a site a handful of times and just found myself overwhelmed to the point that I give up in spite of my best intentions. Also, having something that I love to talk about helps. While there are only a few people who actually visit my blog there is a certain sense of self-satisfaction in knowing that I've hit a landmark entry. I've been saving myself for today, my favorite Japanese band and possibly my favorite band full stop. The Fishmans and their impact on the Japanese music scene is hard to ignore - unless you don't give a rats ass about Japanese music, then I guess it would be pretty easy. But I love these guys and many of the bands that are influenced by their music so I will dedicate the next few entries to their music and the bands that love them.

Fishmans was fronted by the late Sato Shinji who passed mysteriously in 1999. I have spoken with many fans at various Fishmans tribute nights in Osaka (and Nagoya) about his death and from what I gather, the doctors attributed his death to a cold. It's safe to say that even his fans are skeptical as Japan has a tenancy to protect its heros. Sato, who couldn't have weighed in at much more than a hundred pounds may well have succumb to the world's most common virus and I'm happy to leave it at that. What started off as a clever and unique Ska/pop/rock band quickly evolved into something much more. Fishmans was composed of Sato on vocal and guitar, Kin-ichi Motegi on drums, Yuzuru Kashiwabara on bass, Hakase Sun on keyboard and Kensuke Ojima on guitar. Dreamy meandering and silly, often nonsensical lyrics became fused with progressive basslines, reggae infused keyboards, psychedelic synths and explosive violin solos. Many attribute the change in sound to the producer Zak who, while not the most prolific producer in the world, has an helped direct many powerful artists.

Since Fishmans, all of the remaining members have either formed or joined amazing bands and their influence on the scene continues to gain momentum. Last year a massive tribute concert to the Fishmans was realized as the 'Long Season Revue'. Video images created by artists from various fields who were influenced by Sato were shown together breathtaking performances by UA, Ikuko Harada from Clammbon, Chung-Ho Sai from Bonobos, and Pod from the Thai band, Moderndog proving that the music that is still as fresh as ever.

Today's video is from their 1997 studio effort, Uchu Nippon Setagaya. I first heard this album from a friend that I like to think of as my Japanese brother, Atsu. I was staying over night at his Kobe apartment when Atsu, who is as mad for music as I am, started playing a selection of Japanese artists that he considered to be the most interesting. When he popped in this album I fell in love immediately. It was so different from everything else I had ever heard from Japan or elsewhere. All throughout University, my friends and I had been searching for that perfect band. That night in Atsu's apartment I found it, I was home. Today's video is a remix of 'Walking in the Rhythm' edited down for MTV friendly video play. I really like the remix but it can't hold a candle to the album version, which is an epic 12 minutes and 54 seconds. That song played at Atsu's as I was supposed to be going to sleep. In a state of total awe I couldn't sleep - I got up and played it again.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

DIE DIE COLOR - Beauty Shadow / TOMATO STAR - HOTEL Sensational Love

Tim is a good friend of mine from back in the day when I studied Fine Arts in University. He joined the JET Program (in Japan) at the beginning of my final year (in Japan). We got together a number times and relived a number of good times as well as new ones that only a place like Japan could provide. Now, I'm back in Manitoba and am largely cut off from the Japanese music scene, a scene that should be evident by this blog, I am pretty fond of. Recently, Tim offered as a "hi" gift to send me the Japanese CD of my choice. Finding a CD that I want while being so disconnected from the scene prompted me to search deeper on the net to find a new source of Japanese music to enjoy. I hit paydirt (whatever that actually means) of sorts through Live365.

Live365, for those of you who don't know, is a streaming radio service and boy does it ever have a huge selection. While I haven't explored many of the stations yet I gather the main focus is on lesser known independent bands. This is probably not because they are ultra-hip but rather due to the RIAA. But one man's trash...

Radio Eigekai Indie TYO is an Indies Radio Station out of Tokyo. And this is indie as in probably nowhere to be seen in the stores but maybe as CD-Rs being handed out at live events. Not always true cause they're playing Murr*Murr's absolutely beautiful "Azayaka na sora" right now. But by and large, most of the stuff spinning on this station will spin nowhere else. Which is neat because not only does it give me hip new Japanese music to listen to but it's so hip most people even in Japan will have a hard time finding it. This isn't so much music snobbery as it is, "you heard it here first". I am on top of my game, too bad no one gives a shit but evs.

The nice thing is when you are a Japanese up-and-comer you will do ANYTHING to get your self heard. Japan has the second largest music industry in the world and all that competition leads to some pretty interesting innovations like: giving all the music you ever made away for free on sites like
MUZIE and NextMusic. Two bands struck my fancy on last weeks Radio Eigekai Indie TYO program: DIE!!DIE!!COLOR!!! and Tomato Star.

DIE!!DIE!!COLOR!!! formed in 2001, has achieved as fair degree of mainstream success and is even known by a number of western listeners, an accomplishment that many of the biggest Japanese Pop Stars struggle to realize. This is what they have to say about their musical style on their MySpace Page: "DIE!!DIE!!COLOR!!!'s sound is a mix of hard, happy, Bakibaki, upper, emotional, shoehazer, pico pico and pop!!! We are trying to produce a new sound like none heard before!"

Admittedly, I don't know what the hell half of that is supposed to be but if I ever start my own band I'll be sure to refer to my work as "upper, shoehazer, pico pico, baki baki". Jokes aside, this band is pretty weird, effortlessly jumping from twinkly girly mainstream J-pop to Alec Empire inspired cyber-noise terrorism (in the same song). One highlight is in their song "Silence" where female vocalist is singing in her sweetest, most sincere voice and all of a sudden the bands male vocals begins to scream "DIE!!DIE!!DIE!!DIE!!DIE!!" over and over again. It's wacky, just a bit awful and totally worth listening to at least one time.
DIE!!DIE!!COLOR!!! - Are You Ready?
DIE!!DIE!!COLOR!!! - Silence
DIE!!DIE!!COLOR!!! - Pressure Ver. 2
and more...

Being largely unknown doesn't stop Tomato Star from being a hugely prolific project with well over a hundred songs available for free. Not all these songs are really album worthy in my opinion, but the 25% that are... uh... are! It's all loose and fully sloppy skillfulness. Part Beck, part Weezer, part Zoobombs; Tomato Star has a lot going for itself when Itokey, the band's only member, has his shit together. While not surprisingly unsigned I predict big things for Itokey in the future. He doesn't seem at all concerned with J-pop conventions and that will ultimately be his biggest asset. I wish I could find more information but his music says more than I can anyway.
Tomato Star - Plastic Ni Kimete
Tomato Star - Petra
Tomato Star - Achiki No Teenage World
and more...

So did any of this help me choose a Japanese CD as my present from Tim? Not really, I want the new
Bonobos single. I love it.