Writing about the state of the Osaka club scene (and Austin Mahone) for Japan Times
I went to Osaka recently and wrote about the state of the city’s club scene a year after the “anti-dancing” law was revised:
OSAKA – Around two dozen people shuffle about the dark interior of Alzar, a recently opened nightclub on the eighth floor of a building in Osaka’s Chuo Ward that also features a capsule hotel and sauna. Most hover near the concrete wall, watching a European DJ play house music. A group orders Champagne, taking swigs straight from the bottle before one of them stumbles out onto the dancefloor to a chorus of laughs.
It’s a small crowd for a Friday night. Alzar only opened last month, but Katsuhiro Nakano, CEO of Alzar’s parent company, New Japan, sees this place as a new opportunity for the city’s many electronic music artists and fans.
“I think for the majority of people in Osaka, clubs still seem scary,” he says. “You have to deal with nanpa (guys trying to pick up girls) and it’s just annoying. I want to change their minds.”
Also wrote about the biggest non-Japanese song of 2017 in Japan…it’s a two-years-old Austin Mahone song. Read that here.
Talking to AI about her new album
Last week in the Japan Times, I caught up with R&B and hip-hop J-Pop artist AI to talk about her new album, among other topics.
There was a time when Japanese music labels were concerned that Ai Carina Uemura’s music sounded too American due to her R&B style.
“Like, from the beginning of my career. They told me all the time, ‘People aren’t going to understand that type of music,’” she says from the EMI office in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighborhood. “I was like … why? They listen to Janet Jackson, Ashanti. Why can’t we do that type of music?”
It was important to Uemura (who performs under the stage name AI), who split time between Los Angeles and Kagoshima growing up. Her mother, raised in the United States, instilled a love of American music in her. She also prompted Uemura to learn more about the Japanese side of her family after relocating to the western side of the country.
Reviewing Kikagaku Moyo for Pitchfork
Reviewed the latest from Kikagaku Moyo for Pitchfork.
Japanese underground artists possess a flair for myth-making, from Les Rallizes Dénudés’ shrouded history to eventual Boredoms founder Yamantaka Eye driving a bulldozer on stage for a gig. Tokyo’s Kikagaku Moyo have their fair share of good yarns since forming in 2012. The first song on their debut album was supposedly “written over a night spent jamming on a suspended footbridge in remote mountains,” while drummer Go Kurosawa took a significant period of time before starting the group living out of a backpack in Central America. Stone Garden, the band’s latest release, was recorded in a Prague basement during several near-continuous days of improvising, and then pieced together back in their hometown. The real hook, though, is that the five-song album finds a band who’s attracted attention for a folk approach to psychedelic rock showing off their experimental and often messy side.
Talking to NECRONOMIDOL and writing about other bands pushing metal in new directions for Bandcamp
Caught up with the idol group NECRONOMIDOL, and also wrote about other Japanese groups pushing metal forward for Bandcamp.
In many ways, NECRONOMIDOL look a lot like other groups in the Japanese “female idol” genre, a corner of J-Pop in which groups of young women perform chirpy pop while dancing. The group consists of five members, ranging in age from late teens to early 20s, which is in keeping with the style’s emphasis on youth. But NECRONOMIDOL don’t perform the excessively upbeat, synth-driven numbers about friendship and crushes typical of the genre—NECRONOMIDOL are a metal group. They dabble in darkness; their associated imagery is heavy on skulls and ample violence, and their music makes ample space for industrial and the speedier varieties of metal.
But the group’s live shows are hardly typical of metal. For one thing, there are no guitars or drums on the stage; instead, a backing track plays while the five members dance in unison, sing, and occasionally deliver bloodcurdling screams. And while their presentation is atypical, they aren’t the only Japanese band seeking new sounds beyond the borders of heavy metal. They’re instead part of a scene that also includes the Osaka-based band Vampillia, Tokyo’s industrial and metal fusion rockers Legion of Andromeda, and many, many others.
Going to Niconico Chokaigi for Metropolis
Went to Niconico Chokaigi for Metropolis, soaked it all in.
As I waited for a kabuki performance to start, I watched a packed arena applaud a man who appeared on the venue’s big screen, dressed up as the defunct soda marketing character Pepsiman.
It was one of many surreal moments on April 29th and 30th at the 2017 Niconico Chokaigi, an annual event occupying the hangar-sized halls of Chiba’s Makuhari Messe. The event, now in its sixth installment, celebrates the culture and users of Niconico, a Japanese video sharing site once known as Nico Nico Douga. The Chokai offered a chance to bridge URL to IRL, giving the many quirky users a physical space to shine. Dozens of booths were also taken out by major companies, itching to reach younger, web-savvy types.
Writing about Cornelius’ new single at Pitchfork
I reviewed the first song from Corenlius’ forthcoming album — his first in 11 years — for Pitchfork.
Keigo Oyamada has kept busy over the past 11 years, but he’s often done so just outside of the spotlight. Since the artist better known as Cornelius released his last full-length, Sensuous in 2006, he’s played as a member of Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, and created soundtracks for an educational series about design and Ghost In The Shell: Arise. In these projects, and in his recent, high-profile collaborations with J-Pop singer Salyu and Japanese supergroup Metafive—his carefully constructed sound always stands out. Yet Oyamada has seemed content to blur into the background.
Small editorial off of recent US trip for The Japan Times
I wrote a small editorial for the Japan Times about my recent experience in the United States.
It’s official: You can’t escape politics in America. On a recent trip to Seattle, everyone I spoke to wanted to talk about President Donald Trump. Fittingly, the 2017 edition of the Museum of Pop Culture’s Pop Conference, which I was invited to speak at, took on a political theme with “Sign O’ The Times: Music and Politics.”
Catching up with De De Mouse for The Japan Times
Caught up with De De Mouse for The Japan Times, and talked about his new album and the sound of pop music globally in 2017:
Daisuke Endo made peace with EDM thanks to Mister Donut. The electronic artist, better known by his stage name De De Mouse, eats at the snack chain frequently. Recently, he says he has been enjoying the American pop music they pipe into the store.
“They always play The Chainsmokers. It’s almost like good 1980s-style pop music, it’s very refined,” he says, referring to the American electronic duo who have dominated charts over the past year. “When I was at Mister Donut … I didn’t know what the song was, but it was just good hit music.”
The producer, known for bouncy electro-pop anchored by diced-up vocals, hasn’t gone full Billboard Hot 100 on latest album “Dream You Up,” but he has come a long way from his last full-length, 2015’s “Farewell Holiday!,” which embraced jazz and classical. He says that LP was his personal protest against the bludgeoning sounds of dance music branded as EDM, then inescapable in the Japanese club scene.
“I now view EDM and tropical house as pop music, and at this point it has been perfected,” he says. “My last album was about going against EDM, but now that it’s so ingrained in pop music, I listen to it and I take what I find good about it.”
Writing about new seed-to-table spot Noz for The Japan Times
This weekend, I wrote about new organic restaurant Noz over at The Japan Times:
Futoshi Ota has lofty goals for Noz, a new restaurant that brings the grand vision of his company one step closer to reality.
“I want people in Japan to know what real agriculture, what the real organic culture is like. What’s a healthy way of eating.” The president of T.Y. Farm Inc., the company behind the just-opened eatery on Tennozu Isle, doesn’t stop there:
“I want Tokyo to be more of a real international city,” he says. “It looks like one, but it isn’t 100 percent there yet.”
To that end he has launched Noz (full title: Noz by T.Y. Farm), a casual restaurant featuring all organic and gluten-free dishes using fresh, locally grown and seasonal vegetables. It takes cues from similar spots found on the west coast of the United States in line with the farm-to-table ethos, along with culinary trends that now hold sway in Los Angeles. Kale dominates the menu, from the Caesar salad to the “Kale beer.”
Writing about obscure Japanese reissues for The Japan Times
There is currently deep interest in older, mostly obscure Japanese music from the 1980s going on in the West. I dug into it for The Japan Times.
Fans of Japanese vinyl have good reason to be happy. HMV recently opened a store in the Kichijoji area dedicated to selling records — the third such establishment in Tokyo — and April 22 is Record Store Day. What started in 2012 as four artists putting out special releases has evolved into a day featuring rare items and numerous in-store performances.
Not reflected by any limited-edition 7″ or gigs, though, is a trend playing out on the other side of the world. Last month, Japanese artist Midori Takada’s 1983 album “Through the Looking Glass” was reissued by American label Palto Flats in conjunction with Switzerland’s WRWTFWW Records to much fanfare. But it was just the latest bubble-era rarity to be praised by critics: Last year, Amsterdam store Rush Hour launched a Japan-centric series of vinyl reissues, while the label Music From Memory reissued lush pop duo Dip In The Pool’s 1989 track “On Retinae.” Plenty of other albums relegated to record store bargain bins also found a second life, highlighted by Palto Flats’ 2015 rerelease of “Utakata no Hibi,” a sought-after LP by the group Mariah.