Spoke with She Talks Silence for Metropolis
For the August issue of Metropolis here in Tokyo, I caught up with She Talks Silence, one of the indie rock scene’s better artists.
In 2017, music has become more fragmented than ever, and this is true especially in Japan. The arrival of streaming services — not to mention increased attention given to YouTube as a platform — has given listeners more options in a country where CDs and vinyl are still copious.
“It’s a good thing that people have so many choices, on how to listen to music,” Minami Yamaguchi, the creator and only member of shadowy, Tokyo-based rock project, She Talks Silence, tells Metropolis. “But on the other hand, it’s just like the fragmentation happening in the city’s music scene. The essence of it … it becomes easily missed.”
Sounding off about trash for The Japan Times
Wrote about trash, and how people online in Japan are reacting to it.
By all accounts, this year’s Fuji Rock Festival was a success. Punters of all ages and demographics enjoyed the laid-back vibe at the three-day music spectacular — give or take the constant rain — and most social media posts about the event focused on good times. Not everyone was happy, though.
Dig a little deeper and another particularly vocal crowd emerges. On the official Japanese-language Fuji Rock blog, several posts featured photos of the grounds covered in trash, one featuring a photo of a garbage-coated table was simply titled “How does this make you feel?” Similar sentiments appeared on social media, with users posting shots of abandoned cans and others trying to assess blame (soft verdict: probably young people, possibly foreigners).
Writing about Parkgolf and netlabels for The Japan Times
Catching up on the netlabel community and talking to artist Parkgolf for The Japan Times.
Tokyo’s first netlabel parties were filled with nods to internet culture. You’d see customers ordering their drinks via Twitter, robotic hands clapping in time to DJ sets, and people live-streaming themselves from the dancefloor.
It’s not certain whether any of that paraphernalia will appear at megaclub ageHa when it hosts a netlabel-style event on Aug. 10, but just the fact that it’s happening at a club that hosts world-famous DJs on a regular basis is pretty impressive.
“I never expected a party like this could happen,” says Reo Akabane, better known as Parkgolf. The 27-year-old producer is a staple of the netlabel scene, which is named for the online music labels that comprise its center.
Visiting Japan’s only active vinyl pressing plant for Discogs
Went out near Yokohama to check out what is the only current vinyl pressing plant in Japan for Discogs.
At the end of June, Sony Music Japan announced they would start pressing their own vinyl records in their own plant for the first time since the end of the 1980s. It was big news both domestically and abroad, where interest in the ongoing revival in physical records continues unimpeded. The company hopes to open the pressing plant just outside of Tokyo in spring 2018.
“The big labels used to have their own pressing plants,” Yoshinori Kobayashi, who works at Toyokasei, which operates a different record pressing plant outside of Japan’s capital, says. “But then they stopped pressing vinyl when CDs became the preferred method of listening to music.”
Writing about “Gangnam Style” for Pitchfork
Very important anniversary this month, as PSY’s “Gangnam Style” turned five. I wrote about its legacy for Pitchfork.
Earlier this week, “Gangnam Style” was knocked off its perch as the most viewed video on YouTube. Korean pop star PSY had held the title since November 2012, when he became the first person to reach 1 billion views, then 2 billion, breaking YouTube’s view counter in the process. Alas, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s plodding Fast & Furious ballad “See You Again” finally leap-frogged over “Gangnam Style”—a changing of the guard that arrives just as PSY’s hit celebrates its fifth anniversary.
Released July 15, 2012, “Gangnam Style” immediately reached the top of South Korea’s music charts, as one would expect from PSY (real name Park Jae-sang), a rapper boasting nationwide success over the previous decade. But nobody expected anyone abroad to notice. K-pop, with its controlled star-grooming system and skilled performance groups, was starting to get attention internationally and inspire an avalanche of trendpieces. “Gangnam Style,” however, looked and sounded nothing like the K-pop norm, its big EDM chorus poking fun at the upper-class Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam.
Talked to The Anime Man for The Japan Times
Met up with one of most popular Japan-based YouTubers around, The Anime Man, to talk about his path to attention and the current boom in anime.
“The Anime Man” has a busy summer ahead of him. The 23-year-old, whose real name is Joey Bizinger, will be on the road over the next two months making stops at anime conventions across the United States and Europe. It sounds like the kind of itinerary a musician would embark on.
Bizinger has been lucky in terms of timing. He’s a YouTube personality at a time when that world is providing society’s newest celebrities, and he specializes in anime at a moment of renewed interest in the genre.
“I would say the past three or four years has been like an anime renaissance,” Bizinger tells The Japan Times from a cafe on the outskirts of Tokyo. “People are starting to embrace it more.”
Sounding off about Twice and K-pop for The Japan Times
I’m sounding off about K-pop group Twice…and Japanese media’s coverage of Korean pop culture…for The Japan Times.
Last week, Korean pop group Twice made its “official” debut in Japan, featuring the release of a Japanese-language best-of compilation and a showcase at Tokyo Gymnasium on July 2. In between, the members appeared on the popular weekly TV show “Music Station” and posed in front of Tokyo Tower, which displayed the name of one of their most popular songs on its display.
Japanese media has primarily focused on the fact three of Twice’s members are Japanese. That’s fine, and almost certainly what the group’s label wanted when assembling the outfit. Yet absent from nearly all reports on Twice is musical context. Coverage treats the group like a viral phenomenon with a dash of patriotism stirred in.
Talking to tricot for The Japan Times
Caught up with tricot for The Japan Times:
It has never been easy for Japanese bands to find success both domestically and abroad. For the most part, they can muster notable attention on one side or the other, but rarely both — regardless of how many awkward English-language songs or cringe-worthy collaborations they attempt. However, tricot (pronounced tree-koh and spelled in lowercase) may have stumbled onto a winning strategy.
“In Japan, we’ve never really tried too hard to do promotion,” Ikumi “Ikkyu” Nakajima, the rock trio’s lead vocalist and guitarist tells The Japan Times. “We don’t really try to make it look like we’re some big group, we don’t play ourselves up as larger than we actually are. And we had no idea we would get attention from overseas — we kept our expectations low.”
Despite low expectations, tricot’s music was noticed by overseas fans and critics online, and praise spread. The group — consisting of Nakajima, guitarist Motoko “Motifour” Kida and bassist Hiromi “Hirohiro” Sagane — has toured across Europe, North America and parts of Asia, while at home they’ve appeared at major summer festivals such as Rock In Japan. Recently, the trio penned a high-energy theme for Sion Sono’s Amazon Prime series “Tokyo Vampire Hotel,” and it doubles as the lead-off track to tricot’s recently released album, “3.” The full-length came out domestically via the band’s own label, Bakuretsu Records, and through Big Scary Monsters (U.K.) and Topshelf Records (U.S.) abroad.
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.