Went to Ultra Japan 2017 for The Japan Times
Braved a typhoon to go to Ultra Japan 2017 for The Japan Times.
Security tugs a woozy-looking man toward the exit of Odaiba Ultra Park after he got in a scuffle with another festivalgoer. His opponent, only steps behind, has bright red bumps on his face. He approaches a guard and, with a smile, snaps a selfie.
This perpetual positivity seemed to be part and parcel of the three-day Ultra Japan festival, whose participants danced through both rain and heat over its duration.
The middle of the gathering happened as Typhoon Talim passed to Tokyo’s north on Sunday, the latter half of the day unfolding under persistent showers. Regardless, several thousand fans — many in ponchos, others risking their health to party it up in cosplay — packed the grounds and danced away to the busy sounds of DJs such as the Netherlands’ Hardwell and American duo The Chainsmokers.
Writing about Japanese electronic music interested in the past for Bandcamp Daily
Nostalgia—for a place or time now lost, or memories of something purely imagined—has long been a central theme in art and entertainment. The ability to access media from anytime or anywhere via the Internet has allowed people a wider palette to revisit the past and construct their own world from it, especially in Japanese culture. Web-centric micro-genres, in particular, capitalized on this idea; from chillwave to vaporwave, creators looked to the upbeat consumerism of ‘80s pop and jazz to create new music. Future funk is part of that picture.
Although creators associated with future funk sample plenty of songs that don’t originate in Japan, the niche style leans heavily on the “city pop” from that country—the glitzed-out cuts that sounded great in the kind of high-end automobiles Japanese consumers were buying in the 1980s. Album artwork often relies heavy on Japanese imagery, while unofficial YouTube headquarters Artzie Music pairs songs with videos taken from old anime.
“When I listen to vaporwave or future funk or retrowave from outside Japan, I think it’s almost like a bigger picture of the sound,” Yuuta Watanabe, who records as Boogie Idol, says. “They treat it more like a painting, you see much more of what’s happening.”
Writing about A-Nation for Hello Asia!
Went to A-Nation, and wrote about the experience for Hello Asia!
The annual A-Nation event has built to a familiar finale for some time now. Since starting in 2002, the showcase organized by J-pop heavyweight Avex Entertainment has almost always finished with Ayumi Hamasaki gracing the stage last. It has been a fitting conclusion, seeing as few Japanese artists have achieved as much success as her, long standing as Avex’s crown jewel act. A-Nation itself has changed frequently — from a nationwide tour, to an event stopping by major cities only, to this year’s edition simply being a two-day run at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium — but the closing performer has stayed mostly the same.
And so it went in 2017, with Hamsaki ending the weekend event on August 27 with the most extravagant set of A-Nation. She was joined by backup dancers dressed for service in the world’s most fanciful navy, while one costume-change found people performing gymnastics on stage. She strutted around stage for high-energy cuts such as “Talkin’ 2 Myself,” while she sat on an elevated platform to deliver ballads such as “Hanabi.” Eventually she found herself on top of a float, wearing classic Japanese summer garb and joined by dancers doing dances nodding to seasonal festivals.
Writing about Summer Sonic for The Japan Times
Went to the 2017 edition of Summer Sonic, and wrote it up for The Japan Times.
This year’s Summer Sonic had its craziest moment on Sunday night when 1980s singer Rick Astley joined the Foo Fighters for the latter’s headlining performance.
“Come on you motherf———!” Astley bellowed at the thousands of fans gathered in Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, with the U.S. rock outfit laughing hysterically. They then ripped into a mash-up of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Astley’s hit-turned-meme “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Read the whole report here.
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.”