Talking to Looprider for April’s issue of Metropolis
For this month’s issue of Metropolis, I talked to the band Looprider, and looked at how the geography of Tokyo’s rock landscape is changing.
The musical geography of Tokyo has long been divided up by neighborhoods. You go to Koenji if you are looking for artists on the punk or experimental side. Shimokitazawa houses rock bands often flirting with the mainstream. Akihabara—idols. It may sound like overgeneralizing, but oftentimes it feels accurate.
Yet in 2017, those neat boundaries between styles seem to have dissolved. Ryotaro Aoki, vocalist and guitarist for the band Looprider, points to Koenji as an example. “Maybe 10, 20 years ago I would have said the ‘Koenji sound’ was punk or hardcore,” he says, following band practice in the very neighborhood we are discussing. “But after [live venue] 20000V burned down, I think it lost a center. Now Koenji is all over the place.” He and bandmate Sean McGee point to venues leaning towards shoegaze, visual-kei and even idol music as examples of this shift. Looking at the live house offerings of other districts, a similar trend emerges.
Talking to Dominique Ansel for Metropolis
I talked to chef Dominique Ansel for Metropolis, as his new shop in Ginza opens this week.
Usually, Dominique Ansel gives the staff working at his bakery based in Tokyo’s Omotesando neighborhood a warning before dropping in. In late 2016, the French-born chef and restaurant operator tells Metropolis that he paid a surprise visit to the staff at his nearly two-year-old shop.
“They were very surprised,” Ansel says. “We wanted to see how they were doing day to day. They were doing very well. Very organized, all the food was right on, no big surprises,” adding a laugh after that last review.
Talked to Radwimps for The Japan Times
For this week’s Japan Times’ cover story, I talked to the band Radwimps, who wrote the soundtrack to the movie “Your Name” which has been a massive hit in the last year (to say the least):
Yokohama Arena feels special on this chilly Tuesday night in early March. It’s here that Radwimps — a rock outfit from Kanagawa Prefecture whose members could bike to this very venue when they were teens — are playing the first of two sold-out shows.
The group — featuring vocalist-guitarist Yojiro Noda, guitarist Akira Kuwahara, bassist Yusuke Takeda and drummer Satoshi Yamaguchi (though he has been on hiatus since 2015 due to a neurological disorder) — reminisces frequently during the show on their youth and watching gigs at this venue in the early 2000s. They play songs from across their career, touching on everything from pop-punk to experiments in electronica.
Yet the arena responds loudest to songs from “Your Name.,” the animated film about body-swapping teenagers for which Radwimps provided the soundtrack. When it comes time for “Zenzenzense,” the track most associated with the anime, excitement boils over.
Sounding off about JASRAC in the Japan Times
The Japan Times runs an occasional opinion column called “Sound Off,” and I stepped on the soapbox this month to talk about copyright:
At the start of 2017, it was hard to imagine a way that the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) could garner more hate from social media users than its already received. The music copyright management organization has long been one of the most loathed institutions on sites such as Twitter and 2channel. People focus on its militant approaches to YouTube uploads or collecting fees from independent hair salons playing background music.
It only took one month, however, for JASRAC to find a new way to anger the online masses.
On Feb. 2, JASRAC announced its intention to collect fees from music school performances, defined vaguely enough to make a classroom setting fair game. The proposal, which would go into effect in 2018, would impact hundreds of music education institutes and, most likely, result in higher fees for students.
Writing about “kawaii” for Red Bull Music Academy
Accompanying a new video series, I wrote an intro article about “kawaii” for Red Bull Music Academy:
The word “kawaii” gets thrown around a lot in Japan. Spend a day in Tokyo and you might hear the word, generally translated to English as “cute,” used to describe clothing displays, pancakes topped with fresh fruit or kittens on display in pet store windows, as well as dozens of other things. It’s the defining characteristic – not to mention economic anchor – of the capital’s Harajuku neighborhood, home to the Kawaii Monster Cafe. It’s also so prevalent in Japan that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s wife, Akie, pointed to kawaii as a big reason women in the country are held back.
Reviewing Ian Martin’s “Quit Your Band” for Time Out Tokyo
Over at Time Out Tokyo, I was asked to review fellow music writer Ian Martin’s book “Quit Your Band.” It’s good! Read the review here.
Writing about Showa Kayo Night and Quarta330 in The Japan Times
Busy month, but almost forgot to mention two recent articles in The Japan Times. First off, I caught up with the folks behind Showa Kayo Night for their recent Ooomori Edition:
Justin Miller isn’t a stranger to Japanese TV. He has been a guest on various morning shows to promote Showa Kayo Night, a party he co-founded in 2011. But the reaction he got after appearing on TV Tokyo’s evening program “You wa Nani Shi ni Nippon E?” (“Why Did You Come To Japan?”) really surprised him.
“It aired in May and I saw the impact at the next event,” he says from a fittingly retro bowling alley cafe in Tokyo’s Sasazuka neighborhood, near his day job. “I was coming from my school’s sports day, after running around in the sun all day. It was the first time I was late to it. I walked in, and everybody just started clapping.”
Also caught up with producer Quarta330 ahead of his new EP:
Unlike a lot of kids growing up in the 1990s, Toru Koda didn’t have much hands-on experience with video games.
“My big brother always hogged the system,” the 32-year-old, who records electronic music as Quarta330, says with a chuckle at a cafe in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. “But I really liked watching games more. Even now, when I drink, I’ll watch video game speed runs on YouTube.”
Writing about YouTubers and Paellas at The Japan Times
Two stories this week, both of which I’m quite happy with. First off, I looked into the ever-growing world of English-language YouTubers in Japan. Specifically, I wanted to see if making a living from this — and obtaining the proper visas — was possible. I met up with one of the country’s most popular vloggers, Sharla In Japan, to disucss:
In 2015, Sharla of the YouTube channel Sharla In Japan found herself juggling two careers. Since 2011, the Canadian-born creator had been making videos about her life here to a quickly growing audience. But actually making them was tough, as she also had a day job.
“I hated it,” says Sharla, who’s asked us not to publish her last name for privacy reasons. “It was a startup tech company, I liked having the chance to help build the company up. But the hours were insane, it was your typical work-to-death hours, not getting paid for overtime.”
Increasingly stressed out, she soon realized her YouTube channel was actually pulling in about the same amount of money as her tech work.
“I was getting the same income doing something I enjoy, so why am I doing this other thing?” Sharla quit the job, and gambled on making YouTube videos her primary source of income. It paid off.
I also talked with Osaka outfit Paellas, about their new album Pressure:
Fitting into the sound of the moment while still standing apart from it can be a tricky thing to do. Paellas guitarist Satoshi Anan says he wanted the feeling of “now” to come out on his band’s newest album, “Pressure.”
“But I didn’t want to make it like fast-fashion clothes … or fast food,” Anan says, adding that he rectified this by adding some 1980s and ’90s nostalgia.
Writing about ryokan for Ethiopian Airlines and looking at 2017 for Metropolis
Two stories to start 2017…first, for Ethiopian Airlines in-flight magazine, I wrote about some of the best traditional Japanese hotels in Tokyo. Read that here, unless you find yourself on one of their flights sometime soon.
I also talked with a few of the artists in Japan who had big years in 2016, and asked them what they expected from 2017, for Metropolis.
Overall, Japanese music had a pretty good 2016. Heavy-metal-meets-cutesy-pop trio Babymetal continued charming listeners both at home and abroad, while fans of the golden age of J-Pop rejoiced when Hikaru Utada returned to the spotlight after a six-year hiatus. And perhaps you heard about Pikotaro? He had a pen, he had an apple…uh, something something.
But now the new year has arrived, and it’s time to look forward to 2017. We asked a handful of folks in the Japanese music scene who had a very good 2016 what they hoped to achieve in the coming 12 months…and what larger trends people should keep an eye out for (or, at least what artists are worth taking a listen to).