Saturday, January 31, 2009

Into the Japanese Music Scene

One of the reasons I decided to check out Japan this winter, was to get a peek into the music scene in Tokyo. The Japanese scene is one that has always captivated me, and a number of prominent acts have made an impact on the underground music scene in America; everything from glossy pop to out of this world noise acts, the Japanese have created and maintained a music scene admired by folks around the world, and I wanted to see it for myself.

One of my favorite bands is the Acid Mothers Temple; a sprawling collective of musicians that make some of the oddest rock music around today. The group is lead by Kawabata Makoto, but with a collective as large as the AMT, most of the members play in other bands around Tokyo and Japan. Thankfully, the AMT webpage advertises the side groups that contain any of the collective’s members. Tabata Mitsuru, one of the Acid Mother’s bassists, plays in a rock centered assembly called the Leningrad Blues Machine, which just happened to be playing a gig in Tokyo the week I was there.

The event was at a small club called the Show Boat, located in the neighborhood known as Koenji. The NY Times recently published a piece exalting the hip nature the neighborhood presents. They wrote:
“SHIBUI is Japanese youth-speak for things that are at once cool, funky and traditional. And these days, few things are as shibui as Koenji, a neighborhood on Tokyo’s west side, considered the birthplace of Japanese punk rock.

In recent years, this low-rise area of traditional izakaya bars and narrow alleys has spawned a new music scene that knits together every musical style imaginable — American roots, Showa Era jazz and even enka, the sentimental pop music of postwar Japan — in a way that is distinctly Japanese. It’s a laboratory for musicians honing their own creative voices, independent of the slickly produced pop standards that dominate the Tokyo club scene.”
Also playing that night were Yurasawan and Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate. I found out after the show that Kawaguchi had played in some other bands I recognized, namely experimental acts LSD March and Miminokoto. Both bands playing that night specialized in drawn out, hook heavy, fuzzy sounding rock and roll jams. Both were excellent and worth checking out.

Later that week, I attended another club in the Koenji neighborhood known as the UFO Club, another intimate basement joint. Playing that night was the “NISEUO cosmic-chang mothership progress,” a group that fused various genres such as dub, jazz, and rock. They sounded a bit like Tom Waits, if he was Japanese and a bit more fuzzed out. Here is a video of the band performing.


Throughout the following days, I hit up some of the many independent record shops throughout the city. I happened upon a local singer-songwriter that is making some buzz in Tokyo called Nikaido Kazumi (二階堂和美). She plays minimal acoustic music, and has a new record out now called “Nikacetera.” Here is a promotional video for the album.

I tried to get an idea as to what popular music was also being played in Japan at the moment. I couldn’t escape a new pop-rock song from a band called Base Ball Bear titled “Love Mathematics.” Here is the video for it.

With the popularity of Japanese pop-culture in the West, most Americans have probably been exposed to J-Pop in one form or another at this point in time. Most of it isn’t my cup of tea (and in all fairness, I doubt I am the target market for the music), but I can still respect a catchy pop tune when I hear it. Here are two tracks that were popular in Tokyo at the time; one from a group called Perfume and the other by Yui.

Getting a chance to see a slew of bands that I would not likely have heard of in the States was a joy, and I look forward to going back and checking out other aspects of the Tokyo music scene soon.


TNC said...

I have not heard of any of these bands but I am totally jealous, Roland. I've wanted to go to Japan for years and years. Ever since I watched Yusha Raideen and Kikaida on tv in the 1970s. Glad to read you had such a nice time.

Roland Dodds said...

It really is a place to behold, and from the folks I talked to at the shows I went to in Tokyo, there is so much more to check out.

I found people to be very open and willing to help me get the lowdown on the ins and outs of the scene in Tokyo, which made my travels quite easy.

If Tokyo wasn’t so expensive, I would try and go back this year, but I likely won’t be able to make that happen.

TNC said...

Sounds dope, Roland. My buddy's father-in-law lives in Tokyo and so does my good friend's mom. I have some other folks scattered around the rest of the country, in Kyoto and elsewhere. Been meaning to go for years and years. I would be so fuckin' hyped to finally make it.

Are you going to post something about the food? From izakaya to sushi spots and everything in between. Please, let a fellow blogger know what's up...

Roland Dodds said...

I am writing up a piece now on my trip to the Yasukuni Shrine war shrine and museum. That should go up in a few days.

I didn’t take any pictures of the food I ate, but I did try and eat some of the stranger varieties of sushi. Since I am not much of a gourmand, my ability to describe any of it accurately is limited. I’ll see if I can dig up the names of the foods and try to do them justice.

TNC said...

"but I did try and eat some of the stranger varieties of sushi."

Nice! The strangest sashimi I have ever eaten include abalone (Awabi) and pen shell scallop (Tairagi). The latter was much better than the former, imho. I like cooked abalone but is was very strange raw. A bit too chewy for me.

Anonymous said... all sound the same - music is one beat.