I’d been wrestling with the idea of putting together a “top albums of 2013” list for a while. Then I realized that many of my favorite releases were EPs, so it became a struggle as to whether or not I should create two separate lists. I’ve instead opted to go with a “Top 20 Tracks of 2013” list. This list is in no particular order and I know there are a lot of good songs from a lot of killer albums from the previous year that haven’t been put on the list. Naturally a lot of these songs or artists have appeared on a Muso Planet compilation (or will in the future). ★Baby Formula (China) – “Lonely Gourmet”. Really dreamy and highly addictive track from the Beijing dreampoppers. The vocals will melt your soul.
★Oeil (Japan) – “Owl Moon”. Oeil released two new tracks this year and, while it was close, “Owl Moon” was just too good. The song is available for download exclusively from Muso Planet volume 2.
★Elephant Stone (Canada) – “A Silent Moment”. The track off their album that best showcases the band’s hindie-rock tag. Really well composed song from an all-around great album.
★Venera 4 (France) – “Haunted Summer”. An epic 9-minute conclusion to one of the best EPs of the year. The acoustic version the band released just before the end of the year is solid, too.
★Beach Volleyball (England) – “Contack”. The best track off of an album from a contender for “band of the year”. I love the depth in this song.
★The Chambermaids (U.S.) – “I Wonder Why”. Probably my favorite album of 2013, and this track is as catchy as they come.
★The Cherry Wave (Scotland) – “Cave/Wave”. These guys pride themselves on the amount of fuzz they generate and they should. This track is loud and one of the reasons that they are high on my list of bands to see live.
★Kinoko Teikoku (Japan) – “Eureka”. My Japanese band of the year and probably my favorite Japanese band over the last two-plus years. You can seriously get lost in this song, which is the title track of their 2013 full-length.
★Puna (Peru) – “Au Dial”. Instrumental electronic track from the highly-underrated Peru-based music project. Beautifully layered song.
★Loomer (Brazil) – “Road to Japan”. I love the vocals on this track. My favorite from the debut album by the Brazilian shoegaze outfit.
★Cool Serbia (U.S.) – “Tear Me Up”. I like the noisy 60s pop throwback sound. “Tear Me Up” is one of the songs off of the EP that I can listen to over and over again.
★Disco las Palmeras (Spain) – “Alfa y Omega (la cruel)”. Ultra was one of 2013’s best albums from start to finish. Alfa y Omega is powerful and that chorus is addictive.
★PanSTARRS (Egypt) – “Fools”. It’s danceable and nasty. There’s something evil about this track from the always noisy Egyptian trio.
★Curelight Wounds (U.S.) – “Leveled Out”. Curelight Wounds put out two DIY EPs in 2013, both of which were brilliant. “Leveled Out” isn’t as refined production-wise as some of the tracks from the latter EP, which might be why it’s my favorite. It’s upbeat and loud and the vocals are smashed deep in the mix.
★His Name is Codeine (Scotland) – “Replica Gun”. Mellow track with a Velvet Underground feel. Very simple and straightforward song that develops subtly over three minutes.
★Wavr (U.S.) – “Melt my Brain”. The vocals on this song are magnificent. The music is big and dreamy and, though it doesn’t change a whole lot, it never gets boring due to the big enveloping sound.
★Wolvon (Holland) – “Stagnant”. A very busy, moody track from the Dutch post-punk band’s album folds. One of the more complicated and interesting songs on the CD.
★Trementina (Chile) – “Hazy Youth”. It was a big year for Trementina who released Brilliant Noiseon Japan’s Vinyl Junkies. “Hazy Youth” was the first track made available from the album.
★Zeit (Sweden) – “Sky”. The poppiest track off of the Life is Just a Blur EP, the intro-hook is super catchy, as is the chorus.
★Le Thug (Scotland) – “Of Europe (Arc 1993)”. The song is beautiful. That’s really all that can be said. I love the beat under the big swirling guitars and the vocals are…well…beautiful.
Latino America Shoegaze/ラテンアメリカシューゲイズ
A Year In Review of Japan Shoegaze/日本シューゲイズの年回顧
Bands: Stella Diana (Italy/イタリア), Elephant Stone (Canada/カナダ), Oeil (Japan/日本), The Megaphonic Thrift (Norway/ノルウェー), Future (France/フランス), Afor Gashum (Israel/イスラエル), Zeit (Sweden/スウェーデン), Sonic Hearts Foundation (Scotland/スコットランド)
The Shoegazer Festival Extra hasn’t even wrapped up yet and High Fader Records’ Masashi Imanishi has confirmed three events in the fall. With the Osaka leg of the extra event coming up this weekend, Imanishi announced via Twitter this evening that there will be a third Shoegazer Festival in 2013. The big news is that the event will be coming to Nagoya for the first time.
The first two shows will be held on the final weekend of October, starting in Osaka on Saturday the 26th and heading to Nagoya on the 27th. The third show will take place on a to-be-determined weekend in November. According to Imanishi, the venues have mostly been determined, though they will be disclosed at a later date. At this time bands and DJs for each date are being sorted. More information is expected in the coming weeks.
Muso Japan exists as a means of exposing fans of Japanese music to bands that may be difficult for a foreign audience to access. Japanese music is something that I, like many people, am passionate about. Thanks to the internet and social media, there are a growing number of resources through which a curious mind can find the hidden treasures of the Japanese music scene. Typing words and posting them online is a valuable way to get the word out about the things we love, but it only brings the reader so far. It requires special efforts to bring the experience directly to an audience and allow them to witness first-hand the things about which we share a passion. One man has figured out a way to get this done.
Steven Tanaka is the founder of Canada’s “Next Music from Tokyo” tour. He is so passionate about Japanese music that he, almost singlehandedly, brings bands from Japan to Canada to showcase their talents for an audience which seeks access to Japanese music. Traveling to Japan at every opportunity to go to shows and find bands, Steven is a man who takes his love for the music scene to the next level. Not only does his event bring quality Japanese music to an excited audience, it provides Japanese musicians with the opportunity to perform overseas.
Next week brings the fifth installment of NMFT, in which bands will perform four shows in three cities (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver). This year’s lineup boasts four excellent bands: Mouse on the Keys, Chi-na, Hara from Hell, and, one of my absolute favorites, Kinoko Teikoku. Steven was kind enough to take time out of his extremely busy schedule to answer some questions for Muso Japan. It was an excellent opportunity to get insight from a guy who does what many people (myself included) wish they could do. A very big thanks to Steven Tanaka for not only granting the interview, but also for all of his efforts in organizing Next Music From Tokyo.
Here is a promo video for this year’s NMFT. Enjoy!
Interview with Next Music from Tokyo’s Steven Tanaka
1. Why did you decide to start Next Music From Tokyo? How did you grow so fond of Japanese music to the extent that you were willing to start a non-profit, out of pocket operation to bring bands from Japan to Canada?
Music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. And Tokyo has the largest and most progressive music scene in the world. For me nothing is more fun than travelling to Tokyo and watching my favorite bands play at tiny live houses and discovering new amazing bands along the way.
I wanted other Canadians to discover how breathtaking and fresh Tokyo’s live music scene is. Since most of the Japanese bands I feel are the best can’t afford to travel to Canada on their own I decided to pay out of pocket and fly the bands here myself.
Even if tickets to the shows sell out completely I’m still guaranteed to lose an insane amount of money due to travel costs alone. Planning these tours is extremely time-consuming, stressful and expensive but it has been one of the most enjoyable, memorable and rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. The amount of fun I have doing these tours is worth more than all the money in the world.
2. What is the band selection process for each event like? How do you go about finding these bands and then narrowing down the list to the final few? Are there specifics that you look for when choosing bands to take part in NMFT?
I travel to Japan 5-8 times a year and see 1-3 shows almost every night I’m there. So I go to more shows than a lot of music fans who actually live in Japan. (lol) Before each trip I research into which shows I want to go to and discover a lot of new bands via Youtube, Myspace etc. But videos and studio recordings are often misleading and the only true way to measure a band is by watching them perform live.
From the hundreds of shows I’ve been to I pick the bands that blew me away the most with their live performance. Unfortunately, even with the offer of a free expenses-paid tour many bands I’d like to bring to Canada can’t come because of work, family, or other conflicts. Sometimes bands have crazy demands in addition to me paying for everything; in which case I usually tell them to f*ck off.
For each tour I usually pick one “headlining” band that may draw fans in Canada who are already knowledgeable about Japanese indie music. For example andymori (vol 1), Mass of the Fermenting Dregs (vol 2), NATSUMEN (vol 3) and ZAZEN BOYS (vol 4). However, in Canada the Japanese bands are all on a level playing field and the lesser known acts frequently upstage the “headlining” act during shows.
In terms of narrowing the list I choose a “headliner” and an unmistakably great band that most people are sure to like as the core and then add two or three more great bands with a much different style/genre to inject variety to the line-up. Last year, ZAZEN was the “headliner,” group_inou was the sure-shot and Charan-Po-Rantan and Praha Depart were the dark-horses that some fans liked even more.
However, I don’t always follow this formula. But in order for a band to be considered for NMFT I have to love their music and more importantly then have to put on a great live show.
3. From the time you select the bands, what all goes into getting them to Canada and making sure the shows go off problem-free? How do you cater to bands who may have never toured overseas (language barrier issues, etc.)?
After the bands are selected I normally have a group meeting in Japan with representatives from all the bands to describe the tour and explain what I need done on their end. Contracts need to be signed and I need CDs, photos, bios/EPK’s in order to promote the tour in Canada.
Back home I need to book venues at least 4 months in advance, book and pay for flights (NMFT vol 3 had 26 passengers; $1700/passenger), hotel rooms, and backline (drums, amps, special instruments). The biggest headache used to be the mountain of paperwork and red tape involved with obtaining visas/work permits for the bands. However, I found out last year I could book specific venues that don’t require visas and now I only book venues that are work permit exempt. Score!
At the start I had to organize almost every aspect of the tour myself but with each tour more and more people have pitched into to help. My friends Rob and Ryotaro have created fantastic promo videos. Local bands have lent me gear to help save on backline and instruments. Friends and fans have designed posters for me and helped distribute them in each city of the tour. During the first tour my friend Nicolas came all the way from France to help me look after the bands. And for volume 3, my friend Dan came all the way from Cali to help babysit the bands and he even helped pay for hotel rooms and car rentals. My right hand man though is a guy named Geoff who has been absolutely phenomenal and indispensible in terms of promoting the tour, getting the media’s attention and securing interviews, articles and reviews. I owe a huge amount of thanks to Geoff and any friends and fans who have volunteered their time to help me with the tour.
The vast majority of bands have never toured overseas prior to NMFT. In fact, for many band members it’s their first time visiting a foreign country and they don’t yet have passports. So most of the bands are in the same boat in terms of language barrier and culture shock but as soon as they hit the stage it’s second nature and they always manage to rock the crowd some how.
4. The tour is called “Next Music From Tokyo” but have you considered looking to other cities with substantial and unique music scenes like Osaka, Nagoya, etc.?
Hyacca are from Fukuoka and they toured with us during Volume 3. In terms of signing contracts and having meetings, it’s a lot easier if all the bands reside in Tokyo but in the past I’ve invited many bands from other cities: Viridian (Nagoya), tricot (Kyoto), Midori (Osaka) etc.
It’s unlikely that I’ll pick all four bands from a region outside Tokyo and do a eg Next Music from Osaka tour. Although some of my favorite bands right now all come from Chiba: Happy!Mari, goomi, Harafromhell and Shaku. Though Chiba’s so close to Tokyo they’re basically part of the same scene.
5. What has the reception to NMFT been like? How has the tour evolved since it was started?
The reception to NMFT has been excellent. There may be a few people who are disappointed that I don’t bring “crazier” acts but my goal isn’t to shock the audience with the weird and bizarre but to express the level of talent and creativity inherent in Tokyo’s music scene. Most people who come to the shows really appreciate the skill and stage presence of the bands and the eclectic mix of musical styles.
Since the first installment of the tour it’s become a lot easier to gain the interest of ‘bigger” Japanese bands and especially in Toronto, the tour is popular enough to graduate to a much larger venue. But bigger isn’t always better and personally, I prefer watching gigs at smaller, more intimate venues. I don’t think the concept of the tour and nature of the bands has changed much but having fans help out with organizing and promoting the tour has made my life a lot easier. If I can bring the same level quality of bands and performances each year I’ll be happy.
6. Do you have any plans or hopes for future installments of NMFT? Have you begun looking ahead to volume 6 at all?
I definitely hope to continue the tour each year until I unexpectedly get sick of Japanese indie music. Hahaha. I’m hoping to do volume 6 this October but it may have to be put on hold until May 2014. I’d like to invite group_inou and Akai Koen again and Happy!Mari is a new new band that is sure to kick Canada’s ass.
It’s really interesting to hear different opinions about a lot of various aspects of the Japanese music scene. I have been fortunate enough to interview a lot of Japanese artists and people within the music scene to gain insight into it and hopefully turn that insight into something useful for others with similar interests. I thought it would be cool to build on it all by adding some foreign perspective to the mix and getting some reflection on what it’s like to come here and play. So this is the first interview (with hopefully many to follow) with a band I absolutely adore and who are certainly qualified to comment on music in Japan. They also have one of the best band names ever.
Ringo Deathstarr are no strangers to Japan, having played here a number of times alongside some of Japan’s more prominent shoegaze bands. This year they also appeared in Crossbeat’s My Bloody Valentine/Shoegazer Guide and just recently wrapped up a Japan tour. After the tour the band were cool enough to take some time and answer a few questions about playing in Japan and the country in general. There will be a Japanese language version to follow. Enjoy!
(For more info on Ringo Deathstarr please “like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.)
Ringo Deathstarr Interview
Muso Japan: First off thank you for taking the time to do an interview! How was your trip to Japan?
Ringo Deathstarr: Hi Matthew! Thanks for the questions! Our trip to Japan this time was the best one yet…of course it just gets better every time, and we never know what to expect!
MJ: Ringo Deathstarr seems to have developed a loyal following in Japan. When and how did you first make contact with Japan? How do you continue to promote yourselves and keep interest from abroad?
RD: Well…back in the Myspace days, in 2009, we were contacted by Vinyl Junkie Records, and they released our songs and brought us out. We thought we were in a dream…because people knew our music and they made us feel like Elvis! We try to keep people interested by using twitter and facebook, which are helpful in those matters.
MJ: How have your experiences been playing in Japan? In what ways has it been perhaps different than playing in the U.S.?
RD: Playing in Japan is like living out a fantasy…like being part of your ultimate dream gig. The clubs we played are really awesome…the sound men, the PA systems…no similar sized club ive ever been to in the states can compare with the level of professionalism. Also, nobody is looking at their stupid cell phones while the band’s on stage…nobody trying to talk to each other over the music…you can see people singing along and dancing, and everyone is super excited!
MJ: Do you have any particularly fond experiences either playing in Japan or interacting with Japanese fans?
RD: I always enjoy jumping into the crowd or throwing my guitar in the crowd so they can play the solo…one time we pulled as many people we could on stage and broke one of the club’s microphones….The club owner was pissed!
MJ: The band was featured in this year’s My Bloody Valentine/Shoegazer Guide along with some of the genre’s quintessential artists. How did it feel to be included in a project showcasing what is continuing to grow into a truly beloved genre?
RD: I think its amazing that we are in ANY book or magazine in Japan!
MJ: What is your impression of the Japanese music scene in general? Are you interested in Japanese music? (if so, “Are there any Japanese bands in particular that you are into right now?”
RD: Oh yeah, there are some bands that i will never forget…we have not been able to see a great deal of bands since we are never around for very long…but I love Guitar Wolf, Shonen Knife, Negoto, Civic, Cruyff In The Bedroom, Bertoia, Plastic Zooms, Lemon’s Chair, and Sugizo!
MJ: What are the band’s plans in the near future?
RD: Well, we are gonna play a few more gigs here and there this summer, and begin work on our next recordings (we eed to write the songs)
I recently moved to Nagoya (one reason for the lack of updates lately) and one of my goals once settled in was to take advantage of living in a city with a special music scene. The first venue I had set my sights on was Huck Finn, a small basement live house a few blocks from Imaike Station, which hosts a who’s who of local artists. Having gotten past the initial money-sink that is moving to a new city, I was ready to get a taste of the local music flavor. After browsing a list of shows I noticed a band name that was hard to pass up. Crocodile Bambie (a ‘cute name’ as stated by frontman Yoshihiro Yasui) just sounded awesome, and upon checking out a teaser for their upcoming EP, I decided to book the evening. This was not an easy decision, as Kinoko Teikoku had a show at Club Rock n Roll the same evening, but I decided to dive into something new and different, and I wouldn’t regret my decision.
Crocodile Bambie, a band set to release their debut EP, may have, in name, been a relative unknown, but the band had already developed three decades worth of following. Yasui, the singer and bass player of Bambie, was previously the bassist of long-time Nagoya thrash metal outfit Outrage. It took a bit to get used to the change in atmosphere at the venue. The snappily dressed and fashionably groomed twenty-somethings I’ve become accustomed to at events were replaced by long hair and leather jackets adorned with studs and Motorhead patches. It was the sort of thing I had grown up with at concerts and I instantly felt right at home.
The show kicked off at about 6:30 with Osaka’s The Probes. The best way I could describe this band was a fun and energetic reminder of why we all start bands at some point in our lives. It was nothing complex, but simple, straightforward, aggressive rock music. Lots of fun and a good start to the evening.
Next up was The Nibs. Another band I knew nothing about coming in. I didn’t love it at the start, with the opening song feeling like a medley full of tempo changes. As the set went on, the songs turned into more down-tempo muddy tunes that had really nice grooves to them. They finished strong and made me eager to hear some of their recorded songs.
Stone Edge was the third band of the evening and by the time their set came up Huck Finn was packed tight. This show was a special event for them, being their first performance in 13 years. I had heard them described as an all-girl rock band, which wasn’t entirely true as their guitarist was a guy, but the one thing I had heard that I can verify as true is that this band is excellent. Their in-your-face and fun punk rock sound was a throwback to 90s Fat Wreck Chords-esque bands. Despite it being extremely hot and crowded, the atmosphere was great throughout their set.
After Stone Edge wrapped up a decent amount of the audience seemed to have headed out. Up next was a band whose recordings I had become fond of whom I was eager to see live. Eternal Elysium is another band receiving a good amount of local acclaim. While their live performance was a lot of fun, it didn’t do their recordings justice in my opinion. What I liked most is that the band had a great relationship with the audience. It was a really intimate set and at one point the singer even addressed the (rather large) non-Japanese section of the audience in fluent English. The crowd pleaded for an extended set, but Eternal Elysium reminded everyone at Huck Finn that this was Crocodile Bambie’s night.
Finally the moment we had all been waiting for. After a fairly lengthy set-up, Crocodile Bambie took the stage. They kicked off the show with “Freedom”, the track with which they promoted their debut EP. While Yoshihiro Yasui had made his name with Outrage’s thrash style, his new band is more of a stoner rock outfit with grooving bass lines and droning heavily-delayed guitars. The set was heavy, and despite a small tuning problem at the start, it was every bit as great as I had hoped for. They weaved jam sessions and drum solos in and between songs, but not obnoxiously. There was energy and aggression but it was controlled. I am a big fan of Yasui’s new style and I hope that the 4 tracks on the EP will hold me over until the next batch of sounds is released.
Rock music can often offer escapism from the strictly defined norms of Japanese society. The country is littered with edgy punk rock venues which feature independent acts on a nightly basis, acting as havens for people seeking noise and momentary disorder. It’s an interesting culture, but there is rarely an appealing balance of “edge” and a quality sound. One such act, which maintains this balance beautifully, is Aomori-based punk rock/no-wave band The Chome Chomes.
Also referred to as The XX’s (not to be confused with England’s “the xx”), The Chome Chomes offer a wonderfully chaotic sound, drawing inspiration from the 1970s New York and London punk scenes. At first glance one might wonder how frontwoman Natsumi could possibly produce the sort of aggression necessary to emulate the genre. Upon hitting play, however, it becomes clear that this adorable girl is up to the task. My first impression on listening to The XX’s was how awesome it was to see this small package produce such nasty guttural vocals. In a country whose popular music scene boasts a ton of cute girls in skimpy clothing dancing in unison on big stages, it is refreshing to have Natsumi’s disregard for the gender-related themes so prominent in Japanese mainstream popular culture. As the band proclaim, their music is not about fashion and culture. It’s gender art, embodied by an abrasive female lead and a crazy support trio.
Having formed in 2010, the band made their name on the Rookie-a-Go-Go stage at Fuji Rock ’11. In October the band released their major label debut “Pop Town” for which they are currently touring. This is certainly just the start for a promising band.
For more information visit the band’s official website at .
Here is a video for my personal favorite track of theirs titled “Heisei no Antoinette”
I am always looking for recommendations when it comes to good Japanese music and recently it was suggested that I check out The Earth Earth, an Aomori-based rock band. For many fans of Japanese music, the first thing that comes to mind when “Aomori” and “band” are mentioned in the same sentence is Supercar. Since the band broke up in 2005 there has been an Aomori-shaped hole in many hearts. The Earth Earth are one band doing their best to remind us that the prefecture still has quality music to offer us.
The Earth Earth, at first glance, look like a throwback to goth-rock bands of the 80s and 90s. Their sound also offers a blend of vintage styles ranging from textured shoegaze-type noise tunes to somewhat poppy hook-driven songs. There is a nice variety from track to track, but it is all held together by a consistent amount of fuzz and muddiness.
The band itself is still relatively young. Formed in 2010 in Aomori City They have been playing out for just over two years and have released two albums: “matador is dead” (2011) and “dead matador’s funeral” (2012). The latter is more or less a re-release of the first album on a different label. The current lineup is made up of Oshima Kosuke (vo & G), Ogawa Kaori (vo & G), Nomura (B), and Harada Ayako.
Here is a link to the band’s web page as well as their soundcloud profile and a Youtube video for one of my favorite of their tracks. Enjoy!