HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Tag: Japanese Rock

Shugo Tokumaru - In Focus?

Shugo Tokumaru – In Focus?

Shugo Tokumaru has a busy year ahead of him. Shortly after releasing his fifth full-length album, In Focus? (out now), Tokumaru confirmed a U.S. tour opening for Kishi Bashi, including first ever trip to the west coast & SXSW.

Kicking off on February 22 in Seattle and concluding March 9th in New Orleans, Tokumaru will be performing In Focus? as an intimate, solo set each night, a contrast to the 6-piece band live shows he usually plays in Japan.

Cheock out the video for “Katachi” directed by Kijek/Adamski, featuring stop-motion display of colorful objects set in time to the beat of the song.

Also, listen to “Decorate” from In Focus?

Shugo Tokumaru – In Focus?

February 22 @ Crocodile – Seattle, WA
February 23 @ Biltmore – Vancouver, Canada
February 24 @ HOLOCENE – Portland, OR
February 26 @ Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA
February 27 @ Moe’s Alley – Santa Cruz, CA
March 1 @ Troubadour – Los Angeles, CA
March 2 @ The Casbah – San Diego, CA
March 5 @ Club Congress – Tucson, AZ
March 7 @ Stubb’s Jr. – Austin, TX
March 8 @ Fitzgerald’s (downstairs) – Houston, TX
March 9 @ One Eyed Jacks – New Orleans, LA

Nisennenmondai (にせんねんもんだい) - Fan (2009)

Nisennenmondai Fan

Nisennenmondai Fan (美人レコード、2010)

Nisennenmondai (にせんねんもんだい) - Fan (2009)

Nisennenmondai (にせんねんもんだい) - Fan (2009)

Fan is not music. It is not the deliberate construction of an emotional narrative employing intervals of sound and silence. At thirty-five minutes and a single track, Tokyo trio Nisennenmondai’s (translated loosely as “the Y2K Bug”) 2009 recording for 美人レコード (Bijin Records) thwarts the listener at every turn.

It is played like a record, meaning you cue it up in your mp3 player or CD player or what have you, and, there in the room where you are located, your stereo’s DA converter decodes the acoustic impulses that have been converted into electrical signals in a faraway recording studio back into sound. It has a beginning and an end. But what has been recorded? After the initial sample of ambient room noise and birdsong, is the arrhythmic thrumming that begins and constitutes the core of the record actually the sound of an electric fan put through some kind of effects box? Is what you are hearing musical instruments or objects in a room that happened to have been mic’ed up?

Nisennenmondai guitarist Masako Takada (HESO Magazine)

Nisennenmondai guitarist Masako Takada (HESO Magazine)

Your attention is drawn back to the recording after some five to ten minutes. Some very slight new variations have been added and you, as listener, realize you’ve been engrossed in other thoughts. The recording has, by now, become part of room’s atmosphere, but the introduction of new rhythms has reminded you to listen. This new development bears some resemblance to musical buildup. It renews your expectation that the “song” will suddenly begin to follow the development arc you’ve come to expect from music. You expect the development of tension, its eventual resolution by way of some climactic point. But here Fan frustrates you again, because, though new repetitive elements are added to the composition, and the familiar sounds of traditional instruments such as drums or bass guitars do make their way into the mix, these developments occur over such a long period of time that the effect, in the end, when the mix is thinned back to silence, is that nothing seems to have happened at all.

Nisennenmondai Drummer Sayaka Himeno (HESO Magazine)

Nisennenmondai Drummer Sayaka Himeno

How about a list? Fan is the juxtaposition of ritual and the continuous, predictability and fatelessness, tenacity and adaptation, subject and object, ambience and artifice, ambivalence and intent, participation and affectlessness, action and passivity. It is practice elevated to the extreme that it becomes something emptied of, or even impervious to, intent. Going beyond itself, the practice of musicianship on this record becomes nature. It becomes sound as such. Fan is not music, but the paradox is that it needs a listener to exist at all. Without the listener, it’s just objects going bang in a room thousands of hectares of unknown forest distant, oblivious of itself, unaware of whether it can even be heard. Without a listener it is equivalent to that minute sample of birdsong that starts the record off.

Fan is a clever virus that pushes the listener to come to grips with the idea that, in as little as thirty-five minutes, manufactured objects such as fans, cultural objects such as music, and, by association, culture and human subjectivity can easily and without argument blend back in to the everything from which they were demarcated.

The Flaming Lips at Summer Sonic (HESO Magazine)

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

They made me sign a contract stipulating I wouldn’t badmouth the show. By writing this I will most likely not be invited back. I am fine with this. I am of the opinion that these massive festivals should be done way with altogether. The only thing a baseball stadium should be used for is burning Celine Dion in effigy or, well, baseball. Certainly not an exposition of “music” blasted as it were through stacks of speakers like so much dynamite used to tunnel through mountainsides. But you get what you pay for, and yet despite it being the tenth anniversary of the three-day showcase put on by Creativeman, apparently the punk dudes and goth girls are fine paying nearly $175 per day and showing up well into the afternoon. That must be their rock n’f’n roll sensibility: arrive just in time for Nine Inch Nails’ last Japan tour while missing Marine Stage openers Boys Like Girls, who seemed to have trouble getting through whole songs, or maybe those were just their songs. Either way, I decided to start drinking early.

Phoenix played a strong and instrumental heavy showing on the “Mountain” 2nd tier stage at the far end of the warehouse, de facto winner of worst stage name ever Click To Tweet

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

I Hate Rock N Roll (at Summer Sonic)

I made my way stage by stage (seven in all) early on before absolute indifference strangled my spirit and managed to catch bits and pieces of Totalfat on the Island (it’s a parking lot with that fake golf grass) stage and Fukuhara Miho at the aptly named Beach stage (who ironically enough first appeared on a Celine Dion tribute album). Bouncing between the Dance and Sonic stages (both indoor a massive concrete warehouse) I caught bits and pieces of School of Seven bells and Fujifabric, whose guitarist needs to get a new band, before jumping back to witness Kyte’s occasionally more than interesting Spacemen 3 and Coldplay lovechild’s version of rock orchestraic shoegaze until well, enough of that 1/16th beat programmed high-hat at 2pm. It was time for Girltalk anyway, who exploded onto the Dance stage for some one-legged cross-genre mash-up fun. I now know where my ¥2000 Eco-Friendly fee went after witnessing Gregg Michael Gillis’ cut-off clad twin ingénues literally blowing through twenty packs of toilet paper and confetti with their day-glo air guns. Though this bothered me at first, as soon as the stage filled with twenty-odd crowd-turned-dancers and Gillis reiterated, “I wanna take it to the next level!” while hop-scotching on the decks with one leg (his preferred dance) and pumping his fist in the air, I didn’t mind the loss of the industrial strength single-ply so much. This is what music is all about: Dancing. The sweat and taut skin of youth grinding away in oblivious joy on some stage somewhere likely under the gaze of disapproving eyes. This is Footloose. Short as his set was it provided much of the Day One highlights, what with Katy Perry A.W.O.L., so how could Paramore or Mercury Rev ever hope to pick up the slack?

Perhaps not so surprisingly Phoenix played a strong and instrumental heavy showing on the “Mountain” stage (the 2nd tier stage at the far end of the warehouse, de facto winner of worst stage name ever) in support of their latest album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, despite all appearances of not knowing where in the world they were playing today. Mewling around for more alcohol to relieve the concrete doldrums a decision was made, and though sacrificing Jack Peñate on the Beach stage at sunset was likely the most difficult of the long weekend, Nine Inch nails managed to carry the day- despite SSSS (shit stadium sound syndrome) with an eclectic retrospective of an hour-long set including “March of the Pigs”, “Closer” and a violent “I’m Afraid of Americans” before closing with- you guessed it- “Hurt”. A thunderous downpour soaking run back to the Sonic stage to see an alternatively brilliant and uninspired set by Mogwai, flip-flopping between mirroring the Thor-like hammering sky outside and waffling around in their own piddle puddles like sad wayward children. Follow the left-brain lads. Aphex Twin was even less brilliant and more disappointing given the rehashed run-of-the-mill dj set Richard James seemed satisfied performing to the easily amused crowd. Giving my bladder the impetus to win out over my sense of dharmic duty to actually finish listening to the entire set. To pee or not to pee. Depends on the DJ.

Despite Saturday’s promise of Joan Jett, Elvis Costello, CSS, and the Specials I decided to take a personal day for consumption of proper amounts of Pizza and Belgian Ale, as well as to consider my friend’s overarching indictment that Summer Sonic was like a government-sponsored music festival in Singapore. That bad…or good? I’ll give you a moment to ponder that. While you do so, why not check out the review of Fujirock?

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne rolling overhead

I arrived early-ish Sunday with high expectations that the lineup would overshadow the venue’s shortcomings. The Sonic Stage alone could be depended on to deliver one from the melancholy humidity and violent sonic reverberations. Repeat after me: Grizzly Bear, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth & The Flaming Lips. The Veronicas, Five Finger Death Punch and Gogol Bordello, among other compelling acts appearing strewn across far-flung stages, would have to be sacrificed for the greater good.

It’s possible I may be being overly harsh but Tame Impala sounds like a really lame Sterolab, which I suppose is better than a shitty Keane, who are pretty shitty, so kudos for that. After a refreshing slam of the head against the concrete and the first of quite a few contraband whiskeys, The Temper Trap came on and actually reclaimed some of the pride they lost when they chose that name, solely by the intensity of their live set, though the guitarist has to get a new move because Girltalk already has the one-leg-hop-fist-pump trademarked. Though the Vaselines entered to a subdued midday crowd, their three guitar strong call and response post punk ditties soon got the audience ready for the three other 20+ year old bands on tap. Power pop progenitors Teenage Fanclub, who despite putting out nothing but strong albums since the early 90s, always sound better live. So good in fact I decided to kick up my heels with the other flashbackers in the back with a drink, almost tasting that special blend of tea I drank one night in the mid-90s while locked in a room with only Bandwagonesque and an iguana named Ray. Great. Album.

For the third day running the pounding rain outside the cattle-pen-esque warehouse quartered into “stages” and separated by the same movable walls you had in your elementary school when the budget was slashed made it an easy choice between Ne-yo at the Chiba Marines Stadium and Sonic Youth alongside another two boilermakers where I stood. Since the addition of ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold has freed up Kim Gordon to occasionally double him on bass, pick up a guitar or just jump her ass off in her silver go-go girl skirt, the quintet has found an even happier equilibrium- if that can be believed- between their straightforward punk and their trademark harmonic dissonance, which is the balance the band struck amazingly well throughout their eleven-song set. Performed in a dueling banjo-like fashion with Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore cross-riffing with Gordon and Ibold to Steve Shelley’s constant beat in time to the positively and negatively charged ions making their own beautiful clash of sound skyward pouring down and dredging up on their closer “Death Valley ‘69”, quenching the thirst of the sonically deprived audience. Hands raised to toward the heavens- Hallelujah.

Why Summer Sonic Sucks

I went to Summer Sonic and all I got was stranded in the rain

There is always a certain point when even the most die-hard sexual participant (or in this case concert-goer) recognizes that all-too-familiar lower backache and the tired, cramping legs which inevitably come in between overlong bouts (waiting between sets…) and with unstimulating partners (…for shitty bands). Yet seeing as how the Flaming Lips began their ninety-minute show (long by S.S. standards) by emerging from a video projection of a psychedelic vagina in close-up shooting day-glo sparks, I would doubt the Oklahoma City denizens have ever had problems with either, not that I would know in the latter, but I do have to admit that the adrenalin pumping through my veins when they started in with “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” as Wayne Coyne rolled overhead in his plastic bubble certainly eased two days of concrete stupor. After which Coyne, perpetually decked out in his natty godfather of rock threads, urged everyone to, “C’mon Motherfuckers!” before launching into Soft Bulletin classic “Waitin’ For A Superman”. Careening through less familiar Zaireeka and newer At War With The Mystics material (though oddly omitting the excellent Clouds Taste Metallic completely) the foursome of Lips- accompanied on stage by a bevy of frogs, bunnies and the random light saber guy- happened on more familiar ground with a stripped down Dylanesque revisioning of “The Fight” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” in ethereal organic gospel beauty amid comments like, “Never thought we’d be playing at the same time as Beyonce…” as well as more bullhorn blared, “C’mon MFers!” That was when they almost destroyed their carefully crafted momentum by marching everyone through a somber “Taps” (as a simultaneous eulogy / protest song for the Iraq War) to only the second completely silent audience I’ve ever been in with minimum 1000 other people (Mogwai live at El Rey in LA. circa 1999). Their rather obvious closer, “Do You Realize??” punctuated by gong peals and confetti blasts- was preceded by heartfelt gratitude toward Summer Sonic (“We played the first Summer Sonic in 1999…I mean 2000!”) which perhaps clarified for me why western bands and local fans alike revere this celebration of commercialization and concrete.

It is often unfortunately taken for granted that due to the relative affluence of its large middle class, its rampant consumerism as well as acceptance of foreign medicines, technology and cultural values, that Japan is a western nation. This occasionally causes individuals to overreact to what are viewed through ethnocentric eyes as social peccadilloes, which is another essay altogether. Yet, in general, due to its relative comfort, high salaries and lack of laws pertaining to alcohol, it is often easy to forget that Japan is an island in the far east- the pacific gateway to Asia- and that being so located, the majority of North American and European artists popular on the tour circuit don’t necessarily have the means or resources to pull off an extended tour of Asia, or even a mini-tour of Japan. Flights, equipment costs, hotels number among many other obstacles facing touring artists, who often have to depend on their labels to fund trips due to local promoters offering bare bones remuneration to all but the biggest attractions. Sure, ticket prices are higher here, but so are all domestic charges, so bands rarely see an extra cut. Pedestalized (but not paid) as they are, what they do get is the best service in the western music-loving world. Delivery, translation and succinct efficiency have come to define Japan’s concert industry so much so as to guarantee Summer Sonic the hottest acts at the peak of the summer festival season. Though all this has come to actually guarantee both artists and fans only one thing- a single appearance (maybe two or three if you count Osaka and Nagoya) once every new album cycle or reunion tour grab for cash. Beyond saving the artists exorbitant travel expenses, logistical headaches and giving the Japanese fan what they crave in an otherwise dry international music scene Creativeman can pack as many people as possible into probably the worst venue that ever was. And sadly, boasting their Sex Pistols t-shirts and ripped jeans, these sardines willingly part with their hard earned cash.

Soylent Green is People! © Zebriography

Soylent Green is People! © Zebriography

The setup at Makuhari Messe is a fire hazard, pure and simple. As well as being ripe for a disaster, which I realized might be tap for Sunday’s 8pm headlining Lips’ set when a 7.1 earthquake set anxious feet prematurely to dance. Few paid any real attention to the temblor, despite the obvious risk to the thousands of avid fans crushing ever closer to the stage, as staffers packed them in like so many tuna in Tsukiji. Creativeman’s exit strategy looked woefully similar to Bush Jr.’s in Iraq until the Lips (Read as Obama) came in with musical advice to avert battle weary troops from further PTSD. Which is the reason the fans don’t mind the crowds, the lackluster sets, the high prices, the shite sound, the constant rules shouted through megaphones, all set in an acoustic nightmare of a wharehouse just made for corporate seminars: Music trumps all.

It’s specifically because of this- apart from the inherent and ignored danger (though that is kind of punk isn’t it?), the ubiquitous concrete and heavy-handed commercialism- Summer Sonic’s producers look to have at least a few more years of success left, what with the stature of the bands they can attract (what can’t massive ego-stroking accomplish when coupled with cold hard cash?) and the intelligent decision to have bikini-top clad cuties pouring drinks to cleavage-starved lads. It might surprise you to know, but among the other western amenities adopted by Japan, drinking milk for strong bones and lean bodies has had an increasingly positive effect on the female population. Now if only we could get Celine Dion to defect…

**Editor’s Note**

Apart from attempting to dictate the content of the article, Creativeman also was quite fascist about cameras, not allowing us any access other than what the rudimentary fan would get, thus maintaining the monopoly on imagery for their DVD sales and sponsored quid pro quo write-ups, hence the eclectic shot selection.

The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent HESO Magazine.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Two questions are typically asked surrounding Fujirock: “Are you going?” and “How was it?” Recently the answer to the first has been yes, while the answer to the second generally begins with “Wet” and gets more complicated from there. Despite the weather perpetually being an issue during the three-day megafest in the mountains of Yuzawa, a little known town in rural Niigata, the mainstay of the now 13 year-old music festival is almost always the sideshows. So a fan would be excused if they were lured to the expensive midsummer exposition upon hearing that the likes of Oasis, Weezer, and Franz Ferdinand were headlining, but despite often disappointing sets by Green stage acts it’s the smaller, more carnival stages which hold the real untold treasures, just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid, if muddied, troubadour festival-goer.

Fujirock Festival – Sideshows Steal The Show

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Swedish gypsy punk band Räfven electrifies the audience at Fujirock

Truth is with over two hundred acts spanning the twelve or so stages it’s impossible to see everyone you would like to, or even a fraction of the talented musicians from all over the globe coalescing in the pine tree scented paradise of Naeba. So you pick, you choose, you try to schedule, but often you end up guessing or just plain stuck due to traffic jams, sudden downpours and mud delays. Sometimes these forays into chance take you toward the mini Naeba Shokudo stage on the edge of the Oasis foodcourt, sandwiched between the massive Green and more club-like Red Marquee stages, to happen upon bands like The Inspector Cluzo, a duet of drums and guitar who seem to have the classic bluesy-soul guitar rock highlighted with vocal bird call arpeggios sound down to a beautiful science. Or to the Orange Court, the farthest of the big stages (which was to host All-Night Fuji on Friday but had been turned into a field study in rainwater collection) to discover the gypsy jamband folk-punk stylings of Räfven (who performed an astonishing nine times), a infectively rabid band of street musicians all the way from Gothenburg. The Orange Court is also a place where someone like Juana Molina’s immense talent and ethereally disturbing voice and intricate instrumentation goes unappreciated on Sunday afternoon. Yet on Saturday evening in the more intimate Gypsy Avalon, it’s perfectly accompanied with a bit of wine from the nearby Organic Village and a space on the- shock and awe- semi-dry grass!

By far the best place to be a fan in the front is the Red Marquee, which was the only dry place in town all weekend. Potential electrocution might explain why Dinosaur Jr., who unloaded at least five more Marshall stacks on top of the already well-endowed PA equipment on hand, was scheduled to close the covered tent Saturday night. Not only is J. Mascis’ guitar – a massive wave of undulating sound wrapped in distortion in perfect time and balance to bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph- the loudest thing I’ve ever heard, it’s one of the most beautiful and melodic. Sadly, a few songs before they undoubtedly encored, I made a break for Public Enemy at the White Stage, headlining arguably the best stage / lineup combination of the entire weekend (Melvins, Zazen Boys, Bad Brains). Despite missing Flava Flav and Professor Griff due to “visa problems”, Chuck D promised a “real hip-hop show” and if the audience’s reaction was any indication, him promising to play their second studio LP It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety (broken up only by a tribute to MJ, name dropping various websites – publicenemy.com, rapstation.com, and introducing a new artist) was the performance they were waiting for.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Band Member Teaches Crowd to Live Tweet During Bright Eyes final show at Fujirock

Starting off well is paramount to lasting on your feet all day and into the night, and the best way to do that is by taking the Dragondola, which claims to be the world’s longest gondola lift (despite that not being true), for a ride. Lasting about 15 minutes and not only soaring 5.5 km toward the 1800-meter high Mt. Takenoko, it provides a much needed and breeze-filled getaway from the muddied hordes milling about like so many insects below. As the early afternoon creeps closer and the big names crawl out of their luxury hotel suites to fulfill their 50-minute sets, hitting the airlift back down the hill and grabbing a couple of the tastiest and cheapest beers at the festival from Tokyo Brewing Company is a must before braving the over-crowded walkways for the likes of frenetic rock Nordlander Ida Maria and her succinct pop-punk ditties or the fragile-looking Nick Cave cohort Rowland Howard whose snaky, smoky, whiskey-honed voice will do things to you long after he exits stage left. And then there’s Bright Eyes who, according to Conor Oberst, is not a band anymore. So their appearance at Fujirock was part of a “one-night world tour”, and will disband after the release of their next album. All this didn’t seem to bother the largely perplexed and oddly small audience gathered to hear the strong Saturday afternoon set in the Red Marquee tent. What was confusing was the attractive young lady sitting in a chair, texting, twittering, and occasionally giggling, next to the caterwauling Oberst (who can pull some truly interesting sounds from a simple acoustic guitar), working the crowd up into mini Midwest tornadoes of passion, ennui and release until finally, our mystery lady pulled out her voice -alongside Mike Moggis’ Cornet- and stole the show. Sayonara Bright Eyes.

Fujirock Music Festival

Fans Reach Out to Touch Peaches as She performs an out of her ind set at Fujirock

Other notables were Tortoise, DJ Towa Tei, Longwave, Simian Mobile Disco and the standout State Circus of Mongolia. Glam and electronica rocker Peaches wins for most mouth-wateringly fruitlike S&M-ish costumes, fuck you swagger and stage presence, the longest stage dive (that I was witness to) while maintaining the song’s chorus (“Harder, harder”) perfectly, and just overall raw sexual energy and love of music. As the forty-plus year old Merrill Nisker (backed by the Herms) deftly maneuvered her hour-long set to the audience’s rapt glee, in support of her latest album, I Feel Cream, no one was thinking, “Hmmm, who’s on at the Green stage?”

Holy Fuck opening for the Airborne Toxic Event on the White Stage was an auspicious beginning to Sunday which turned out to peak with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s powerful set (see full gallery of CYHSY photos) of first album classics interspersed with a few newer tunes before petering out with Animal Collective’s introspective- at times masturbatorial- and overly hyped performance. By the time Röyksopp Nordic electro-magnetic vibes began spewing forth I had the good fortune to catch a guitarless Rivers Cuomo crooning the classic “My Name Is Jonas” while simultaneously being bitten by several ticks before passing out from three days of mud and blood, sweat and bugs, and of course lots of great side acts who deserve main stage attention. Like Räfven, Juana Molina, Diplo, Comeback My Daughters, Wilko Johnson, Justin Nozuka, Soil & “Pimp” Session, The Inspector Cluzo, Zaz and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, among many others, who made multiple showings across three days in what feels more like an attempt to fill time slots than any genuine desire on the part of the lower echelon of artists’ to extend their stay. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but among other possibilities, it could be they weren’t invited to play at Fujirock’s sister festival in Korea, the Jisan Valley Rock Fest, like scores of other larger names were. Enough politics, the fans scream, give us more music. No problem.

Fujirock Festival - Sideshows Steal The Show

Patti Smith live at Fujirock

Ebony Bones takes home best costumes and most color amid the rock-steady downpours of Friday at the Green Stage. Despite hearing that Oasis wasn’t that bad (I couldn’t bring myself to actually watch) and stripping White Stage headliners The Neville Brothers of any audience whatsoever, the Green Stage redeemer is by far Patti Smith, who put on one of the more powerful performances I’ve been witness to at a festival. Shame that it came on Friday afternoon, as she seems as confident as ever, spitting and smiling alongside longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye and surprise guest Tom Verlaine. She sang as sure of voice as the wind pushing the sheets of rain down on the thousands gathered, watching her stomp through guitar romps and shake her trademark black beanie in the air declaring, “this one’s for the children!” amid dedications to Haile Selassie and MJ. Ending with the explosive “Rock and Roll Nigger,” aided by Verlaine’s intricate guitar work, Smith can still go blow for blow with the biggest names and walk away smiling.

Rumor has it Naeba’s days of hosting the popular festival are over and the days of Fujirock being nowhere near Mt. Fuji may be at an end. Who knows where the roving Japanese festival will end up? Likely I will be asked, “Are you going?” to which I will undoubtedly say yes (if I can hitch a ride out there…) and to the always difficult to answer, “How was it?” I’ll likely say, worth the time, effort and extraneous cash, if you should have it.

Fujirock Festival of the Future and Past

Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past

Fujirock Festival of the Future and Past

The Boardwalk During a Rare Uncrowded Moment

The Buddha said that life is about contradictions. Vegetarians wearing leather. Environmental bumper stickers on SUVs. The Fuji Rock Festival being nowhere near Mt. Fuji.

Truth is, Smash (the organizer promoting the 3-day, 130,000 strong festival) did try to hold it at the foot of Mt. Fuji in its inaugural attempt back in 1997, but a typhoon famously, disastrously swooped off the sea and cancelled the show. Hence Mt. Naeba, a ski resort in Yuzawa, Niigata, a large rural prefecture located on the northwest shores of Japan (Yuzawa is the setting for Kawabata Yasunari’s classic Snow Country), has been hosting the country’s largest music festival since Hidaka Masahiro started it in 1999.

Fujirock – Festival of the Future and Past

Boasting musicians the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Grand Master Flash, Bootsie Collins, Spearhead, Ian Brown and Primal Scream, this year’s lineup is eclectic to say the least. It includes many seemingly peripheral acts, though acts that have been delivering strong, rock-steady performances before some of these young concert-goers were out of diapers. Other plusses are the community spirit and low crime despite the close quarters (camping’s the norm unless you book a hotel a year in advance). Corporate sponsorship remains low, despite the relatively blasé attitude most Japanese have toward ever-advancing consumerism, and the banning of fliers and product campaigns with their annoying bullhorn approach to sales is almost as refreshing an experience as the near constant rainfall which seems to annually bless or plague (depending on your religious affiliation) the festival. Another aesthetic asset is that the festival aims to be “the cleanest festival in the world” and seems to be on the mark. Although garbage and recycling stations are relatively far apart, your young, well-behaved and environmentally conscious attendees are generally diligent about toting their own portable ashtrays and plastic bags (given out by the staff at the entrance) for hours at a time.

Minuses are the rocky pathways, which though peaceful and serenely set in a beautiful wooded area, are generally overcrowded and one-way, making getting to the Green Stage, for example, in time to see My Bloody Valentine headline Friday night from the Special Others (a great Japanese jamband) playing the Field of Heaven stage logistically impossible. Thank Buddha for press passes. But wait, the press doesn’t actually get anything resembling press passes at all, save for a lime green mesh photo jersey in which to sweat profusely. No press tent, no lockers or storage for necessary camera gear, no wi-fi. It’s truly roughing it.

The biggest, most internationally friendly event in Japan has come a long way since ’97 and still has a long way to go. I for one would like to see a more concerted effort to introduce a bit of anarchy into the three-day carnival atmosphere, but unless it occurs organically of its own volition, well, that would be a contradiction now wouldn’t it.

Ed Rodriguez of Deerhoof plays guitar live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview

On paper they read like a relatively run-of-the-mill, up and coming alternative rock band: two guitars, bass, drums, female vocalist all playing their hearts out for an eclectic independent label from backwoods, USA. Yet Deerhoof is not your typical San Francisco band. Nor is KRS (Kill Rock Stars) your typical label. Though somehow the two are a perfect fit, Deerhoof ranking as the all-woman-run, Olympia-based label’s oldest and best-selling act. Originating as a drums and guitar duo in the mid-90s, it has taken over ten years, ten albums and ten (or so) musicians rotating in and out to solidify the current four-member lineup (Drummer Greg Saunier, Satomi Matsuzaki (Vocals/Bass), John Dieterich (guitar) and Ed Rodriguez (guitar)) into the band that Radiohead, for one, likes listening to.

The classically trained Greg Saunier, fresh out of Conservatory, got into the Bay Area music scene with Nitre Pit, a short-lived quartet, where he met bassist Rob Fisk, the other founding member of what would eventually become Deerhoof. Nitre Pit broke up and, suddenly a rhythm-heavy duet, they nonetheless fulfilled their remaining dates, one of which had a young Slim Moon, the founder of Kill Rock Stars, in the audience.

In typical Rock and Roll Dream fashion, they were signed after the show to produce the first of Deerhoof’s numerous recordings. When HESO sat down with the band on their recent mini-Japan tour, Greg had this to say about how many lives has the band been through.”A zillion (laughs). If we count the time some guy came dressed as Milkman (Milkman, Kill Rock Stars 2004) to a show and jumped on stage, that’s its own lineup for one night. Every time we do a record or make up a song it actually does feel like we get a new life, radically changing the way we work.”

It wasn’t until 1996 or so when the band set into place the distinctive skeleton of the modern Deerhoof by adding the diminutive Satomi Mastuzaki, just off the Tokyo boat to San Francisco and looking for adventure. Besides Matsuzaki’s high-pitched voice adding a pleasingly disjunctive aspect to the duet’s oft-improvised artrock, she tempered their tonal testosterone with a demure yet powerful cuteness, not to mention a rhythmic bass once Fisk left in 1999. Thus beginning the band’s love affair with Japan.

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview/h2>

HESO: How many times have you toured in Japan? And what are your overall thoughts about touring here?

DH: “6 or 7. Usually more than once per album. Including Fujirock (2007) this is our third tour on this album (Friend Opportunity, Kill Rock Stars 2007). Japan’s music world takes care of a band in quite a different way. There’re more stagehands than people in the band and the room is what would pass for a smallish venue back home, but the PA system and lights, just incredible care. We have a very skewed perspective on it. We get invited and everything’s taken care of. We are the honored guests.”

Deerhoof are notorious for not giving straightforward answers to interviewers, though when HESO met them on a strangely cool June day in Shibuya, they were all ears and mouths, talking incessantly about their new album, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars 2008) and whether creating new material, songs, albums, is a process of touring or more this revolving lineup or both.

“It’s not necessarily to do with touring, since music comes from someplace that’s unpredictable‚ it’s a matter of allowing your music to follow where your imagination is telling you to go and having an idea of what that’ll be tomorrow.” said Greg.

John Dieterich, who entered the band in 1999 and whose savant-esque guitar gave rise to the creation of their next album, Reveille, which caused many seminal bands the likes of Sonic Youth and the aforementioned Radiohead, to take note of, added, “It’s also affected by who you see every night. You have to react. If you feel something, you’re constantly reevaluating how you approach it‚ we’re touring with the Tenniscoats and XIU XIU right now and they’re such different bands. But the most valuable experience as a musician, for me is touring and seeing new and different bands all the time. You get to see different kinds of depth. You’re experiencing it as it happens and it’s penetrating all other aspects of your life, not just playing or recording, but it’s life. It’s human.”

HESO: How do you guys come to an album? Is it a collaboration or does, for example, Satomi always come with lyrics?

Greg: It’s magic if we come up with anything at all. If we finally think it’s good, well, why is that? I don’t know how we stumble upon it. Trying a different process every song‚ I’m always amazed that the well doesn’t run dry. I always think, well, that’s it. That’s probably my last song. I wouldn’t know how to find it if I had to, there are no rules, no system, no precedent to follow. Just guessing and making it up as you go along.

John: It’s an intuitive process. In any given city in the US, there’s no system set up other than family. Theoretically there’re schools indoctrinating everyone, but that’s completely different for everyone.

Greg: In my school 2 + 2 is 4.

HESO: Well, being left-handed we had to write that backwards. I didn’t like that.

Greg: Tom Cruise said that Scientology cured his Dyslexia. (Laughs)

Deerhoof in Tokyo (Manny Santiago)

Deerhoof in Tokyo

HESO: He probably meant that Dyslexia cured his Scientology. Moving on. Ed, what was the process of you entering the band?

Ed: John and I have known each other for about 15 years, been playing music for about that long and we were in a band
together in Minneapolis. The first time I heard Deerhoof was when he sent recordings. I was so happy John was playing, it was so perfect. That was 1999.

HESO: Do you walk into the studio with a time limit, say two weeks, to get it all done?

John: Instead of going for a long stretch of time, we went in one day in March, and our original idea was to record the whole album and we were sure it would be so easy. We ended up getting four (tracks), one of which we canned. We ended up going back in a month later and recorded and went through the rest of everything.

Ed: The thinking is that we should really do everything ourselves. Greg & John have such a developed sense of mastering sound and working with recordings that as a band we try not going outside of it as much as possible. It seems incredibly foreign, the idea of putting that much care into writing material and recording and then hand it to someone else, wait a while and get it back. If you can dedicate yourself to all aspects then.

John: It’s pretty amazing the things you can do.

Deerhoof’s latest album, Offend Maggie, comes out in October and they already have January dates in Japan to support it. Why not support them?

Check out the Interview with Deerhoof and a review of their latest album La Isla Bonita.

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo – Photos of the Indie band Deerhoof live at The Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo

Fantasma

Cornelius is not a man. Nor, for that matter, is he an ape (though the name comes from Planet of the Apes). Cornelius is a musical group founded by Oyamada Keigo (小山田圭吾) in the early 90s after his Shibuya-kei duo with Ozawa Kenji, Flipper’s Guitar, split up. Suddenly a solo act, Oyamada spent the next five or so years crafting his persona and honing his production skills, a sabbatical ultimately culminating in what made it all worth the wait—the music.

1997 saw Cornelius break into various European and American indie scenes with the infectious Fantasma (Matador Records, 1997), a melodic blending of traditional and esoteric poprock elements alongside sounds of nature wrapped candylike around backdrops of digital wash. I remember driving down Venice Boulevard toward the beach when my friend first put it in the CD player, mentioning something about “addictive…” In the strange part of my mind which catalogues beauty, I’m still on Venice Blvd, heading toward the beach, listening to “Chapter 8: Seashore and Horizon.” I’ve never turned back.

Recently HESO Magazine sat down with Oyamada at his Nakameguro studio. Between sips of Oolong tea, cigarettes and stealing glances at his massive cd collection, we chatted about his defunct label Trattoria, his plans after Sensuous, and the supporting Sensuous Synchronized Tour (the final Japan performance of which HESO attended at the Grand Cube Concert Hall in Osaka), back in Japan after finishing up some dates in Europe. When asked about his success abroad, he laughed and demurred, talking about other bands. But in the end, he added, “on this past tour, quite a few people came out to see me in the US and I even played at Disney Concert Hall. I’ve been doing this now for ten years, and finally I get to play live in a hall—I thought that was pretty good.”

What he sensuously synchronized in front of that audience was an audio-visual extravaganza. A veritable smörgåsbord for the senses. Imagine two hours of expertly crafted electro-rock music synched to an ever-changing reel of nebulous videos featuring miniature landscapes a la Hieronymus Bosch, walking fingers, children and animals, and a million other things you will have to buy the DVD to catch.

Sensuous

Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo

HESO: I’m guessing you’ve probably been on tours all over, but which has been the most interesting place so far?

Keigo Oyamada: Anyplace I’ve never been before is interesting.

HESO: I think most bands tour in the US and Europe, but Björk for example goes to places like China and Indonesia. Have you ever been to any places like that?

O: Haven’t been to China yet. I’m going to Korea for the first time next week. That’s about it in Asia.

HESO: What about South America?

O: Never been to South America, either, though I’d like to go. I’ve been invited to Brazil, but it’s half a world away. Taking all my equipment there would incur enormous expenses, so it’s near impossible to do.

HESO: The last date of your Sensuous Synchronized Show was in Osaka I think…

O: Actually, we have a few more dates in Korea, but yeah, the last in Japan.

HESO: What are you thinking about doing after the tour? Collaborating with some other artists or making a new album?

O: I haven’t made any decisions yet. Well, maybe a few small things. I’m making a jingle for Tokyo FM.

HESO: Do you have any plans to exhibit your videos at any galleries or art institutions?

O: I made a DVD with images from my live performances using 5.1-channel sound. It’s already out in Japan, and will probably be out in the US in the summer. It’s coming out from Everloving, my label. That, and a tour DVD called Point from about five years ago. I’ll be showing those two at places like museums.

Flippers Guitar - On Pleasure Bent

Flippers Guitar – On Pleasure Bent

HESO: Are you doing all that by yourself? Or are you collaborating with anyone?

O: I have a film director for the video, Tsujikawa Koichiro. We’ve been working together for a long time. He made nearly seven or eight tracks. There’s also a film director in Kyoto—Groovisions. And then the Kyoto artist Takagi Masakatsu, who made one track.

HESO: Speaking of collaborations, you recently put out an EP titled Gum.

O: That was only in the U.S.

HESO: That’s right. And wasn’t Sakamoto Ryuichi on that third track?

O: Sakamoto did the chorus for me on that one. Hosono Haruomi is another of the members of YMO. It’s something Sakamoto and I did for a tribute album for the leader of YMO.

HESO: You were on tour with Hosono, weren’t you?

O: Yeah, as a guitarist.

HESO: If you could work with any artist you like, who would it be?

O: A band? Someone recent?… (He thinks for a while) He’s not very recent, but Takemitsu Toru—you hear a lot of him on film soundtracks. He’s from the 1950s or 60s. I listen to a lot of people who do contemporary Japanese music or film music.

HESO: Really? Recently, I’ve found the There Will Be Blood soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood to be pretty good.

O: Oh, I listen to a lot of Radiohead myself—In Rainbows for one.

HESO: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would it be?

O: Hmmm… dinner? Alive or dead?… People I would want to eat with?… My own family (laughter).

HESO: What first got you interested in music?

tenorionO: When I was about 7 or 8, we did taiko (Japanese drums) at school. In class, we would all dance, but the sound of those drums probably made me want to make my own music.

HESO: When did you first start thinking about becoming a musician?

O: Becoming a musician… I did music because I liked it, but I never really thought I could be a professional so I never really thought about becoming one. But then someone from a record company heard our band and asked us to put out a record. It was completely by accident.

HESO: It seems like your music draws influence from all over. You can hear natural sounds and Zen-like sounds like wind chimes. There’s a lot of East and West. With each album, do you think about which direction you are going to take it? Or do you simply listen to all kinds of sounds and go from there?

O: I love all kinds of music and am influenced by all kinds of music as well. I think most of those sounds just naturally come out. It’s not as if I like rock or only listen to classical—I have a great love for all kinds of music. My father is a musician, and I used to look through his record collection. It’s all because my father’s got some great records.

HESO: You mix sound and visuals and even produce it yourself—the DJ mixing, too.

O: It’s multi-media, isn’t it? I don’t do the DJ mixing, but I do kind of act like a VJ for the live shows.

HESO: I recently heard one of your old Breeze Block mixes on BBC’s Radio One…

O: Ah… I do radio programs. NHK, too. Now that you mention it, I was a DJ on NHK. I don’t DJ at clubs.

HESO: A friend asked me recently to sum your music up in a word and I couldn’t. What kind of music would you say do? How do you define your music?

O: Mmmmm, that’s a tough one. I don’t really know what to say, but basically it’s just Rock.

HESO: On stage, you play guitar, have keyboards and a Theremin, use a Tenorion with a projection behind you. How is it different from your process of making an album in the studio?

O: In the studio, I am playing most of the instruments myself. Live, I’m playing together with other musicians. I guess I’m basically interpreting the album.

HESO: It’s pretty common in the US, for example, to feature someone on your album, but do you ever play with anyone in the studio?

O: I work alone, but on Sensuous, I worked with the Kings of Convenience. They sang a track for me. Their acoustic guitar duet is kind of like Simon and Garfunkel. Other than that, I don’t really work with anyone else on albums. I do, however, work on quite a bit of collaborations and mixes with overseas artists.

HESO: How did you wind up with Kings of Convenience?

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

O: They just came to Japan for a tour and we happened to know each other—I had met them in England before. Hell, they were in Japan so I figured we should just do something.

HESO: It’s pretty damn good. I thought the synchronization between the sound and visuals was particularly strong. How did you start out with that?

O: I’ve been synching sound and visuals for about ten years now, since about the time I put out the album Fantasma. I gradually developed from there, and with the current title Sensuous Synchronized Show, I had the concept of synching everything—the visuals, the sound, the lights—and I’ve been doing it this way for about two years now.

HESO: Who made the videos in your show?

O: My friend Tsujikawa, whom I mentioned earlier, made about ten of them. After that, there are several other directors I’ve made some videos with since long ago. I guess I work with several people, but Tsujikawa is the main guy, and he makes most of them.

HESO: Where most other Japanese artists haven’t had similar success outside of Japan, why do you suppose you’ve had such international success? Some of the few Japanese artists with any popularity in America are Pizzicato Five and Cibo Matto.

O: What about The Boredoms?

HESO: Yeah, I guess them, too. And Ozawa Seiji.

O: (laughter) Before I was Cornelius, I was in a band called Flipper’s Guitar. It was in Japan, when I was about 20. There were only two members, but one of those members was Ozawa’s nephew!

HESO: Was it one of the so-called Shibuya-kei bands?

O: It was before Shibuya-kei. It was a little before that word “Shibuya-kei” came out. After we broke up we were labeled Shibuya-kei.

HESO: To finish up, what do you like to eat?

O: (laughter) What do I like to eat? I like rice.

Cornelius – Live in Osaka

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