Tokyo Soundscape Episode 17: Salyu x Salyu Interview

I’ve mentioned it before (in my post A Personal Document of How I Came to Love Japanese Music), but I host a Japanese music podcast on SOAS Radio by the name of Tokyo Soundscape. I thought I might as well start posting about it here as well, because my latest episode is really worth listening to. Not only is there the usual mix of triffic tunes and silly rambling chatter from yours truly, but this edition features a great big interview with singer Salyu and writer/producer Keigo Oyamada (aka Cornelius – one of my all time heroes), plus Yumiko Ohno and Asa-chang, ahead of their salyu x salyu show at the Jazz Cafe in London last month.

Please give it a listen/download here – and you can find the tracklist below – and don’t forget to like the Facebook page while you’re at it.

NOKIES! – We Are News In The Dance Floor
Miila and the Geeks – CIGARETTE & WATER
salyu x salyu – Tadano Tomodachi
salyu x salyu – Dorei
salyu x salyu – Hanashitai Anatato
DJ Kentaro – Handmade Gift (feat Little Tempo)
Marewrew – Sa Oy
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – Come On!
Guitar Wolf – Summertime Blues

I should have another new episode up in the next couple of weeks, but by all means trawl through the back catalogue for ace Japanese music too.

2011: Gigs of the Year

And so beginneth the first in a series of top 2011 lists, starting with my favourite live performances of the year. All images were taken at the Glastonbury Festival by me, and you can see all my other festy snaps here, and I’ve also thrown in some YouTube links – I mean, all those guys with their cameraphones out at gigs weren’t just recording their crummy footage for nothing, right?

1. Janelle Monáe (Glastonbury)

Though on sparkling form at her Roundhouse show earlier on in the year, that was marred by overcooked sound levels. No such problem here, in easily the slickest and downright most entertaining performance I’ve seen this year. With the ArchOrchestra on top form, Monáe, polished but still filled with soul and bundles of energy, effortlessly rattled through her set with a bonus note-perfect cover of ‘I Want You Back’ to boot. My crowd-surf super-lucky photo-op (which was exhibited at The Guardian offices in London, dontcha know) was just the icing on the cake.

2. Guitar Wolf (Islington Academy)

Legendary leather-clad riotous rockers Guitar Wolf touched their space battleship down in London for a non-stop tour de force leading to puddles of sweat, an audience member attempting a guitar solo, a human pyramid and, when the lights came on and the power was pulled by venue management, an acoustic finale out of necessity as Guitar Wolf battled on regardless. Factor in support from London-based psychedelic noise merchants Bo Ningen and you have one hell of a show.

3. Pulp (Wireless)

For their first announced comeback show, tickets for Pulp’s headlining day at the Wireless festival were rather bafflingly not sold out. But other people’s loss I guess, as Cocker and chums delivered a stonking set filled with their biggest hits and plenty of fan favourites. And Pulp are arguably even more necessary today than at the height of their Britpop popularity.

4. Foo Fighters (Roundhouse)

I am no great Foo Fighters fan, more a casual appreciator, but there was no question that their iTunes festival gig was something almighty. From Dave Grohl appearing behind the audience on top of the bar for a guitar battle, and then later getting an unruly attendee thrown out for picking a fight, to special guest appearances from Lemmy and Queen’s Roger Taylor and Brian May, it was two-and-a-half hours plus of rock excellence.

5. Darwin Deez (Glastonbury)

Darwin and his fellow Deezers know how to put a performance together. Not content with playing their already wonderful tunes, they drop instruments for impeccably choreographed dance interludes to a jukebox jamboree. Not to mention a side order of sweet rapping. Fun fun fun.

6. Mono and Holy Ground Orchestra (Koko)

First time I saw Japanese epic rock instrumental group Mono, they were supported by the astonishing World’s End Girlfriend who somewhat stole the show. But in the European debut of their orchestral accompaniment set, they really came into their own. A beautiful and memorable evening.

7. DeVotchKa (Glastonbury, Wireless)

Perhaps best known for their big Little Miss Sunshine-featured themes, live DeVotchKa have no problem rocking with the best of them, with pounding gypsy-infused stomps amongst the more sensitive sections. Plus, a bit of theremin action, a great big horn, and even a banana maraca.

8. Portishead (ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror)

Though ATP’s inaugural I’ll Be Your Mirror festival was hardly without teething problems, they sure had a doozy of a curator for their first effort. If Beth Gibbons’ voice sounds hauntingly flawless on record, live it’s astonishing. So glad to have finally seen them live.

9. Grinderman (ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror)

For snarling sweaty rock that’s raw, ready and rough around the edges, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds side project deliver in buckets. Shame to hear they may be pulling the plug on Grinderman for the time being, but great to see them run riot in Alexandra Palace.

10. Grace Jones (Wireless)

With multiple hat-and-accessory changes on top of an already revealing outfit (for 63 years old, she still cuts a striking figure), Grace Jones is also a great entertainer. Witness her closing number as she rocks a hula hoop for the whole of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ and then continues to keep it spinning as she introduces all the band members and still keeps it going as she leaves the stage. Very not bad.

A Personal Document of How I Came to Love Japanese Music

Readers of Viewing Gum may or may not be aware that, since 2005, I have presented Tokyo Soundscape, a Japanese music podcast hosted by SOAS Radio (based at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London). Many episodes have been lost in the annals of history, and I usually record them in brief spurts, based on what material I have to hand and what related events and gigs are taking place in London, but I largely cover contemporary alternative pop, rock and electronic music from Japanese artists, with a few curveballs thrown in for good measure.

It all came about when the initiative was launched to have a radio station at SOAS which would have a brief FM broadcast in November/December 2005. Then titled Open Air Radio, the station transmitted music and talk shows live around London for three weeks, including 3 editions of Tokyo Soundscape. Almost six years later, I have just recorded a couple more and I thought it would be a good time to perhaps talk a little bit about how I came to be interested in Japanese music. I had developed an interest in its popular culture, largely through a Japanese friend of mine at school when I was little, and more recently cinema, particularly the likes of Ringu, Audition, Battle Royale, and Brother. However, my love of the music specifically can be traced back to Spaced: 1999.

Spaced was in many ways a ‘game-changer’ for me, in that as funny and exciting and brilliantly performed as it was, it’s kinetic camerawork and tightly-packed references and in-jokes spoke to me on a deeply personal level, especially as a teenager still giddy from seeing Evil Dead II for the first time as part of Channel 4’s Uncensored season the year before (shown avec un intro de Mark Kermode, along with Zombie Flesh Eaters). However, I only started watching when my friend Stu informed me the last episode had zombies appearing out of Resident Evil 2 and terrorising the characters. What sounded like the greatest thing ever, in a rare occurrence, did indeed turn out to be the greatest thing ever, and so I watched in awe from episode 4 (aka ‘the paintball one’) onwards.

But we’re getting a little side-tracked here. As the Spaced DVD was released, so too, in a welcome surprise, was the soundtrack. The show had matched a great visual style with a nifty song selection too which, coupled with Guy Pratt’s own superb original compositions, really contributed to the feel of the show, and helped it stand out from any comedy that had come before. Amongst the likes of Ocean’s 11 scorer David Holmes, Nightmares on Wax and Coldcut, two contributors stood out: Fantastic Plastic Machine and Cornelius. And it was only after internet research that I discovered they just so happened to be Japanese (also known as Tomoyuki Tanaka and Keigo Oyamada respectively).

As leading lights of the Shibuya-kei music scene (so-called because their offerings, a mix of French ye-ye, bossa nova and beats, became popular at the HMV in Shibuya, Tokyo’s hip fashion district), their tunes struck a chord. In particular, Cornelius’ blistering ‘Count Five or Six’ was my new favourite song, and encouraged by critical consensus, I ordered the album it came from, 1998’s Fantasma, off Amazon. Upon receipt, I listened to it from start to finish, poring over the beautifully designed and detailed inlay, with a big grin on my face. It was like a magical musical mystery tour through influences as diverse as Beck, Bach, and Boys both Beach and Beastie.

It was about this time that Jet Set Radio was released on the Sega Dreamcast. A graffiti-tagging roller-blading slice of videogame cool, Smilebit’s classic featured ground-breaking cel-shaded graphics and, more to the point, wonderful music. Guest tracks came from hip-hop posse Jurassic 5, Headhunter scorer and Metropolis Street Racer songsmith Richard Jacques, and Japanese indie rockers Guitar Vader, but the music was largely provided by Hideki Naganuma, who built upon a Shibuya-kei sensibility with a lively and vibrant soundtrack which fitted the game’s action and aesthetic perfectly. Both Spaced and Jet Set Radio became key touchstones in my blossoming love for Japanese music, which came to be solidified watching coverage of the 2002 Fuji Rock Festival on late-night Channel 4 (back when late-night Channel 4, especially its 4Later strand, was something to get excited about). Cornelius performed ‘Star Fruits Surf Rider’ and it was also my first introduction to one of my favourite bands Supercar.

However, probably the finest exponent of cool Japanese music around the time was the excellent Adam and Joe Go Tokyo! on BBC Three in the summer of 2003. Hosted by the brilliantly funny Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, …Go Tokyo! was a magazine show of sorts, charting their unsuccessful attempts to integrate into and understand Japanese culture, with informative and entertaining interviews, reports and features.  On the music side of things, there were the latest pop promos and their own attempts at chart stardom (with Gaijin Invasion), but they also closed each show with a live act, and featured some great performances from Guitar Wolf, Polysics, Hoover’s Ooover, and Plus-Tech Squeeze Box.

When I finally had the chance to visit Japan as part of my gap year trip, I put my education into practice, spending hours in HMV and Tower Records listening to the in-store headset, and picking up Plus-Tech Squeeze Box’s Cartooom! and Supercar’s Futurama. And my study year in Kyoto allowed for regular trips to rental emporium Tsutaya, second-hand CD goodness from Book-Off, and the opportunities to see the likes of Cornelius, Hoover’s Ooover, and YMO live. Yet, when I spoke to any Japanese person about the bands I liked, they would usually draw a blank, as little of the J-pop idol stuff, anime theme tunes or extravagant visual-kei malarkey that many would associate with contemporary Japanese music really appealed to me.

Though I still spend time seeking out new artists, it was this early blossoming period that still holds most sway when it comes to my taste in music, even if its kind has fallen somewhat out of favour. There are still examples out there (Kyoto’s Second Royal Records offer a raft of DJs big on playful beats and noises) but they’re harder to find. Even the artists have evolved, with Fantastic Plastic Machine following a more trad house route, while Cornelius stripping back his sound to a more minimalist, but still magical, approach. I have had to recently go back to the well somewhat by finally getting a copy of videogame sequel Jet Set Radio Future, close to 10 years since its release.

But it can all be traced back to a time when all my interests seemed to fit into place – and Spaced kicked it all off, just as Edgar Wright’s subsequent works spoke to my specific love of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (in Shaun of the Dead) and intimate knowledge of Wells town centre (in Hot Fuzz). It all seemed to culminate with Scott Pilgrim vs The World – based on a graphic novel series which I only read because it was announced post-Shaun that Wright was due to direct. And amongst all the videogame nods, crazy visuals and referential humour, what should be found on the soundtrack but an original composition by Mr. Keigo Oyamada himself, Cornelius.

 

UPDATE! 24th July 2012

I had the immense privlege and pleasure to meet and interview Keigo Oyamada aka Cornelius when he was in London to perform with singer Salyu as part of their salyu x salyu project. You can listen to the interview on this episode of Tokyo Soundscape. As you can see from this post, Cornelius is one of my all-time heroes, so it was an honour to be in his company. I even got him to sign my copy of 69/96 (bought second hand from a Book Off in Tokyo), and it turned out it was also the first album drummer and salyu x salyu band member Asa-chang had performed on, so he signed it as well.

Just one thing…how come he’s wearing the same cardigan and t-shirt meeting me as he is with Edgar Wright in the picture above?

 

Having touched on a bunch of Japanese musicians in the main text, here are just three of my favourite albums in a little more detail:

Cornelius – Fantasma (1998)

Cornelius was originally a member of early Shibuya-kei duo Flipper’s Guitar before releasing his first solo album The First Question Award in 1994. 69/96 would follow, opting for a bigger, bolder and more sample-led sound, but Fantasma remains his masterwork. A glorious patchwork of influences pieced together to form a unique whole, it still manages to be a hugely entertaining and satisfying listen from start to finish.

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box – Fakevox (2000)

Tokyo duo Tomonori Hayashibe and Takeshi Wakiya’s debut release is like trying to tune a perpetually scrambling radio from the future while on a wild sugar-rush bender. Stand-out tracks ‘early RISER’ and ‘Sneaker Song!’ show their pico-pop neo-Shibuya-kei stylings at their most wild and wacky, but every track, even the mini interludes, is a delight. Since their 2004 follow-up Cartooom!, they have focused more on remixes, side-projects and production recently, but an appearance on the Spongebob Squarepants Movie soundtrack was a gleeful reminder that no-one does manic electro-pop better than them.

Supercar – Highvision (2002)

Having started out as a somewhat conventional, if still excellent, indie rock band, Supercar gradually developed a more electronic sound, with Highvision marking the high-point of their straddling of genres, venturing close to dance music territory with the likes of ‘Yumegiwa Last Boy’ (featured in quirky comedy drama Ping Pong). Even David Bowie claimed to be a fan. Though they called it a day as a group in 2005, lead Koji Nakamura has released his own material under the moniker iLL, and just this year started a new band with former bandmate Miki Furukawa as LAMA.

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