Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Suishou No Fune & Maher Shalal Hash Baz @ Silver Elephant

by craig

I saw Maher Shalal Hash Baz a few months ago play at Koenji High to a tiny crowd. They were playing with Doronco Gumo. C'mon, Doronco was in Les Rallizes Denudes!! Why wasn't anyone there?

Last night MSHB played with another legendary psych band, this time Suishou No Fune, and there were only about 12 people there!! Nevertheless, I still felt I was witnessing something special. Incense was burning, the lights were down low and smoke machines were pumping haze into the Silver Elephant in Kichijoji. Pirako, dressed in a dark cape-like coat and a black beret, and Kageo, in black clothes and sunglasses came on stage, causing no reaction from the serious lone guys who made up the audience. They were joined by a bass player and drummer who added some rhythm to the mainly guitar-and-vocal-only sound I'm used to hearing on their recordings. Pirako and Kageo applied their massive collection of effects pedals to creating a huge guitar wash saturated in delay, feedback, and a perfect control of volume. They played 4 or 5 songs of over 10 minutes each and punctuated by Pirako's high and Kageo's low poetic droning vocals. They've taken the best parts of Japanese psych like Fushitsusha, noise artists like Haino Keiji, elements of psych-folk, improvised music, shamanism and shadows and created a beautiful melancholy sound that could have existed at any time in the last 30 years.

You never know what to expect with Tori Kudo and his band of constantly-changing members known as Maher Shalal Hash Baz. If he's in the right mood and has the right people to do the things he demands them to do, something beautiful can be created. But sometimes it all just falls apart. At that gig a few months back, things weren't working. He attempted a bunch of ridiculously short songs which he gave up on half way through. The band didn't know what he expected of them. Tori often has a concept for each show and scribbles down compositions which he hands to the amateur musicians he has assembled for that show. Where he finds all these musicians is something I've always wondered. Last night he had collected a bassoon player (from Doromco Gumo), an accordionist, a drummer, two guys on trumpet and one on sax and it really worked! Tori had decided to play long psych songs focusing more on the guitar than usual, perhaps because they were playing with Suishou No Fune? He still of course abruptly ended each song when he became tired of it, stumbled (intentionally?) on the guitar and sang in his trademark child-like avant-savant manner, with the other members sounding like a primary school orchestra. You see so many tight, highly-skilled bands of musicians who have burned out all their ideas and cannot offer anything original. Tori knows that surprisingly creative and interesting things happen with people who are not concentrating on skill. That's what punk is supposed to be about, right? MSHB finished their set with an incredible shambolic version of Close To You by the Carpenters!

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Monday, 24 November 2008


by craig

Hideki Kaji is one of my guilty pleasures. He is unabashedly Pop, but he has taken his cues from Swedish indie-pop and created a very unique style with fast, upbeat songs, big guitars and impossibly catchy vocal melodies.

When I came to Japan I was getting into the whole Shibuya-kei thing, so I was so pleased to be able to buy his whole back catalogue from second-hand shops for a few hundred yen. You see, he'd experienced a short boom a few years earlier, and then, like Kahimi Karie, disappeared back into the indie underground. When I tell Japanese people I like Kaji, they are often surprised to hear that he still makes music.

I remember the first time I saw Kaji live; he was playing a late night acoustic show at a cafe in Shibuya which I managed to get tickets to. The cafe was jam-packed with adoring girls and Kaji-kun (as the girls call him when they scream his name) put on a great show. I had to sleep in an internet cafe afterwards and then go directly to work. Since then I've seen him play a couple more times at larger venues like Shibuya Ax and Astro Hall.

Showing his dedication to the Shibuya area, Kaji's show last week was at Shibuya Club Quattro. The only acts printed on my ticket were group_inou and Hideki Kaji, so I was surprised when I rocked up and saw an electric cello being set up on the stage (group_inou are just two guys - 1 mc and 1 dj). Then three guys with bright tights and sunglasses came on stage - one on synthesizers, one on the electric cello and one on a ridiculous headless guitar. It was B-Club. They played tongue-in-cheek techno-rock complete with huge choruses, dance moves and big 80's synth sounds. The audience didn't really know how to react except to giggle. I can see why Kaji chose them as a support as his new album Lollipop has a definite 80's influence.

group_inou came on next and played a short set of their original take on glitchy reverby electronica and hip-hop. The fun they have on stage travels to the audience, all bouncing around with big grins.

group_inou hyped me up for Kaji who I expected would be on next. A band came on stage and out ran the singer! Yeah! Hang on, that's not Kaji! Whoever it was, the girls were certainly going crazy for him. It turned out to be Riddim Saunter. If Kaji is capital P Pop, Riddim Saunter are all-caps POP. They played a set of punk and funk-influenced radio-friendly POP which it seemed half the crowd was there to see. Just when they started to become tedious, they finished their last song, causing a bunch of people to leave and a bunch more to push their way to the front for Mr Kaji.

Hideki came on looking all embarassed wearing a tie, shorts and knee-high socks. The girls in the front went wild shouting "Kaji-kun!" and giggling. He played guitar for most songs and was joined by another guitarist, a bass player, a female drummer (Yoshié?) and a flute player. They blazed through a few songs from Lollipop, starting with Amai Koibito, a couple from the previous 2 albums and a couple of oldies like La Boum~My Boom Is Me~ (the definite highlight). Kaji joked around shyly between songs and kept stopping to fix his fringe which still hangs in his face in his trademark style. Just as the audience was really starting to let loose and enjoy ourselves, he suddenly announced the last song. They had only been playing for about half an hour! Of course they came back for an encore (a very rocking Typical Me, Typical You) but in total they played no longer than the support bands! Admittedly, the set was great fun but I did feel a bit ripped off.


Hideki Kaji is playing a daytime show at Honmaji Temple on November 29th for Mona Rock Caravan 08 along with Kotoringo, Maezono Naoki Group, Yukawa Shione and Youmoutoohana. Details here.

group_inou are playing a one-man gig at Unit in Daikanyama on December 7th. Details here.

B-Club are playing at Grapefruit Moon on December 15th. Details here. They will also be playing a street gig at Yoyogi Park on December 13th.

Riddim Saunter are playing at Shelter in Shimokitazawa on December 23rd with asphalt frustration, Fed MUSIC and he. Details here.

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Where to buy Japanese music online in English

by craig


These days, it is easy to legally purchase and download mp3s. Although the quality is still not usually as good as a CD, it is instant; you don't have to wait for shipping, and it is usually cheaper.

For super-convenience, of course there is the iTunes store, but their choice is rather limited when it comes to Japanese stuff. The same can be said for Rhapsody,

HearJapan has some a nice selection of Japanese albums and songs on mp3 that you can't find in the iTunes Store. They have mostly indie and electropop stuff, as well as visual-kei and JRock.

JapanFiles is similar, and has a good selection of indie songs for 99c per mp3.

Physical CDs and Records

Sometimes we still want an actual CD or record that we can hold in our mitts and file alphabetically on our jam-packed shelves.

Let's start with the big guns.

Amazon Japan is good for those living in Japan as their website is available in English. For international orders, their shipping rates are very high though. Same goes for HMV.

If you live in Japan and can read Japanese, Disk Union is a good place to look.

If you are in the US, you can find a pretty good selection on

You can find quite a bit of good stuff from a variety of genres on CD Japan or YesAsia. They also sell movies and anime and stuff.

For more specialised music, and of course to support the little guys, I recommend the following:

Otonson has a great selection of experimental and electronic music searchable by label. They also have reasonable shipping costs.

Sonore is based in France and has an interesting choice of electronic and experimental Japanese music. You can see a list of artists Sonore stocks here.

Das Gemeine have some good psych and experimental stuff. Their website is closed for maintenance right now though.

Jetset Records is a cool little record store in Shimokitazawa and Kyoto which also has an online store in English stocking a lot of Japanese and International electro, dance and indie-pop CDs and records.

Tokyo Recohan (Tokyo Record Hunting) specialises in cheap second-hand Shibuya-kei and Japanese pop CDs which you buy using PayPal. They have low shipping costs and the website is in English and French.

In England, there is Far Side Music, stocking mostly older Japanese music like YMO.

You can often order directly from the labels you like. Check out the links page for some record labels.

Some other record stores in Japan like Vinyl Junkie and Onsa can ship internationally and accept orders in English even though their websites are not in English.

Feel free to leave any other recommendations in the comments.

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