music

Album video review

An interesting, fair review of my band's album from Notes: It's something of a curate's egg review, but I think his criticisms are very valid. We've staked a place in the prog scene, and going forward from here it's going to be very important to offer something new and unique. Plus he says very nice things about my drums, which is always welcome! Check out the album trailer here: And if you're tempted to check us out, head to paradigmshiftuk.bandcamp.com!

Takarazuka revue: Love & Dream

tiki-download_fileWhat could be more romantic for a young Japanese lady than for a handsome prince to whisk them away on a romantic adventure? Well, when that prince is actually a woman, apparently. Japan has a strong tradition of cross-dressing, from the female roles in Kabuki to the okama bars of Kabukicho, plus of course the elegant males of visual kei who with the help of huge amounts of makeup and far more photoshop are as convincing as any Thai ladyboy, plus more glamorous (though the illusion tends to shatter up close). But while josou – boys dressing as girls – tends to dominate, the opposite, referred to as dansou, is not uncommon. Prominent cosplayers are celebrated for pulling off the male look well, singers like Valshe look and sound like attractive pretty-boys – and then there is Takarazuka. In front of audiences that are at least 98% female, the various troupes of the Takarazuka Kageki-dan are all female. Half of them play female roles, half male. These all-female troupes put on high-camp musicals that take their melodramatic love stories very, very seriously, and showcase some extremely powerful voices. In heavy makeup and often elaborate costumes – usually sparkling with many, many sequins – the girls tease their audiences with love stories and over their 101-year history have of course courted controversy with overt homoeroticism. The audience is certainly not filled with lesbians, but something about the masculine otoko-yaku being a woman, clean-cut and charming and understanding the feminine heart, is deeply attractive to the adoring female fans. The idea of young female students having a crush on an older girl at school is very common in Japanese media, and in some ways this is an extension of that mildly thrilling bit of transgression. Interesting though the sociopolitics are, the performances themselves are very straightforward. Emotions are bombastic and direct, performances hammy and sets and costumes opulent. It’s romantic and overwrought and revels in that campy excess. In many ways the result is like a British pantomime, only less twee and more erotically-charged. Love & Dream was somewhat atypical – rather than a single story, this revue was divided into a Disney tribute and then a kind of best-of compilation from Takarazuka’s long history. Dealing in grand, overwrought emotions, Disney material is somewhat ideal for Takarazuka, and it was big emotional numbers with the chance for the singer to belt like ‘Part of Your World’, ‘Go the Distance’ and of course ‘Let It Go’ that showcased some extremely impressive singing talents. Songs that allowed the otoko-yaku to show some personality worked well, too, like ‘Friend Like Me’, and it was fun hearing these familiar songs in Japanese – it’s somewhat gratifying that they call Hercules ‘Heracles’, like we should. CO-xVWRWIAAdP4H Some parts were misfires, but the pacing was brisk enough that the awkward parts quickly segued into something else. Whoever thought ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’ needed a hard rock remix with guitar solo was misguided, and Mary Poppins numbers were a bit of a mess, needing much more elaborate choreography to work. But hey, when a dozen highly enthusiastic women come running out dressed as extremely camp pirates (to the theme from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’) and launch into ‘Under the Sea’, one really has to embrace the absurdity of it and enjoy the silliness. The second half of the show was more of an authentic representation of what the Hoshigumi usually does, with various songs apparently familiar to Takarazuka aficionados that were as camp as just about anything Disney could put forward. The song I remember best was about being a vampire, though most of the content wasn’t quite that silly. There was a very funny comic interlude with a domineering sempai figure in a huge and absurd ballgown getting fussy about being upstaged by a young and cute idol-like group of girls, which quite bizarrely called heavily on the humour and tropes of drag – it was very much like having a drag queen or pantomime dame onstage, only in a female-only company. In addition to the interesting gender divide, watching the audience was quite fun. In common with most Japanese musical performances, there was what seemed to be a correct way to behave – everyone clapped together, and large numbers of fans had brought glowing Hs much like the glowsticks of idol concerts to swing side to side with the beat. The appearances of the main otoko-yaku stars also inspired much excitement and febrile attempts to get noticed with a two-handed wave. High camp, very silly and occasionally baffling, I’m pleased to have been to see Takarazuka in action. 20160110 02

Album Pre-orders!

a1175452205_13 Apologies for not updating my blog in a while! It’s been a very busy few weeks, with a whole lot about to happen all at once. There are a number of announcements I’ll be making in the next few days, but here is the first! My record label have announced that our album is now officially available for pre-order, ahead of its June 10th release! The digipack is going to be beautiful, and I can’t wait to receive it in physical form. Having an album released by a record company is a long-standing ambition and I’m delighted it’s coming true for me, especially so soon before my book is released. Check us out at http://www.badelephant.co.uk And pre-order at http://paradigmshiftuk.bandcamp.com/album/becoming-aware

Gig Review: SiM at the Dead Pop Festival

Today we went to see SiM perform at the Dead Pop festival that they’ve been running for the past few years. It’s a cute mini-festival, this year held out past Haneda airport, and the bands were mostly hard rock with a ska or reggae influence, which reflects SiM’s unusual but entertaining hardcore-with-reggae-breakdowns mashup style. As a friend was in one of SiM’s music videos, she managed to score four free tickets, which was pretty awesome. It also made us feel it was perfectly fine to only check out the last two bands of the day, and before SiM came ska-punk band 10-FEET. Aligned more towards 2002-ish NOFX or Less than Jake than the likes of Reel Big Fish, they preferred heavier punky riffs and were brass-free, but liked riffs the crowd could skank to. Or attempt to skank to. They were fun, and I liked their silly growly vocals, but they’re not a band I’d buy a CD from. There was nothing very new to them and after all it’s been a very long time since the heyday of ska-punk, but they were an entertaining party band. It was also enjoyable watching the crowd, who alternated between half-hearted skanking, the synchronised fist-pumping and strange seed-scattering hand movements so popular here, and the world’s safest circle pits that had far more in common with the hokey-cokey at a child’s birthday party than anything you’d see at Bloodstock. This was a small festival with music on the lighter end of hard rock, but it was interesting to observe that the Japanese seem to have taken all the exhilarating, fundamentally dangerous elements of festival crowd behaviour and – other than crowdsurfing – made them completely safe and cute. No shoving in circle pits here. Just high-fiving people gently as you jog past. Bless! So anyway, this made us confident we could go right down to the front for SiM, and since even in this sort of festival, the Japanese crowds keep up the practice of almost completely evacuating between sets, so it was easy to go right up almost to the barrier for an excellent view of the band. And I’m glad that’s what we did. Because I very much enjoyed SiM’s performance, and was impressed by their musicianship. They perhaps suffered from being a little stop-start and their sections not flowing into one another very well, but when they got it right they were fantastic. Each musician was technically very good, and it was fun seeing a hot hand used on a live bass for the first time for their one wub-wub-wub breakdown. Musically, they would have fit in with the Nu-Metal scene of the early 2000s, but honestly I thoroughly enjoyed that period when it wasn’t too horribly cheesy. They could quite easily tour with Avenged Sevenfold and go down well, too. I’d be interested in how Skindred fans would receive them, too – though I suspect many of them may find it kind of inauthentic. The highlight for me was the double-whammy mid-set of ‘Gunshots’ and my personal favourite, ‘Who’s Next’. The band doesn’t take huge risks but the ones it does take keep them interesting, and looking beyond their gimmicky reggae, dubstep or disco breakdowns, their general song construction often swings between punk, metal and hardcore. And of course, once again going to this festival made me desperately want to start playing live. It’s looking like my first Japanese gig will be at the end of next month. Looking forward to it quite a lot!