Tag Archive: music

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

Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival, Tokyo 2015

20151201 02Last month I attended and participated in the Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. A three-day event, it’s essentially a gig with the theme of cultural promotion. Thus, there are food stalls all around the venue, some fashion and entertainment brands with stalls near the entrance, and non-musical performers related to other elements of Japanese culture. I was there for all three days, and very happy to be a part of it! Friday’s theme was ‘Moshi Ani’ – the anime-themed day, and also the day I was onstage. I was part of the World Cosplay Summit’s performance slot, essentially one of several token foreigners there to highlight the ‘World’ part of WCS. I arrived early and already in cosplay, and there was no rehearsal, so I got my backstage wristband and went to watch what was happening onstage. Unfortunately only caught the very end of the Tempura Kidz’ opening show performance, but would see them several more times over the weekend, so that wasn’t a big issue for me. Also managed to wave at Pi-chan backstage, which was a nice moment! 01 After the opening show was Hachioji-P, a Vocaloid producer who’s been pretty successful. I watched about half his set before being called backstage again – I enjoyed what I saw, but I’d have been more interested to see OSTER Project, KID-P or Kikuo…though I guess Kikuo’s dark songs wouldn’t be all that appropriate for the bright, happy setting! Backstage we were given lots of free snacks and some tasty bento. It was fun seeing the other performers, though the bigger bands had their own dressing rooms. Eventually our time came and we took to the stage, striking poses and then lining up together. The stage was much bigger than I’d expected, and it was a thrill to have huge screens with our faces behind us – basically I feel I should have put in a bit more effort for this event than just borrowing a cosplay and using my real hair even though it wasn’t quite long enough to style like Ace and had visible roots! 20151106 05 Hey ho, it was great fun and I met some very lovely people who were also cosplaying. It’s a nice little community and I do hope to do more. For a while I was worried no photos would appear, but we got good ones in the end! 20151201 01 As with the similar event on Hallowe’en, Japan’s current WCS representatives, Mariko and Mahio did their impressive performance as Kouen and Hakuryuu from Magi, and I took the opportunity to tell them how jealous I was of their skills! 12274587_863764813722531_1768715188181182408_n Returned to the audience area to watch Livetune+. The DJ, KZ, is another popular Vocaloid producer, best known for ‘Packaged’, though my favourite is ‘Last Night, Good Night’. I didn’t recognise much, including the song with May’n, but it was a fun and energetic set. The day 1 headliners were SID. I didn’t know who they were when I saw them – a pretty standard-looking hard rock band who apparently used to be much more Visual Kei – but as they played more and more I realised why they were closing the anime-themed day. ‘Oh, that’s the ending for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Oh, and that’s the latest Kuroshitsuji opener. Ah! And I love that opening song for Magi!’ They were a polished and accomplished band, and while I wouldn’t go to see them elsewhere, I’m glad I got to see them perform and was impressed in particular by the singer’s voice. On day 2, ‘Moshi Pop’, there was a bit of confusion for me. A group of us went thinking we would be in some fashion event representing foreigners interested in various Japanese brands, but as it turned out, they just wanted us to go in a ‘Challenge Runway’, which was basically open to anyone to sign up and walk on the stage with. I would have been the only person with a Y chromosome in the whole show and there was next to zero coverage for it, plus I was wearing something pretty odd (Alice and the Pirates kodona-style cutesiness), so I bravely chickened out. Image24 I watched my friends take part, though – and some of the little nihon buyo performance afterwards. Then we did our own little mini photoshoot outside, which I was quite pleased with. After a diversion to Harajuku to eat pizza, I returned to the venue to watch some free music! 20151107 05 I got back in time to see a bit of Silent Siren, a cheerful Harajuku-kei girl band. That was followed by a slightly odd reveal of a competition for, as far as I could tell, providing the voice for a big bald miso soup mascot. Next came a performance from a DJ who seemed to like electroswing and broken beat, backed up by dancers from the Kawaii Monster Café – best of which was a big ole pink cat. Afterwards came the Tempura Kidz once again. Adorable as ever, with their precise dance moves and silly gurning. Compared with when I saw them in Harajuku, this event had the advantage of having a section of the audience reserved for us gaijin (slightly odd to be segregated, but I didn’t mind) so I could see everything from as close as it was possible to get! And with the day’s performers very much based on visual impact, that was a distinct advantage. DSC2611 Oddly enough, the next segment was an advert for a television, but it made a degree of sense when it was revealed that Kyari Pamyu Pamyu had just filmed the CM for the product and was being interviewed for it. Was fun to see her, especially in a much more eccentric outfit than she wore for her actual performance the next day, but still felt a bit odd to have her flogging a TV in the middle of what was essentially a gig. japanese-fashion-model-and-signer-kyary-pamyu-pamyu-promotes-sharp-f5rg71 Back to the music next, with girl group 9nine, who had some very enthusiastic fans in the audience. The hardcore fans’ genders switched for poppy visual kei boyband Kameleo, who I wanted to see earlier in the year. They only played three songs, the best of which was ‘Dame Otoko’, and they’ve reached a curious and unique situation where they’re half actual band and half boy-band, so that some songs have them on instruments and others don’t. I still really like the band and their silly, goofy way of having fun – including making everyone in the audience shout about nose hair. 20151119_kameleo_01 Next, after an impressive parade of fine kimono, was solo singer Natsume Mito, with a fun dance using traditional paper fans with a Fuujin and Raijin masked dancer on either side. She was cute with her Sarang-chan hairstyle and obviously had a lot of love from her fans, but maybe needs more catchy songs. Next, rather killing the momentum of the show, we had some live hairstyling, which I confess largely left me baffled. However, by then a huge crowd had gathered for the day’s headliner – who perhaps fit the Sunday theme better than Saturdays and could have swapped with Kyari. I had of course heard of them as they’re pretty ubiquitous in Japan, constantly appearing on variety shows, but this was my first actual exposure to the music of Golden Bomber. 18 I had no idea what to expect, so initially I was baffled. They came out miming very, very badly to the track playing. The guitarist kept stopping his miming and the drummer didn’t even bother to hit the cymbals with his weird thick sticks. My first thought was that this was terrible – and looking at all the girls headbanging as though they were listening to Pantera, I wondered if they could possibly think this was a real band and be so clueless about music. Then of course it became very obvious that, in fact, that was the joke. I didn’t realise that Golden Bomber were not only a joke band, but a band that exists to poke fun at the clichés of pop-rock and the lack of substance in visual kei. The concept is actually quite an ingenious one, and the fact that these guys get to have an absolute blast while they skewer the bands around them who take miming to other people’s music oh so seriously. The singer actually performs, and has an impressive voice, and two of the other members have the bodies of professional models, which of course helps with the appeal to the ladies. Essentially, the band’s concept is attractive men pissing about pretending very badly to play music while decent if generic rock music plays in the background – interspersed with some very funny comedy skits usually revolving around making the drummer show his bum or wear a dress. It’s refreshing, very silly indeed and extremely fun to watch. I was won over very quickly and think they’re brilliant. On Sunday I had to work and also get some writing done, so even though I wanted to watch the brilliant synchronized dancing of World Order, I had to skip them. Instead I arrived for Capsule, who were loud. I only know their song ‘Starry Sky’, because it was in the ‘Nanairo no Nico Nico Douga’ medley, but I certainly enjoyed that. c-nishida-moshi-moshi-f-20151111-870x489 Then of course came the headliner, who had drawn a far bigger gaijin crowd than anyone else over the weekend – Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. Her set wasn’t an obvious one – no ‘Pon Pon Pon’ or ‘Mondai Girl’ – but seeing her perform ‘Ninja Re Bang Bang’, I think that became my favourite song of hers. Kyari has a very interesting charm. She’s clearly not a consummate musician. Nor is she a dancer. She mimes her lyrics as she does simplified versions of her backing dancers’ moves. She’s almost lazy in her delivery and her songs are known for being childish and simple. But that’s part of the complete package, which works very well. Essentially, she’s an aspirational fantasy, not for those who want to work hard and meticulously perfect their craft (which isn’t to say behind the scenes Kyari has not done these things) but for the fantasy of lazily drifting into an incredibly cute world where everything revolves around you with very little effort on your part. Which is actually a common and compelling fantasy! The music is superbly-produced, her new Hallowe’en song was daft and adorable – par for the course – and though I would have quite liked a Tempura Kidz reunion dance, there was no faulting the enthusiasm and expressiveness of her current dancers. I enjoy that facial expressions are very much part and parcel of that Harajuku-kei backup dance scene. 012 Overall, Moshi Moshi Nippon’s weekend was a pretty remarkable event, an impressive mini-festival with a lot of variety, prominent musicians and an extremely high entertainment factor. I would absolutely go again – and was honoured to have taken part in my small way! Pic sources: https://www.facebook.com/ksuke.shibata ww.moshimoshi-nippon.jp www.alamy.com http://v-kei.jp/ www.japantimes.co.jp http://anz-media.com/

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!

Gig review: Miyavi – We Are The Others final date in Tokyo, May 16th 2015

While I am by no means a big Miyavi fan, I know of him. A friend interviewed him a few months ago, and was super-excited to be doing so, and I saw his appearance on Ellen when he began his real, concerted efforts to crack America. I became vaguely aware of him as a visual-kei artist and have remained vaguely aware of him as he reinvented himself as an idiosyncratic rocker with a peculiar guitar technique. Knowing he’s pretty huge here, I would never have forked out the high ticket prices to go and see him, but I got free tickets through a friend, and I was very happy to go and experience what I knew was a very popular live act in his home territory. He may divide his time between here and the States and heavily hint that he’s every bit as popular in America as he his here, but that’s all image. He’ll fill a decent venue with J-rock fans, but remains very niche and I doubt even most rock fans in America are familiar with him. Anyway, we got into the cavernous venue, Coast, after enduring the fair-but-mostly-frustrating-and-meaningless Japanese gig venue entry system, which involves going inside in order of ticket number. I immediately saw that the place had a superb sound system, and will be very happy if I get to play on a stage like that at some point. Got a spot around the middle with my friends and waited for the absurdly early kick-off time. He started playing at around 6:30pm with no support act. It feels very odd to come out of a gig at around 9. Miyavi plays with just one other musician onstage, a very ordinary yet strangely loveable drummer called Bobo. It seems that at some point recently, Miyavi tried using a female keyboard player/DJ – as, after all, there’s quite a bit of playback in his lives, as well as extensive use of looping pedals – but anecdotally, it seems the crowds didn’t take to her much and she was nowhere to be seen at Coast. Though this two-musician dynamic, especially with a drummer who keeps things very basic complementing a virtuosic drummer, is the most obvious point of reference, it is not only for that reason that I say the band I was most reminded of was The White Stripes. There are many other similarities – a heavy influence from the blues, a very crunchy guitar sound, poppy hooks with a hard rock sound, and most of all this air of striving for authenticity. Both Miyavi and Jack White are trying very hard to convince their audience that they are very authentic musicians, that they suffer for their art and wring guitar squeals deep from their souls, but have to struggle against the elements of their songwriting that come over as artificial – the times they need backing tracks because one guitar doesn’t make a big enough sound, the times they’re getting the desired effect (like Miyavi’s extensive use of a pedal that made his guitar sound like a theramin) through very clinical digital manipulation and their often trite lyrics. Yet both have flashes of real brilliance where they are absolutely convincing, and Miyavi has the considerable advantage of being naturally likeable. And I think that’s why I enjoyed this gig more than either time I saw The White Stripes, even with something of a feeling of having seen it all before. Amusingly, the crowd tried very, very hard in the first two songs – there was a lot of pogoing, fist-pumping and the sort of crush in the middle I associate with festivals. A couple of poor girls were even helped out having collapsed. And then on the third song, as if a switch had been flipped, it all stopped. Everyone relaxed, decided they had their place and stopped shoving. Jumping up and down was strictly in place and perfectly comfortable. Apart from one fan-favourite song that involved lots more pogoing, the gig was then very calm. It was almost cute, but slightly strange. Still, I got an excellent spot with an excellent view despite by terrible ticket number, and as I was in front of a guy my height, I didn’t feel bad about blocking the view of the numerous tiny Japanese girls in the crowd, most of whom must have been able to see little more than somebody’s shouldblades for the entire gig. Miyavi is obviously an experienced and clever musician. His setlist flowed extremely well. He began with raucous numbers to get the crowd pumped up, sustained that for a while as he showed off his guitar skills, and then switched to an acoustic for some slow, heartfelt numbers – through which Bobo sat perfectly still, watching politely. This was probably the highlight for me, and if I implied earlier that guitar loops take away authenticity, here they were fluid and delicate and gave a coffee-shop mood to a huge stadium gig. Neither voice nor guitar were perfect, but that added to the feeling of seeing a piece of genuine and heartfelt expression. Japanese live music can often be too clean, precise and clinical, and Miyavi was in danger of that at times, but here he pitched it exactly right. Miyavi has obviously opened his mind to blues musicians and recent, tortured vocalists – yes, especially Jack White – and taken that on board without being derivative. This segued neatly into his most obvious gimmick, using a guitar like a bass for fast-paced slapped riffs. He’d been doing it during the opening songs but did far more Dick Dale-style alternate picking, and on the acoustic it really stood out. Soon he switched over to his electric again, and most of the last part of the set was fun, singalong anthems. Oh, and at some point he stripped down to a wife-beater to reveal his muscular arms and tattoos, which obviously had great appeal with a considerable part of the audience and is an undeniable element in his success – but then, that’s nothing to be ashamed of in the world of music. After his first encore song, Miyavi stopped to talk with the audience – either padding in a short set or the real philosophical crux of his tour, depending how cynical you feel. He had a bizarre message around his album and tour title – ‘We Are the Others’, which was very much like being part of the Life of Brian sketch – Brian: You are all individuals! Crowd (in unison): Yes! We are all individuals! He started out by singling out people who had come from around the world. ‘Put your hands up if you came from over another country. Where are you from?’ ‘Hong Kong!’ ‘How about you?’ ‘America!’ From this, he tried to make a point about exclusion and being othered by talking about being picked on as a half-Korean boy in a Japanese school. This is in the past, now, though, he claimed. Now we are in an international society and nobody needs to be ostracised or left out. He has ‘made it’ in the USA, so the world is a global place now. So Japanese people, please don’t feel I’m abandoning you for something better and keep buying my records and coming to my gigs, okay? Yet at the same time he wanted to celebrate individuals and people who stand out – the ‘Others’. But we are all the others, he said. Everyone is special! There was of course not a shred of irony here, or acknowledgement of the contradiction. When everyone is special, the term ‘special’ loses its meaning. In a way, it was horribly patronising. ‘Large mass of people, I stand up here above you, knowing you all worship me, to tell you that you are special like me!’ It was very much having a cake and eating it. But after all, it was a rock gig, and the audience is going to lap up anything that sounds vaguely positive, including if it’s delivered in another language. I liked him more when he was picking on poor Bobo, and blaming him for not touring more around the world. But oh well, rock stars are allowed to have a bit of bullshit in the encore of their solo gig. And the final song and singalong reprise of his anthemic ‘We Are the Others’ song left the crowd in no doubt that this was just a fun, straightforward bit of rock ’n’ roll.

Gallery visit – Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market at the National Gallery

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Today I went to the new Impressionism gallery in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. Back in November I enjoyed the Rembrandt exhibition there more than I expected to, but I’ve always rather liked Rembrandt and have never been keen on Impressionism, so was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this more than anticipated as well. Quite a lot more, really – because it’s allowed me to really refine what I do and don’t like in impressionism. In fact, what I really am not very keen on is the painting of Monet. I actually really greatly admire Renoir’s work, and the greater part of Manet’s and Degas’ too – when they are not being too slapdash. Pissarro and Sisley, also well-represented here, are hit and miss, but at their best they are admirable. The problem I have with Monet is that I don’t feel his paintings stand alone. To appreciate the artistic statement he is making, one has to have an overview of his artistic development, and I think that is a weakness. With every Renoir painting I’ve seen and all but a few of those from Degas, no matter how experimental they are with their techniques, colour choices or compositions, there is still evidence of the master technician, the clever painter with an eye for light and texture, whose bold choices are justified by the picture as a whole. Manet in particular often balances the loose impressionist elements with touches of realism in just the right way to be clever and experimental while also new and challenging, which seems to me the manifestation of his love for Velasquez. But with Monet, it is clear that he pushes boundaries and made striking statements, but I can’t say that I enjoy the results. I don’t find them pleasing to look at, or painterly, or clever. He was clearly technically gifted and likely rigorously trained, but one has to see his early painting to know that – rather like Picasso. There isn’t that admirable cleverness or evidence of solid technique in his later works, and while I see that there’s something admirable in that academically – he truly embraced the statement Impressionism was making without any need to anchor himself in the old-fashioned – the result doesn’t please me or impress me.
Looking confused outside the gallery

Looking confused outside the gallery

The exhibition was based around the life of art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who championed the Impressionists when they were being rejected by the Salon and eventually ended up being vindicated as the ‘New Painting’ became highly fashionable. American money, of course, helped – as did leaving France when war was declare with Prussia and setting up a gallery in New Bond Street, London. Though close to bankruptcy on occasion, he is now considered a pioneer and set up many established practices such as running solo exhibitions for artists during their lifetimes and acting as a kind of patron to painters in need – including commissioning painted doors in his apartments and several portraits of his family members. I can’t say I’m touched on any emotional level by the impressionism I’ve seen, as I can be by the works of the Old Masters, the surrealists, the pre-Raphaelites or even some of the realists. Degas is probably the one most likely to paint something to move me, though Renoir paints things I find lovely to look at. After the gallery, to Chinatown for dim sum – though the rice and noodles we ordered were a bit excessive so a few dumplings had to be taken home as dabao!
A feast of dim sum!

A feast of dim sum!

Went to meet the band afterwards, and got all the letters ready to submit to labels as well as getting the audio ready to make a trailer. Once the four of us got together – for the first time in forever – we did some basic photos for publicity shots, though we’re going to arrange more with a proper photographer soon. All that remains is the artwork, the teaser and the website – then we’ll begin the submissions process for our distribution deal! Tomorrow, off to Manchester to do some more archival research. Then I’ll probably spend Tuesday in the library with the historical books I was recommended – and then go back to fiction-writing for a good long while.