vinyl heart: Real Life, Roomic Cube, Noise May-Day
I like to listen to as much music as possible, and I’m picky and old-fashioned in two ways: 1) I like to listen to complete albums, beginning to end. 2) I almost never listen to music on a computer, and rarely on a portable digital player; instead, I like to crank up the hi-fi if I’m downstairs, or turn up the headphone rig if I’m upstairs.
Recently I’ve picked up a copy of the fine Vinilisssimo re-release of Magazine’s debut album, Real Life, and it’s a nice-sounding pressing. The crazy thing about Magazine is how contemporary Real Life still sounds. Howard Devoto’s snarling vocals seem perfect for an era in which the NSA is all around us and the filthy rich and politicians get to waltz right past the TSA porno-scanners while the rest of us proles have to bend over backwards and crabwalk onto the airplane. “Shot by Both Sides,” which was released in 1978, apparently gets its title from a political argument between Devoto and his girlfriend in which she said to him, “Oh, you’ll end up shot by both sides.” And here’s a funny little Japan connection, straight from Wikipedia:
Shot by Both Sides is also the title of the English translation of Meisei Goto’s paranoid Japanese novel, Hasamiuchi (original 1973, translation 2008). Translator Tom Gill chose the title because he was a Magazine fan, and also because the more obvious title, Crossfire, had already been used as the title of another Japanese novel translated into English—a detective novel by Miyuki Miyabe.
As Melody Maker put it, “no one that has the slightest interest in the present and future of rock’n’roll should rest until they’ve heard Real Life.” That’s as true now as it was in 1978.
I’ve been a huge fan of Minekawa Takako (嶺川貴子) ever since I picked up a copy of her fantastic album Cloudy Cloud Calculator at Amoeba Records sometime in the late 90s. I also really love her 1996 album, Roomic Cube, and I was thrilled to find a copy on vinyl (I had no idea there had ever been a vinyl release) at Hanky Panky Records, a great used record shop in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi district. My favorite cut off of Roomic Cube is definitely “Destron,” with that sinister buzzing synth wave that rides just below some of the best and strangest lyrics about attraction ever written: “She knows how to tease me / Her face like a cake / I like her red red hair and black eyes / Her skinny knees dipped in spicy smell / I’m left in here / The moon is now getting white / She teases me.”
Minekawa is linked with the Shibuya-kei scene of the 1990s — and, indeed, until recently was married to Cornelius, one of the most famous musicians to emerge from that scene — but I think her music is much more interesting than the pop/French/synth/bossa nova stylings that tend to define the genre. She’s deeply fascinated with numbers and the color white, writes lyrics that border on metaphysical comedy, and the sound she gets out of the analogue synthesizers that she favors is distinctly her own.
Minekawa also has several songs about cats, including “Fantastic Cat,” off of Roomic Cube, and “Cat House,” off of Cloudy Cloud Calculator. This homemade video for “Cat House,” with it’s vertiginous replication of quasi-mutilated pixel-cute cats, seems to somehow match it just perfectly.
After a hiatus of over a decade, Minekawa has finally released a new album in collaboration with guitarist Dustin Wong (formerly of the group Ponytail). The new album is called Toropical Circle and looks to be full of loopy, dreamy, lightly glitchy goodness. Available on vinyl from Thrill Jockey.
In sharp contrast to Minekawa’s dreaminess, Osaka’s annual Noise May-Day event — held at the basement-level Bears in Namba — is a claustrophobically liberating assault of pure electronic dissonance, as if all the gouged feedback remnants from every rock concert ever held were thrown into a cauldron together with some eye of newt and a healthy dose of induced pluripotent stem cells, to later emerge as a fully fledged kaiju dripping squelch, thrum, and screaming banshee distortion. This year’s model featured 蒸発都市 (maybe pronounced Jyouhatsu-toshi — I think it can be translated as something like “Evaporated City,” and it might be an Ultraman reference ), Mandog, Solmania, Jojo Hiroshige and Crossbreed, and Masonna.
I always feel that visiting Bears is something like walking inside the used black lung of a very heavy smoker. Bears has it’s own atmosphere, it’s own micro-climate, which is just about perfect for small-scale punk shows and any kind of music that’s loud, dark, and experimental. I saw this particular show from the back of a very packed Bears with Matt Kaufman, film critic for the late, lamented Kansai Time Out magazine (you can find a collection of his older reviews at Hollywood Japan File). All the acts were good, but Solmania’s set really stood out for me as a performance that not only involved vastly pleasing swaths of noise, but also intelligently improvised structures of sound that built on each other and talked with each other. Masonna’s solo performance was as wild as expected — a three-minute blast of violently explosive insect energy, released as a kind of sonic rock rampage. Unlike the last time I saw him perform solo at Bears, he didn’t end up injuring himself (the kinetic physicality of Masonna’s solo performances is legendary) and it was nice to see him enjoying a sweaty laugh after the show rather then being carted off to the recovery room. Jojo Hiroshige’s collaboration with Crossbreed, in contrast, was mellow and repetitive, almost like a kind of noisy trance music — not at all like the other half a dozen times I’ve seen Jojo at work on his guitar, laying out the wails. One of the best collaborations I’ve ever seen was an amazing set featuring Jojo and the legendary Mikami Kan, Jojo’s peals of noise acting as a perfect counterpart to Mikami’s dark and sorrowful Japanese blues.
And speaking of collaborations, how about this fantastic collaboration between Jojo and BiS (Brand-new Idol Society), a Japanese pop idol group? Get ready for BiS-Kaidan! (Special thanks to Matt Kaufman for digging up this rare gem of a video.)
Filed under: Japan, Kansai, music, Osaka, performance | 3 Comments
Tags: BiS, BiS-Kaidan, BiS階段, Brand-new Idol Society, Cat House, Cloudy Cloud Calculator, Destron, Dustin Wong, Howard Devoto, Japanese noise music, Jojo Hiroshige, Magazine, Masonna, Minekawa Takako, Namba Bears, noise, Noise May-Day, Real Life, Roomic Cube, Shibuya-kei, Shot by Both Sides, Solmania, Takako Minekawa, Toropical Circle, vinyl re-release, 嶺川貴子