Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Year End Review Part Two: Music Festivals and Major Events

In my last post, I mentioned all of the great shows (and some of the smaller ones) I went to over the past year. I also attended several major Asian indie music events across the Pacific region, usually with a band that I was working on promoting through Pacifiction Records. These fests and expos provided an exciting atmosphere for networking and shaping the style of Pacifiction.

By the tail end of my first winter in Japan, I had already seen some small shows, but I was trying to save money. Shows generally cost about 2000 yen to 3000 yen, even for small local bands. Getting on the guest list, usually only means you get an advanced ticket; but that really depends on the band. I had already made friends with Taisuke from Six O'Minus who was also drumming for Flight of Idea at the time and we were talking about hitting up Spring Scream at Kenting, Taiwan in April. The other band I hung out with was Head Phones President who I already met in NYC the previous November. They took me out on New Years' Eve which was completely awesome and also invited me to the Independence-D festival at Studio Coast in Shin-kiba the weekend of February 2nd and 3rd. This event was a 2 day affair, with punk and "street rock" being billed on one day and metal and "shock rock" the next. I had already seen some of the Japanese punk, emo and hardcore bands already in Taiwan, such as, FC Five at Autumn Tiger 2004 and Nature Living at Say Yes to Taiwan 2005. The big foreign headliners were Frenzel Rhomb (who had also made a name for themselves on Taiwan years earlier) and Strung Out who will soon appear on a split with Consider the Meek from the Taiwan based label Leek Records. Surprisingly, Head Phones President played the "shock rock" day along with the now classic and world renowned Taiwanese black metal band Chthonic! Overall, here were a lot of different bands ranging from hard indie to psychobilly to visual kei and post-hardcore. Balzac was one of the main headliners, but failed to impress me. I always heard them compared to the Misfits, but their songs lack the deep wailing choruses and dangerous sound that Danzig wielded. They're just a visual band to me that gets sold alongside the recent Misfits franchise. The bands that really did it for me were the psychobilly acts like Robin, machinegun upright bass attacks; Cracks, a zombie-metal hootenanny; and yakuza-attitude rockers Revenge of the Ninjamanz! I probably would have enjoyed the weekend a little more if I wasn't so strapped for cash (I had enough for the train home), but this event was a little too "modern" rock for me with it's focus on newer alternative genres like post-hardcore, emo and visual bands.

The next big music festival to see was Spring Scream the following April in beautiful Kenting, Taiwan. I hopped on a China Airlines flight, sat alongside my new found friends in Flight of Idea and headed for Taipei. As usual, everything is a bit rushed when you have to take a 6 hour bus to the concert location, but we made it just fine and set up camp in our log cabin at the hokey Kentington resort made to look like a scene from wild west B movie saloons and all! I want to list all the bands I saw at the time, but it's nearly impossible. To name a few of the bands I was happy to see again since living in Taiwan, I'll start with Braces, 8mm Sky, Full House, Maho, Fire Ex, Children Sucker, Heavy Smoker, Freckle, who managed to amass from the cutesy side as much as the punky, and 88 Balaz who were the main event for me; not even military service can break them and they just get more raucous. I was happy to hear them playing a lot of the same songs I new from 2004. Some new bands that caught my ear were Radiobear, Rabbit is Rich, White Eyes, Duct Tape, Selling Us Everything and traditional crossover hip hop group Kou Chou Ching. Honestly, I wish the scene, which saw so many good bands disperse in the past three years, had developed a little more since I left. Same songs and new bands that don't quite measure up despite the effort. Among the Japanese bands from People's Records were punks Double Negative and Savas; returning for the 3rd year, Bubblelovele; souped up rockabilly rollers, Hot Dog Buddy Buddy. Booking independently from Japan, Ground Cover and Flight of Idea captured a generous crowd of foreigners and locals. This year's Spring Scream also had a stage area closer to the beach with more mainstream acts like Cheer Chen and Tizzy Bac (presumably the sound was better, I hope). Sadly, I didn't make it out there and stay landlocked at the dude ranch until catching the bus back to Taipei and then the flight home to Tokyo.

It's typical for big live events in Japan to start at around 2:00pm and finish around 11:00pm with opening bands playing 15 to 20 minute sets and headliners to get around 40 or 50 minutes. I went to a couple of these over the summertime which I mentioned in the las blog. One was the Rock n' Roll Summit at Shibuya AX with Bawdies, Jackie and the Cedrics, Midori (avant punk with insane singer in schoolgirl fashion), Neat Beats, Sheena and the Rokkits, Midori, Mad3 and Guitar Wolf. The other was the Mozilla Firefox Festival at Shibuya Boxx with Sluggers, Qoomalangma Tomato, Midori
(I've never seen so many kids going wild for jazz punk!), 101A (very stylish), Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re and Shonen Knife headlining. There was also a smaller stage with random smaller acts i(including a duo in burlesque bunny suits playing accordian and singing cabaret!)

Also during the summer, I headed back to Taiwan for the Formoz Festival; this time bringing Head Phones President with me and hanging out with Six O'Minus all the while. Again, I saw many great bands I hadn't seen since I left Taiwan since the first time most notably were WonGu, those indie rockers with Mod style and 60's pop sound; 1976 doing their Brit rock; The Peppermints who were spry and on point; Digihai, who have improved dynamically; and, the crazy as ever LTK. On the punk end of things, Maho didn't disappoint and Stay Gold were fun. I wish I had time to check out Fire Ex and their rude boy compatriots Shy Kick Apple. Fullhouse showed they mean business with their growing rockabilly sound. Shine, Shine, Shine, and Shine and Space Cake gave me renewed hope for the indie scene alongside the faster rhythms of Rabbit is Rich and The White Eyes. Out of the myriad Japanese bands that played this year Gin Nang Boyz were the highlight with Mineta's Iggy Pop intensity that landed him a night in a Taipei slammer. He even played a solo acoustic song, but security couldn't handle nudity and hurling water bottles into the crowd, I guess. Luminous Orange played a cerebral set before Six O'Minus opened the third eye with their post-rock dub. Head Phones President manged to gather a crowd of 60 plus even as band unknown to islanders. The fun time ska of Yum Yum Orange was cool to bop around to in the summer heat as well. Some hip indie bands that played Quruli, The Aprils, YMCK, Elekibass and Buffalo Daughter while some of the big J-rock artists included RIZE, Anna Tsuchiya, LM.C and Teriyaki Boyz. The major foreign bands that performed were Testament, Yo La Tengo (so cool to catch a bit of the set in Taipei), OK Go, Dean and Britta (Galaxy 500 are a favorite in Taiwan) and Asobi Seksu (very cool to see them, they should have played later though). And if that isn't diverse enough for you I didn't mention the Korean death metal, the techno/electronica tent or the aborigine folk stage! Needless to stay the sauna-like humidity, the after-parties at the Underworld and running around meeting up with old friends, indie label people and random sightseeing burned me out and I was very happy to return to my air-condition-less Yokohama flat!

Most recently, I got in touch with the Pacific Media Expo in Los Angeles and arranged forHead Phones President to play this year's event just last November. I made a last minute decision to join the band on their trip and booked a flight to LA. It turned out to be a really good move because I got to meet The Slants who were scheduled to open for HPP and I was able to hang out with Wolfgang Bang, one of the first bands whose CD was available on Pacifiction, at their dingy studio building. I also got a chance to check out the LA-based Japanese punk group Thee Out Mods from Seven Samurai Records and Japanese indie rockers LiN Clover. On the J-Rock tip were Candy Spooky Theater and D&L. There were many Otaku culture and cosplay events including karaoke but I had the most fun partying with The Slants and the staff from Anime Food and Jrock Events (USA)! The PMX staff was completely hospitable, amiable and hip to cool sounds. It was a big chance for me to promote Pacifiction Records face to face with people who wouldn't see my site otherwise. As for the music, The Slants showed they were more than just great at partying when they played their set of "Chinatown dance rock" and Head Phones President truly blew people away. They were happily surprised at the reaction to their performance and enthusiastically delighted with their reception at the signing after the show.

Since returning from PMX, I've been planning which major festivals I will be attending next year. There's Spirit of Taiwan in February, but I doubt I can make that one. I'm thinking Spring Scream 2008 will be a definite.

Next blog post will be Year End Review Part Three: Border Crossing. I want to make a list of events where bands associated with Pacifiction have played in other countries. I'll keep the list down to short bulletins since I'll probably be repeating some events I already listed in the past two blog posts.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Year End Review Part One: Tokyo Shows

After a year of blog inaction, I just decided to wrap everything up in a one shot deal. I saw so may amazing shows, visited so many cool places and most importantly I met so many cool people that have helped shape Pacifiction Records. In retrospect, I've followed so closely to the ideals that got Pacifiction by continuing to make cement friendships in the Asia-centered independent music world. All the while checking out some fantastic bands and attending some of the hippest Asian music events. I'll make a list of some of the coo things I've done and seen, some related to Pacifiction and others more of personal interest.

At the beginning of last year I remember seeing some great bands like Melt Banana for the first time at Club 24 in downtown Yokohama. The next big show was at Shinjuku Loft for Lolita No.18 who I've been dying to see for the past 7 years. My only regret was not catching them in NYC or better yet 15 years ago when Hang On Snoopy their staple and their sound was unpolished and truly abrasive. The same show had The Crough Patrick, a raucous Irish punk band, and Num 41 a novelty punk cover band that mixes children folk tunes to their mix and The Sect a blitzing street punk outfit on the bill.

Next up was Mad 3 at Shelter with a blistering metal, punk and fuzz riot... I can still hear the viking opera theme intro! The same show had the Baitones an insane Cramps style trash punk/ stomp rock band from Kobe and the wildest Japanese Elvis impersonator Little Elvis Ryuta! I was also excited to catch Jackie and the Cedrics at Red Cloth (another band I had been following for some time) with The Bawdies, a 60's RnB Beatles throwback band and Minnesota Voodoo Men... rock n roll at it's best with a Yardbirds cover and stage acrobatics to leave you breathless.

Later at Red Cloth I would see members of Pebbles in their new 60's pop/ garage groups with the country folk and blues band Hot Shots who invited me to check out their show with the American rockabilly queen Rosie Flores!

I caught Bawdies, Jackie and the Cedrics and Mad3 again at the Rock N' Roll Summit held at Shibuya AX along with the legendary Sheena and the Rokkits, Neat Beats, Laughing Nose and Guitar Wolf! At a similar afternoon long music fest broadcast over live-feed by Firefox, I caught Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re opening up for the great Shonen Knife kind of showing just how far Japanese indie girl bands have come today.

Towards the end of the summer, I caught up with The Vickers who I had seen several years ago at the Formoz fest in Taiwan. Around the same time, I got to see another key member of Thug Murder, Ryoko with Last Target! Playing with them was Akiakane, who I had also seen in Taiwan at the Say Yes to Taiwan festival. Both bands opened up for old school Japanese punk rockers Star Club.

In my search for some of the Japanese garage bands I knew from comps like Hodge Podge Barrage, I found a show with both Supersnazz and Great Mongoose as well as a great chick trash rocker group whose name eludes me opening up for The Basics, a retro merseybeat band from Melbourne! Also at the show was nonaX, a hip new wave band whose keyboardist hails from Chicago. Pacifiction now carries The Basics release Stand Out/ Fit In as well as Neo Wave Nastros which features nonaX!

One of the recent highlights was the Back from the Grave Screaming Lord Sutch Tribute Halloween Party at Shelter with a list of ghoulish bands that would get the morgue boppin' back to life for sure. The list of players goes:
MAD 3/JACKIE & THE CEDRICS/PINKY AOKI(ex PHANTOM GIFT)+K.N.R.S./GASOLINE/SATURNS/THE MINNESOTA VOODOO MEN/THE MIGHTY MOGULS/THE PSYCRONS/thee 50's high teens/LOS RIZLAZ/TOKYO CRAMPS. And all in costume too! Gasoline played their set in Yohinoya uniforms! Minnesota Voodoo Men frontman hung from the rafters dressed as a mummy! The 50's High Teens screeched to delight! Tokyo Cramps did a frightening impersonation of the originals! And to top it all off Jackie and the Cedrics dressed as the 5678's did a cover set in tribute!

The end of the year is seeing an invasion of classic garage and power pop bands from all over the world which started with the Stems a couple weeks ago and will continue with the Dogs, Chinese Telephones and the Fast Cars all playing with incredible local bands that I'm discovering each week.

I can't forget to write about Head Phones President, who I actually met one year ago in NYC. Throughout 2007 I saw them several times and even helped them perform in Taiwan and the US. One of the cool HPP Tokyo shows was at Club Havana with Goofy Style; I had seen Goofy Style in Taiwan at Spring Scream 2005 and after hearing HPP for the first time I thought they had a similar style. After hanging out with HPP in Japan, I found out they were pretty good friends.

While these were the most memorable shows for me because I've been wanting furiously to see these bands for a long while now, I have to mention the lesser known Japanese bands that I've struck up friendships with as well as business collaborations including Water Closet, ELMOC (who played a great set with Drunken Boat from Portland, OR), Six O'Minus and Flight of Idea. All the tons of other bands I could list but don't have time, I tip my hat you! It's been a great year of live music in Tokyo!

Stay tuned for Part Two, a list of festivals and major events I went to!