Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Back from the Grave 2008

Last weekend a two day Japanese garage rock event called Back from the Grave was held in Tokyo a two different venues, Red Cloth in Shinjuku and Club UFO in Higashi-Koenji. Years ago I was introduced to Japanese garage rock via the Tokyo Trashville and Hodge Podge Barrage compilations which featured now legendary acts like Teengenerate, Guitar Wolf, 5678's, Jackie & the Cedrics, Muddy Frankenstein, Mutant Monster Beach Party and Great Mongoose. Around 15 years ago, these bands among many others made up a scene called Back from the Grave, illustriously named after the Crypt Records LP series.

In recent years some of the old bands have taken a break or called it quits, but there has been a new wave of screaming big beat stomp trash rock n' rollers to step up and support the older Back from the Grave bands that continue to play around Japan. Last weekend, a two day Back from the Grave garage blast was organized to celebrate the Japanese release of The Cramps' Live at Napa State Mental Hospital. Featured at Red Cloth on Saturday nite were The Titans, The Fly (a one man... er man with a fly-head garage blues band!) and his go go girl assistant Miss Tarantula!, Los Rizlaz (Mexican luchador surf garage!), the astonishing Go-Devils, surf challengers Jackie & the Cedrics, psychobilly act Spike and Cramps A Go Go, a Tokyo-based cover band. The Cannibals, the UK garage revival "trash" band fronted by Mike Spenser, headlined on Sunday's show at Club UFO. Openers included, The Mighty Moguls (cavemen rock!), Thee Bat (wild rockers with British constable helmets!), 96Tears (mod revival sounds), The Bait Ones (stomp scream and a show for true Cramps fans!) and the Young Parisians (mimicking the effeminate look and dirty sound of the NY Dolls).

Being such an aficionado of 60's garage and Nuggets sounds as well as the Tokyo Back from the Grave scene, it's exciting when these types of shows come around. And while the classics rarely play anymore, I can't complain because I was lucky enough to catch them earlier: Guitar Wolf at last year's Rock n' Roll Summit, Teengenerate at their reunion show at Maxwell's in 2005 and 5678's on the beach at Taiwan's Ho-Hai-Yan Festival in 2004. And some bands just never get tired; Jackie & the Cedrics play a couple times a month!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

BORDER CROSSING: The Vickers at Anti-pop 2

This past weekend the Tokyo monster rock 'n' roll band The Vickers joined Anti-pop 2 in Taiwan for a three show mini-tour taking them to Groove City in Taichung and Lounge 808 in Taipei. Anti-pop is a recent drive by the Taiwan-based expat band Consider the Meek and their label Leek Records to get more foreign performers to play the off-the-path island country. Last November, the all girl pop punk band Akiakane played the first Anti-pop series and Kev Lee of Consider the Meek plans to organize such events about every 2 months in hopes of attracting more bands from Japan, the US and elsewhere. Opening up for the foreign headliner are several up-and-coming local bands that have included Rabbit is Rich, The Hand Knife (ex-B.B. Bomb), Kenny from Casino, the Hindsight, New Hong Kong Hair City, Faded Moment, False Arrest, Winsky, Casanova, Jindowen, Deadly Vibes and To a God Unknown.

The Vickers, having previously played Taiwan at the Formoz Festival (I actually saw them for the first time at the Formoz 2004), were eagerly anticipated by Taiwanese punk fans and bands alike. Below are some pics I found on the Anti-pop myspace profile of The Vickers' performance at the 808 Lounge in Ximen Ding, Taipei.

(Rockin' Ryu)

Here's a list of links relevant to this article:

THE VICKERS' website:


ANTI-POP's Myspace:

(Chisato of The Vickers!)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Year End Review Part Three: Border Crossing

This is the final installment in the 2007 Year End Review blog post. Mainly, I've been writing about the great shows and festivals I attended over the past year. This final post will deal with specific instances when one or more of the bands promoted by Pacifiction Records made a trip to another country or when I attended an event or festival where a band from another country had been invited to play from another country.

I started off 2007 in Japan last year with members of Head Phones President. We all went to a countdown party where some of Anza's friends were performing in a kind of a posh J-pop musical review. It was a mild way to spend New Years Eve for me, but I was happy to be with new friends and seeing as I didn't have much money to paint Yokohama red. Anyway, HPP invited me out the following February to a big Street Rock and Shock Rock festival at Studio Coast called Independence-D. One of the reasons I mention it here is that Chthonic, the infamous black metal band from Taiwan played the same stage as Head Phones President. In fact, several of the big Japanese hardcore/ punk bands that played the two day event including Nature Living and FC FiVE I had previously seen on Taiwan at festivals like Formoz and Autumn Tiger during my stay in 2004. A couple other interesting connections to Taiwan include the fact that the Australian punk group Frenzel Rhomb shared the stage with Japan's Softball at the Say Yes to Taiwan fest in 2003. Also, the other major foreign act, Strung Out from the US is rumored to be included alongside Consider the Meek on a forthcoming Leek Records split. While the only band directly working with Pacifiction Records that performed was Head Phones President (and they didn't cross any borders) it's interesting to see all the other connections to Taiwan.

Following Independence-D, I wanted to fly to Taiwan for the Spirit of Taiwan Festival memorializing the 228 massacre but couldn't find the time or money. The big guests of 2007 were Akiakane from Japan, Muse from the UK, Strike Anywhere from the US, The Plastic People of the Universe from the Czech Republic and Punk God from China (currently in exile for playing at a previous Say Yes to Taiwan event). The featured Taiwan bands included Tizzy Bac, LTK and Chthonic.

However, I wouldn't cross the border to Taiwan until April's Double Pig Scream Scream. This being a major event, I'll try to just list the foreign bands I know that played last year. First off, I took a plane trip with the Tokyo poetry rock group Flight of Idea and hung out with them in Taipei before heading down to Kenting for the big fest. We hit up the Underworld, Mo-Relax cafe and we ate dinner at a restaurant run by the Taike (Taiwan Rock) band Chairman and managed by my old friend XiaoCool. Flight of Idea played a show with the Japanese avant rock group Groundcover who were also heading down to Kenting to play with us. When we finally got to the Kentington dude ranch resort (the site of the 2007 Spring Scream) the weather was perfectly overcast (no rain and no bright sun!). I remember randomly meeting Snoblind the ambient indie electronica duo from Hong Kong and the indie rock band Lowercase p from Boston, MA. As usual People's Records brought a slew of bands including girl punk duo Bubblelovele, punk rockabilly combo Hot Dog Buddy Buddy, Double Negative and Savas. Independently several Japanese were booked to play Spring scream. Flight of Idea amassed a bunch of spectators taken in by Azuma's charisma and the groove of the music. Groundcover astounded people with their wild noise rock and Green Pepe, a trio of Japanese girls dressed in white frocks and green face paint that made them look like Martian ghosts played kind of Osaka style avant rock. Some of the big names from North America included Mates of State, One Ring Zero, Attash and Girl + the Machine. There were several other bands from around Asia, America and Europe, but I can't list them all; you'll have to check the Spring Scream website for a comprehensive roster.

(Baseball in Moscow)

Over the summer, I was supporting two big tours. The Pixies/Dirty Three stylized Australian indie punk band Baseball booked a major European tout which took them from Finland, down Russia, through Germany to Croatia, Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and finally England! In the beginning of summer the Taiwan-based activist punk outfit Consider the Meek did a tour of Japan from Osaka to Nagoya, then Tokyo and back. During their stay in Taiwan they played a show with the legendary NYHC group Murphy's Law (interestingly, I had just seen my friends in Armed Suspects and Soul 4 Sale open for them in upstate NY a year earlier).

Mid-summer I would head back to Taiwan for the Formoz Festival, this time leading Head Phones President. Also playing the fest were my friends from the live dub, post rock project Six O'Minus booked along with the renowned Tokyo psych rock group Luminous Orange. This fest had so many diverse Japanese bands from Jrock to punk, ska, nu-metal, indie pop and video game pop. The big Japanese band names were Anna Tsuchiya, L.MC, Rise, Teriyaki Boyz, Quruli, Buffalo Daughter, The Aprils, YMCK, Aonami, Elekibass, Six O'Minus, Lumious Orange, Head Phones President, Yum Yum Orange and Ging Nang Boyz. Since I was mostly checking out the Taiwanese bands I hadn't seen in such a long time, I didn't see too many of the big acts, however, I wouldn't miss the Ging Nang Boyz show. I think they toned down their show for a Taiwanese audience because the songs had more of a classic rock vibe. However, Mineta did strip down and looked nicely like Iggy pop writhing on the big monitors by the stage side. He picked up an acoustic and did a rather suicidal sounding solo number before going back into punk rock insanity, running naked out to the audience, snatching an unsuspecting spectator's water bottle and lobbing it into the center crowd, getting him arrested and deported the next morning. Best performance from a punk band that weekend! Coming from the US were mostly indie bands with the exception of 80's metal legends Testament. Biggest name from US was Yo La Tengo, but Asobi Seksu and Dean and Britta from NY gave the audience great sets (even if they did play too early and soccer stadium felt like a sauna in the tropical humidity!). As for Pacifiction bands, Six O'Minus played a great set that got good reviews on the Island's Taiwan Nights website and Head Phones President managed to win over a large audience despite being unknown on the island; they even got an interview with local MTV. As for Formoz border crossing, I think that's it.... Oh I forgot, one day a stage was almost entirely dedicated to Korean metal!

Also during the summer time, ZMN Records in Taiwan sponsored a couple tours to China for their bands. During the first tour, Semi-Con and Duct Tape hit up several venues in Wuhan, Changsha and Beijing. Later in the summer, Stay Gold would follow in their footsteps.

(Kou Chou Ching battle with rhymes and puppets at Labu in Tokyo)

When Summer Sonic happened in Japan, several Taiwanese friends came to Japan to go to the festival and do some sightseeing. I hung out with members of Braces, Freckle, Kou Chou Ching and Children Sucker in Japan and Kou Chou Ching even played an all night underground hip hop/Miami bass show at Labo in Yoyogi... Their performance incorporated a humorous puppet show and adroit comedic samples, but compromised none of their dignity. A couple days later, the girls from Braces, Ben Ben from Freckle and Taisuke from Six O'Minus and I all had a party at an Izakaya.

(Chillin' in Brooklyn with Flight of Idea)

In the fall, I organized a NYC tour for Tokyo poet Azuma Yuichiro and his no wave/Beat generation influenced band Flight of Idea. With the help of Amy Uzi, Karate Rice, Rebel Night, Jake Noodles, Pass Out Record Shop and Frank Wood, I got them set up at some of the hippest places around town including Karma Lounge (Azuma solo), Cave Canem, Don Pedro's, Otto's Shrunken Head and an impromptu spot at a Pass Out Saturday show. I've been told that despite challenges caused by the language barrier, they were well received and people want them back!

Just before Flight of Idea headed out to New York City, met an original Australian retro mersey beat, 60's RnB, reggae band called The Basics. They were just coming back from a tour to the UK and I managed to snag some of their CDs for my shop when I saw them play at Club UFO with Supersnazz and nanoX (at the same time I snagged their CDs as well). In return, I got The Basics a slot on Azuma Yuichiro's Shibuya FM radio show "Everybody Knows?" (past guests have included local legends like Guitar Wolf and Shonen Knife as well a greats such as David Johansen and Joe Strummer). The Basics are also known for supporting The Bawdies, the Beatles style Japanese band on their Australian tour.

In November, I booked Head Phones President to play the Pacific Media Expo (PMX), an Asian pop culture convention held in Los Angeles. I arrived a day after HPP and found my way to the VIP room in the hotel where I received the best hospitality I could have asked for from the PMX staff; and to boot they were really cool to talk to about music! The expo had many events including discussions on manga, movie screenings, a Lolita fashion show, karaoke and guest speakers including anime voice actors and James Kyson Lee
of the cast from Heroes. Several of the bands on the bill included Candy Spooky Theatre, D&L, LiN Clover, Thee Out Mods, The Slants and Head Phones President. During my stay in LA I was also able to meet up with one of the bands I had been working with over the past year, Wolfgang Bang, a leather jacket punk band with Japanese members. I was really lucky and happy that The Slants were opening up for HPP because they were such great party animals! Actually Simon contacted me a year earlier due to my interest in Taiwanese underground music. My trip ended up working out well because I could touch base with Wolfgang Bang, make friends with The Slants and feel the satisfaction of bringing a beloved group like Head Phones President closer to their fans abroad.

Later that month, a group of Taiwanese came again to Japan for a mini tour by the Taike (Taiwan rock) band backQuarter. Because no one told me about the show, I missed it but I did go out with Bear and Yifun from Braces to a Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re show. Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re were hanging out before the show and I got to talk to them (I talked to them in NYC and at previous Tokyo shows) and I introduced them to the Braces girls... Mari was pretty excited and even ranted how she has fans from Taiwan and the US in the audience. During the show, she jumped out into the crowd and somehow the mic got shoved to Bear to hold while Mari screamed into it! Needless to say, the Braces girls loved it!

(Yifun & Bear from Braces with Mari from Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re)

Around the same time, Akiakane from Japan made a trip to Taiwan for the Anti-pop 1 concert series organized by Consider the Meek in conjunction with Chaos Punk and Vicious Circle. The second Anti-pop series is happening at the moment in Taiwan with guest supporter The Vickers, monster rock n roll from Japan.

While the Taiwanese indie/post rock trio 8mm Sky's US tour was shot down because of visa issues, Chthonic, ever-popular among metal audiences overseas, joined last summer's Ozzfest. Making American music fans aware of Taiwan's push for recognition in the UN with their "UNlimited Taiwan" protest song, the band played a NYC show at the Highline Ballroom entitled "UNlimited New York" amid protests supporting a coinciding petition from Taiwan to join the worldwide political organization. Local Asian fusion band The Hsu-nami, lead by er-hu wielding Jack Hsu, opened up for Chthonic at this date.

Throughout my first year in Japan, I also saw several classic garage, punk and rock n roll bands from foreign lands. The first was a show at Shinjuku Red Cloth where I went mostly to see Jackie and the Cedrics, but was glad to catch the spooky sounds of The Ghastly Ones, a band I had discovered years earlier in my search for garage and surf music. I saw the Stems, an Australian garage band from the early eighties and I didn't want to leave the show so early to catch my train home! By the way I hate Sunday shows! Lastly, the Dogs... forgotten mothers of Detroit rock! Next best thing to the Stooges... and they were preceded by the Go-Devils, Jackie and the Cedrics and the Gimmies! In fact this show was to support a new Dogs tribute featuring many classic and unforgettable Japanese indie bands.

Well that about raps up all the international music experiences connected to me. If I can remember more I'll add it later. And I'll definitely keep better tabs on my blog for next year!