30 October 2014

Record Shopping in Tokyo

Record Shopping in Tokyo
I am very fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo as part of my job. My recent visit in October 2014 was my third time visiting this year and reading about how Tokyo has around 700 record stores I thought I would try and squeeze in a bit of record buying while I was there.

A friend of mine has recently been posting about his favourite guitarists and one of them is a Japanese musician called Takeshi Terauchi who plays surf guitar and is notable for fronting the bands The Bunnys and The Blue Jeans.

I don’t think his records ever got released in the west, at least I don’t think they got a proper release in the UK, although a recent compilation has been put together choice cuts from the 60s and early 70s, spreading his music to curious new ears who may not have heard about him previously. With this list fresh in my mind I thought that seeing as I would be in Tokyo and planned to do some crate digging I would search out some Takeshi Terauchi records.

Tokyo is loaded with record stores from tiny rooms packed to the rafters with stacks of records to large warehouse type spaces and internationally known chain stores such as HMV and Tower Records. Thanks to a handful of really helpful blog posts I did a bit of research on the stores before I departed for Japan and focused on ones in Shinjuku and Shibuya knowing that I would be predominantly in these areas during my short work trip.

Due to time constraints, fitting in these visits around work appointments, and the vast size of Tokyo, I didn’t get the opportunity to visit all of the ones that I wanted to, which I think my wallet is thankful for. 

As a Western shopper whose understanding of the Japanese language is very limited, there were times where I couldn’t get my heard around how the records were ordered, but when I approached staff in the stores for assistance even though not many spoke any English they were all very helpful and pointed me in the correct section of the store; some would even get the LPs out of the shelves for me to take a look at. Pro tip: I found it useful to write down the name of the artist to show the staff.

In terms of the condition of the used records, I noticed that the Japanese appear to treat their records very well and the grading in the shops was very conservative. All of the records that I bought were in VG+ to almost pushing in to mint condition territory with the sleeves almost spotless too apart from a few signs of ageing.

Everything I bought and saw in the record stores was very reasonably priced too. I didn’t pay over £9 for any of the Takeshi Terauchi records, which is remarkable really. In fact that most expensive music that I bought was a new CD by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Time Records Takadanobaba
I hadn’t actually planned to go to this store. I was on my way to a meeting when I spotted a sign advertising a store selling second hand records. Once my meeting was over I popped in on my way back to Takadanobaba JR Station. This was a relatively small store compared to the others I visited, but was still well-stocked and superbly organised. After a few minutes of trying to get my head around how the records were organised I asked the man behind the register if they had any Takeshi Terauchi and he wasn’t too sure. So he rang his boss who appeared from somewhere and then proceeded to kindly look through the records until he pulled out a copy of Takeshi Terauchi and the Bunnys Let’s Go Classics as well as a seven inch. I decided to buy the LP and was gobsmacked to find that it was only 900 yen for a record that was in impeccable condition; I couldn’t see a mark on the vinyl and the sleeve looks just as fresh as they day it was originally released in 1967. Great shop and great service.
Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys - Let's Go Classics
Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys - Let's Go Classics

Recofan Shibuya
Located in the Shibuya Beam building, this is the kind of store that I could have spent hours in going through their extensive selection of records that were displayed in boxes, racks and on shelves. The shop was of warehouse size proportions and as well having lots of used and new vinyl records they also had a massive range of DVDs and CDs for sale too. There were plenty of discounted ‘bargain bins’ dotted around the floor for a spot of rummaging.  Due to the sheer vastness of the place they are able to stock a wide variety of music and from what I noticed had a good mix of both Western and Japanese music that didn’t just focus of rock, I saw hip hop and dance music sections too. As was the case in most of the stores that I visited, the majority of the labeling and signage was in Japanese meaning it took a while to get my head around where particular records could be found and how they were ordered.  When I approached the girl pricing up records about where I could find the Takeshi Terauchi records, she didn’t speak any English, but I showed her his name and she very kindly took me the correct section.  They had the largest amount of Takeshi Terauchi records out of any of the stores I visited and I ended up buying another copy of Let’s Go Classical (that I am going to gift to the friend who turned me on to his music) as well as two copies of Takeshi Terauchi and Blue Jeans Let’s Go Eleki Bushi by mistake – the original 1966 version and a 1971 re-release with gatefold sleeve. Recofan is definitely worth a visit if you plan on going record shopping in Tokyo and if you do go make sure to give yourself a fair bit of time to do so.  Highly recommended.
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi (1966)

Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi (1971)

Tower Records Shibuya
Apparently (according to Wikipedia that is) Tower Records in Shibuya is one of the biggest music retail spaces in the word. I find it remarkable that living in a country where record stores are almost becoming a thing of a by-gone age, Tokyo is still able to accommodate so many different stores from chains to small independents. It’s pleasing to see Tower Records still going over in Japan and the store in Shibuya is an impressive landmark building. Unlike the other stores that I visited Tower Records sells new releases and has 9 floors rammed with CDs, DVD, Books, Comics and all sorts of merchandise. There’s also a Tower Records Shinjuku, and alongside the at least two HMVs that I saw in Shibuya, it’s pleasing to see that Japan still has a culture and desire to both pay for music and invest in the physical product. The previous two times I have visited Tokyo I have passed this store numerous times on the way to meetings but never had the opportunity to go in, so on this visit I made sure that I remedied that. I didn’t spend too long here and headed straight to the J-Pop floor to buy a copy of the latest Kyary Pamyu Pamyu album Pika Pika Fantajin. It set me back around £13 which is a bit more than what new CDs cost here in the UK and is how much they used to cost in the 90s. I don’t really buy many CDs anymore, especially for new music as I tend to buy the vinyl, but being a fan of her music I thought it made sense to buy it and especially as I don’t think it ever got a physical release over here. It took me a while to actually find her section in the racks due to the confusing way the artists were ordered; it appeared to be that some were ordered by first time while others by last.  
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Tower Records Shibuya
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu display in Tower Records Shibuya

Disc Union Shinjuku
Disc Union is a large Japanese chain store that predominantly (I think) sells used vinyl and CDs, but I also saw some cassettes when I was there too. What is probably unthinkable for a record store in the UK, they have various stores that specialise in different genres. For example in Shinjuku alone they have individual stores for genres like Heavy Metal, Latin, Jazz, Blues. I headed to the main store in Shinjuku that was spread over 8 floors of music. I didn’t spend too long here and headed for the basement which is where the Japanese related used vinyl and CDs are located. Although a narrow building, pretty much every wall and floor space was utilised for storing and displaying the records making for some very cramped conditions down in that tiny basement room. Again, I couldn’t work out where the records I was looking for were but after asking the man behind the counter he very helpfully went to the section and pulled out the records for me to look for. Their Takeshi Terauchi selection wasn’t that great to be honest and I didn’t end up buying anything, which I felt bad about as the man was really helpful. But the shop was very busy with customers and seemed to be the type of place to go to if you are up for a good rummage to find a bargain or two.

Strangelove Records Shinjuku
I actually only stumbled across this store by accident, although I had read about it on one of the blog posts I have highlighted below. I was in the Nish-Shinjuku area just North West of Shinjuku train station looking for another record store that was in an area made up of a few low-rise older looking buildings set out on a grid type arrangement. Wandering around it seemed that this area was made up of lots of interesting looking independent establishments from cafes, shops and even a recording studio. Although I didn’t actually find the record store that I was looking for I noticed a handful of interesting looking record stores, including one that specialised in dance music and another that stocked reggae and dub, so it’s definitely an area worth investigating for a spot of crate-digging if you have some time on your hands. After giving up and deciding to head back to my hotel I spotted the sign for Strangelove Records and intrigued headed up the stairs to the store. This was a long and narrow store with shelves piled to the ceiling with what seemed to be mainly bootleg CDs and DVDs. I wasn’t looking for bootlegs particularly, so I didn’t pick anything up, but they had an interesting selection and is probably worth popping in if you wanted to buy a live recording by a rock band. Most of the DVD and CDs I pulled out to look at looked to be priced at around 3,000 yen which I thought was quite pricey compared to the price of the used vinyl, but there was a Zwan recording for the bargain price of 800 yen that I now regret not buying. 

Tokyo is a vinyl lovers paradise and if I get the opportunity to go again I will definitely be making time to visit its record stores. 

I found these blog posts and websites very useful for researching which record stores to visit before my trip to Tokyo:
http://mostly-retro.com/2013/04/16/the-mostly-retro-guide-to-buying-records-in-japan/ (this site also includes a link to a useful Google Map of Tokyo record stores)
Bookmark and Share

21 September 2014

In Appreciation of Adore by Smashing Pumpkins


Smashing Pumpkins Adore


1996 was the beginning of the end for the Smashing Pumpkins. On 21 July, midway through their 14-month, 173-date, world-straddling Infinite Sadness tour in support of their over-blown opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the band’s touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin overdosed on a potent mixture of heroin and alcohol known as ‘Red Rum’. He and Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain had been injecting the drug at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan. Attempts by Chamberlain to revive Melvoin by putting his head under a running shower came to nothing. Melvoin was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
 

It would later transpire that this was the third time Chamberlain and Melvoin had overdosed on the tour. Chamberlain was sacked from the band with immediate effect and checked in to rehab. 

Prior to Melvoin’s death, on 11 May at a date at the Point Theatre in Dublin, 17 year old fan Bernadette O’Brian was crushed by the surging crowd. Her life-support was disconnected shortly after. Four other fans were also injured at the show. During the same year, Chamberlain’s father passed away, Billy Corgan separated from his wife (they would divorce in ‘97), and in December his mum Martha died from cancer.
 

The spectre of death, drugs, divorce and drama would drape themselves around the Smashing Pumpkins like a ghostly veil and directly influence the making of the band’s next LP, Adore.
 

With Chamberlain now out of the band and replaced for live duties by Matt Walker (previously of Filter, now with Morrisey), the stubborn and single-minded Corgan dragged the limping, patched-up Pumpkins through the remainder of the tour in to early 1997.
 

In aftermath of the Infinite Sadness tour Corgan started experimenting with ecstasy, downers, and magic mushrooms. But, perhaps most distressing of all, became best pals with schlock-rocker Marilyn Manson - surely a sign that Corgan, if he hadn’t done so already, was slowly unraveling and starting to lose his mind. Instead of taking a much needed break, he dived straight in to writing the band’s next album.

With his closest musical ally, and the band’s powerful beating heart, Chamberlain no longer on the scene, Corgan wanted to craft an album that welded together acoustic sounds with his love of electronic music. Adore is unlike anything else in the Smashing Pumpkins discography: dark, brooding and quiet; the sound of a bald, early 30-something megalomaniac gently sobbing to himself by candlelight. Corgan was a man whose world was falling apart around him and he wanted the world to know.


If fans of the band’s first two albums, Gish and Siamese Dream, were put off by the outrageous indulgent extravagance of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, then its follow-up would send the majority of fans running away in their millions, with many never returning. Where were the dreamy power chords? The monster drums? That nasal whine? The things that had made the Pumpkins and defined their sound were now been banished from their music. This would be a brave move and one that would go on to cost the band and from which they would never recover.


Like Neil Young and his ‘ditch trilogy’, Corgan was at the peak of his creative and commercial powers, and reacted to close personal tragedy, as well as the pressures of creating a follow-up to a multi-platinum selling album, by creating music that was unlike anything he had produced before. Previous albums had seen Corgan full of rage and spitting venom against a barrage of thick, juggernaut-sized riffs. Now he was writing songs dripping with heartache that tried to get to grips with his emotional turmoil and make sense of his changing world.


Out of this mess and chaos came music that was enriched with beauty and honesty, elements that you could argue had never really been present in Corgan’s songwriting before, and haven’t been in his music since. Adore was a brave record and it’s telling that Corgan would never again make an album like it ever again.


The band moved to LA to record the album at the legendary Sound City Studios. But instead of sun-soaked harmonies that channeled Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, what the listener got instead was sadness and sorrow, a rainy autumn afternoon of a record that tipped its hat to bedsit indie of The Cure and early New Order. And it was glorious.


Always one of the most dysfunctional bands, Corgan had wanted to the band to live together while they recorded the album, but only D’arcy Wretzky was up for this and joined him in a rented mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Significantly, James Iha opted to stay away and lived on his own in a hotel. The band were drifting apart and would eventually split in 2000.


Recording sessions followed a similar pattern, with Corgan working on his own most of the time, with Wretzky and Iha only dropping by when needed. While much of Gish and most of Siamese Dream was made in this way, without his buddy Chamberlain by his side and behind the drum kit, Corgan had become a loner in his own band. This feeling of loneliness and solitude seeped in to the sound of Adore. 


Upon first listening to the record, as soon as the plucked acoustic guitar and hushed vocals of To Sheila started you realised that this was the Smashing Pumpkins like you had never heard them before. Gone was the bombast of old and in its place was a new found intimacy, with Corgan gently singing in to the mic as if he’s whispering in to you ear.


The release of Adore was preceded with the release of kind-of title track and single, Ava Adore. Its mechanised percussive pulse and clanging guitars, with Corgan wailing “We must never be apart” like a man in the midst of a full-blown existential crisis, was far cry from the grunge behemoths of a Zero or a Bullet With Butterfly Wings. The music video for Ava Adore was the first time the wider world got a glimpse of the Adore-era Pumpkins. Gone were the silver trousers and ‘Zero’ t-shirts, and instead we saw Corgan stalking around something that looked like the set to an Eastern European porno shoot like Uncle Fester dressed in Count Dracula’s pyjamas, while his bandmates reluctantly milled around in the background like a pair of mardy teenagers who have been dragged along to their parent’s swingers party. Not a smile is cracked, Corgan wanting us to know that this was music to be taken seriously. 


The band didn’t make life easy for themselves by coming across as po-faced goths who had had a sense of humour transplant. This was a long way from making out on trippy ice cream van journeys or playing guitars with toy guns, so there’s no surprise that huge swathes of the public turned their backs on the band and Adore ended up selling noticeably less than Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. But those fans that jumped ship missed out on the finest music the Smashing Pumpkins and Billy Corgan would ever produce. Adore is the sound of a stripped-back Smashing Pumpkins, the band taking their music apart and re-building it from the ground up. The music was uncertain and brittle mirroring Corgan’s worries and fears. 


Adore often feels like an elegy to the recently departed. Corgan dealing with the death of his mother in the rolling acoustic of Once Upon A Time, Crestfallen’s tear-stained lament, and the sombre epic For Martha. Perfect, its electronic beat going over similar terrain to 1979, is quite clearly a lover-letter to abandoned drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. The squelching stomp of Pug is a bitter riposte to his ex-wife.


Chamberlain’s absence allowed the band to open up their sound to different elements and textures, doing away with any real drums and injecting many of the songs with electronic percussive crunch that sounded like jackboots marching over gravel.


The parts of the album that shy away from the more processed elements are focussed around Corgan and his piano. It’s these songs that provide the real, stark, stand-out moments on the album. The desperation of Annie-Dog (took me years to figure out what ‘Hong Kong glue’ meant – I was naïve) and the heartache of Blank Page (which features live drums by Matt Walker); these are songs without their make-up on - raw and exposed to the world. Corgan’s voice is dry and croaky as he plays simple chords on his piano.


The name Smashing Pumpkins may have been written on the sleeve of the album, but for all intent and purposes Adore is pretty much a Billy Corgan solo album, more so then any other Smashing Pumpkins record (we are talking pre-reunion here). Even still, there are a couple of moments that feature the band playing together and sounding, well, like a band. Shame is one of those rare moments. Corgan on piano, Iha on E-bowed guitar, Wretzky on bass, huddled around a simple drum machine like they would have been when they first started out. It’s no coincidence then that this is one of album’s standout moments, proper shivers down the spine territory. The other is For Martha, another special moment where the whole band are present, pulling together to create something magical that lifts the album towards the heavens.


Adore may have been a strategic re-think by Corgan, an attempt to re-focus the band’s music after the departure of Chamberlain, but fragments of the elements that are ‘typically’ Smashing Pumpkins can still be found littered throughout the record. The distorted sonic abuse of Pug is the closest Adore gets to that classic Smashing Pumpkins wall-of-sound; Tear is the band at their melodramatic best, indulgent, dramatic and over the top; and even on this most downbeat of records there is still room for the Smashing Pumpkins trope of intentionally misspelling words or inserting puns in to song titles – Appels + Oranjes, Behold The Night Mare, Tear. 


By 1998 grunge was dead. Pop, R’n’B and Nu-Metal reigned supreme. Adore was an album out of step and out of time and found itself lost in the cracks of this shifting musical landscape. To paraphrase Sharon Osbourne, Billy Corgan might have been a bald twat in a dress, but for a short period of time he channeled his sadness, loss and heartache in to a record of genuine emotional integrity and crafted a collection of songs that were beautiful, elegant, and above all else, honest. 


Smashing Pumpkins release the Adore box set on Monday 6 October 2014.

Smashing Pumpkins website

Bookmark and Share

14 September 2014

LeftLion Update

LeftLion Magazine #60 was getting itself about on the streets of Nottingham at the start of August. One article that I did for it was with Rob from Spaceships Are Cool and Yunioshi about the Accessibility of Music Venues in Nottingham. This has been an article that I had wanted to do for a while, and it was occasionally discussed at editorial meeting but nothing was ever really done perhaps for fear of upsetting a few advertisers. But after seeing The Fish Police and working on an article with the organisation that they work with Constant Flux it was something that I wanted to do. I'm pretty pleased with the way it came out, which isn't always something that I can say about something that I have written. 

Also in the magazine are the usual array of Nottingham-related music reviews. In this issue I reviewed releases by Frazer Lowrie and The Most Ugly Child. I went overseas on a work-related trip during the making of this issue so found myself writing and editing the music reviews page in the departure lounges of Heathrow and Hong Kong International Airport. As always, I have put together a Sound of the Lion podcast to accompany the reviews page. 

A few things that I have done for the LeftLion website include a Q&A with hardcore punk band Bad Breeding who recently played at The Chameleon with Kagoule. I reviewed Gallery 47's album launch for his second LP at Nottingham Contemporary.  There is also this fun little Q&A with Gringo Records' latest band The Wharves who played here recently and whose second album is a superb mixture of Sleater Kinney alternative rock and haunting West Coast influenced harmonies. Make sure you pick it up when it's released in November. 

Finally, I am pleased to say that the LeftLion Kickstarter has met it's target of £10,000 meaning the magazine will be going monthly.
Bookmark and Share

Krautlöunge Present: Camera / I Am Lono / Apalusa

Camera's first album Radiate has been one of my favourite albums of the past couple of years. A great modern day krautrock band from Berlin who, instead of merely copying, are carrying on the type of music that bands such a Neu!, Can and Faust invented in the 70s and doing their own thing with it. They started out playing in outdoor spaces and train stations of Berlin and that nervy energy is evident in their motorik sound. 

Their second album Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide is out soon.  I've not heard it yet, but I am looking forward to picking it up.

They are playing Liverpool Psych Festival soon and put a message on Facebook saying that they were looking for more shows in the UK. I sent them an email and have now found myself putting them on in Nottingham. Details are on the poster and down below.

Camera / I Am Lono / Apalusa
Wednesday 1 October 2014
The Chameleon, Nottingham 
£6adv / £5otd
Tickets - https://www.wegottickets.com/event/289289
Facebook event -  https://www.facebook.com/events/563719083732123/

https://www.facebook.com/krautlounge


Bookmark and Share

26 August 2014

Billy Corgan - AEGEA


AEGEA by Billy Corgan

AEGEA is a private press release from Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan. The version that I have is the third pressing, which is a lavender coloured 12 inch record with music on both sides of the vinyl. The third pressing is a one disc release as opposed to the a two-disc set that the previous versions where. The first two pressings where on aqua and red coloured vinyl, respectively. My third pressing of AEGEA is numbered 680 out of 1000. 

Interest in the record could be registered via the Smashing Pumpkins website, and then an email was sent to those who had registered containing a link to a webpage where the record could be ordered from. The record was sold and distributed via Billy Corgan's teashop in Chicago called Madame Zuzu's Tea House. 


AEGEA by Billy Corgan

This release really has been a DIY effort and may be a direction Billy Corgan will want to pursue for releasing music in the future - keeping the production and distribution in-house and delivering it directly to fans without the need to go through record labels. 

After placing my order I had to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive as it was being posted to the UK. 

The music was recorded by Billy Corgan in 2007 during a period of recording that took place just before the reunited Smashing Pumpkins made their first live appearance (22 May in Paris) after they originally split in December 2000. 


AEGEA by Billy Corgan

Consisting of pieces of experimental electronic music, the focus of the tracks is on creating textures and moods rather than actual melodies or what could be called 'proper songs'. It is ambient and ghostly, with notes drifting, shifting shape, before evaporating in to nothingness. There's a meditative quality running throughout and it feels like the music is moving along organically and not being forced in to any particular direction. 

Is it indulgent? Of course it is, this is Billy Corgan we are talking about. I'm not really sure who this will appeal to apart from Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins fans who want to collect everything that he puts out. This is a very niche sounding record and is far removed from his work with Smashing Pumpkins (and Zwan) as you can imagine. But I admire him for releasing something (however limited) in to the wider world that is so uncharacteristic of the music that he is more commonly known to make. 


AEGEA by Billy Corgan

Apologies for the quality of the photographs that I have uploaded here. I've posted them for reference and my iPhone lense is shamefully dirty. 

If you wanted to listen to the music of AEGEA without trying to get your hands on a copy of the record, it has been uploaded to YouTube accompanied by some appropriately murky visuals. You can view/listen below:

Billy Corgan Facebook
Bookmark and Share

25 August 2014

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany
My own introduction to Krautrock probably came via listening to Kraftwerk. Like The Beatles, Kraftwerk's music has always felt like it has always just been around, as if it has always existed and appeared fully formed not attached to any kind of time or place; their robotic tentacles have infiltrated and shaped so much modern music, that it's hard to escape their influence. 

It's Kraftwerk whose presence looms large over this book as one of the very few Krautrock bands from 1970s Germany to break out of the scene and make it internationally during their hey-day. Many of the other bands at the time didn't really gain any kind of recognition, aside from a few music press types, until 20 or 30 years later. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs charts the the rise of a certain type of experimental band that cropped-up throughout Germany in the late 1960s and early 70s who became tagged as 'Krautrock' by the Western music press. 

Stubbs attempts to frame the movement within a social and historical context, and although this does make for some meandering narrative at times (the overwhelming length of the prologue is enough to put you off from reading the rest of the book), the book does make a worthy effort to try and understand just how these bands came about and why it too so long for their influence to take hold. 

The book is divided into chapters that focus on individual bands or scenes. Therefore we get sections that focus on Can, Kraftwerk, Amon Duul 2, Faust, Neu!, Cluster, the bands of the Berlin scene such as Tangerine Dream, plus David Bowie's involvement and interest in much of this experimental German music at the tail end of the 70's, with Stubbs explaining in a very enthused way how these bands came about and just how different and exciting their music was. 

The music that became known as Krautrock was unlike anything else that came before it and was unique to Germany - which that was the point. As Future Days goes in to great detail explaining, all of these bands came about because the musicians wanted to create a new culture, a fresh-identity for a post-war Germany, one that didn't take from the West, specifically America. 

What was also unique about Krautrock was that it wasn't a scene based around particular city, venue or sound. Many of these bands formed independently from one another, but everyone involved happened to have similar mindset and goals - To create something new. 

Stubbs explains how these disparate groups created their unique music, fitting the groups in to the culture of the times, while drawing a line to much of the popular modern music we listen to today and how it has been shaped by the gradually percolating influence of Krautrock. If this does make the text and narrative somewhat cumbersome at times, you do feel that there is too much attempting to contextualise at points, the book does a rewarding job of explaining where this music fits in to modern musical culture. 

This is a well researched book, Stubbs getting time to speak to many of the people who are involved in this music first hand, and his passion for the music is obvious throughout. From a personal point of view, the chapter on Kraftwerk is some of the best writing about Kraftwerk I've ever read, and he eloquently states just how much their music changed the music landscape creating the foundation for modern pop and hip hop. 

The text and narrative may feel sprawling in places, but David Stubbs makes a good effort of a difficult task - explaining the rise of these various groups who were very different from each other. For a good overview and introduction to a scene whose influence wouldn't break through in to the mainstream conscious until 30 years after it came and went, it feels like an essential read and will no doubt become a standard text for people wanting to learn more about Krautrock alongside Julian Cope's influential Krautrocksampler. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs is out via Faber & Faber. 

Bookmark and Share

22 August 2014

LeftLion Kickstarter Campaign


I have been involved with LeftLion since 2005 when I started penning gig reviews and interviews as something to do when I returned back to Nottingham after university. It was a great way off re-introducing myself to what the city has to offer, as well a good way to continue writing since I had been involved in my uni magazine and wanted to continue to do something similar. LeftLion gave me that opportunity. I eventually got more involved and ended up as Music Editor, a role that I have held with the magazine since roughly October 2008 (I think) - dates are a little bit blurry and I think there was a gradual 'easing in' process. 

LeftLion does a remarkable job of promoting Nottingham culture to a wider audience, and myself, along with loads of other much more talented contributors, have worked our balls-off for nothing and often working around full-time jobs to put it together.

The magazine is distributed for free around the city and up until this point has been published every two months. But from the next issue (which will be issue #61) onwards we plan to take it monthly. To go monthly LeftLion needs a helping hand. 

To mark 10 years as a magazine (LeftLion was founded in 2003 and the website has been going since then, with the magazine coming a year later) we have launched a Kickstarter campaign to give us a helping hand in going monthly. 

We are looking to raise £10,000 to help with the costs of producing an extra five magazines over the next year. Not a penny will be going to anyone involved in the mag, it'll all be going towards the printing and distribution. 

You don't need to give loads of money. If everyone who read the magazine simply gave a quid to the campaign it would easily make its target. 

There are loads of rewards available, from a simple mention on LeftLion's social networks through to loads of signed goods, a band playing in your living room, being on the cover and even becoming honourary 'LeftLion President' if you stump up the big figures. 

As I type this, there has been 135 backers and £4,629 raised with 29 days to go. 

Please take a look at the LeftLion Kickstarter page.

#KickLeftLion

Bookmark and Share

Quoted By The Fish Police


This is exciting and very rarely happens. One of my gig reviews have been used as a quote by the band I was writing about. Currently, The Fish Police are using a banner on their website that uses a quote pulled from my review of their show at Nottingham Contemporary on 4 April this year

The Fish Police are a hugely entertaining band and were touring thanks to an organisation called Constant Flux who work with and create opportunities for learning disabled musicians on the UK's DIY music scene. 
Bookmark and Share

20 July 2014

Live Review of Remember Remember and Kogumaza / Recent Album Reviews For LeftLion


Remember Remember are signed to Mogwai's Rock Action record label and have just released their wonderful third album titled Forgetting The Present. Graeme, who the band revolves around, has recently moved to Nottingham and they played a gig in the city at The Chameleon with Kogumaza. You can read my review of the show on the LeftLion website

Also up on the LeftLion website are the Nottingham Music Reviews from issue #59 of the magazine. I reviewed recent releases from Grey Hairs, Sleaford Mods, Kundalini, and Timothy J Simpson.


Bookmark and Share

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Pika Pika Fantajin

Pika Pika Fantajin is the third album from Japan's J-pop megastar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu following 2013's reputation cementing Nanda Collection. Famous for her twisted, satirical take on Japan's Kawaii culture, as well as her visually stunning and elaborate music videos; in my opinion she is also one of the world's most entertaining and interesting pop performers.  

Pika Pika Fantajin (ピカピカふぁんたじん)     
The album's title track and nothing more than a musical intro that acts to build-up anticipation for what is about to come.  

Kira Kira Killer (きらきらキラー   
Here we have Kyary Pamyu Pamyu the cheerleader, gleefully shouting and chanting her way through this hyperactive opener and well and truly high-kicking the album open. It's another pop banger that is relentless in its energy. The bleepy synths have been pushed in to overdrive, everyone involved sounds like they've overdosed on E-numbers and Red Bull, while Kyary frantically shouts and sings with irresistible enthusiasm.   
        
Yume no Hajima Ring Ring (ゆめのはじまりんりん -album mix-)   
My thoughts on this utterly delightful song can be found elsewhere on this blog. Still very much my favourite Kyary Pamyu Pamyu track and proves that she can perform songs with depth and meaning, a route I would be interested to see her explore more as she matures as a performer. What I do want to say is that this is the album mix and adds more lush synth sounds to the original while also slightly changing the structure. I'm really not sure that it suits the delicate, thoughtful nature of the song to be honest and much prefer the original's more organic sound. I presume this has been re-mixed to be in keeping with the rest of the album's more electronic textures, but every time I listen to it it I think what have they done to this song? If you have both versions of Yume no Hajima Ring Ring I would suggest swapping out the album version for the much more rewarding single version. 
        
Mottai Night Land (もったいないとらんど)    
It feels like this song has been around for ages now; and it has, being originally released back in November of last year. The reasons for this is that, as with many J-pop songs, it was commissioned for an advert; which sounds wrong to many Western music fans because we are used to it being the other way round - adverts using pre-existing songs rather than commissioning artists to write a track specifically for an advert. This is classic Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - irresistibly catchy chorus that you will be unable to shake from your head, twinkling and playful pianos and glockenspiels, an overwhelming sense of hyperactivity as if the song is chasing its own tail, and with a bizarre dream-like quality to it all. An all-round, punch-the-air, great pop song. 

Serious Hitomi (シリアスひとみ)   
Blimey, where did this come from? Seemingly out of nowhere we've got Kyary Pamyu Pamyu channeling the B52s and making them sound like they were from the future. This is a monster of a chiptune powered new-wave pop song. That fuzzed-up guitar riff hits you from the off, it's completely unexpected, and pins you back for what is a rollercoaster of delight that screeches by pumped-up on its own adrenalin. She is dragging that classic 1960s girl group sound, via early 80s new wave, very much in to the 21st century.  Surfy, garage rock guitars, wailing synths, and classic pop melodies all collide to make what is undoubtedly one of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best songs. It's stretched out to over 5 minutes, but the song just whizzes by it is that frantic; and by the time it's over, all you want to do is give it another spin. You can read an English translation of the lyrics on the Super Happy Awesome blog.
       
do do pi do (Capsule cover)       
A cover of a song by her producer, Capsule. There's a lot going on here, but at the same time there isn't. Pretty one paced, but nevertheless a tight sounding modern dance song. Against a backdrop of 'housey' sounding pianos we hear Kyary gently singing, her vocals flowing in and out of the music, adding texture rather than being pushed up front as they would be on a more straight forward 'pop song'. This sounds like festival time in the robot factory. At first I pegged it as filler, but the more I've listened to it the more it has grown on me, and it's the relative simplicity and subtlety of the repetitive pianos and drifting vocals that make it work and turn it in to one of the best songs on Pika Pika Fantajin. You can listen to original here if you want to compare

Family Party (ファミリーパーティー -album mix-)    
Written specifically for a Japanese anime film it has the feeling of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-by-numbers unfortunately. Although props must go to the epic sounding 8bit intro. She has performed and will go on to perform better songs. Family Party probably works better within the setting of the film, but as a track on an album that is full of well-crafted and intelligent pop songs, it just doesn't stand up.  
   
Ring a Bell    
Following Family Party another blip at the start of the second half of Pika Pika Fantajin. This is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's first ever song that she's performed entirely in English. And it's a pretty big disappointment. It's evident that her non-Japanese speaking fans don't mind that she doesn't sing in English. They buy her albums, watch her videos and and pack out her shows even though the majority of them can't understand what she is singing. I don't think they are crying out for English language Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs. But they've been given one anyway, and it's full of simple lyrics about going to the studio and ringing a bell. A pretty pointless exercise that I'm hoping she won't repeat again and uses it as a learning experience.     
   
Tokyo Highway (トーキョーハイウェイ)    
A classic sounding Capsule produced song. Slick electronica that bounces along locked in to a mechanized rhythm, with Kyary's high, wistful vocals cutting through the mix and taking the song skywards. It doesn't do a lot, but does what it needs to do, the song has been left plenty of room to breath and move along organically. Euphoric house that shows that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is perfectly at home fronting slick, modern dance songs just as she is making frantic schizoid pop. 
      
Koi Koi Koi (こいこいこい)    
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has a certain style or genre of novelty song that she does every now and again, and this is one of them. Over twinkling, playful, instrumentation, we essentially have her singing the song title over and over again. It has the feeling of a very eerie children's nursery rhyme. Far removed from her banging electro-pop tracks that she can do so well. Even if Koi Koi Koi doesn't exactly work, it's nice to see her putting her hand at something different and attempting to give the album texture and different styles of song. 
    
Sungoi Aura (すんごいオーラ -album mix-)    
Pika Pika Fantajin feels like an album of two halves. Whereas the first 6 songs are among some of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best songs and really get the album off to a flying start, the second half is very hit-and-miss, feels patchy, and the album loses its momentum because of this. I wonder though if this was a deliberate ploy: top load the album with the grade-A pop material and then leave the second half to the more odd and peculiar songs for those who don't have the attention span to listen to full albums anymore? Anyway, those people who don't pick their way through the second half are going to miss out on wonderful, playful songs like Sungoi Aura. Parping drums, tin whistles, rolling piano, and another hooky melody. It's a classic Capsule and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu combination and one of their more organic sounding songs in a similar vein to Yume no Hajima Ring Ring. This song isn't immediate and doesn't go out of it's way to smash itself in to your ears, but its gradually unfolding charms eventually win you over. 
  
Explorer (エクスプローラー)
The final song ends on a hopeful sounding note. Against a military style backing, all marching band drums and whistles, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu sounds victorious and grateful. I have no idea what she is singing about, but it sounds like a thank you note to those of you who have listened to the album and have supported her career up to this point so far. It's elated, positive and poignant end to an album that will go some way to cementing her reputation as one of the world's finest pop stars. 



Bookmark and Share

13 July 2014

Photographs of Hong Kong (July 2014)

From a recent visit to Hong Kong. All taken between 4 - 9 July 2014. 

View from the train somewhere between the airport and Kowloon

Gloucester Road, Wan Chai

Hopewell Centre

Hay Hay Restaurant, Wan Chai

Lockhart Road, Wan Chai

Nathan Road, Kowloon

Seafood Restaurant on Nathan Road

Seafood Restaurant on Nathan Road

Avenue of Comic Stars, Kowloon

Avenue of Comic Stars, Kowloon

Victoria Harbour looking towards Hong Kong Island

Victoria Harbour looking towards Hong Kong Island

Star Ferry Terminal, Kowloon

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from IFC Mall

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

And Batman was there too

Bookmark and Share

19 June 2014

Kogumaza Interview for LeftLion

Kogumaza Interview LeftLion Thom Stone Photography

Click the above image to read the online version of my recent interview with Kogumaza that originally featured in LeftLion Magazine #59.

Sludgy, heavy, spacey; whatever you want to call them, Kogumaza are one of those bands where no amount of attempting to describe their sound or pigeonholing will do them justice. The only way to get what they are about is to listen to their records, or even better, experience their sonic onslaught live and feel the full-force of their sound. 

A truly remarkable band, and it was a pleasure to not only do this piece, but to finally feature them in the magazine. For a band who are so hard to nail-down in terms of sound, I think this interview gives a good idea of what they are trying to achieve. It's also rare to speak to a band (in Nottingham anyhow) who are clued-up on what they are trying to do, the way they want to sound, and how they want to put that across to the audience.  

Give them a listen on the Kogumaza Bandcamp.

Bookmark and Share