Saturday, January 31, 2009

Into the Japanese Music Scene

One of the reasons I decided to check out Japan this winter, was to get a peek into the music scene in Tokyo. The Japanese scene is one that has always captivated me, and a number of prominent acts have made an impact on the underground music scene in America; everything from glossy pop to out of this world noise acts, the Japanese have created and maintained a music scene admired by folks around the world, and I wanted to see it for myself.

One of my favorite bands is the Acid Mothers Temple; a sprawling collective of musicians that make some of the oddest rock music around today. The group is lead by Kawabata Makoto, but with a collective as large as the AMT, most of the members play in other bands around Tokyo and Japan. Thankfully, the AMT webpage advertises the side groups that contain any of the collective’s members. Tabata Mitsuru, one of the Acid Mother’s bassists, plays in a rock centered assembly called the Leningrad Blues Machine, which just happened to be playing a gig in Tokyo the week I was there.

The event was at a small club called the Show Boat, located in the neighborhood known as Koenji. The NY Times recently published a piece exalting the hip nature the neighborhood presents. They wrote:
“SHIBUI is Japanese youth-speak for things that are at once cool, funky and traditional. And these days, few things are as shibui as Koenji, a neighborhood on Tokyo’s west side, considered the birthplace of Japanese punk rock.

In recent years, this low-rise area of traditional izakaya bars and narrow alleys has spawned a new music scene that knits together every musical style imaginable — American roots, Showa Era jazz and even enka, the sentimental pop music of postwar Japan — in a way that is distinctly Japanese. It’s a laboratory for musicians honing their own creative voices, independent of the slickly produced pop standards that dominate the Tokyo club scene.”
Also playing that night were Yurasawan and Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate. I found out after the show that Kawaguchi had played in some other bands I recognized, namely experimental acts LSD March and Miminokoto. Both bands playing that night specialized in drawn out, hook heavy, fuzzy sounding rock and roll jams. Both were excellent and worth checking out.

Later that week, I attended another club in the Koenji neighborhood known as the UFO Club, another intimate basement joint. Playing that night was the “NISEUO cosmic-chang mothership progress,” a group that fused various genres such as dub, jazz, and rock. They sounded a bit like Tom Waits, if he was Japanese and a bit more fuzzed out. Here is a video of the band performing.

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Throughout the following days, I hit up some of the many independent record shops throughout the city. I happened upon a local singer-songwriter that is making some buzz in Tokyo called Nikaido Kazumi (二階堂和美). She plays minimal acoustic music, and has a new record out now called “Nikacetera.” Here is a promotional video for the album.



I tried to get an idea as to what popular music was also being played in Japan at the moment. I couldn’t escape a new pop-rock song from a band called Base Ball Bear titled “Love Mathematics.” Here is the video for it.

With the popularity of Japanese pop-culture in the West, most Americans have probably been exposed to J-Pop in one form or another at this point in time. Most of it isn’t my cup of tea (and in all fairness, I doubt I am the target market for the music), but I can still respect a catchy pop tune when I hear it. Here are two tracks that were popular in Tokyo at the time; one from a group called Perfume and the other by Yui.





Getting a chance to see a slew of bands that I would not likely have heard of in the States was a joy, and I look forward to going back and checking out other aspects of the Tokyo music scene soon.

Back to 1989, Comrade

A developer in East Berlin has discovered an apartment that has been untouched since the final days of the German Democratic Republic. The developers added:
"When we opened the door we felt like Howard Carter when he found the grave of Tutankhamen," Aretz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

"Everything was a mess but it was like a historic treasure trove, a portal into an age long gone."
Check out some of the pictures here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

One Tough Woman



Meet Mahdiya Abed-Hassan al-Lam: a teacher and women’s rights activist, and one of 4,000 women running for office in Iraq’s provincial elections.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Akihabara

Some more pictures from my recent trip to Japan. These are a few of the electronics and otaku neighborhood known as Akihabara. A sensory overload if I have ever seen one. I also had a go at Street Fighter 4, and had my ass handed to me by some locals.







The “inn” I stayed at while in Tokyo was also in this neighborhood. Rather than a traditional hostel or inn, it was one of Japan’s many capsule hotels; foregoing a bed in a room, guests stay in small tubes (or capsules). Each compartment has its own TV and amenities, all at an affordable price.



Certainly something to try if you are ever in Tokyo and looking for an inventive place to stay.

Elsewhere

One Free Korea – Jimmy Carter Would Serve Mankind Best by Retiring

Bob from Brockley – Henry Siegman’s Lies

The New Centrist – The Nation on Gaza

Reuel Marc Gerecht - The CIA Vs. the Mullahs

Tony Badran (Across the Bay) - That Ol' Assad Anti-Semitism!

Terry Glavin - Slim Evans Has Been Hit By A Car

The Contentious Centrist - Holocaust Memorial Day

Jennifer Rubin (Contentions) - Another Exception to the Rule

Coming to Terms with the Welfare State

It may not be a political ‘civil war’ that is occurring within the Republican Party, but there are clearly cracks appearing in the broad coalition as to what path the Party will take going forward.

On one end you have Rush Limbaugh, who has been vocal is his disdain for moderates in the Republican Party and their willingness to work with Democrats on social and economic matters. On the other, you have Giuliani and Bruce Bartlett, who has a recent editorial at Politico arguing for an acceptance of the welfare state among Republicans. He writes:
“If [Republicans] continue to insist upon rolling back the welfare state by using tax cuts to “starve the beast” or privatize Social Security and Medicare, they will fail. There is simply no appetite for big spending cuts or the radical restructuring of programs that benefit a huge percentage of Americans, especially when there has been a severe downturn in the stock market that has wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement savings.

“…I think conservatives would better spend their diminished political capital figuring out how to finance the welfare state at the least cost to the economy and individual liberty, rather than fighting a losing battle to slash popular spending programs. But this will require them to accept the necessity of higher revenues.”

Now Proud?

Victor Hanson sums up the disagreeable feeling I had concerning Obama’s followers after his election and the inauguration pandemonium. He writes:
I thought Jimmy Carter proved a self-righteous disaster and endangered the nation — remember the hostages in Iran, and the rise of radical Islam, the commies in Afghanistan and Central America, the holocaust in Cambodia, the oil mess, the sanctimonious preachy lectures, etc. — but I never thought that only with the ascension of Reagan could I really be again proud of the U.S.

The point? I distilled from the press coverage and the crowds and the punditry yesterday that for all too many suddenly a vote for Obama redeems America...

So I think it would be wise to cool it on the “I am now proud of America” rhetoric. If getting your way means suddenly the dead at Iwo or those who were blown up in B-17s over Germany are at last your own and matter, then we are in deep trouble.