Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vola and the Oriental Machine

This past Friday evening, Ryoko from Bo-Peep took me to see her husband Arie's band, Vola and the Oriental Machine, play at Shibuya's O-Nest. They are signed by Universal, tour all over Japan, and are quite well known in the music world over here.

Vola plays an eclectic mix of hard rock and electronica. The drummer often bangs out uptempo disco rhythms while Arie's bass drives with intense distortion and buzz. The singer switches accompaniment between guitar and keyboards and at key points in the music, the lead guitarist runs his rig through heavy electronic processing.

For brief moments at a time, Vola's plethora of influences would come and go through their busy sonic spectrum. From the West, I heard elements of Smashing Pumpkins inspired guitars and Daft Punk style vocoding. From the East, a few songs were reminiscent of electro groups like Sakanaction and Capsule. But perhaps these were just my own personal musical projections. Vola's sound is unique and goes well beyond comparison.

You can sample a few highlights from their current work on their myspace page here. The song Future Days most directly matches my attempt at description. The unfortunately spelled Oriental Melonchory gives you a taste of  Vola's adrenalin capacity.

If I could describe Prague as electronica via rock as I did last week, then Vola would be rock via electronica. The keyboards and electronic effects take on just as heavy a role as drums and guitars. I think the connection between the two groups might not be so spurious. I was once out to dinner with members from both bands. Arie from Vola and Tsugu from Prague sat in the corner of the restaurant booth and quietly talked about music for over an hour while ignoring the rest of us. Given the decade and a half between the two, the scene was like master and pupil.

After Vola's performance, Mika, Ryoko, and I made our greetings, then we took off to get some Korean BBQ, known as yakiniku in Japan.

Mika doing what she does best...

Smoky Korean BBQ

Mika goofing off as usual

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Silence of the Lambs: BO PEEP... In Chains

Since this past fall, I've been working with American filmmaker Aaron Jenkin on a music video for Bo-Peep. Our original idea was to do a simple live promotion video and we met with the girls in early November to discuss our plans. Over a few drinks during a late night out with the band, we brainstormed ideas, one of which was captured by Aaron on a napkin.

We shot live footage at a Shibuya performance two weeks later. Thankfully, our array of HD cameras weren't pulverized in the process. Soon after, Aaron returned to his work in the States. The napkin idea was quick to burgeon into and incredibly elaborate setup that he's been working on patiently ever since. I'm not allowed to reveal too much to you, but I will say that the extended plot involves sheep, dolls, rockets, telekinetic energy, and of course rock 'n' roll.

Two nights ago, I had the band over at my place where we set up a makeshift movie studio and filmed a quick scene. Filming took a few hours and the girls had to wear some heavy costumes, but they were great sports and we all had a blast. Afterwards, we cracked open a few beers and goofed off until the last train.

Production should be wrapping up within the next few weeks. You can guess whose blog the final product will appear on first.

Also, if you are interested in Aaron's work, including the video he shot for Tokyo-based band, The Watanabes, check out his webpage here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Slideshow from Korea

I think these photos more or less capture the essence of my trip.

An American Werewolf... in Pyongyang

I didn't make it quite as far as Pyongyang, but I did get within a few hundred yards of the Military Demarcation Line that officially separates North and South Korea. The North Korean army blasted numerous infiltration tunnels under the DMZ that were eventually discovered by the South. They are now open for tours.

Unfortunately, all of the real sites at the DMZ were snowed in the day I visited, but I was able to see the Freedom Bridge up at the boundary of the Civilian Restriction Zone. At the present day, only the occasional freight train passes over this bridge to supply the few joint ventures that the North and South cooperate on. If relations between the two countries are ever normalized, this train bridge will lead trains to Pyongyang, onto China, the Trans-Siberian Railway, and then Europe. It's a romantic idea made further intriguing by current talk of an undersea railroad tunnel between Kyushu and Korea. Imagine riding a train from Hokkaido all the way to London!

I bought some North Korean beer and sochu as a souvenir. See later.

It was my second time visiting Korea since I first came to Asia. Seoul is an incredible city, fast paced and hip like Tokyo, but a little rough around the edges and more down to Earth. The real character of the city comes out at night. There are awesome restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and clubs around every corner. Braving the winter cold, I had the pleasure of witnessing the snowy streets illuminated by moonlight and neon.

The snow was beautiful.

Sipping North Korean beer with my roommate after returning to Tokyo

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I went to see Natccu play a live show this past evening in Koenji. This flyer was hanging in the dressing room.
Hisayo from the Tokyo Pinsalocks, who also doubles as Natccu's backup bassist, is one of the grooviest bass players in town. Here she is chatting with journalist Felicity at a restaurant after the show.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prague: Light Infection Tour

I went to see Prague at Shibuya's O-Nest last night. They are on the Tokyo leg of their Light Infection Tour, promoting their eponymous new single. Check a few posts down for the video.
The guys played well as always, and this time held the stage for much longer than usual.

Their music would be difficult to describe unless you are familiar with some of the sounds of contemporary Tokyo. One time when I split a cab home with Tsugu, I asked him about his favorite Japanese groups. Without hesitation, he mentioned the electro-rock band, Sakanaction. After listening to all Sakanaction's albums, I could see the connection. Prague has all the pop and funk of an electro-techno rock band but none of the electronics.

I'm most attracted to the interplay of Yuuta's high singing vocals with his dreamlike electric guitar. The sound is at once introspective, emotional, and aggressive, a perfect match for the dim urban-esque lighting of the typical Tokyo basement venue. Of their current releases, I think Slow Down most clearly represents their vibe.

I'm not the only one in town onto this group. They are signed by Ki/oon Records, a division of Sony that boasts some of the best bands in Japan, if not the world. Asian Kung Fu Generation, Chatmonchy, the Polysics, now Prague. Ki/oon has been pushing Prague's major debut all through the fall. They have posters up in Tower Records and on billboards around Shibuya.

After the show we all grabbed a few drinks and shared some good conversation. Prague is under the same management as Bo-Peep, so I saw quite a few of the usual suspects. The band has a funny dynamic. Bassist Tsugu and drummer Ken are outgoing and will talk about anything, but Singer Yuuta is unbelievably shy. Musically, he commands the band, but between songs and off stage, he doesn't have the 'frontman' personality. I think it adds to their mystery.

Keep an eye out for the debut album scheduled for release next June.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Spunky Afro Tiger Jet II: Boy Allergy Night

Tigarah is a gangsta.

I went to see her late last night at classy Aoyama club le Baron de Paris. She was spinning with multi-national DJ girl group Boy Allergy. The group is comprised of three badass ladies: Eiko and Tigarah from Japan, and Kon-chan from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The music was funky and the bass was booty. The party went on till 4:30AM when the club owners turned the lights on, Japanese for "get lost."

These girls may have professed some serious boy allergies, but fortunately for me, there were no werewolf allergies. Between sets, I got to hang out with the girls, share a few drinks, and chat about the hottest spots and best musicians in Tokyo.

Kon-chan showing off her Brazilian mane with Tigarah getting down...
Eiko on the mix with Kon-chan and Tigarah livin' it up behind the booth
Tigarah and Eiko, ready to scram before dawn
le Baron de Paris, a swanky club in Omote-sando

Sunday, January 3, 2010

GO!GO!7188 - Ultimate Exclusive Live Video

Ladies and Gents, the Werewolf has obtained exclusive permission directly from the management of GO!GO!7188 to share with you this live video for the duration of one week.

Watch it now before I take it down!

Yuu on guitar and vocals, Akko on bass, and Turkey on drums, GO!GO!7188 is one of Japan's most exciting rock acts. See for yourself.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tokyo Street Fashion and Capsule Hotels

Not that these two topics have anything to do with each other, but I saw two unrelated articles in today's New York Times about Japan.

The first is a quick look into the international influence of Tokyo fashion. Check out, "Paris, Milan, Tokyo. Tokyo?"

The second is a more unsettling piece about salarymen who because of the weak economy have recently been turning to capsule hotels for residency. Check out, "For Some in Japan, Home Is a Tiny Plastic Bunk."

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Happy Hannukah and a Bo-Peep New Year

I spent this past New Year's with Bo-Peep. My evening began at 7:30PM when I was packing my bags to head over to drummer Ryoko's house. The thought suddenly crossed my mind, "Why am I packing my earplugs to go to a New Year's party?" Because when it comes to Bo-Peep, I don't take any chances.

We had quite a feast.

Bassist Take sharing laughs in front of Ryoko's favorite records
Frontwoman Mika
An American Werewolf and three Japanese Sheep
A New Year's toast with Mika
A toast with Ryoko's husband, except all he had in hand was a giant Japanese raddish

Ryoko loves cats.
Takahashi, Prague's tech, with Ryoko's husband, Yoshinori, bassist from the band Vola and the Oriental Machine
Why do the Japanese live so long and look so young? It must be their healthy diet of sake, beer, and cigarettes. I think I inhaled three packs worth of secondhand smoke.
After midnight, we all went to the local Shinto shrine to pray for good fortune for the coming year.

Here are a few men warming up by the fire.
Deep in the night, the dim temple grounds seemed to evoke another era.
Mika praying to the Shinto gods for Bo-Peep's continued success

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2010!