Thursday, July 29, 2010

Scenes from Thailand

Here are two collections of pictures of Thailand, duly divided into the country's good and bad sides.

First is Thailand's beautiful side. The first few photos are urban scenes from Bangkok followed by major temples and palaces in the capitol city. Next are the ruins of Ayutthaya followed by the beautiful beaches of Pattaya.

Click here for the Hi-Res version.

And of course next is Thailand's dark side. This slideshow contains a mix of photos from red-light areas in Bangkok and Pattaya.

Click here for the Hi-Res version.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bangkok Dangerous

Similar to the hotspots in Tokyo, downtown Bangkok is a mecca of hyper-consumerism. The futuristic BTS above-ground train line runs through the heart of the city, whisking well-dressed passengers to glass-walled offices and multi-storied shopping malls. The Siam Paragon mall seems even more done-up than the nicest complexes in Shibuya and Roppongi. Escalators carry shoppers through the central atrium to floors loaded with luxury brand-name shops: Ferragamo, Versace, Chanel, and there is even a Lamborghini dealership on the fourth floor.

But Bangkok also as a dark side, an underworld of poverty, street hustlers, drugs, sleaze, and prostitution. The visibility of sex-tourism in the city is staggering. After the sun goes down, prostitutes can be seen virtually everywhere throughout the city, often side by side with foreign clients. The various red-light districts are absolutely packed with strip clubs, bars, and girls working the streets.

But this is only the easily observed outer layer of Bangkok's underbelly. I found myself wondering what must lie beneath the surface, the unseen corridors and alleyways where establishments cater to local Thai clients and rich connoisseurs with skeletons in the closet.

The first area I explored briefly was Soi Cowboy, one of Bangkok's signature red-light districts. The history of the area goes back to the 1970's when an American ex-pat opened the first bar on the street. The legend goes that he always wore a cowboy hat, thus giving the district its nickname.

If you've ever wondered about the etymology of the term "red-light district", you should walk down Soi Cowboy. The dim street is completely inundated in deep pink neon lighting and the seedy atmosphere is pervasive. Girls from various clubs line the streets wearing tanktops, stiletto heals, and hoochie shorts.
The area is mainly geared towards foreign customers. They say that Thai men aren't even allowed in some clubs unless they are escorted by a foreigner.

Outside Bangkok, things aren't much different. I spent two days traveling around the beaches of Pattaya, a city two hours southeast of the capital. Walking up and down the main beach, I saw women caked in makeup everywhere. Those who were alone often called to me when I walked by. The others were generally chatting with late middle-aged foreign men.

By night, Pattaya also descends into debauchery. The famous red-light district in town is called Walking Street, and it is not too different from Soi Cowboy minus the fact that it is significantly larger. Roaming the grounds were various touts carrying price lists of the services offered by their establishments. Outside the clubs were bar girls in various tantalizing costumes, trying to pick up passerbys. Some were obviously underage. These two girls were happy to pose for my camera.

Passing another bar, these girls called to me and held up this sign.


Flattering, I know.

Entertainment for men, or exploitation of poor women? A bustling nightlife scene, or a morally debased spectacle? The plethora of dualities leaves me with mixed feelings. I'm back in Tokyo now, yet even Japan in all of its kinkiness feels utterly normal in comparison.

More scenes from Soi Cowboy...


And scenes from Walking Street...



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Major Label Debut: Disclosed

In late March, I somewhat facetiously remarked that I had made my major label debut with a major rock band, but was bound by a non-disclosure agreement and couldn't reveal any details.

The true story isn't quite as sexy, but it was still a cool experience for me. While recording their latest album Go!!GO!GO!Go!!, the management and members of GO!GO!7188 were looking to round up a group of people to record the shout chorus for the opening track. I've done a little bit of work with the management in the past, so they called me in on active duty to join in on the fun.

I've been playing music all my life and have a bit of experience playing drums at major recording studios in New York City, but I have never seen a recording studio quite as gargantuan as the one GO!GO! was using. The huge control room alone was only a third the size of the soundstage.
The small group of us gathered around a few microphones, were given instructions, and then were directed by bassist Akko to shout as loud as we could. "GO!...GO!GO!GO!...GO!...GO!GO!GO!" The engineers then multiplied our tiny ensemble to make us sound more like a screaming arena audience.

Go!!GO!GO!Go!! was released about a month ago on June 2nd and is available at major record stores throughout Japan.
When you get your hands on the album, flip to the back of the sleeve...
And take a closer look at the 'Special Thanks to' part...

In all seriousness though, Go!!GO!GO!Go!! is a great album that shows a bit of a departure from the band's previous release, Antenna.  For one, Yuu's guitar work on the album is noticeably more intense. But keeping with the band's signature style, there is still a lot of catchy songwriting and vocal interplay between Akko and Yuu.

My personal favorite song on the album is track 12, "Kyou no Uta" (Song for Today). The verse contains a little melodic interplay with a stereotypical asian melody that is followed by an exciting anthemic chorus. Another highlight of the album is the fourth track, "Saigo no Bansan" (The Last Supper). The song contains characteristcally GO!GO! style punk and ska guitarwork. Thrown in the middle of the song is an incredibly powerful and well placed guitar breakdown that gets me jumping everytime.

Finally, check out the video for "Mayakashi no Sekai" (Fake World) which is available via youtube. I think this song combines various elements that I've been trying to describe when I write about this band,
 mainly the group's quirky sense of melody, intense guitarwork, and energetic stage presence. And like the previous two songs, the listener is again treated to an anthemic chorus and aggressive guitar breakdown.

Check it out:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bo-Peep meets James Brown

Yesterday evening at Shibuya's Duo Exchange, the Japanese television channel NHK World hosted and filmed a live music event showcasing new talent in Tokyo. Four reputable underground Japanese groups were on the roster: visual-glam band Doubt, viciously named ska group Doberman, funk outfit Osaka Monaurail, and of course, my favorite ladies on the Tokyo scene, Bo-Peep.

The program is scheduled to be broadcasted overseas on NHK World on the final four Mondays in August. In Japan, the program will be available via the NHK World iPhone application.

Bo-Peep- having recently released their new album Vibe- have been in overdrive lately. Their album release party last week at Super Deluxe was probably the most intense set I've ever seen the girls do. Last night, in an effort to show off their Japaneseness to their intended foreign audience, the girls all donned yukatas, which are basically summer kimonos. I'm looking forward to seeing how the cameras catch their characteristic energy.

Taking the stage after Bo-Peep was the throwback funk ensemble Osaka Monaurail. The group is a classic funk tribute band led by lead singer and organist Ryo Nakata, who takes on the personality of James Brown when on stage. Down to the stiff full bodied dance moves, husky voice, and full suit, Nakata's James Brown was totally spot on. The whole crowd, including Bo-Peep and crew, were simply grooving.

And if the group wasn't authentic enough, they even had personalized 45s for sale at their merchandise desk. The inner vinyl junky in me had to pick up a few for posterity.

Tribute band or not, I love funk and soul, and Osaka Monaurail had it going on. I'll definitely be checking them out again.

Stay tuned in August for a link to the feature broadcast on NHK World.
Osaka Monaural's webpage: click here

And a cool music video via youtube:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bo-Peep Release Party

Bo Peep held a release party for their latest record, VIBE, last Friday night. There were quite a few excellent bands playing and I got some awesome photos.

In order of appearance, Che-a, Sunset Drive, Natccu, and of course my favorite ladies of all time, Bo-Peep.

Here is a link to the full-size slideshow.

Waves in Ibaraki

Last Saturday, I got up at 5AM and drove with some friends out to Ibaraki for some surfing. Compared to Tokyo, the long barren coastline is simply another universe.

My friend Keita...
An early afternoon oceanside nap...
Japanese surfers heading out to catch some waves...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Darth Vader Working the Runway

Here is phase two from the "Who is My Boss" campaign that I posted last week. Witness with your own eyes, the illustrious Darth Vader working the catwalk...
You can find this poster all over the trains and stations in Tokyo. The advertisement is for cell phone giant Docomo's new series of phones.