Fuji Rock vs Summer Sonic: Japan’s biggest music fests face off


The clash of fests (Artwork by Adam Garwood)

Japan’s marquee rock festivals, Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic, started along similar lines: sprawling outdoor affairs near Mt. Fuji that cater to all visitors. But almost two decades later, they’re radically different creatures. Metropolis lines the two up to see just how distinct they’ve become.


The skinny

Fuji Rock at Naeba Ski Resort

Eminem once headlined Smash’s Fuji Rock Festival, but it’s hard to imagine that happening now as Smash boss Masa Hidaka’s preference these days is for stadium-scale rock bands that can bring out a broad demographic. With Japan’s youth population dwindling, the aim is to cater to several generations of music fans.

The cost of travel and accommodation for punters attending Fuji is considerable, limiting attendees to settled employees with disposable income and a still-large number of younger folk who scrimp and save for a once-a-year blowout.


The big development this year is the end of Fuji Rock’s Orange Court stage. When the festival exploded in its early years, the stage emerged as a locus for world music, funk, blues, and jazz. With audience figures down last year, Smash seems to have made the decision to consolidate—but that still leaves it with thirteen stages.


Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl’s indefatigable rawk machine recently released Sonic Highways, an ambitious “musical map of America” accompanied by an HBO documentary. Grohl is always psyched to be in Japan, and can be counted on to crowd surf his way to the soundboard. Pioneering artists, they are not; yet they carry the ’90s alt-rock torch with, at the very least, a sense of dignity.

A venue as big as Fuji’s Green Stage requires an act as bombastic as England’s Muse. By the time you read this, Matthew Bellamy’s behemoth will have released its new Drones—a troll through a world, Bellamy said on Twitter, of “psychopathic behavior with no recourse.”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Sure, compared to brother Liam’s now-defunct Beady Eye, they got the songwriting talent out of the Oasis breakup. But how many songs can you name? Time to bone up. Their second and latest album is the self-deprecatingly titled Chasing Yesterday.

Survivor awards


Lemmy’s U.K. metal machine rages on, 40 years since their founding as the pioneers of the “new wave” of British heavy metal.

Happy Mondays
35 years later, Manchester rave squad has survived its days of Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, an album they plan to haul out on tour later this year.

Todd Rundgren
Having produced The Band’s Stage Fright and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, 67-year-old pop wunderkind Rundgren also penned his own hits, like “Hello, It’s Me.”


FKA twigs

FKA twigs
A sinuous British mixed-race Björk for the electro era, FKA’s slithering temptations are not to be denied.

Royal Blood
Drum ‘n’ bass/rock duo blithely smashes together grunge, rap, and clichés of alt-rock. Think Rage Against the Machine meets Jack White.

A less egotistic, more likable and tuneful Stone Roses on the comeback trail.

Of Monsters and Men
Tween rock, yet consistently imaginative.

Galactic featuring Macy Gray
Incomparable New Orleans funk meets gravel-voiced soul singer for hire.

Local color

Sheena Ringo

Sheena Ringo
Her thin, wavering vocals are an acquired taste, but the Fukuoka chanteuse’s unwavering ambitions are to be applauded.

Hiromi Uehara Trio
Jazz supergroup led by the irrepressibly virtuosic pianist known worldwide simply as “Hiromi.”

Candy-voiced outfit blends rock, pop, and electro with sometimes sublime results.

Jim O’Rourke and Gaman Gilberto
Veteran Chicago experimentalist, one-time Sonic Youth member, and longtime Tokyo expat meets his mysterious alter ego.


  • First festival: 1997 event at Fuji Tenjin-yama Ski Resort headlined by the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers was canceled midway due to a typhoon.
  • Stages: Five main stages, eight smaller stages
  • Bands: 80 per day
  • Customers: 120,000
  • Staff: Approximately 2,100, including volunteers
  • Buses: 80 buses, 30 coaches on daily rotation
  • Hotel rooms for bands: 3,460 rooms required over the festival
  • Porta-potties: 450
  • Food: 120 official food vendors
  • Beer: 150,000 cans sold
  • Sound systems: 20 installed, big and small
  • Campers: 10,000 per day
  • Circus performers: Approximately 15
  • Most unusual tour rider: A helicopter—for a DJ who never came
  • Most “rock” thing a band has done: Completely smashed their executive Portakabin

(Thanks to Smash’s Johnnie Fingers.)


  • When: July 24-26, 2015
  • Where: Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata
  • Tickets: ¥16,800 (one day)-¥39,800 (three days)


Survival kit

  • Galoshes or rubber sandals
  • Raincoat, preferably Gore-Tex
  • Camping chair
  • Flashlight

Tip: Arrive Thursday morning for a level campsite and the Thursday-night bon odori pre-party


The skinny

Summer Sonic at Makuhari Messe

Creativeman’s first Summer Sonic featured James Brown. These days, the headliners could be Brown’s grandkids. Creativeman honcho Naoki Shimizu caters to the tween-to-twenties bracket, which still makes up a reasonable fraction of the Tokyo and Osaka megalopolises where he hosts Summer Sonic. Easily accessible urban venues make for a wallet-friendly day out, but for those who seek the full festival experience, the addition of Friday and Saturday all-nighters effectively makes Summer Sonic a three-day festival.


A new development is the integration of Hostess Club—an indie rock fest hosted by promoter and distributor Hostess—into Summer Sonic’s lineup as the Saturday all-nighter. The event features the live edition of Thom Yorke’s latest solo project, the intriguing Thom Yorke Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Spiritualized, and more acts associated with Hostess.


Pharrell Williams

Imagine Dragons
My nine-year-old son’s favorite band, which gives you an idea of Summer Sonic’s target demographic. Hey, half a billion YouTube views don’t lie. 2013’s Rolling Stone Band of the Year.

Pharrell Williams
Time for Tokyo to get lucky—or happy? Pharrell has been huge in Japan ever since his Neptune and N.E.R.D. days. He’s also tight with Bathing Ape fashion icon Nigo, making this a homecoming of sorts.

Ariana Grande
With her four-octave range and belief in Kabbalah teachings, Floridian Grande covers all the pop-tart bases from Mariah Carey to Madonna. Her winsome, corporate sponsor-friendly appeal has made her a regular since her first Japan visit on New Year’s, 2013.

Survivor awards

Manic Street Preachers

Manic Street Preachers
20 years since their definitive album The Holy Bible was released, the Manics round out a year of shows performing the disc.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Black Keys et al. owe a major debut to these originators of postmodern skronk-blues, who have just issued Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015.

The Original James Brown Band
Longtime JB associate leads the last band James Brown assembled before his death in 2006.

Roger and Larry Troutman may be gone, lost in the murder-suicide carried out by Larry, but the mantle of Zapp’s talkbox ele-funk is carried on by surviving brothers Lester and Terry. Both the James Brown Band and Zapp appear as a collaboration with Billboard Live.


Ariana Grande

D’Angelo and the Vanguard
Modern soul icon returned last year after 15 years with the highly-rated, socially-conscious Black Messiah.

Wolf Alice
North London quartet are garnering all sorts of accolades, thanks to the delicious, dreamy vocals of Ellie Rowsell. Their debut disc My Love Is Cool will be on the shelves by the time you read this.

Olly Murs
A lily-white Bobby Brown—and why not?

Chemical Brothers
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons brought stadium-scale electronic music performances to the masses long before EDM—and they’re not slowing down. Born in the Echoes is out in July, and “Go,” featuring Q-Tip, is already racking up views on YouTube.

Asian Calling
Summer Sonic’s Asian stage offers a rare chance to take in performances by determined young bands from China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.

Local color


Likably crunchy power-pop dashed with hints of electro and post-rock.

27 million views for “Gimme Chocolate!!” means Japan’s latest musical export, the metal-idol act, must be hitting the right notes with someone out there.

Kazuyoshi Saito
Old-school singer-songwriter got away with writing a Fukushima protest song and still carries on a mainstream Japanese music career.


  • First festival: 2000 event at Fuji-Q Highland amusement park, headlined by James Brown and Green Day
  • Stages: Six music stages, plus two entertainment stages
  • Bands: About 100
  • Customers: 120,000
  • Food: About 300 stalls
  • Staff: 3,000, not including
    vendor staff
  • The most “rock” thing a band has done: Nine Inch Nails performed in a thunderstorm

(Thanks to Creativeman’s Yoshinari Hirayama.)


  • When: Aug 15-16, 2015
  • Where: Makuhari Messe
  • Tickets: ¥15,500 (one day), ¥28,500 (two days), ¥30,000 (platinum ticket); Sonic Mania: ¥10,500; Hostess Club All-Nighter: ¥8,500


Survival kit

  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Neck towel

Tip: To get a seat on the jammed trains on your return to Tokyo, take the train one stop outbound from Makuhari, cross the tracks, and board an inbound train.


TV On the Radio: A member down, the Brooklyn band is wiser if not wearier

It’s been almost a decade since Metropolis last talked with TV On the Radio. In 2006, the quintet were the latest darlings of the exploding Brooklyn indie rock scene—part of it, but with a lush sound distinct from the disco-punk leanings of many Williamsburg bands of the era.

Nine years later, TVOTR are, if not wizened, then wiser and more reflective in the wake of the death of bassist Gerard Smith, who died of lung cancer in 2011. Their new album, Seeds, is the first recorded without his presence.

Tunde Adebimpe

“You do a certain amount of creative work with someone who’s basically a family member, and it shifts the notion of what can be accomplished in the band that had five members,” singer Tunde Adebimpe says from their tour stop in Oakland. “For me, when someone passes away I almost think about them more than when they were alive. That’s how your heart is connected to friends. But in terms of music, he was not somebody who liked to make bullshit; so we’re conscious of that now.”

Adebimpe plays down the direct effect of Smith’s death on the album, but considerations of love and loss are central to the urgency of Seeds. On the elegiac, synth-driven “Careful You,” for example, Adebimpe sings “I know it’s best to say goodbye, but I can’t seem to move away.” It’s a sentiment that could be applied as equally to a disintegrating love affair as to the death of a friend.

Having absorbed Smith’s passing and elected to continue on, the four remaining members of TVOTR—Adebimpe, producer/guitarist Dave Sitek, guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone, and drummer Jaleel Bunton—are currently in a sweet spot. Seeds has been nicely received as a return to form, and Adebimpe says they’re having a blast touring for the first time in several years.

“We’re in a place now where we realize the value of having been able to pursue the band for as long as we have, and the good fortune to have an audience to sustain us,” he says. “We recognize how special that is—because we don’t make the most accessible music. Bands that are willing to explore as much as we do are not always rewarded with a career, and we realize it’s a super lucky thing.”

TVOTR’s music is unconventional, but on a song such as, for example, “Happy Idiot,” it’s close enough to mainstream at times that one can imagine a record exec pushing them in an out-and-out-pop direction. That’s exactly what happened, says Adebimpe. “We’ve been advised a lot to tone things down to find a wider audience, mostly by people in the music industry,” he explains. “They’ll say, ‘If you would only do this and that …’ You have to look at them and tell them it’s like teaching a fish to breathe air. We just don’t do that.”

Despite the gloss of Sitek’s production work, when you look at TVOTR, you see three aging black guys and one geeky white one—not exactly the recipe for mainstream marketing success. Yet, they’re not really part of the black rock movement pioneered by outfits like Bad Brains, either.

“Thinking about Bad Brains or Living Colour, anytime you have an example of someone who looks like you, it’s helpful to a young person,” Adebimpe recalls about his entry into the rock world. “But I’ve never considered us strictly a rock band, because, if we were, we’d probably have a few more awards by now. There are a lot of rock bands with people of color in them now, but with genres melding, it’s become diffuse.”

Adebimpe says TVOTR are looking forward to their first visit to Japan since a quick solo tour and appearance at Summer Sonic those many years ago. He says these days crowds are asking for “Staring at the Sun” off Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, and “Wolf Like Me” off Return to Cookie Mountain.

“We didn’t know what we were doing with those songs,” he laughs. “They just showed up at a time when a lot people connected with them. It was a fresh sound even though we didn’t realize it—we just knew we liked it.

“The best songs come as epiphanies. It’s like seeing a painting that might look dashed off, but it seems more alive than something that’s been labored over for years. I think it’s because you’re getting a message and you jot it down as quickly as you can. You capture the message, and the immediacy of how it’s put down carries through to the song. Especially with new wave and punk—it’s so earnest and barebones, it’s the only thing they possibly could have done, and the energy of that music is still palpable.”


Belle and Sebastian: Scottish rockers on not being “indie”


Keyboardist Chris Geddes talks to Metropolis about the band’s new album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, Scottish independence, and why Glasgow still rocks their world.

Are we right to think of Girls as something of a departure?
To a certain extent. We took some musical styles a bit further than we had before, but it was probably all things that previous records had hinted at rather than a complete departure. You hope every record you make will be different from previous ones in some way, but we’ve never gone for a complete reinvention.

What was the backstory behind the approach?

We’ve always been led by the songwriting, rather than deciding a musical direction first, and then fitting things ’round that. Stuart [Murdoch, lead singer and songwriter] said something early on about making the album like a ’70s Eurovision song contest, with each tune from a different country. It wasn’t meant entirely seriously but it conveyed the idea that it was OK if different songs went in different directions.

Chris Geddes

Tell us about your contributions as keyboardist in the band’s working process.
It varies a lot. Sometimes the songwriter has an idea for a part, and you take it from there; other times, they’ll play you the song, and the very first thing you come up with yourself is what goes on the record. Still, other times, I might work trying to find an interesting sound, and then the sound dictates the part, or I might do some programmed stuff and add that, or something I’ve done on the laptop might be the start of a song for someone else. On this record there was more programmed stuff from me and Ben the producer than on previous records.

What’s your own personal favorite song on the new album, and why?

My favorite is “Ever Had a Little Faith?” because, even though it starts off sounding like a fairly straightforward “old” Belle and Sebastian song, by the end, we’ve taken it somewhere else. I really like “Play For Today” as well. I loved Stuart’s vocal on it, and then Dee Dee [vocalist and guitarist of Dum Dum Girls] came in and did a really great job with her part, and I love the way it builds to the end with all the effects and stuff.

How did you end up recording in Atlanta? What did that bring to the album?

We went there specifically to work with Ben Allen. It was really great. Ben; Jason Kingsland, who engineered; and Sumner Jones, who was the assistant, were all really cool guys. It was a very open atmosphere in the studio, and I learned a lot from each of them. We wouldn’t have made the same record anywhere else. Ben contributed a huge amount in terms of sounds and the direction of some of the songs. I think everybody really enjoyed being in Atlanta as well, the vibe of the place and the food.

Tell us about the press shot that shows the band holding newspapers with Scottish independence referendum headlines.

It just so happened that the photoshoot took place on the same day as the referendum, so the photographer, Søren Solkær, brought the newspapers along to use in the shoot. I was a bit hesitant to do it, from the point of view that all of the mainstream media was against independence, and I didn’t want posing with the papers to be seen as an endorsement of that. I’d been getting most of my news from social media, which was why I was surprised when it was a comfortable victory for the “no” side.

What song do fans call for most in concert, and why do you think that song touched a chord with folks?

People shout a lot for “This is Just a Modern Rock Song,” which we never really play, or “Your Cover’s Blown.” I guess when people shout for things, it’s often not because they expect you to play it, but to show that they are the kind of fan that wants you to play a seven-minute-long track. The song that connects most with the audience is probably still “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” because the lyrics are a manifesto for the early days of the band.

Over two decades of Belle and Sebastian, what’s changed the most, and what’s stayed the same?

Within the band, it’s been the changes in personnel that have made the biggest differences: Isobel, Stuart, David, and Mick leaving; and Sarah, Bob, and for this album, Dave McGowan joining. Everybody had brought something different to the group when they’ve been in it, and making this record with Dave as part of the group was really good. His playing on every song was amazing, and made everybody else raise their game. There’s certain things within the writing that have stayed broadly the same. We’ve always written songs based on the harmonies that evolved in ’60s rock and pop, and not followed recent trends. The records almost always consist of melodic, lyrical songs, rather than any other form of music.

How has “maturity” affected the band?

In terms of the music we make, not much. It’s more people’s personal circumstances that have changed over the years. But we’re in a band so that we can avoid maturity!

How does Glasgow continue to shape your sound?

It’s still important for me. I hear stuff recorded at Green Door, the studio next to our rehearsal space, that really excites me. My friend Holly, who puts on a psych weekender called Eyes Wide Open, has been really good at turning me on to touring bands that have come through. My friend Andrew still does his club Divine, where we heard a lot of stuff that shaped the sound of the band.

What do critics get right—and not—about the band?

Sometimes, I’ve read critical stuff about the band and thought there were some fair points, and other times there’s been both positive and negative things where I’ve read it and thought the person just doesn’t get what we’re doing. Maybe the main thing is, we think of ourselves as more pop than [the] critics, who put us very much in the “indie” or “twee-pop” box. It’s fine, it’s just a label. I sort my record collection by genre myself, although there’s no “twee-pop” section. I’d have us filed under “other”!

Supercozi: Producer Yukimi Yonezawa finds musical freedom in Bali

supercozi1-380x215One of a few Japanese women electronic music producers to make an international impact, Supercozi (Yukimi Yonezawa) says her new album Bioshifter—the title of which stands for “secret evolutionary process”—represents her growth over a decade as a solo artist. She shared the twisty techno pleasures of the disc and her thoughts on Japan as an outsider, from her home in Bali.

Why did you leave Japan?
The sense of stagnation I felt in Japan became unbearable by the end of 1999. I already had many travel experiences by then, so I was ready to build a new life outside of a familiar matrix.

How does having a career outside Japan compare to staying in the country?
The music industry changed dramatically after the internet became widely available. Where you are located is no longer the critical issue. I welcomed this sea change, because I spent 10 years in the Japanese major music industry, and it was like working in a factory. You have to squash your creativity to fit into the pathetic J-pop system in order to get a tie-up deal with a shampoo ad or something. Compared with this period, running my label outside Japan is like driving a spaceship on my own. It’s fantastic to have unlimited freedom to express myself, releasing whatever I want, and connecting with collaborators and listeners from all over the world.

When you return to Japan, what are your impressions?
There was a mass awakening after March 11 and Fukushima, until Abe’s regime started in 2012. All of a sudden, many ordinary citizens joined SNSs such as Facebook and started discussing nukes, clean energy, our constitution and democracy, forming a new network of grassroots activism all over Japan. Joining a peaceful rally became a normal way to express our concern. This was the biggest change I ever witnessed. But many now practice willful blindness. Sometimes I feel as if I’m witnessing a lemmings march by my own people.

Supercozi Bioshifter Cover

Your posts often criticize Japanese politics. Tell us how life abroad influences your perspective.
Fortunately, I had been always surrounded by people with the mindset of global citizens, no matter where they are from. Being able to exchange opinions on many issues with people of different nationalities inspired me to develop my point of view as a global citizen, too. And yes, I’m very concerned about the current trend of Japanese politics to drag Japan back to the mindset of the pre-war era.

How is life in Bali?
Bali has an ideal balance for me. First, Balinese Hindu culture and Balinese people’s charm remain strong. I fell in love with Bali in 1995, and am still amazed how they maintain their spiritual calmness despite the tsunami of globalization. Of course, there is a huge negative impact from overdevelopment, but Bali still has an unchanged charm if you go to the countryside. Second, Bali has a truly eclectic international expat community—so many creative individuals from all corners of the world. They mix dynamic thinking and an artistic approach in a peaceful lifestyle. I love being here.

There are still very few female DJs. Why do you think that is?
To be a professional DJ for the long term, you need an otaku mentality toward music. You’ve got to spend years developing the knowledge, and keep up-to-date. Looks like males are more equipped for digging into the long tale of the music industry for hours and hours than females. Also, there are technical skills involved to be able to deliver a good mix and adjust the sound to fit each venue. It’s a multitask job that requires wide knowledge and technological ability.

Give us some insight into the making of Bioshifter.
The album is a nice mix of chillout: Slow, sexy techno tunes, and slightly twisted electronica. I’ve got a few exciting featured vocalists, including Sophie Barker from Zero7 and MC Reason. I’m also working on a new album from Zen Lemonade—the unit with my husband Gus Till. It’s a full-on dance album, a mix of techno and progressive psytrance.

Tell us about your label, Hypo=espresso.
I founded it in Bali in 2005. We mainly release our own creations. So far we’ve released six albums. But I like this pace and Hypo is my life’s work. Sounds from Hypo will mature as we get older and absorb more things. It’s nice to have a personal platform like that. We just released an ambient compilation, Music For A Rainy Season, as a limited-edition CD, and it’s selling pretty well already.

For more info, check out www.supercozi.com or http://facebook.com/supercozi

Wrecking Crew Orchestra: Street dance meets Japanese hi-tech

wrecking-01-380x215Irregular hours are a fact of life for a dancer. Metropolis’ Skype call to Yuichi Yokoi finds the leader of Osaka street dance group Wrecking Crew Orchestra about to begin rehearsal at 11 in the evening.

“We were all once dance instructors; usually we worked during daytime,” Yokoi explains with a laugh. “So the only time we had to practice was at night after work. It’s a habit we can’t seem to drop.”

The eight members of Wrecking Crew are rehearsing what may be their biggest show yet: A 10-day residency at Tokyo’s Zepp Blue Theater.

“We wanted to test our limits of expression,” says Yokoi of the production, which employs sophisticated projection mapping. “With Doodlin’, we go beyond street dance to create an entertainment spectacle. We’ve used projection mapping in our performances before, but we wanted to try something new in terms of integrating technology with street dance.”

Doodlin’ melds street dance with Japanese hi-tech, taking the integration of projection mapping with performance art to a new level. Working with visual director Takehito Suzuki and a pack of costume and stage designers, Wrecking Crew Orchestra employs what’s called a “see-through screen” that allows them to seamlessly blend the dancing and visuals.

Yokoi says the title Doodlin’ stands for graffiti. “The theme is based on childhood,” he offers. “Kids have a limitless imagination. For example, if you have kids draw a cat, but they don’t do a very good job, the cat’s ears may look like mountains. Then they draw a sky as background, and what was supposed to be a cat becomes a landscape. That’s the idea of Doodlin’—images transform before your eyes into something completely unexpected. When we become adults, our freedom of imagination gets hemmed in by social expectations and common sense. With Doodlin’, we want people to recall the freedom of their childhood. We hope to inspire people to open their minds.”

After decades as a dancer and stints representing Japan at overseas events, Yokoi speaks with the voice of someone who’s had time to consider the meaning of his life’s calling. “It has to be a conversation between the dancers and the audience,” he believes. “Dance isn’t just a tool to entertain—but also to tell a story.”

When they go abroad, Wrecking Crew find themselves in the intriguing position of representing Japan via an art form that began on the streets of the United States. “Street dance isn’t Japanese culture, so for us to represent it to Myanmar people was a bit strange,” he recalls forthrightly. “[The] Japanese first imitated American culture, but then we made it our own over time. So we tried to bring that to Myanmar. It was a powerful experience.”

What makes Japanese street dance unique? “[The] Japanese are subtle,” he says, pondering a good answer. “And precise. We’re able to take advantage of that for performances that, for example, involve projection mapping. We try to bring those aspects of Japanese culture to street dance; and Japanese hi-tech—mixing that with street art.”

Rather than finding overseas habits strange, Yokoi says it’s the local response he finds odd upon returning to Japan. “Japanese people are very shy—they’re always checking other audience members out before they decide how to respond,” he responds. “Nearby Asian peoples are more open. So rather than finding other countries strange, when I get back, I find Japan different. I wish Japanese would learn how to enjoy themselves more easily, and not be so uptight.”

While amateur dance forms from salsa to ballroom to Jamaican-style twerking are wildly popular here, dance at the professional level is still a tiny community divided into factions from street dance to ballet to butoh.

Japan needs someone who can unite dance fans, and in Yokoi they may have the right person. Whether it’s in front of audiences in big Japanese cities, or on international tour, what comes through from Yokoi is that he enjoys being on stage at least as much as his fans take pleasure in watching him.

“It’s all I know,” he concludes. “I’ve been dancing professionally half my life. It’s also the area where I express myself best. And it provides a way to interact with people. I even met my wife through dance—and the members of Wrecking Crew, too. More than art, for us dance is a communication tool.”


Keith Ape – (It G Ma) ft. JayAllday, loota, Okasian, Kohh

In the space of the three months since they launched “It G Ma,” the rappers behind the track may have done more for Asian pop credibility worldwide than PSY’s gazillion views for “Gangnam Style” ever did. Not only does the quintet (Keith Ape, JayAllday and Okasian are Korean; Loota and Kohh are Japanese) rap with elan in the bass-heavy “trap” style, they do it in their native languages. By avoiding Asian cultural cliches, they demand to be judged on an even playing field. The respect commanded by the track among Western listeners shows they’ve pulled it off.

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Fuji TV cancels blackface segment


A successful petition launched by Yokohama resident and blogger Baye McNeil apparently led Fuji TV to cancel a long-running blackface segment on its music program “Music Fair.” The segment was to feature vintage vocal group Rats & Star and idol outfit Momoiro Clover Z, but after Brooklyn, New York native McNeil gathered more than 5,000 petitioners, Fuji ran the segment blackface-free, even joining his hashtag team #stopblackfacejapan #日本でブラックフェイスやめて. Read McNeil’s account here.

Eri Uchida: mystery at the heart of Kodo


Tokyo Flow spoke with Eri Uchida, one of a few women members of legendary Japanese taiko drum troupe Kodo. Uchida told us about Kodo’s new work Mystery, its first to feature women in central roles. 

How did you come to join Kodo?

I decided to attend Kodo’s apprentice center when I saw Kodo in Vancouver while I was at high school in Canada. After two years of apprenticeship, we are able to perform on stage with the other members.

Women seem relatively new to the world of taiko: What are the challenges?

Women are not so new to taiko as a performing art which has been around only 50 years or so. In fact, most amateur taiko groups are composed mainly of women. However Kodo is composed mostly of men, and there are lots of challenges as professionals. First of all, the size of the taiko. The taiko that we use are so large that even some men can barely make a good sound. Therefore it is even more challenging for female taiko players.

Tell us about your role in the new piece Mystery.

I think the audience will enjoy the presence of women in Mystery, because we have created both theatrical and comical pieces featuring women in the production. Women are usually not heavily featured in Kodo’s productions, so Mystery is a rare opportunity to enjoy the female presence.


Why do you think artistic director Tamasaburo Bando chose to feature women strongly in Mystery? Are women mysterious?

Bando has thought about the role of women in Kodo since the very beginning. As he plays female roles in Kabuki, he taught us how to behave and act as women on stage. I think women are mysterious in that they have the ability to create a new life inside their body. However, women are not central to the mysterious aspect of this production. Female performers have an important role to lighten the atmosphere on stage, and to provide a sense of comfort and humor with their charm. I think it was a big challenge to feature women in Kodo, which has a strong image of male performers.

Taiko seems to be getting very popular worldwide. Why do you think this is?

Taiko is essentially one of the easiest instruments on which to make a sound. So it is very easy to start. Taiko cannot be done alone; whether it is for performance, preparation, or actually building the drum, a sense of togetherness is required. I think as individualism becomes a common value worldwide, people’s hearts need this sense of community.

Tell us about your most special experience so far as a member of Kodo.

It is very difficult to choose one experience. The entire experience is special to me. Touring is life-changing. Your views and values change a lot in a short period of time. The sunset from the tour bus, the freezing weather I have never experienced, communication with local staff without language barriers, the encounter of dangerous suburban areas…the ability to find new answers when I’m feeling stuck. These are some examples of touring experiences that lead up to my performances. I am very thankful to Kodo for giving me this opportunity.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

That’s a hard question. I feel like I am reborn every time a tour ends. I don’t know what I will be doing in ten years since my priorities change quickly. All I know is I’d like to have a child someday and want to live for others.

What does music mean to you, and why do you think music exists?

Music for me is healing, joy, and makes my life rich and prosperous, but also the biggest worry since my job is music. If I limit this topic to taiko, I’d like to introduce an idea that a psychologist once offered on the subject: “Human beings have an element of ferocity. Unlike robots, we kill other species in order to survive. Humans may develop mental illness when the balance of these ferocious instincts collapses. The action of hitting the drum provides a very important influence to achieve that balance mentally. Therefore, taiko drumming  maintains wellness for human beings.” Expanding from this idea, I believe that music has a universal power to heal anyone’s mind in our current society.

Kodo perform at Brooklyn Academy of Music, March 19-21.  http://www.bam.org/music/2015/mystery

Faced with campaign over blackface show, Fuji TV may have flinched




Rats & Star in blackface.

African American resident of Japan and blogger Baye McNeil says there are signs Fuji TV may be stepping back from its plan to air a show featuring performers in blackface. McNeil’s petition to stop the show from airing has already gained more than 2000 signatures out of a target 2500.