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

 

 

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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.

 

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Kitty, Daisy & Lewis: The three-piece band keep it in the family

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When Metropolis reaches Lewis Durham in England, the singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-taught audio engineer is fixing some vintage recording equipment, trying to get it working alongside the computers at Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ band studio.

“The old equipment has a more honest sound, and for recording real instruments, it captures it more faithfully than a computer does,” Durham says about the sessions for their simply-titled third album, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis The Third. The trio of siblings not only makes music inspired by ragtime, jazz, blues, honkytonk and vaudeville; they also approach the entire endeavor with an old-fashioned family ethic. Despite emerging from a generation whose musical palette is formed by electronic sampling and hip-hop, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis harken back to an era when performing musical families were common.

“My dad used to sing and play guitar, and his family did, and we did it at home growing up,” Durham explains. “At school there was contemporary pop, but at home there were always old songs being sung. We started off playing older songs because that’s the simplest place to start: You pick up the guitar and sing. I guess it’s considered old-fashioned now, but it seems natural to me.”

Notwithstanding their taste for musical styles from a century ago, the Durham siblings have managed to open the ears of a contemporary crowd, signing with BBC Radio 1 DJ and Bestival curator Rob da Bank’s label, Sunday Best. It’s not just the endearingly vintage warmth of their music but the modern way they mix it up that makes Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’ material intriguing.

Third, for example, takes in everything from the saucy, vaudeville flavor of “Whenever You See Me” to the boogie-woogie beats of “Good Looking Woman,” to the lively rhythms of “Feeling of Wonder.”

“The rhythm changed entirely from what it first was,” Durham recalls about the latter song. “Originally it had more of a jazzy swing to it. Kitty was playing it in the studio, and I started a new drum beat, and it changed out of nowhere.

“We’re really lucky because we get all kinds of people coming to our shows—young and old,” he continues. “We use all different kinds of feels and approaches, there are lots of variables, even more with this new album—it’s all different kinds of genres.”

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis songs often begin as the siblings have always made music: With loose jam sessions. “A certain groove will start happening and then a song will come out of it,” Durham says. “A lot of it is from just messing around, and stuff comes out of it. Often in between rehearsing songs, we’ll get a nice rhythm going, and then put some words on it.”

The Durham siblings (Daisy is the eldest, followed by Lewis and Kitty—and yes, they do fight sometimes) still live together in Camden, where they grew up. They’ve moved out of their parents’ house but seem remarkably close.

“We’d always had music in the family, and when we first started playing it was because someone asked me to come onstage and do a song,” Durham remembers.

“Kitty joined in because there happened to be drums there, and that was it, really. It was basically doing what we’d always been doing, but doing it on the stage. Then Daisy got involved and we added a few more songs, and a friend of ours asked us to join a festival. We didn’t have a name, so he just put on the poster, ‘Kitty, Daisy and Lewis.’ It all started kind of by mistake.”

A few albums and festivals later, the Durhams found themselves backing the likes of Coldplay and traveling to Japan for Fuji Rock. “We’ve been twice to Japan and it was probably the most different place we’ve ever been,” Lewis says. “The last time we hung out in Tokyo with Gaz Mayall (ska impresario and son of blues legend John Mayall). He’s been in Japan a lot and was showing us around these little bars where you can fit around seven people. He called it ‘piss alley.’ We just thought it was amazing.”

But even if their touring adventures end, Durham affirms they’ll always be a musical family.

“I tell people that even if we’re not playing on stage or making records, we’ll have our music at home, because that’s what we’ve always done,” he says.

“We’ll just see where it goes. We enjoy touring and making records a lot, but we’ll just take it organically and see where it goes. It seems to be going pretty well at the moment. But if we ever did stop playing on stage for a reason, we’d still play at home, because we don’t play music to play in a commercial band—we just play music together because we enjoy it.”

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. Apr 24, 7:30pm. ¥6,000. Shibuya Club Quattro. Nearest station: Shibuya. http://meturl.com/kittydaisylewis2015

Dot Hacker: The LA experimental rock outfit comes Alive

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LA outfit Dot Hacker are perhaps best known for the membership of guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers—but the quartet’s atmospheric meditations are worlds away from the Peppers’ funk­tastic explosions. The band (named after one member’s grandma) debuts in Tokyo, courtesy of crowd­funding site Alive, which conducted a winning campaign on their behalf. Metropolis spoke with bassist Jonathan Hischke.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: What’s it like having the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist in the band?

That’s an interesting question … we were all close friends and had started Dot Hacker—and had recorded our first album Inhibition—before he became the guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, so we knew him as something other than a member of that band for a long time. We are very proud of him, and it is always interesting to hear stories from that part of his life. His experience being in that band has brought out more confidence in him which is a great benefit for our band, as well.

Tell us why you decided to release two albums back-to-back in 2014.

There were a few reasons for that decision. We had too many songs to fit comfortably on one album, and we didn’t know what to leave off. We didn’t want to put out an exhausting album that was too long, nor did we want to release a double-album set; we felt that it would be overwhelming for a listener. Also, we couldn’t come to an agreement about what order the songs should be in. Since our time is limited as a band due to scheduling, we also felt that staggering the releases would be good for the band in that it would extend the life of the album since we can’t tour much or be a public presence in other ways.

What are the main differences between the two?

Well, the songs were recorded together as part of the same “batch,” and the idea of making two releases came much later, so there was no attempt to make them separate or different when we were writing or recording. We feel the song order makes the most sense the way they ended up, thankfully.

You’ve been together for a while, but the recording and touring came quite late. What were you up to?

We are all busy making music and touring with other people, as well as our band, much of the time, so touring has always been a difficult thing for us to schedule. We wish we could tour all the time! However, we started recording early [in] the band’s life; it just took a long time for the first album to be released. We had to find the right label and circumstances; thank heavens for ORG Music!

Members of Dot Hacker have backed the likes of anyone from Beck to Charlotte Gainsbourg. How have these experiences shaped your sound?

We are able to reference different styles and sounds easily because of our experiences, and we can convincingly play live under most circumstances. It also informs our writing and recording because this band is our chance to not be guided or commanded to do anything differently! It’s very liberating. It’s our own safe little world we’ve created.

Tell us about the personalities of the band members and how that translates into the music.

We are all very different personalities, but there are many overlapping interests and tastes that keep us close. We love each others’ company, and we hang out together all the time. We’re all kind of best friends. I can’t imagine the band being any other way, really. Eric is very practical and organized. Clint is emotional and knowledgeable about many things. Josh is sensitive and quite artistic and literary. I am stubborn and idealistic. The other three love sports, and I don’t care at all. We all share our politics and humor. It works out great!

Tell us about Dot Hacker’s place in the current LA music scene.

We rarely play, so I don’t know! We have many friends in a lot of bands in the city, so we do have peers we see often. I don’t know if we sound like any other bands in town, though.

What does music mean to Dot Hacker in the grand scheme of things?

It’s our lifeblood! We all have been playing music as our main focus for most of our lives, and we hope we will always be able to do so. If anyone else hears it and it makes their lives a bit brighter, then that is an incredible bonus.

How did you come to be part of the Alive project?

We were approached by Alive and it seemed like a very constructive and efficient model! Our fans in Japan apparently had suggested the campaign to them, and they are the whole reason this is happening. We are very much looking forward to getting over there!

Shinjuku Marz. Feb 23, 7pm. ¥5,500. Nearest station: Seibu-Shinjuku or Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3202-8248. Tsutaya O-Nest. Feb 24, 7pm. ¥5,000 (adv)/¥5,500 (door). Nearest station: Shibuya. Tel: 03-3462-4420. http://dothacker.org

Sharon Van Etten: Torch songs for the indie era

 Escaping an abusive relationship that she chronicles in her songs, Sharon Van Etten was a late bloomer. But the New Jersey native’s emotive rock ballads are finding an increasingly engaged audience. The 33-year-old spoke with Metropolis about her new album Are We There, from her home in New York City.

The New Jersey native, known for her emotive ballads

What are you up to?

Cooking in the middle of a snowstorm. I’m making a stew—it’s the first time I’m doing a stock from scratch. It’s nice to cook because I don’t get much chance. It makes me feel like a normal person.

Because you’re on tour a lot?

Yeah, and when I’m home in the Village, it’s usually only for a week. I like to watch movies and play the piano. Usually, I’m not composing, just playing stuff. It feels good to play without it being for a specific purpose.

Do you often compose on piano?

I’m starting to—but it was hard to keep a piano in New York, until my friend told me about this brand of Melody small-scale pianos. Mine was only 500 dollars.

How does writing on piano differ from guitar?

The rhythmic patterns are different, and much more simple, because I’m not very good on piano. I naturally gravitate to mid-tempo ballads, and, in a way, the piano favors that. I don’t write a lot of upbeat songs, and I don’t think I could write one on piano.

Tell us about a new song.

I have a song called “Sentence,” that’s only four chords. The lyrics aren’t there yet, but I have a melody. The idea is how in one sentence, someone can change the way you feel about them.

Do your songs tend to evolve gradually?

I have some songs that pour out of me, and they tend to be the longer ones—“Your Love Is Killing Me” is one that just poured out. But for the most part, it takes a lot of work, and the lyrics are the hardest part. If the song borders on personal, then I’d rather take more time to think about it.

Tell us about the creation of one song on Are We There.

“Taking Chances” was one of the songs that I  first wrote on the Omnichord. It’s an electronic autoharp. It’s very ’80s. It has beats and chords on it, with one button you can play a chord. So I started writing like crazy on it. When I brought it into the studio, I started tracking the beats and vocals and melodies separately. Eventually we cut the beats out and let the band do their thing.

A fair bit has been written about your time in Tennessee and how that shaped your experience emotionally. But how did it shape you musically?

I worked at a café called the Red Rose that booked all-ages shows. The people that booked the place taught me a lot about the scene. I learned a lot about touring and bands on the road, and all different kinds of music. Cat Power, Sons of Ohio … all sorts of bands came through. But I also learned about country because I had friends who were session players and whose parents were real old-school Nashville country writers.

Which song do your fans request most, and why you think that is?

They ask for “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” a lot, because it’s the one light-hearted moment I have on the record and it’s fun to sing along to, even though it’s not a light-hearted song.

Have any of your fans credited you for rescuing them from suicide?

I think I’m far from rescuing people, but I think people don’t feel alone. They’re like, “Oh you’re sad too. You say the things I don’t know how to say.” A lot of listeners find comfort that other people are feeling pain, and are able to rise above it. People say my songs are sad but uplifting. I’m not sure I’m saving anybody. But I hope my music helps people somehow—otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this.

Before you found music, did you have other ways of getting those feelings out?

I made music for a very long time, without realizing it was therapeutic. I did choir and musicals and played guitar throughout my childhood, and I didn’t really take it seriously until my 20s. I had no idea what I was doing. But people started responding the more personal the songs got.

Did you find yourself more able to put feelings down in song as you kept doing it?

My mom gave me a notebook in high school at a time when I didn’t want to talk about anything. She gave me a notebook and I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I would write down my feelings, and eventually they became songs.

Why does music exist?

I think people have a hard time expressing themselves and it’s one way of communicating when you’re having a hard time verbalizing. It’s something you can feel without having to know why.

OK Go: Viral masters go Tokyo

When Tokyo Flow reaches OK Go’s Damian Kulash, the singer is in Phoenix for a funeral. Despite the circumstances, Kulash’s trademark enthusiasm bubbles back as talk turns to the band’s tour-de-force video for “I Won’t Let You Down,” shot in Japan.

“It really was a new experience in a lot of ways,” he says. The piece features thousands of Japanese high school girls dancing en masse, filmed by drone from above, and the four members of OK Go gamboling about on Honda U3-X personal mobility devices.

“Director Morihiro Harano and the band saw eye to eye,” Kulash continues about the video which, at this writing, had been viewed
15 million times on YouTube. “It’s always magical when you align with someone creatively, and you feel like the whole is more than the sum of the parts. It’s even more magical when you’re crossing the language barrier.”

Choreographed by Japan’s Air:man, “I Won’t Let You Down” is a disco-flavored trifle of a dance number that sees the high school girls—epitomizing kawaii—deploying umbrellas in precise movements to create what from above looks like a shifting work of contemporary art.

People may be reminded of Japanese painter Yayoi Kusama’s dots or North Korea’s mass games, but the main inspiration goes back to 1930s Hollywood. “Busby Berkeley was a famous American choreographer from the ’30s, and he liked graphic aerial shots a lot,” Kulash explains, “so what you see in our video with the kaleidoscopic shots from on high, he often did that in the studio with dancers.”

Forming in Chicago in the late ’90s, OK Go have become known as much for their peppy pop-rock and their stint as the house band for NPR’s “This American Life,” as for their elaborate videos, which collectively boast over 100 million YouTube views.

To what does OK Go ascribe the remarkable audience for their videos online? “We don’t try to spell out our lyrics or match the song’s emotional content,” hazards Kulash. “We look at the shape of the song, and try to match the arc of it. For example, with a sad song, rather than trying to make a sad video, we try to make something with the same ups and downs. What we hope is people will see that this three-minute thing is not about the lyrics, it’s just this piece of art for them to like—there’s a radical transparency of process.”

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The success of OK Go’s videos means the revenues from them form a key part of the band’s income, and Kulash even appears on panels devoted to the secrets of making viral videos. The band has become something of a poster child for the way post-analog bands leverage numerous media formats to get their music out.

“We like to think that recorded music in the 20th century existed in a bubble and there were no commercial pressures on it, and it was art,” Kulash reflects, “and no wonder we hated the labels—they were doing all the dirty work and paying themselves 90 percent of the profits.”

Kulash observes that in the current, more complex environment of downloads and streams, it’s more difficult to figure out the commercial side of one’s artistic endeavor. OK Go’s solution has been to, so to speak, get in bed with the enemy.

“We find it creatively freeing to go into business with people directly,” he says. “We know then what’s expected of us and vice versa. So rather than having a record company who thinks they know better than you what to do with your art, we work with people who want to be associated with what we do. It’s a much healthier relationship.”

In the case of “I Won’t Let You Down,” there’s the obvious promotion for Honda’s mobility device. “I can’t discuss the specifics of our deal with Honda—but we knew what was expected of us and what wasn’t,” says Kulash. “We knew they would let us make the video exactly as we wanted and have creative control. They didn’t want to change what we were doing because they liked it.”

Kulash says people need to get over the idea of sponsorship as crass. “That’s where a lot of the music is to be found these days because radio plays only a few extremely well-funded acts,” he says. “I have problems with corporate domination of culture, but as long as I’m not in a position where I’m shilling products, I’d rather be where culture is actually happening than try to avoid it.”

OK Go has had a fan base in Japan ever since touring its eponymous debut album in 2002. Last summer’s packed Fuji Rock appearance and the upcoming sold-out date in Tokyo indicate just to what extent “I Won’t Let You Down” has cemented the band’s relationship with people here. “In Japan, it feels like everyone is a nerd about something—whether it’s film or rock ‘n’ roll or bowling,” Kulash says. “Having our music finally take off there just feels right.”

The singer is an astute observer of the way music scenes have evolved since OK Go’s days on the Chicago band scene. “Those communities used to be based around physical proximity,” he notes. “They still exist, but now they’re based around concepts or styles or artistic choices rather than geographic locations.”

Whether in a close physical community of bands, or a digitally diffused community of creators, the social role of music is clearly one of its most important. But Kulash says it’s music’s secret sauce that made it his life choice.

“For me, music is the only thing that can scratch that itch,” he says. “I think the reason why is, life is not simple. In your most joyous moments there is melancholy. For example, I’m talking to you from a funeral today. Being human is so complex and magnificent, and for me the interplay of sounds speaks to me in those complex emotions.

“An amazing fact is that when people sing together, their heartbeats align, and they release oxytocin on the level of sex. Oxytocin generates feelings of loyalty and love, and if you can generate that in a society by performing music, then it has a huge function in making society whole. It’s amazing that you can get the same answer scientifically and emotionally and evolutionarily—which is that music is fucking magic.”

Indie Seers: Ogre You Asshole’s elegant introspection

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A sense of honeyed sadness suffuses Nagano indie rockers Ogre You Asshole’s new album Papercraft. “If you must put it into words,” frontman Manabu Deto says of the trilogy the disc completes, “the unifying theme of those three albums would be ‘someplace cozy and comfortable, yet miserable.’”

Deto is reluctant to comment further on any specific themes of the album’s songs but prodded on the matter, offers the following metaphor:  “Something that looks decent on the surface could be so shallow and flimsy when viewed from a different angle—like a stage prop in a play.” It’s a sentiment reflected in the cover of Papercraft, which depicts a Hollywood-style building façade: All surface and no depth.

Perhaps it’s the slower pace of country life or the distance from Tokyo’s commercial entertainment industry, but Ogre You Asshole’s sound impresses as more contemplative than that of many indie rock outfits in the capital.

All surface and no depth: The Papercraft cover depicts Hollywood-style building facade

Since forming a decade ago in Nagano, the band has stubbornly resisted the lures of the big city. The ability to step back and do something expansive and conceptual is important to its members. “Creative activities of artists change with the times,” Deto says, “even more so in the rapidly changing times we live in. In such a transitory world, in order for Ogre not to be affected by fast-changing trends and create a series of works with a strong unifying theme, we had an understanding between the band and our production team that it was necessary for us to take a few years making three albums so our listeners could gain an understanding of our work.”

Papercraft launches with “Someone’s Dream,” a noire outing that sounds like it could appear on a Wim Wenders or Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. The album then segues through the boogaloo beats of “Perfect Lovers in the Perfect City” to the laconic, slide guitar-driven title track.

Throughout, Deto’s singing and his bandmates, guitarist Kei Mabuchi, drummer Takashi Katsuura and bassist Takashi Shimizu’s playing are understated yet always unexpected. Listeners familiar with cult psych rock band Yura Yura Teikoku will detect a rich vein of quirky influences from leader Shintaro Sakamoto.

Deto cites Sakamoto’s “strong concepts,” and Papercraft was in fact produced by You Ishihara and engineered by Souichiro Nakamura, both of whom worked with Yura Yura Teikoku. The album’s analog recording approach and use of vintage instruments like the mellotron also impart a nostalgic acid rock atmosphere that gives it a certain kinship with Sakamoto’s work.

Ogre’s psych rock appeal has made the group a favorite touring partner of bands like Modest Mouse (whose bassist gave them their name from the film Revenge of the Nerds), Wolf Parade and Deerhunter. Live, the band stretches out on extended improvisational excursions that evoke Krautrock, another key influence.

But Ogre You Asshole aren’t trying to lead or follow any specific trend or pop music phenomenon. “For the past few years, I’ve been listening mainly to music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I don’t really know much about the current music scene,” Deto says.

“I thought bands such as Deerhunter, MGMT and Wolf Parade, with whom we performed in Japan, were all good. I recently heard Flying Lotus and Ariel Pink, and they were good too. But we don’t really know much about them and aren’t so interested in what’s happening in the Japanese band scene.”

Dec 27, 7pm. ¥3,600. Liquidroom, 3-16-6 Higashi, Shibuya-ku. Nearest station: Shibuya. http://meturl.com/ogrepapercraft


Ten Indispensable Albums
We asked Ogre You Asshole’s Manabu Deto to name ten albums he simply could not do without.

  1. Joe Meek, I Hear a New World
    Kei (Mabuchi/OYA’s guitarist) wrote a song that reminded me of this Joe Meek album, which we recorded for the Japanese Anime “Space Dandy.”
  2. Can, Tago Mago
    Back in our college days, a friend of mine used to play this album a lot. It brings back memories and so I guess this is my favorite of all Can albums.
  3. Modest Mouse, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About
    This is the album that I listened to most in my college days when we started our band. It’s different from the kind of music we play now as OYA, but I still think it sounds great.
  4. Todd Rungren, Something Anything?
    I like all of Todd Rungren’s albums, but particularly like this one. I guess this album shows what I think of as “mellow.”
  5. Arthur Russell, World of Echo
    It’s so soothing that I could just keep listening to it.
  6. Stereo Lab & Nurse With Would, Simple Headphone Mind
    I’ve been listening to Stereo Lab for quite some time, but I’ve just recently heard this album they made with a noise/industrial rock band called Nurse With Wound for the first time. I thought that they were doing the kind of minimal musical phrases we sought to create (on our new album Papercraft) already in the ‘90s.
  7. Terry Riley, A Rainbow Curved Air
    The thing I like about Terry Riley is that his music sounds inorganic, but if you keep listening to it, it gradually leads you to a trippy state.
  8. Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside­-Out
    The thing I like about Yo La Tengo is that just by listening to their album, I can tell that they truly love music.
  9. Throbbing Gristle, 20 Jazz Funk Greats
    In between albums “100 years passed” and “Papercraft”, OYA released an album called “Confidential” which we rearranged songs from our early days. We came up with the ideal of adding industrial rock elements like that of D.A.F. and Throbbing Gristle and it turned out quite interesting.
  10. Lou Reed, Transformer
    The first solo album by Lou Reed that I ever listened to was New York (released in 1989). I thought that I prefer the Velvet Underground over his solo works, but then when I started listening to his earlier solo albums released during the ‘70s, I came to like his solo works more.

Uhnellys CD Release Party: Avant-garde rap-rock duo presents Loopholic

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Avant-garde rap-rock duo Uhnellys welcomes special guest Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her for what looks to be one of the season’s best live music nights.

With guitarist, rapper and sampler-extraordinaire Kim at the mic and the lovely—and dead solid—Midi on the drums, Uhnellys is consistently one of Japan’s most energetic and imaginative rock outfits.

Aggressively philosophical, the band celebrates the release of its latest live outing, Loopholic, on December 22 in Daikanyama.

Dec 22, 7pm, ¥2,500 (adv)/ ¥3,000 (door). Daikanyama Unit. Nearest station:  Daikanyama.