Kazutoki Umezu: Young Turk sax explorer as elder statesman


When Metropolis connects with Kazutoki Umezu at his home in Tokorozawa, the jazz saxophonist is coming off a five-night stint at venerable Shinjuku jazz club Pit Inn. Umezu has hosted annual Oshigoto (“Big Job”) residencies there for two decades, an indication of the central spot the still-babyfaced 65-year-old occupies on Japan’s jazz scene.

“In the past, I did 20 nights in a row—so this is mellow in comparison,” he laughs. “I wanted to do a week, but the timing didn’t work out this year.”

Oshigoto gives Umezu a chance to stretch out and call together the diverse ensembles that characterize a wildly eclectic career. Over the years, there’s been the jazz-rock-tinged Kazutoki Umezu Kiki Band, the Eastern European-flavored Komatcha Klezmer, collaborations with avant-garde dancers, and guest spots with everyone from Japanese rock legends RC Succession to the late American blues lion B.B. King.

The Sendai-born Umezu—who often returns to play for evacuees in Miyagi Prefecture—turned on to jazz in the late ’60s. It was a time when the music was everywhere in Japan.

“I wasn’t thinking to become a jazz musician,” he recalls, noting that students of his generation came of age at Japan’s numerous jazz kissa coffee shops—think Haruki Murakami. “I was exposed to the music of composer Toru Takemitsu, and became interested in improvisation. I was studying classical clarinet, but then I wanted to try improv. I asked my jazz-playing friends, and they said, ‘Learn jazz, it’s all about improvisation.’”

Happening to buy an album by the late, great free-jazz sax master Ornette Coleman, Umezu became hooked by the adventurous spirit of the scene. Like many aspiring Japanese jazz musicians, he set out for New York City in 1974, where he began playing with second-generation musicians of New York’s fertile downtown scene, like Lester Bowie and David Murray.

Returning to Tokyo in 1976, Umezu fast became a linchpin of Japan’s avant-garde, with a gutsy sax sound and freewheeling musical appetite. These days, he finds himself in the position of being a jazz elder statesman, and ambassador for Japan’s jazz community overseas.

Intriguingly, Umezu says the audience for jazz in Japan currently trends heavily toward women. “I’d like to know myself why more young men aren’t listening to jazz anymore, but women are,” he says. “Men seem more interested in games or anime or idol music. I’m not sure why, but women seem to have a more adventurous musical spirit than men these days.”

Not that Umezu is overly worried about pulling an audience. He’s playing over 20 dates the month we talk, and observes that Tokyo probably has more live jazz clubs than any city on Earth.

“Some of them are rock concerts where I appear as a guest,” he says. “The more different styles I play, the more sense of freedom I have in my own playing. I feed off other musicians … I can’t imagine playing with the same people all the time.”

Umezu’s newest offering is his all-horn band Chaba Brass’ Kabuongkyoku—an old term for “song and dance” (“kabu” has the same kanji character as in “kabuki”). It’s an astringent dose of horns and strutting rhythms, fronted by Umezu’s restless sax explorations.

Yet Umezu is cognizant of time’s passage. These days, a song’s inspiration can come from a reminder of mortality.

“My newest song is about Mitsuo Omura, who produced many of my international tours over the years,” he reflects. “He died in November. It’s incidents like the death of a friend that bring out new songs in me these days. It’s a sad waltz, with a European flavor.”


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.

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

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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Mio Soul: The New York-based Japanese artist’s Subliminal Melody


The Japanese have long headed to New York to imbibe jazz, R&B, house and hip-hop at the source. A few hardy individuals even stay on to forge their careers amid the competitive pressures of the New York music scene. Metropolis heard from young singer and producer Mio Soul about the ups and downs of being an independent Japanese artist in NYC, and what it feels like to be called “the Japanese Alicia Keys.”

How did you come to be making music in NYC?

I am a singer-songwriter and came to New York to sing a few years ago. I was told that I should start making beats since I know how to play the piano, and I’d also been looking for producers to work with but couldn’t find one. So I started producing music. I started off using Reason 5 and then went to DJ school at Dubspot in NYC where I studied Ableton live software. That experience really changed my life. Not only did I learn skills but I also had the chance to be around very talented people.

How does living in NYC shape your music as compared to living in Japan?

Initially I thought I would be more inspired here in NYC, but now I honestly think I can make music wherever I am. But I actually made my way here to NYC because I needed to know the roots of the music I liked—I had to speak the language, breathe the air and feel the music.

Why did you decide to go the production route this time?

This happens to be another tool to express myself as Mio Soul. I really wanted to share another new world that I created with people.

You began Subliminal Melody as a 30-minute beat making challenge at Starbucks every week for 1 year. How important was caffeine to the process?

Hahaha! Caffeine? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think I get too excited. I always like to order a tall hot cafe mocha and that makes me feel chill. I came up with the project shortly after the Dubspot course because I wanted to keep studying and to make as many tracks as possible. At the same time, I thought it was a good idea because I started reaching people via Soundcloud. At the beginning, there were only 3 to 6 people listening to the tracks. Then several weeks later I saw that about 30 people had started listening to the tracks and that became hundreds per week. That was simply amazing and I appreciated all the feedback too. Those tracks were not perfect but I kept going.

Tell us about the creation of three songs on the album.

Right before I start creating, I close my eyes. I don’t even know what kind of beats I want to make… is it R&B, hip-hop, house or even EDM or techno? With “My Telephone Number” I was in the mood for something in a house/tech-house style. It was quick programming the house drums and then the next 5 minutes was me focusing on selecting the right instruments and effects. It’s like a puzzle process to put the right elements in the right place… The creative process of “Blind 77” was very interesting. I thought I was never going to finish it actually. At the beginning everything seemed separate and I didn’t know what I was doing. That is where this title comes from… When I started making “Boost Me Up” the first draft that I came up with was very light. I remember around this same time Justin Timberlake’s new album had just come out. The JT influence made me shift to a heavier but also uplifting vibe. I looked at my initial direction with the synths and bass I used and decided to change the whole melody. Suddenly the vibe completely changed and you have “Boost Me Up.” Thank you JT!

How does it feel to be called the “Japanese Alicia Keys”?

That is very honorable. I actually I don’t think I sound like her but as a passionate singer and emotional electronic dance music producer (I call my genre EEDM sometimes lol), maybe we have that in common.

How difficult is it for a Japanese R&B artist to connect with a North American audience and how do you try to reach people there?

First of all, we gotta speak the language so that we can communicate. When it comes to singing, especially, so that people can be really attached to the feeling and emotion of the lyrics. Just the overall music and sound isn’t enough. Vibes, passion and soul are important too. That is the reason why I like to make tracks too—to express my soul and vibe. With these two aspects, I was able to reach many different kinds of people here in the USA and also in Asia as well as Japan. Recently I feel that I could connect with Japanese people more. If I perform in Japan, I think I should perform in both languages.

Why do you think US R&B and rap haven’t been more successful in Japan?

I honestly don’t think that those genres are not not really successful in Japan. They may not be the mainstream like J-pop but there are a lot of core fans. I think the fans love those genres but I am not sure if many are really into electronic music just yet. What is really cool to me now is this new style of R&B. It is like a fusion of R&B and electronic music. That is where my vibe is currently.

Where do you see your Mio Soul project heading?

My first EP In My Skin was the first project here in the USA. I created music that showed the roots of music I love and wrote songs reflecting my important experiences in life. I also produced a few of the songs on that EP and I actually rap and sing in Japanese. In My Skin was the raw me. My current instrumental project is me evolving as an artist to show my diversity as a creator. This is definitely a process of rebuilding myself as Mio Soul, constantly asking myself… Who am I? What is my message? These two projects will lead you all to my next project—my second vocal EP, which I will produce. I will share more of my own style and identity with more messages from life and what I have been through. Life should be happy all the time and I wish I was smiling all the time, however life is tough sometimes. Sometimes you gotta stop and figure it out. And sometimes you gotta just hold on. My music is very happy but also very emotional too. I always want my honesty to be reflected in what I am creating.

Metropolis, Apr 24, 2014

Richie Hawtin: Japan’s evolving love affair with Plastikman


Metropolis tracked down pivotal Canadian DJ and producer Richie Hawtin aka Plastikman to hear about his evolving relationship with Shibuya superclub Womb’s annual big room extravaganza and get his take on the state of electronic dance music two decades after he emerged from the Detroit techno scene.

How did you first become involved with Womb Adventure?

I’ve been very close to the Womb gang for many years now. Six years ago they started to talk about doing a larger event, and all of Womb’s international DJ partners encouraged them as we’ve always felt there was a place for a special one-off event for techno and house in the Tokyo area. Of course there are and have been other large-scale electronic music parties in Japan, but Womb, with so many direct contacts to the international DJ community, was in a great position to offer a new type of lineup, and therefore a new type of event.

How has the relationship evolved?

My relationship with Womb has come full circle, starting as a business partnership when they first booked me as a DJ, then developing into a close-knit friendship with some of the core Womb team, and now again, uniting that friendship with unified business and creative ideas to bring my own special shows to Womb Adventure (ie. Contakt, Plastikman Live, Enter, etc).

What have been some of the high points so far?

Hahahah… they are nearly all highlights! Of course, presenting Plastikman Live at Womb Adventure was an absolute killer experience, but the most heartfelt gig was just after the tsunami when we came to do a Minus Hearts Japan benefit gig. We all wore our hearts on our chests and played music together bringing help, happiness and warmth to our Japanese fans.

Tell us about your plans for this year’s Womb Adventure and the development of your Enter showcase.

The Enter events are a marriage of high technology production values and the best possible DJs and music that electronic music has to offer. This year we’ll be combining favorite performers—like myself, Gaiser and Josh Wink—with some of the most interesting up-and-comers, including Recondite and Bella Sarris. Along with the performers, I’ll be bringing my entire audio, visual and lighting team in order to create the perfect synchronization between all the elements you need for a great experience.

When we first spoke a decade ago, you were experimenting with virtual DJ gear. Tell us about your continuing relationship with technology.

A decade ago I was one of two people touring the world with virtual DJ technology (i.e. the ability to play and mix digital music files). Now there’s hundreds of thousands of people adding to the tradition of DJing and mixing music together. Today it’s common for a DJ to mix with turntables, CD players and digital controllers separately, or even in combination. The past ten years have been a truly exciting revolution, and to be part of that from the beginning has been one of the most satisfying parts of my career—to really see and be part of a technological revolution that has changed the way we play and even listen to music.

Electronic music is being repackaged as EDM. How does this look to you as an early exponent?

There’s always been a form of more commercial or popular electronic music. The music that I create, produce and play has maintained a certain position within the greater world of electronic music—a position that has allowed it to flow freely in creativity and continue to develop. The more visible commercial level has always been there, it’s a product of what we do… and whether they call it new beat, trance or now EDM, that component will always be there.

You are a frequent visitor to Japan. What is your perception of the current club scene in Japan relative to the world?

Japan actually seems to be somewhat resilient to the more commercial forms of EDM, which is exciting. The scene in Japan seems to be slowly moving towards a more “unique” sound of electronic music rather than a more homogenized EDM sound. That’s great!

Why do you think music came to be?

Music exists for many reasons: for transmitting messages, emotions and creating and sustaining memories.

Tell us one thing we don’t know about Richie Hawtin that will help people understand what drives you to be a DJ and electronic music producer.

Swimming allows me to continue to have the focus for renewed evolution.

Metropolis, Dec 6, 2013

Miu Mau: Fukuoka trio’s monochrome weekend


Fukuoka is known for generating some of the most creative rock of the archipelago—think Number Girl and Sheena Ringo. Without relocating to Tokyo like the above, trio Miu Mau are generating accolades all over. A listen to their new single “Monochrome” reveals why. Over jelly synths and airtight drums, singer Masami Takashima casts a spell with a voice that’s at once clear as bell and emotive—a welcome antidote to the simpering songstresses that dominate whatever now passes for Japan’s “airwaves.”

Sung in English, the video for “Monochrome” traces the lonely, ennui-filled “monochrome weekend” of a typical (if atypically lovely) young Japanese woman. “The concept for each of our songs is different,” Takashima says by email. “The best description of our overall approach might be, ‘new wave/experimental/indie-rock/breakbeats/ world/disco.’” However you want to describe the musical formula of Miu Mau (“cat’s tail” in Finnish), they’ve hit on the right combination of artfulness and pop.

The B-side of the single, “Haru wa Kaoru Spring,” is equally compelling, skirting the line of dub and electro without quite being either. Takashima, who moved from Kumamoto to Fukuoka to create a band, says bandmates Hiromi Kajiwara’s “cool looks” on guitar and drummer Miwako Matsuda’s “rock solid” beats made her realize instantly that they were the vehicle for her musical vision.

From their base in Fukuoka—a move to Tokyo is definitely not in the cards—the trio has dreams of one day touring abroad. But if not, they tell Metropolis that in a decade they’ll be the “coolest obasan” around.

Metropolis, Nov 7, 2013

Andrew “Plug” Lazonby: The brains behind Hostess Weekender


English musician Andrew “Plug” Lazonby arrived in Japan over a decade ago to work for a music publisher. Sensing a need for a more personal approach to Japan for Western bands than was available, he and a hardworking crew launched Hostess out of a small wooden house near Meguro. Hostess is now one of Japan’s premier purveyors of independent music, handling releases of the likes of Radiohead in Japan. Metropolis talked to Lazonby ahead of his outfit’s thrice-yearly tune-fest Hostess Weekender.

What has changed, and what has stayed the same in Weekender’s approach?

The format – 10 bands, 2 days, 1 stage, and the broad spread programming-wise of amazing music has remained constant. The ticket prices have remained constant (and great value). The attention to detail both backstage in production and out-front in terms of the fan experience continue to gradually evolve—we make the show with us as fans in mind, so it has a little more than the usual club show, all aimed to make the process of getting lost in music a bit more fun.

What are Japanese music fans liking in the Hostess catalog at present?

We’ve had a nice year for music: from established hits by Atoms for Peace, Vampire Weekend, The National, Queens of the Stone Age, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Sigur Ros, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Four Tet and the rock album of the year by Arctic Monkeys, to great new works from Chvrches, Savages, Darkside, Daughter, Palma Violets, Omar Souleyman, King Krule and the emerging breakthrough band for 2014, Temples.  That’s the tip of the iceberg, another decent year for us to be doing what we do.

People talk about an excess of music festivals in Japan. Thoughts?

I think Fuji and Summersonic have their place, rightly so. Fuji as the rock festival, and Summersonic for the more pop-leaning audience.  We continue to have lots of artists performing at both.  The reason for HCW and reason why it stands apart from the rest though is it really being an enhanced club show experience rather than a festival. Festivals have multiple stages so you can drift from hit to hit if you so chose, without ever necessarily having to really engage deep with any particular show, whereas with HCW it’s about going headfirst all in to a relationship with each artist, for their whole performance, then having time to come down, eat, drink, meet friends, meet artists, browse and buy very affordable music at the well stocked and plentifully staffed Hostess Club shop…. then get ready for the next show.  The space in between is crucial if real music engagement is going to happen.

Where do you see Western rock’s fortunes heading in Japan?

I’ve been reading a lot about it being dead in the water!  The need to present everything as J-pop… I even read somewhere that the reason One Direction took a while to get off the ground in Japan was the market not having matured enough! Whatever that means. I can assure you it’s absolutely fine where we are.  Like the constantly growing audience who subscribe to HCW, we have a thing for musical integrity, we believe in it, and it drives us day by day—the view from where we all stand together is pretty good.

Metropolis, Nov 21, 2013

Onda Vaga: The Argentinian quintet reprise their Fuji Rock conquest

With an unsettling eight shows over three days at Fuji Rock 2012, Argentina’s Onda Vaga were the universally acclaimed masters of the event’s small stages. Now they return to Japan to tour their new disc, Magma Elemental. We caught up with singer-songwriter Marcelo Blanco ahead of the quintet’s biggest gig yet in their native Buenos Aires.

Metropolis, Aug 29, 2013