Miu Mau: Fukuoka trio’s monochrome weekend

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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

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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

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