24.6.06

Festivale de Football Day 17: Japan



I've decided that, as holiday time gets in the way, I'm just not going to be able to finish this during the World Cup. It's a bummer, but it's so much work I just can't cope. Sigh. Oh well, on with the day...

I'd love to visit Japan. It's on my list. Not only does it look completely fascinating, but the people are ace as well. Perfect skin. It's a completely different culture, and this appeals to me. Sadly, the chances of a trip to Japan for me are currently as likely as a beach holiday on the moon, but you never know, one day.

Japan has one of those music cultures that is based on western ideas, but with a twist so unique - and so indefinable - that Japanese pop is completely, and instantly, recognisable. J-pop, they call it, or J-rock. The one that intrigues me most, though, is Japanoise. What a great name for a genre! Sums it all up in one. Saying that, my familiarity with this Japanoise is really not as much as I imagined - browsing the list on Wikipedia, I only recognized one name: Merzbow.

Now, the name was familiar, but little else. I had always assumed Merzbow was some sort of slightly Americana-y, folky singer-songwriter, but could I be further from the truth? Not much. Masami Akita has been releasing albums of vastly experimental noise on the very extreme edge of listenability since the mid '70s, basing his musical providence on his art school training in Kurt Schwitters' Merz art - that of compiling rubbish in to art. He was also a free/improvisational jazz drummer, something which has come to the fore in his more recent works which have seen more importance placed on beat.

So, that's the bio, what does the music sound like? Well, it's certainly the most frightening I've encountered in this series since Ecuador's Industria Masoquista, possibly more so: where IM is so intense as to make you worry about what other people listening are thinking, Merzbow is genuinely frightening. It's not just noise that grates at the edge of consciousness, although that's not in short supply; it's the sounds of fear, the children crying, the shrill, unnerving electronics. The fraught beats only add to the uncomfortability of it all. As noise goes, it's pretty fearful stuff yet so carefully, and purposefully constructed as to be very impressive indeed.

Merzbow - Tape Dada (from Rembrandt Assemblage, 1980)
Merzbow - Helga's Death Disco (from Pornoise Extra, 1984)
Merzbow - Minus Zero (from Red Magnesia Pink, 1995)
(Thanks to Clik And Lissen)

As far as other Japanese music worth listening to, there's plenty out there: check out Tujiko Noriko for an almost Bjork-styled, naive and innocent yet sharp and subtle, layered-electronica-meets-J-pop mixture.

Tujiko Noriko - Narita Made
Tujiko Noriko - Mugen Kyuukou
(from the Tomlab website, more on MySpace)

Alternatively, try your luck with Asobi Seksu, very popular in the blog world of late with their Japanese vocals (although strictly, this is an American band) and shoegaze/dreampop tendencies. It's pretty nice stuff, and shoegaze is coming back in a big way - about time, I've had it up to hear with ooh, Gang Of Four, ooh, spiky post-punk and laddish punk-pop. It's about time a bit of sophistication was popular again.

Asobi Seksu - I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me
Asobi Seksu - New Years

Buy Japanese music here
Buy Merzbow/Tujiko Noriko/Asobi Seksu

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CIA Factbook: Japan

1 comment:

Pass me the laser beam said...

Cheers for the shout. (Clik and Lissen.)

You forgot to mention Boris!! Mental guitar noise rock !!!