Plapla Pinky at Villette Sonique on Saturday 25th May

A great piece of news that is sure to please a good number of you: Plapla Pinky are playing at the Villette Sonique festival on Saturday 25th May at 7pm.

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Yuichi Kishino

Yuichi Kishino

A cross-genre symbol, in the same way as the penises, with which the young girls are portrayed on the canvases of Henry Darger, the moustache stuck under the nose of La Veuve Moustachue creates confusion. Confusion of the sexes – a black dress, a little hat and a veil as a sign of mourning– and confusion of styles, promoted by the particular flavor of the game played by Yuichi Kishino, who brings together comedy and tragedy, evening news and poetry, optimism and despair.

Public comedian, musician, cinema actor, critic and teacher at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Yuichi Kishino was born in Tokyo in 1963. His family raised him to enjoy and respect the theatre and the popular arts that were so specific to ancestral Japan.

Very active on the Japanese musical scene, he has played in several groups, including Watts Towers and Space Ponch, and directs his own label - Out One Disc – which has produced the CD Les Vacances de… La Veuve Moustachue.

For La Veuve Moustachue, Kishino dresses up as a transvestite on the stage, but, in real life, is neither gay nor a drag-queen. This is the style he has chosen to depict their scenes of predilection, such as the universal feelings of love and loss or the lack of communication in the world today.

During his appearances, he improvises cues whilst Yoko accompanies on the piano. Very quickly, this changes and gradually becomes part of the context of written songs, before regaining his freedom. These two areas cross-infect and it is soon hard to tell them apart : we do not know what has been composed and what has just been invented. It is this tension that gives the performance so much charm.

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

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Kicell is a dream, Kicell is a journey, a folk pop sound to carry you to places in the memory that time has erased. Escape the agoraphobic blue skies and get down, all the way down to destinations unknown. Take the epic, lyrical stroll through Kicell’s surrealist lands. Not rock but roll, measured background rhythms that push towards emotional harmonised summits, the distinctive trait the timbre of Takefumi Tsujimura’s voice, one in a thousand, clear, fragile, delicate and precise, like the point of a needle.

Kicell is two brothers: the big one, Takefumi Tsujimura (vocal, guitar), and the little one, Tomoharu Tsujimura (vocal, bass and musical saw). Takefumi is deep, an introvert. Tomoharu is more distracted yet delicate. Takefumi was already recording his songs on a four-track, doubling his own voice, when they started playing together in 1999. The brothers’ voices are very similar and this is what gives such a recognisable balance to their work. Takefumi’s passionate love stories become experimental pop in Tomoharu’s hands and the fusion/separation inherent in their arrangements is what gives Kicell its force.

Kicell have released 5 albums since October 2000, the date when they left their native Kyoto to head for Tokyo. All have sold over 20,000 copies. The last to date, “Magic Hour” (2008), has a tragic beauty and is out on Kakubarhythm (Sakerock, Illreme). It is an amazingly produced post-pop opus, a success. Emerson Kitamura (Jagatara, Mute Beat), the discrete third member, sometimes joins them both for recordings and on stage. Emerson adds a very light dub touch to the Kicell sound and the odd melodic line that really hits the spot.

Kicell were invited to play in New York in 2005 by the celebrated artist entrepreneur, Takashi Murakami but they are still mostly unknown outside Japan. They seem to lack a little confidence in themselves, as if their influences (Robert Wyatt, Sigur Rós and Young Marble Giants) might betray them abroad. Of course, we can all be blind to our own originality, but it’s time for Kicell to leave Japan and find new audiences. There can be no doubt that reaction to their quality and adventure will be positive. Could this be the beginning of a new Kicell chapter?

© 2008 text: Franck Stofer, translation: Jack Sims, photo: Eric Bossick

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Kentaro!! surprised everyone at Yokohama Dance Collection R 2008, by walking away with the French Embassy Prize for Young Choreographers. He also snapped up both the Audience Award and the Nextage Special Award in the Toyota Choreography Award 2008. All died hair, skateboarder clothes and false nonchalance, Kentaro!! is a young dancer blurring the edges in the Tokyo contemporary dance world. “Direct expressivity” or “crude spirituality”; the critics are still struggling to define this new phenomenon. Totally imbibed in urban electro culture, Kentaro!! hasn’t put a step wrong over the last few months, dancing in all the right places.

He got bitten young, watching the TV show “Dance Koshien”, Takeshi Kitano presenting a high school street dance competition. Kentaro!! was only 11 but made his decision. He trained endlessly in front of a video of Michael Jackson, imitating moves in front of the telly. At the beginning of the 1990s, hip-hop and breakbeat had only just been introduced into Japan. Kentaro!! found his way to the only studio in Tokyo giving classes in hip hop. Eager to learn, he also took house and lock dance classes; he was 13.

He quickly assimilated the different techniques. During his teens his tastes matured as he mined this American genre, getting to know more New York hip-hop: Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. He also saw that he had to find his own style. Kentaro!! wasn’t an African American from the projects. He was Japanese and he had to learn how to use his own physique, his build.

Kentaro!! mixes hip-hop with a sort of Japanese spirituality. He adapts rap motifs and moves into the dance without ever losing sight of who he is. Very acute musically, with faultless technique, he projects his body into the mix. Electro, pop rock, hip-hop, he doesn’t simply use the beats as a canvas; his moves are extreme and penetrate the music like a needle on the record.

© 2008 text : Franck Stofer, translation: Jack Sims, photo : Eric Bossick

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Kan Mikami

Kan Mikami

Kan Mikami sings the blues, brutal, universal, sad. He sings fado. His voice hits you in the guts and resounds like the howling of the wind. There’s something immutable about his ballads, slowly weathered over time under the lights and in the shadows. A clear electro-acoustic guitar contrasts with his powerful voice that rasps slightly as if damaged and torn countless times.

On September 14 1968, Kan Mikami got on the train to Tokyo from his native province of Aomori. He was a poet and wanted to publish. In the meantime, he worked in newspaper distribution, sporting a Mohican. One day a bar owner, intrigued by his appearance, asked him if he could sing. Kan Mikami took up his guitar and soon had the whole bar crying. At that time he was part of the student demonstrations, joined the barricades and played in front of 30,000 people at the celebrated Nakatsukawa folk festival. Those were the good times. He signed with Columbia and then Victor, bringing out a dozen records. He had to tighten his belt at the end of the Seventies however, when the student rebels became salaried workers and the concerts dried up.

The Eighties signalled the beginning of a long period of musical introspection for Kan Mikami. He played exactly the same repertoire for 10 long years, once a month at the Mandala-2, a small club in the area of Kichijoji. He had no desire to move on and instead discovered the real essence of his playing. At the end of the Eighties, his American alter ego, John Zorn came to the club to hear him. Then came Yoshihide Otomo and later Keiji Haino and Motoharu Yoshizawa. They all encouraged him to take the plunge and record some new albums on the independent label PSF, slowly helping him re-emerge from the shadows.

Litterature had a big influence on Kan Mikami when he was growing up. Surrealism, the Beat Generation, Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir and Shuji Terayama were just some of these revelations. However Kan Mikami says, “With music, I discovered that before words, it’s sound that creates the world, outside language, beyond it. (…) Language is at the service of sound and not the other way round. It doesn’t matter any more whether or not my poems are understood.”

© 2008 text: Franck Stofer, translation: Jack Sims, photo: Eric Bossick

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Erina Koyama

Erina Koyama

Erina Koyama’s songs are an intimate experience. They are nursery rhymes. And great lyrical flights of fancy. They contradict themselves. They are balanced but unstable. They combine enormous musical extravagance with the science of harmony and refinement. They oscillate, not allowing you to settle, turn into luminous droplets on contact with her voice. They are inspired by natural elements from the depths of the sea and the breadth of the sky. They are a fresh electronic breath of air.

Erina Koyama was out the blocks like lightening. In 2004, after sending a demo cassette to Ryuichi Sakamoto to take part in the auditions on his show Radio Sakamoto on J-Wave FM. On hearing the track ‘Dance with Tarantula’ Ryuichi Sakamoto fell for her music and gave her the impetus she needed to get her professional career going. After the EP Inly and the full length Vividrop which came out in 2007 on Rhythm Zone (the Avex group), her second album was released on Commmons, the label run by Ryuichi Sakamoto (also Avex).

Erina Koyama started wanting to be a singer at the age of 20. She was working in a jazz club and sang regularly with an R&B act. But she felt frustrated artistically and the experience didn’t go anywhere. She wanted to get her hands on the music as well and give herself a wider range of sounds to play with. That was when she discovered the creative potential of DTM (Desk Top Music). She threw herself into it and developed her skills over several years by a process of trial and error before mastering the tools of the trade and gaining full artistic satisfaction. Erina Koyama is a determined young woman.

She writes, composes and performs her own arrangements, taking charge of everything from recording to mixing. She is demanding and perfectionist and doesn’t simply reproduce her recordings on stage. Live, she works with an Irish harpist and a guitarist. She aims to produce vast original music with a powerful impact and light touch of Japanese spirituality. In one of her first songs ‘Hana Uta’ she talks about the temporary nature of the beauty of flower-shaped figures of sound, the simplicity of her own existence and the beauty of the sky.

© 2008 text: Franck Stofer, translation: Jack Sims, photo: Eric Bossick

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Kokusyoku Sumire

Kokusyoku Sumire

Operetta, gypsy folk, cabaret, Japanese ballad, J-Pop or visual-kei ?  Kokusyoku Sumire brings all of this all at once. Sumptuously dressed and with extravagant coiffures, the two gothic Kokusyoku Sumire nymphs make dreamlike, Alice in Wonderland sounds where the tea party includes not just the March Hare and but also Pierrot from the French nursery rhyme Au clair de la lune.

Once upon a time there was Kokusyoku Sumire (The Black Violets)! Two young women come straight out of a young girl’s dream. Yuka – piano, accordion, soprano voice – gives off an engaging energy. Sachi – violin, little canary shaped whistle – is a muse, a Japanese gothic lolita, currently winning over the hearts of young Europe. Their penchant for fairy stories, legends and terrifying tales is what brings the girls together. 

All the same, Kokusyoku Sumire aren’t easy to pin down.  While they might tell of the devastation of impassioned souls in Japanese folk one moment, the next they’ll be onto an improbable version of Carmen or a military march from the beginning of the last century. Their brightly coloured outfits echo their sound: at times Little Red Riding Hood, at others Marie-Antoinette – they’re even known to slip into a kimono when called for! They work their magic and audiences fall under the spell like so many inquisitive kids opening a music box or treasure chest.

Kokusyoku Sumire follow in a tradition started by the first Japanese explorer composers such as Rentaro Taki or Kosaku Yamada who left for Europe at the end of the 19th century, returning to Japan with modernist classical music. Once adapted to the Japanese scene, this music loses something of its superlative and becomes more familiar, at the same time retaining an exotic tone. Yuka and Sachi play with this ambiguity and offer up sounds that are deliciously retro both to Japanese and European ears.

Kokusyoku Sumire seem to be following the same aesthetic as the costumes associated with the gothic lolita movement. Gothic lolita outfits are often the result of Japanese customization of European clothing from another era: bouffant skirts, aprons and lace, violets, little hats and so on. There’s an obvious rapport between this new style and their music and you can easily see why the girls have been taken up in gothic lolita circles.

We don’t want to limit them to young adolescent fashion however! Tim Burton often comes to see them in concert when he’s in Tokyo and there seems to be a real creative understanding  between him and Yuka and Sachi.  No doubt this has a lot to do with their shared liking for a mysterious universe of fairy tales and dark stories of gothic beauty.

2010 © text: Franck Stofer, translation: Jack Sims, photo: Eric Bossick

Download Kokusyoku Sumire on: iTunes, HearJapan

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