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22/05/2013

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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Hifana

Hifana

Although mainly using machines, KEIZOmachine! and Juicy have never had recourse to programming and recreate their rhythms in real time, hitting the keys of their samplers without ever loosing the groove, even when they nonchalantly change places right in the middle of a piece. They also play “real” percussion and discs, interspersing their ethnic hip hop with scratches and incongruous replicas, all perfectly synchronized with simultaneously projected cartoon films. Everything is extremely well-managed, lively, powerful and fun.

 

Hifana is an instrumental hip hop duo formed by KEIZOmachine! and Juicy. In his early twenties the former discovers hip hop music through a video showing New York DJ Clark Kent create a brand new track out of a turntable and two copies of the same record. He then absorbs into mastering turntables but soon grows tired of them after learning all there is to be learnt. Going back to the origins of his fascination with hip hop he becomes aware of a passion for rhythm dating from his childhood and thus starts learning percussions. Juicy's path is almost the exact opposite, having played percussions since a very early age and getting himself into turntables and rhythm machines only later.

They both start as members of Tribal Circus, a percussion unit supporting belly dance numbers. The band often perform during rave parties and develop some kind of a fun house aspect to its show, featuring skateboard tricks, juggling and didgeridoo (hand-made out of bamboo from the neighboring bush). From that time KEIZOmachine! and Juicy start using samplers (hip hop's iconic instrument Akai MPC 2000) to play sounds other than that of their limited collection of percussions, notably Indian tabla. After years of touring the duo faces the rest of the band's refusal to develop the show's absurd and slapstick feeling further on, and trusting that their MPC and turntable skills are enough to put on a show they go their own way and form Hifana.

Hifana comes from Okinawan dialect and means "southern wind", "southern flower". Limited by no other boundary than that of their imagination, they stuff their samplers with even more shamisen and South-East Asian instruments sounds. Unsatisfied with merely mimicrying American and European underground music, this aesthetic is for them the only way to produce a genuine Japanese batch of hip hop.

They first put out a scratch record, a 12" for DJs to use in between two songs or over another tune, filled with musical quotes (gamelan, yodel) and non-sensic skits recorded from movies and television. This record allows them to connect ties with Japanese MCs and producers, but their breakthrough only happens in 1998, rapidly gathering fame with unprecedented shows in hip hop history. Though making a heavy use of machines, KEIZOmachine! and Juicy never program their beats, hitting buttons live to recreate their tracks, not even losing the groove when casually switching seats in the middle of a song. They also play "real" percussions and turntables, adding cartoonish sound effects and lines all in perfect synch to animated films shown during the concert. The whole thing is at the same time extremely controlled and alive, powerful and funny.

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

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Yuko Nexus6

Yuko Nexus6

Having falling into electronic music almost by accident, Yuko Nexus6 has been able to retain her unique and constantly renewed attitude without ever having to have take the easy way out that is technology. During her concerts, she always remembers that she is a performer; with a desire to avoid her audience having to frown in front of computer screens, she adds interactive elements to her music that leave the door open to the unforeseen, grains of sand that take her towards an intelligent, living composition.

Yuko Nexus6 is living in Hikone, between Osaka and Nagoya. Part time lecturer at a couple of Art and Science universities around Nagoya, she spends most of her time writing articles for the Internet and creating music for her unique style of performance.

15 years ago, almost by accident, a sudden change happened in her career when she started making “music”, using a Macintosh placed at her disposal at her job. She amused herself by installing a simple music software program in order to personalize her computer - until the day she got fired when her employer found out about her non-productive manipulations!

Yuko is a “banpaku-kid”, a child of the Universal Exposition generation of Osaka 1970. This futurist display exhibited in Osaka remains inscribed in her memory as a witness to a future both technological and happy. Psychedelic fashion, exuberant architecture and electronic music offered a vision of the future that was both optimistic and comfortable. Today, these young people, now adults, question this technology that has penetrated the most intimate aspects of their life: where is the happiness, or the radiant joy emanating from the technological promise made 30 years ago?

Fortunate disjunctures always permit her to lightly approach such a-priori dense musical concepts as time-based composition and interactive music. During her concerts, she always keeps in mind the idea of the performance. Conscious of the unspectacular dryness of an artist in front of her computer, she is constantly inventing and adding little elements like grains of sand that derail her music towards something alive and astute.

Nowadays, she is a prolific and internationally recognized sound artist. Yuko Nexus6 has been the subject of numerous interviews and citations, most recently in David Toop’s historical survey of electronic music, “Haunted Weather”. In 2003 she received the Digital Music Honorary Mention in Europe’s prestigious Prix Ars Electronica competition with Journal de Tokyo her third solo album on Sonore.

In August 2005, Sonore releases her fifth solo and new album Nexus6 Song Book. Singing jazz, folk and traditional standards in Japanese, English and German, Yuko Nexus6 processes her voice using the most high-tech devices as well as the cheapest recording gadgets.

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

Download Yuko Nexus6 music on: iTunes, Beatport, Juno Download

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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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Doravideo

Doravideo

Doravideo is a project that mixes music and video. Attached to a set of drums, sensors transmit a different message to the computer according to which piece is hit : for example, the big drum will play a video, the snare drum will play it backwards with the cymbals fast-forwarding it, etc... The audience hear both the sound of the drums and the original film soundtrack directly reworked using techniques some of which are inherited from hip hop.

Doravideo is the solo project of Yoshimitsu Ichiraku, born in 1959 in Yamaguchi prefecture, 1000 km away from Tokyo. As a child, Ichiraku secretly listens to The Doors and Led Zeppelin under the sheets of his bed, afraid that his parents might think he'd turned into some kind of Hell's Angels/ juvenile delinquent. In the early nineties Ichiraku plays music in, before starting to collaborate with many Japanese and Western artists such as Otomo Yoshihide, Haco, Pascal Comelade, Eugene Chadbourne, Gong, Kevin Ayers, Keiji Haino, Kazuhisa Uchihashi... In 1996 he joins the Choi Song Bae Trio from Korea, then becomes a regular member of Omoide Hatoba (along with Yamamoto Seiichi) and I.S.O. (with Yoshihide Otomo et Sachiko M.) and joins Acid Mothers Temple for their 2001 US and UK tour.

After that he tours the world as All Asian Traditional Pop Orchestra, a solo drum unit (!) which he later decides to upgrade with video. A helpless TV addict fascinated with electromagnetic waves produced by the quick change of channels he decides to add video to his performance "just to make things funnier". Programmer Takayuki Ito designs for him a software to match his needs : first "Paradrum", then "Doravideo" in 2004. This name derives from "Doraemon", a manga character from the 50s who's become a true icon of Japanese pop culture. In the same way Ichiraku loots video material without any regards to copyright laws his hijacking of such an icon comes as a refreshing and vibrant approach in a world of paranoia about sampling, downloading, bootlegging and so on.

Cat-robot Doraemon takes out of his belly pocket an infinite number of zany inventions such as the indoor skiing machine, a door that opens up to any desired place, or seed-grown takeout meals. And thus the "dora" tag in Doravideo betrays Ichiraku's taste for the absurd and the unpredictable, bricolage giving birth to countless surprises and infinite potentialities.

Video samples come from all over and are gathered without any obvious thread running through them industrial films showing salarymen visiting a factory and later getting drunk with ryokan hostesses, excerpts from Kubrick's "Shining", avant-garde music concerts, Japanese variety shows, broadcast of the Emperor on parade. The most delightful moments are perhaps those when the plundering gives birth to the most childish entertainment, like when hard rock band KISS are turned into jerky puppets dancing along to Japanese drums.

Deliberately emphasizing on the show's scabrous, down-market entertaining features, Ichiraku opposes critics considering Doravideo belongs not in clubs but in museums and art galleries, "if only he'd pick his material with better taste". His refusal to be associated with an elitist conception of art notably showed at Ars Electronica Festival 2005, when he did not bother going and receive the Honorary Mention he was awarded!

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

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Doddodo

Doddodo

This young girl from Osaka is a fury. Armed with just two samplers, her voice tears a contradictory gash across the surrounding sound fabric, creating immediate and confusing sensations. She ties her hair in the shape of a palm tree and blackens her face, playing with an image that is both harpy and sweet young thing. Doddodo unveils a hidden side to femininity, not fragile beautiful but the regenerative force of a woman child out to discover the world. Onstage she clambers wildly over a table and chair in a disquieting show where the simple act of standing takes on significance.

Then she’ll freak out completely, no control over her emotions, singing, “Sip my juice if you’re thirsty / I’ll take you where there’s something to see…”. The rage she lets rip on stage is neither conscious nor thought out, just a desire to explode. Doddodo’s power is mysterious, almost shamanistic and channelled through old school hiphop. And if she is part of a school, it’s the punk and psychedelia of Osaka that lays first claim, the city raising her profile on a cyclical basis. You’d also have to mention Boredoms, as well as Pavement, but Doddodo is constantly evolving and builds on her influences in real time.

A close friend of Baiyon, Maruosa, DJ Mighty Mars, Oshiri PenPenz and Afrirampo who she comes together with occasionally (in the groups Fantaji Nakama and HanHan Neko Musume), Doddodo is a solo project born out of a fierce desire to “do” music that made itself felt around the beginning of the noughties. She writes her melodies on a keyboard before bringing in the samples, which work as kind of rhythmical axes, skilfully dug out of material on various bought or borrowed CDs. She only started singing much later, one evening in 2006, when she was cycling home and humming along to the tunes she’d been playing that day.

Although you can hear ethnic sounds in Doddodo’s music, there’s no particular conceptualisation behind this. Where she’s at is pure sensation. Doddodo does what she wants. As effective as a right hook, her music can wind an entire audience. She’s not weighed down by particular styles or hampered by references. She’s no showoff either. Doddodo’s music is direct, sometimes slightly absurd, hip-hop as if by accident and then a sort of furious spurt.

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

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De De Mouse

De De Mouse

Referencing its fair share of nostalgia, De De Mouse’s electronica uses cosmic, sunset imagery to dial up the memories of childhood. An androgynous computer-generated voice rises up in make-believe praise while the rhythm section hammers out a measured march. Daisuke Endo, the brains behind this rodent-inspired project, plays out super-chic melodic arrangements live on the keys and his positively charged electric chants and iridescent orchestrations have succeeded in launching De De Mouse into the Japanese firmament in the space of just a few light years.

At the beginning of 2005 Daisuke Endo was mixing in trendy Roppongi clubs and starting to gain a bit of a reputation for himself. In 2006 he brought out his first self-release on CD-R, attracting the attention of a slightly wider audience. In 2007, Kazunao Nagata, a producer with his ear particularly close to the ground, offered to release his first album, Tide of Stars on ExT Recordings. It was an immediate hit. 30,000 copies were sold in just a few months and even mainstream suppliers were placing large orders. The major, Avex, recognised the artist’s value straight up and offered him a contract accordingly. In the spring of 2008, De De Mouse made his “major” debut and brought out his second album Sunset Girls on Avex Trax, alongside the 8-bit trio YMCK.

His first loves were releases on English labels such as Rephlex or Planet Mu and the music that he mixed then was slightly harder than it is now. At the age of about 24 his influences became broader and Daisuke Endo rediscovered Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega and My Bloody Valentine. He then began bringing more melodic elements into his writing. His “live” arsenal grew and he started using keyboards as if to signal to audiences that he was no mere DJ but a composer in his own right.

His music might have gained in wisdom over time but De De Mouse hasn’t lost any of the aggressive transcendence he has always brought to the stage. He heckles the audience without any qualms, as if to pull you in deeper. The video projections that accompany his concerts are the result of collaborations with artists such as Tenshi Iwai (DASI), who also did the video for the stand-out track ‘East End Girl’. This recent visual development seems to suggest that there is a whole other world waiting for Daisuke Endo to explore.

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

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Chimidoro

Chimidoro

Stars of the label Tokyo Fun Party, the organiser of some of the most popular parties in the capital, Chimidoro are turning electronica on its head. With an original line-up of 1 DJ, 1 bass player and 2 MCs, Chimidoro are unrelentingly effective. DJ Funk and the radical Chicago mix of techno and hip-hop known as Ghetto House, was their starting point. Deliberate dabblers, they use schoolboy humour to transform Ghetto House into feverish and communicative second-degree electro rap.

Chimidoro means “bloody” and is a reference to a gang of bikers who appeared in Kinpachi Sensei, a Japanese high school TV series in the Seventies and Eighties. 3 young high school students, Nao Suzuki, Kusumoto and Miyama decided at the time that one day they would form their own gang called Chimidoro. The years went by and at university, Nao Suzuki got into Chicago and Detroit techno/house (Underground Resistance). He bought his first sampler and started to play around with electronic compositions.

Nao Suzuki played DJ Funk to his friends Kusumoto and Miyama and got them hooked in. Kusumoto’s cheek and Miyama’s chat went superbly with Nao’s electronic rhythms. They decided to get a band together rather than a bikers’ gang, but kept the name Chimidoro. They mimicked Ghetto House as closely as they could, but as they didn’t understand English, Kusumoto and Miyama looked for Japanese equivalents to the sounds of English words. Several concerts later, Ichinomiya (bass guitar) joined the group.

By the time they released their first album Minna no Uta on Tokyo Fun Party in 2007, the group had already existed for more than ten years. The members of Chimidoro have grown up and got jobs: they build buildings and IT networks, work on Internet search engines and do graphics for ads. Their reputation is growing but they aren’t getting carried away. The band is both a pretext for coming together among friends and an outlet for their everyday frustrations. Chimidoro don’t really take themselves seriously and don’t go all out for originality either. At the same time, there’s an unequalled freshness about their playful, knackering electronica that they know just how to put across on stage.

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

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Chikanari Shukuka

Chikanari Shukuka

Like a fragile dancer who would like to invoke a demon, Chikanari Shukuka abandons the forms of classical contemporary choreography for a mythical trance and reinvents a bacchanal with hints of gothic, against a rhythm of heavy sonorous footsteps and sensual glossolalia.

Chikanari Shukuka was born in the 60s of a tea ceremony teacher who certainly help her taste for solemnity. In the 90s she starts painting. Abstract and seemingly unhindered, her compositions are executed after having meticulously painted the background color. The painting is quick and focused, the result of a resoluteness that pervades in her present day dancing style.

The urge to dance came to her in a very brutal way. A personal drama in the late 90s left her defenseless and almost unable to move. Chikanari's body literally took over her conscience to free her from the spiraling breakdown and expressed an irrepressible need to move. She attended butoh legend Kazuo Ohno's workshop where concentration and reappropriation of her body let her step away from the shell-shock and resurface.

In 2003 she answers an advert on the internet from laptop artist Marqido who is then looking for a visual accompaniment to his first unit. Joined by singer Atsushi Kinoshita they focus exclusively on live performances and for one year experiment a fusion of sound and dance before splitting up. This experience nourished Chikanari's interest in sound and she then challenges herself to perform alone producing the music accompanying her dance herself.

In fact, when she performs today as Chikanari Shukuka Solo music is in no measure a mere accompaniment, it is inextricably bonded to the dance, and both are at the same time origin and outcome. Although the set-up is ever changing, she usually uses a hi-hat cymbal, little bells which are attached to her wrists, a mic, effector and rhythm machine. As natural as breathing, dance is in each of her movements, whether rolling the cymbal with the tip of her fingers, jumping across the stage or graciously disentangling the mic cable curled up around her legs. Despite the class she attended with Ohno's workshop her style is very much self-taught, fusing elements of flamenco, theatre or gymnastics. Despite these reference points the audience faces a show without any true precursor, overcome by an unexplainable inconvenience only amplified by the performance's discipline and resoluteness. Rather than a dance, it is more some kind of personal exorcism ceremony, a choreographed self-analysis session which basic elements are the body and sound.

Every performance (she does around 50 shows a year) is improvised, beat by jerky and rather simple movements that seem to bear an extraordinary but elusive meaning. She swings the mic in the air before hitting it on the cymbal, unleashing howls and hisses swirling in space like the arms of an octopus, before whispering with her ghostly voice, a siren's call addressed to no one. For what makes these performances so unique is the striking paradox between the complete charm under which the audience is immediately cast, and the sense that Chikanari Shukuka dances essentially for herself.

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

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Bakirinosu

Bakirinosu

Fed by diverse influences, the twin voices of Bakirinosu have their roots in popular Japanese music and travel, a cappella, along melodic lines that evoke both European folklore and the sound of unknown threnody, from further away. An eclecticism that is full of sap, autodidact and non-complex, thus proving that originality does not have to be technical.

Part of the Osaka art scene, Ras and Gaki collaborated on rock projects before testing a more daring show based on song. Far from the media maelstrom of Tokyo, Bakirinosu is a young group whose candour wins over many fans. Spontaneous and soothing voices of beautiful simplicity oscillate between ethnic breathing and poetic nursery rhymes. Their first mini album Ironaki Sora, To Aoi Tsuki (Colourless Sky and Blue Moon) was released on the Toka Jiku label in 2005.

Born in 1978 and 1980 respectively, Ras and Gaki formed Bakirinosu in 2003. They have an autodidacte singing style, acquired by imitating vocal styles borrowed from rock, nursery rhymes and even the Bulgarian tradition. Both profane and religious and usually accompanied by both instruments and percussion, the popular Japanese songs that inspire these artists are based on calls and responses (which are also found in the African tradition) and are often the product of phrases murmured to oneself whilst walking across the fields. In addition to the components of style and technique, it is this idea of song as an accompaniment to and extension of daily life that Bakirinosu makes use of - a way of allowing your heart to speak and try to describe a color, a cloud or a friend.

Ras and Gaki create a universe that is halfway between music and the human world on the one hand and the ambient sounds of nature, the mystery of an animal heart on the other, inextricably confusing the borders between each one. Using their voices as instruments in the broadest sense of the term (Gaki is also part of an experimental croup that only plays concrete sounds and field recordings using samplers), they enrich their song with sighs, demented laughter and, above all, attentively listening to silence.

This free, airborne rather than stripped-down music, does not easily sit in listeners’ memories. The only traces of it are imaginary memories and the soft caress of an inaudible, eddying and endless breath within a secret corner of conscience.

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

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Asa-Chang & Junray

Asa-Chang & Junray

Asa-Chang & Junray create devastatingly beautiful music that takes our world and turns it into the realm of folklore (or is it the other way round?!). Junrei means “pilgrimage” in Japanese and this one soon becomes an unexpected and luminous journey into the surreal. En route, you’ll make contact with Indian percussion, drums, trumpets and vocal collage. Asa-Chang & Junray’s music is rooted in the Chindon’ya (Japanese street musicians), circus music and barrel organ playing and has an undeniable Sixties (the Showa period) insouciance about it.

Percussionist Asa-Chang started Tokyo Ska Paradise Ochestra but left in 1993, just when it was becoming successful. Several years later he founded the two-piece, Asa-Chang & Junray with Hidehiko Urayama, producer and composer of film music (and guitarist with the group Arepos at the end of the eighties). Their first EP, Tabla Magma Bongo, came out in 1998. However Hidehiko Urayama doesn’t play live, his amazing vocal collages all studio work. So Asa-Chang & Junray took on a third member in 2000, U-Zhaan, a peerless tabla player who spends half his time in India following the teachings of the master Ustad Zakir Hussain.

The track ‘Hana’ got Asa-Chang & Junray a reputation outside Japan and an album of the same name was released in England on The Leaf Label, to much critical acclaim. John Peel played ‘Hana’ on his show on BBC Radio 1 and in 2002 the album was voted fourth best album of the year by magazine, The Wire. It was also in the top 40 albums of the year in Mojo that year. In Japan in 2004, the track ‘Senaka’, a collaboration with singer Kyoko Koizumi, gave the band wider exposure. ‘Senaka’ was also remixed by Rei Harakami on the album Minna No Junray, out in 2005.

Disturbingly sensitive, Asa-Chang & Junray have invented a new music that is played at ground level on woven straw mats or in the middle of gardens. It is difficult to qualify, cinematic, almost excessively expressive. The group occasionally works with the dance troupe, Idevian Crew. Asa-Chang also plays with the jazz band Asa-Chang & Blue Hearts, and UZhaan can be found in the company of various different musicians, L?K?O amongst them, with who he released a debut album, Borsha Kaal Breaks, under the name Oigoru in 2008.

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

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Applehead

Applehead

Tokyo toy-pop icons, Mayutan, Candy and Fredy are surrounded by little children. Their universe, peopled by fantastic characters and fluffy men gave birth to Applehead, who transform nursery rhymes into FM hits with comparable efficiency. Disappearing behind virtual doubles, letting images take care of the dance, they fade away into dreamland.

Since his childhood, Mayutan has been so passionate about music that she was not happy just to listen to it : she very quickly developed a taste for imitation, playing and dancing to what he parents where listening to. Little bits of naive, fantasy choreography that was soon backed up by her own recordings onto cassette. At that time, she realized that she could work with sounds, play with her voice, express herself and, above all, let out all the energy that was inside her.

As part of the discothèque family, discs by DEVO, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Jun Togawa (one of the first Japanese artistes to play the pseudo pop singer in the techno pop style at the start of the eighties) were to have a lasting influence on her. Since her adolescence, the Lolita-like timbre of her voice and her numerous disguises made her reputation from her very first appearances on stage.

A techno-pop trio

Very quickly, Mayutan found the right combination that would allow her to develop her vocal and her stage talent : a techno-pop trio ! Joined by Fredy and Candy who arrange the songs for her, by mixing the spirit of the early Eighties with the sounds of the start of this century. The trio uses toy guitars and electronic snare drums to create a strange, fun-filled universe which is specific to them.

Their live performances are accompanied by the projection of manga-type cartoons. "Very quickly, artistes from the new Japanese scene such as ASTRO-B, Hi-Posi, Techma and Yuichi Kishino were collaborating on their albums and joining them on stage. Versatile, Mayutan also produces pop music for children and her voice is often used in for advertising. However, it is at a concert that she has to be seen! Her childhood disguises have not been consigned to the wardrobe – far from it! As she says, "Applehead’s music comes from a world that is not human, halfway between childhood and the world of animals..."

© 2006 text: Franck Stofer, photo: Albane Laure

Download Applehead on: iTunes, HearJapan, Juno Download

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Akane Hosaka

Akane Hosaka

Akane Hosaka’s lunging rhythms and deliciously retro melodies hook you into a universe of gleeful wallabies, little drummer boy monkeys and motley robots; think Yellow Magic Orchestra reworked by Jacno, a Web 2.0 style 21st century referencing of the Sixties precursors of electro.

Strangely, images are the initial source of Akane Hosaka’s musical inspiration. Landscape, exhibitions and children’s books; images that become emotions which evoke the music she then transcribes. She is particularly sensitive to the graphic forms and architectural fantasy of artists such as Keiji Ito, Archigram and Bruno Munari. And just try questioning her on the stop-motion films of sixties and seventies France! It takes a true expert to catch her out on Colargol (Barnaby or Jeremy the Bear in the English-speaking world), The Magic Roundabout and Chapi-Chapo.

Overly nostalgic? What?! Akane Hosaka was simply born in another space/time continuum and has a penchant for the glory years when artists with unlimited imagination cleared whole expanses of creative ground. Same goes for her musical influences: Raymond Scott, Perrey & Kingsley and Dick Hyman have pride of place, but pretty much anything relating to the golden age of analogue synthesizers gets a ticket. Akane Hosaka has taken this stuff in, processed it and is now turning it out in an interpretation of her current cosmology. Tune in for musical reworkings of daily incidents in the life of…

Akane Hosaka is a naturally reserved performer and her concerts are rare, precious and sometimes destabilizing because of the contrast between the playful music and the austerity of her onstage persona. But here is a perfectionist, a sort of blacksmith in the smithy, most at ease honing her electronic compositions in the studio. She says, “Making sound has been my all consuming passion since I was a kid and I think about little else. Composition has become second nature for me.” She shuns strict labelling of her music, resisting being categorised as “electronic pop” and preferring to allow her imagination free rein.

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

Download Akane Hosaka on: iTunes, Hear Japan, Beatport, Juno Download

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Aural Vampire

Aural Vampire

Exo-Chica, fiery blond, incisors bared, poses in front of a heavy velvet drape. Raveman stares out from behind her, all electric-red stare. This Tokyo-based outfit are Aural Vampire, a classic beauty-and-the-beast pairing who’re behind some highly contagious tunes and well on the way to conquering the planet.

The meeting between vampire songstress, Exo-Chica, and the manic-electronic Raveman (think Jason from Friday the 13th, think an uptight Darth Vader, but uptight!) was always going to be explosive. After a maxi, Vampire Ecstasy, in 2004 and a single release, Death Folder, in 2005, Aural Vampire have now brought out their first album, Zoltank (2010) on Japanese major Avex.

Labelled synth pop / dark wave, Aural Vampire’s work is a real mash-up. Exo-Chica is a fan of popular Japanese song genres such as kayokyoku or enka, while Raveman finds inspiration in German techno and dance. The formula makes for a weird, catchy mix, some sort of of J-pop electronica that contrasts with their macabre imagery to give an exhilarating live show. On stage, Raveman plays the rascal, lining up absurd gags to knock the beautiful Exo-Chica out of her stride.

Aural Vampire are perfectionists and leave nothing to chance. From the conception of the graphics for their discs, to their stage dress, everything is given careful consideration. While at times they’re reminiscent of Japanese comic book characters, Exo-Chica and Raveman shouldn’t be confused with role players from the world of cosplay. Think, rather, industrial and goth. Think cross-dressing, fetishism and horror.

“In horror films, you obviously get all those cries of fear but there’s also a certain beauty and tension. It’s this ensemble we want to express. If any one of these elements were missing, the balance would be gone,” says Raveman. Raveman’s music is chiselled and precise, techno-pop that makes references to 1980s new wave, giving, at times, unrelenting results: see tracks such as ‘Shonan Zoku’ or ‘Darkwave Surfer’.

To get more of an idea of where he’s coming from, it’s also worth giving Raveman’s solo project, Futon Disco, a listen. “Aural Vampire is consciously pop. Futon Disco’s personal. Futon Disco gives him the outlet he needs to stop him burning up. It’s crucial for his mental health.” (Exo-Chica).

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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