Neo Kei

For fans of Japanese Popular Music. From para para to visual kei and every genre inbetween!


Leave a comment

Doki Doki 2017

I can’t believe this Saturday will be at Doki Doki Festival!

DOKIDOKIPROMOTIONAL2017

I’m very lucky to have been invited to perform once again at the Japanese Festival in local Manchester. I will be creating the soundtrack to the day in amongst the amazing enka, martial arts, drumming and idol performances. I will also be part of the After Party hosted by the Manchester University Anime Society with live music, games and competitions (you might see me having a go including my sets!)

Tickets are still available to buy online until Friday and then can be bought on the door.

There will be a plethora of artists selling their custom artwork, maid cafes, sellers with the most kawaii accessories, chibi characters, your favourite anime collectibles, official merchandise and more to buy. There’ll be so many competitions including language, gaming, and fashion/cosplay (show off all your hard work on your outfit!). Also there’s lots of panels and speakers on both modern and traditional aspects of Japanese culture, including Shinto, Buddhist and Summer Festivals in Japan, Ghost in the Shell and Japanese Calligraphy demonstrations.

And there’s so much more to see and do in Doki Doki, you really need to check out the full website of events or the Facebook page to stay up to date with everything.

Not only is Doki Doki such a fun place to be, proceeds will be donated to their supported charity, Aid for Japan, to continue the long-term help needed for orphans from the dreadful 2011 Tohoku disaster.

The programme can be found here and here is the map of the festival so you can quickly navigate to your favourite stalls, talk with experts and find that perfect cosplay photo location

I will be posting as many photos and videos as my phone battery and data allowance will allow!

What do you want to have as the soundtrack to your festival? Have you got any requests you want to hear in my sets? Leave a comment below or post on my Facebook page

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Latest iTunes Purchases

So I mentioned that I’d bought a few songs recently when I wrote about my experiences with Japanese iTunes. Sorry it took me over 2 weeks to follow that post up with the music. But I haven’t been able to listen to the songs much, so for me they are still new, so that counts a little.

1) Gift  – ET-King

Watch Gift – ET-King

I hadn’t heard of this song or this group before. But I knew I wanted to buy the song when I knew it was hip-hop. I do like Japanese hip-hop, one of the reasons being that I like the vocal delivery and timings, it seems to work really well with the Japanese syllables. Of course that doesn’t mean that Japanese lyrics won’t have some of the same Anglo-American topics like sex, women, crime and money. But I don’t think I’ve come across any (although I wouldn’t know unless they drop in English words or I translate it!). I haven’t been able to find the English lyrics for this song. But I think it’s a song about appreciation, gratitude and celebrating life.

 2) 深夜高速 – フラワーカンパニーズ (Fast Midnight – Flower Company)

This is a group that I haven’t heard of before, so I’m relying on what information I can find online about them. They’re originally from Nagoya, which I really like because my friends spent their university year abroad in Nagoya and although I haven’t been myself they had such great experiences there. They’ve released music under both major and indie labels. I do find it very interesting how big bands can choose to remain on a indie label for such a long time. I’d like to learn about about Japanese labels and how they work differently to UK labels (seems like every label is owned by one of the major companies like Sony BMG or EMI). They released a lot of material in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but it looks like they’ve releasing new material and performing at festivals such as ap bank fes. Of course I didn’t know any of this before buying the song, I went on instinct based on what I heard in the short preview. I like how the verses were more stripped back before the instruments gain intensity in the choruses. I also thought the vocal delivery was interesting, not the melodic type and not the screamo/rock type but somewhere more in the middle. When I watched the video I had images of Oasis and Kasabian with his rock swagger attitude.

3) maruche – KICK THE CAN CREW

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the PV or a suitable video. If you search for the song you will probably find an AMV (Anime Music Video). What first struck me about this song was the Latin sample. I feel like I should recognise it, or it just might be typical of the Latin sound. Again it’s another hip-hop track that I wanted to add to my collection. When I play/record my mixes I’m always on trying to represent as many genres as possible, in order to show just how diverse Japanese music is. Whilst I did start off with some R’n’B/hip hop artists, they were more female singers like Koda Kumi or Namie Amuro. So the more hip hop acts I can get the better I feel about my mixes. What I realised when looking online for the video was that one of the members of KICK THE CAN CREW was KREVA, who is now an established rapper. He’s on the song STRONG – MIYAVI vs KREVA which I absolutely adore! It’s probably one of my top three Japanese songs of all time, so I implore you to have a listen to STRONG.

4) My Sunshine (2012 remaster) – ROCK’A’TRENCH

As soon as I heard this I thought I recognised it as a anime theme. There are some songs that just sound typical of rom-com / shojo programmes.  When I looked for the PV online I worked out where the song was from. It was the OP for a drama called Mei-chan no Shitsuji (Mei’s Bulter) which definitely falls under the shojo category and I will admit I watched (everyone needs escapism!). I have watched a lot of anime and dramas but for this one to be memorable shows the song stands on it’s own merits. It has that positive affirming style that will sound good this summer. The rest of their catalogue judging from their other PVs is more in the ska style, so they’re worth checking out.

5) B-Dash (Hanagoe Version) – tongarikids

I nearly debated using a different video, because I thought the PV looked ridiculous. To cut down the amount of ridiculous time, start the video at 1:16 when the music starts.  That being said, it quite a ridiculous song, but sometimes that’s what everyone needs. And this was a very very big song at the time.  The initial reason I bought was that I recognised the sample being used. I won’t say what it is as a small test! 😉

I thought it would be a great song even with a short edit, because of it’s techno sound and the sample. I would say based on the people that I know, that even if they’re not a fan of Japanese music, they are fans of gaming, so this would definitely make them pay attention.

6) グロテスク – 平井 堅 グロテスク feat. 安室奈美恵 (Grotesque – Ken Hirai feat Namie Amuro)

Watch Grotesque – Ken Hirai feat Namie Amuro

I saw Namie Amuro on the artwork and was instantly intrigued. Ever since I was introduced to Japanese music Namie Amuro was one of my favourite female singers. Her R’n’B/Hip Hop was similar to the kind of Anglo-American singers I listen to and her songs were great to sing along to (well attempt to, again I say I do not know Japanese!). Also I really liked her voice and style (it’s very rare that she’s not wearing knee high boots). I had a listen to the sample (as I do before every purchase) and really liked the high energy and sound. I also searched for the video and once Ken Hirai appeared I realised who he was. Although I don’t have a lot of the music, I know he’s been in the industry for a number of years and he has a very distinctive style (the white outfit with the hat wasn’t that surprising). The song is channeling the current house/dub step trend, this will definitely be included in future Neo Kei mixes.

7) AKB48 恋するフォーチュンクッキー (Koi Suru Fortune Cookie / Fortune Cookie In Love)

Ah yes, that one.

I didn’t learn about this song through the artist but instead through the fan videos. Not knowing the song, I was rather confused about why the AKB48 official channel was sharing all these videos. And then I realised they were all for the same song. These fans seem to love the song and love the opportunity to recreate the para para (dance routine). Plus in the official PV lots of people are performing AKB48 are teaching the moves (I think the orchestra and the kendo students are the funniest!). So again it’s very easy and tempting to fans to replicate the video. I won’t share all the fan videos, but there is an Australian version, a Venice version, an Enka version, one by Japanese fashion label Samantha Thavasa but I think you must see the Kanagawa Prefecture version 

And you HAVE to see the AKB48 staff version (who I actually think are the best dancers!)

Have you mastered the whole routine? Or have you found a better parody video? I’d love for you to post them in the comments section below.

 

I wouldn’t have gotten into Japanese music without the recommendations from my friends, and I will always welcome new suggestions. So if you think there’s some music you want to share or some recommendations based on these songs then please post them in the comments too.

 

Be Genki!


My thoughts on Japanese iTunes

It had been a while since I bought any music, so I went onto the Japanese iTunes to find some new songs to add to my collection.

On UK iTunes I like to take advantage of the ‘Single of the Week’, where they give away a free song from an up-and-coming artist or artist with new material (previous artists include Alex Clare, Foxes, Naughty Boy and Tom Odell). So I had a little look around to see if I could find something similar. Then I spotted a section that had 00’s songs for 150 yen (87 pence approx), compared with 250 yen (£1.46 approx).

Yes the songs on Japanese iTunes are more expensive than the UK. But the UK has extremely few Japanese songs. For instance AKB48 (one of the biggest idol groups) only had 1 song, and that was only because they were on the ‘Wreck-It-Ralph’ soundtrack. There some new tracks I could find, which really helped me when I started DJing. But I couldn’t guarantee I would find the songs I wanted, and whether they were still current (no point buying a MIYAVI track 3 months after it was released in Japan). And even if I discovered an artist that I really liked (like Capsule or Aural Vampire), I wouldn’t be able to find any of their back catalogue. So the Japanese iTunes account is brilliant to have access to any artist I want.

Also I don’t have to worry about have to import music. Before iTunes I was purchasing my music through YesAsia. I do think it’s a brilliant site for the amount and variety of stock they have. But you pay the cost of importing. Literally. The prices are so much higher for albums and singles. For instance just looking on the site now, the most recent single of a artist I could find was SID’s  ENAMEL (Normal Edition)(Japan Version) is on sale at $14.25 (£8.44 approx). And that doesn’t include the DVD extras or photobooks they like to include. I couldn’t afford the latest music, so I would look at the reduced items of artists that I thought would be popular, even if the songs had been out of the charts for a while. I’d also buy music in bulk, because firstly it would take about 2-3 weeks at least to arrive, and also the purchases had to be over $39 to qualify for free shipping (which I’ve recently learnt can really bite, but more on that later).

I am still a traditionalist and I like to own the physical CD (but oddly I’ve never been interested in vinyl). So if I want to buy an album of an artist I really like, I will still want to buy it in the future. But as much as I love owning as much music as possible, it’s not practical to buy a physical single at over 5 times the cost of a download song. Plus, whilst I might get 3/4 songs with the physical, half of them might be instrumentals or TV edits (because songs are so often TV OPs) and really what people will want to hear is the actual single, not the extra song that came with it. iTunes allows me to buy the 1 song that I know I will include in my mixes (or at least heavily listen to and build my own musical knowledge), so I’d say that  purchase would have a 100% success rate, compared with may 25-30% with a physical single.

I ended up buying 7 songs. I wanted to talk about them all, and what was meant to be a very short introduction into Japanese iTunes turned into another one of my short opinion pieces! So I’ll share this first and write a separate post that just focuses on the music.


Leave a comment

Reviving the Neo Kei blog

I was really surprised at the positive reaction to my Kyary Pamyu Pamyu article a couple of weeks ago. I’ll call it an article because I wrote a lot more than I expected!

 

I got praise and encouragement from my friends. And a big surprise was getting a real comment. I had been deleting the spam comments for so long I’d forgotten what they should be like!

 

So it’s encouraging to do more, even if it’s little and often. I was so keen on being a source of information and bringing together all the exciting news pieces, that I wasn’t being any different than a search engine.

I’m also going to vary the types of posts I make. So I might reshare a news article, then I might share a new PV and share my reactions. I might talk about favourite acts, new acts or my early introductions to Japanese music. I have a Japanese iTunes account, so when I buy a new song, I’ll tell you about it and my reasons why. I also will finally share my DJ mixes. I’ve sporadically performed over the last few years but haven’t been able to tell anyone else about them. I was very excited when I crafted these mixes as I loved the songs and was really happy that I could cross the genres I did within my sets. So I’ll share those, and also make smaller mixes of earlier more recent songs or certain genres.

 

I think I didn’t take for granted the importance that my early ‘teachers’ had in introducing me to the music, but I think I didn’t realise the amount of information I have about Japanese music. Probably not as much as someone actually living in Japan, or a reviewer who’s a lot more involved in the scene. But what I do know helps me in my new song choices, DJ mixes and choosing which news articles to share. And ultimately it will help me to better share information about Japanese music. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted, to share and to help those who are new to the music like I was helped in the beginning.

 

I hope you look forward to more posts from Neo Kei.

 

Be genki!

 

 


Leave a comment

Reaction to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu article in Austrailian Guardian

I happened to look at the Guardian website and I saw this article Kyary Pamyu Pamyu tinges J-pop’s cuteness with a touch of horror show. My instant reaction was “YES! Recognition for Japanese music in the Western hemisphere!” But the more I read it the more it frustrated me.

Firstly I don’t like the use of the words unsettling or grotesque. Yes there are some horror themes (especially appropriate for her PV Fashion Monster) 

But how is “running down a grey suburban street in pink platform boots with a slice of dry toast in her mouth” subversive (watch CANDY CANDY from about 0:14 to get the reference) 

Also she’s not as obsessed with horror as the article implies. If you watch her latest single (which isn’t, 2013’s Mottai Night Land as quoted in the article) but Yume no Hajima-Ring Ring from February 2014, you’ll find a very sweet song about graduation and growing up. What can be horrific about a polar bear playing guitar?!

Lady Gaga at GlastonburyIt should be a known fact that an artist’s earliest release may not be a true reflection of their artistry. It’s common to spot people like Christina Aguilera be guided by their label to what would sell and fit the market, gain the record sales and recogotion before changing the style and sound to what they actually want to do. I’m not saying that this happened to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. But she has been releasing singles for 3 years, it’s unfair to compare everything she does to her first songs. What if people constantly compared Lady Gaga to her glitter ball, Ziggy thunder bolt, disco stick past?

Yes she is similar to Lady Gaga as a female singer with strong visuals and creative expression. Kyary started in the industry as a fashion blogger and model so of course she’s going to have a strong sense of style. Also there are other performers that “grew up as the only child of disciplinarian parents” and either did become more extrovert in their style or just didn’t. It’s not an explanation for why she’s this creative in her looks, or a reason to dismiss how she can be this creative.

If you look at the rest of Japanese music, all bands have a very strong use of aesthetic, and in some genres like Visual Kei, it’s almost mandatory! If you’re engaged in Japanese music, you’ll soon realise that it’s part of the culture to have high value on the costumes, PVs, live staging etc. It’s an extension of their creativity. If you’re truly aware of Japanese music, you’ll realise quickly that the exaggerated costumes and images is part and parcel of the music and things stop being as shocking. I mean, my earliest introduction to Japanese music was this video! 

You react to seeing men in women’s clothing, crazy dancer costumes etc for about 2 seconds, and then you get over it and get back to enjoying the music.

Having said all that, the imagery doesn’t always reflect the music. Especially when more acts can bounce between the genre lines and aren’t pigeon holed, you can never assume the genre based on their looks. For instance if I said there was a three piece girl vocal dance group, you’ll probably think they have some very sugary, poppy cute music, right? Obviously you haven’t heard of BABYMETAL 

.

Yeah. I’ve yet to get my head around this.

But back to the article. “There are indications of a western pop influence upon Kyary’s videos”. Yes that’s easy to say about a lot of Japanese music and culture. There is a heavy mix use of English in lyrics, song titles and act names. It’s possible to say that until the influx of Western music after the Second World War and then the influence of Eighties rock bands, the Japanese music industry didn’t exist. One of the biggest Japanese acts of all time, X JAPAN, might not have happened if it wasn’t for Western acts like KISS to influence them. The characteristics of Japanese R’n’B and Hip Hop are strong similarities to their Western counterparts. And one of the biggest fashion styles in Japan, Lolita, has obvious ties to the Victorian era.

If you search for Japanese music on YouTube your first results are enka, shamisen and other types of traditional music. Kyary’s first song PON PON PON is only 18th on the search list. This probably does reflect the general impression of Japanese music in the Western world. It’s why when I talk about my interest in the music I have to quickly explain it’s the rock/pop/R’n’B that I’m interested in.

But when they say that Lady Gaga influenced elements like the masks in Tsukematsukeru it’s really frustrating. The ones wearing the masks (appearing at 2:24) are representations of Kitsune, foxes from Japanese mythology that are often represented with masks. The masks have come from Kyary’s own culture, not adopted from the Western world.

Can I explain all the references and elements of her videos? Of course not! Some elements have grounding in anime, fashion, sci-fi etc. I’m not a particularly arty or cultural person, but I would say that not all art can be referenced, explained or identifiable. You just accept and enjoy it as it is.

Kyary says “I always look up to artists who blend their music with fashion, and I want to be one … I am not just trying to imitate what they are doing. I want to express my own version of music and fashion with a happy spirit.” Is that a universal opinion of musicians? Who doesn’t acknowledge their influences, their predecessors, but who doesn’t intend to be their own auteur?

It is great what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is doing in raising the profile of Japanese music outside of the country. But it’s very narrow minded to just base the reactions based on Western comparisons, like Katy and Lady Gaga, and on a few known elements of Japanese culture, like Harajuku (even that might not be known of if it wasn’t for Gwen Stefani’s Love.Angel.Music.Baby album). Kyary is a gateway to learn more about the richness and depth of Japanese popular music.