Neo Kei

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


Yasuda Rei’s First Album Distributed Digitally Worldwide

21 year old Yasuda Rei has released her first album Will. And it has now been made available outside of Japan on iTunes to 44 countries, including Brazil, Canada, USA, Sweden, UK, the Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Macau, Fiji, Egypt and Qatar.

This feels like a news worthy item and yet shouldn’t be. I’ve seen the gap between the music available on the Japanese iTunes and UK iTunes, so it’s great that there’s more music available from new artists and their first albums. But on the other hand, why should it be so shocking? In this 21st century where international news travels so much quicker than before and the access to information and culture has increased, why should it not be natural to have this level of access to Japanese music?

But for now I guess it’s importance to celebrate this level of global music distribution. Also my guess is that the more Japanese music is bought in the UK, the amount of Japanese music available will increase. Albums from artists such as Dir En Grey is already available in UK stores like HMV. Wouldn’t it be great if there was Japanese acts scattered across the different music sections? There must be a point where the origin of the music stops being the definition of the music and songs can be recognised as pop, folk or rock regardless of whether it came from the US, Japan, Fiji or Sweden.

Have a listen to Mirror, one of the songs from the album

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Original image from http://idolminded.com/


AKB48 resume performances at Akihabara Theater

Thankfully AKB48 have resumed their performances at the Akihabara Theater.

It’s great when UK news station report on Japanese artists. But it’s such a shame that it had to be over a vicious attack. If you need a reminder, here’s how the UK newspaper The Independent reported it.

I won’t pretend to understand the details of the Japanese music industry, but it’s very admirable how the idol group hold performances at the theater nearly day. I’m sure this is a big revenue stream for them, and with the number of members in the group it would be important/fair to give each member chances to perform. But how many Anglo-American bands do you know who would perform that much? Performance is a very important foundation for AKB48.

When I started reading Tokyo Girls Update article, I was surprised at the level of increased security to the venue. Not just the increase  in security staff (from 8 to 17 on the first day) but also the addition of elements like metal detectors (well that’s understandable), iron railings and restricting access to the first rows. However that was before I saw images of the Theater and where the girls perform. There are no barriers to begin with and it looks like a metre or two between the stage and the first row. That’s extremely close. I can’t remember ever going to a concert or gig where  I could be that close. If you did manage to navigate the multiple barriers, blocks and raised staging the security guards would have already seen you coming and drop on you like a ton of bricks.

I will be very careful to try and not make any judgments. Their music is very accessible, energetic, upbeat pop. In UK it should be said that pop acts that sound and look like this would be considered just for children. It probably is appreciated by all generations. But in the audience photos there is a very recognisable social demographic, some of these girls are not even yet 20 and can easily attract unwanted attention. If the girls were nervous about going back on that stage as it was I can completely understand. As young women they deserve to not be harassed, be treated with respect and protected to allow to do fulfill their musical dreams

When I do visit Japan, one of the numerous things I will have to do and if I’m in the area is to see one of their performance. They are a dominating force in the industry and one of the most influential and popular idol groups in history!

You can read Tokyo Girls Update’s article on AKB48 resuming performances here.

 

Be Genki


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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Pika Pika Fantajin Artwork and Tracklist

I’m really looking forward to hearing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s new album!

Japan Addict INA

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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has made a name for herself for being a quirky chameleon. It’s no surprise then that the cover artwork to her upcoming album “Pika Pika Fantajin” would feature her in outrageous poses. In one she even posed with, what do you know, a chameleon.

Along with the artworks, Kyary has also announced the full tracklist and bonus items to the album out July 9. The two limited editions will each carry different live footage from her “NANDA COLLECTION WORLD TOUR 2014”. Including behind the scenes and clips of Kyary enjoying her break, these footages can be considered as a sequel to the “100%KPP WORLD TOUR 2013 OFFICIAL DOCUMENTARY”, released this January.

Moreover, Kyary left this message to her fans:

This album is cute and packed with lots of shiny and sparkly stuff! A lot of the songs on this album are new, and written especially for this…

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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.


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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 

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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.


Neo Kei – 18 Jul 2012

Hi Minna,

How’s it going? More varied slices of news this week, including varied activities from artists and big news from Koda Kumi.

Artist News

  • In the lead up to the release of their Pachinko Game, members from the AKB, SKE, and HKT teams will form the new unit Team Surprise.
  • AKB48 member Kashiwagi Yuki has been appointed as the Satsuma ambassador, promoting her hometown Kagoshima.
  • Chemical Pictures will resume activities with a new mini-album.
  • Since CHEMISTRY has gone on hiatus, Kawabata Kaname will be going solo.
  • GRAPEVINE will celebrate their 15th anniversary with their 1st best of album, and their opening track list suggestions to fan voting.
  • On 18/07/2012 Koda Kumi has given birth to her first child, a baby boy.
  • HiGE member Suto Hisashi has launched his solo project, using the live name Suto Hisashi GATALI ACOUSTIC SET.
  • Tohoshinki have become the best selling international artist in Japan.

Live News

  • After the success of their live broadcast and their limited DVD release, exist†trace will be re-broadcasting their Just Like a Virgin live on 20/07/2012.
  • On 15/07/2012 GLAY members TERU and TAKURO hosted an impromptu live for disaster victims in Minamisanriku, Miyagi.
  • Goto Mariko will host her one-man live ‘299792458 TOUR  in Osaka and Tokyo in November.
  • Miyavi will be streaming his Day 1 “Premium Live” on 21/07/2012 through his YouTube channel.
  • On 17/07/2012 Momoiro Clover Z performed at an all-boys school to motivate the students.

Release News

  • 25/07/2012 B’z B’z (first English album)
  • 01/08/2012, 24/09/2012 THE MICRO HEAD 4N’SA BEGINNING FROM THE END (first album’s Japanese release, European release through Bishi-Bishi).
  • 08/08/2012 NMB48 – Virginity (single)
  • 08/08/2012 SMAP – GIFT of SMAP (album)
  • 08/08/2012 Ayumi HamasakiA Summer Best (compliation album)
  • 15/08/2012 AKB481830m. (album)
  • 22/08/2012 TOKIO – 17 (first new album in 6 years)
  • 29/08/2012, 11/09/2012 Tackey & Tsubasato-be-titled (single), to-be-titled (album)
  • 29/08/2012 YUKI – Watashi no negai goto (single)
  • 29/08/2012 Kiyokiba Shunsuke – Fighting Man (single)
  • 29/08/2012 GOTCHAROCKAHydrag (first single)
  • 05/09/2012 FLOWBraBlue (single)
  • 05/09/2012 Blitz – Wish World Rainbow (first single)
  • 05/09/2012 Plastic Tree – Shion (single)
  • 12/09/2012 ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATIONLandmark (album)
  • 12/09/2012 SUGIZO – STAIRWAY to The FLOWER OF LIFE (live DVD)
  • 12/09/2012 BUMP OF CHICKENfirefly (single)
  • 19/09/2012 MERRY – MERRY VERY BEST – Shiroi Hitsuji / Kuroi Hitsuji – (best of album)
  • 19/09/2012 Porno Graffitti – KAGEBOUSHI (single)
  • 19/09/2012 BUCK-TICKyumemiru uchuu (first album release through their label Lingua Sounda)
  • 26/09/2012 Girugamesh(to-be-titled) (single)
  • 26/09/2012 BLACK LINELEGNA (single)

Be Genki (^o^)y


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Neo Kei – 27 June 2012

Hi Minna,

How you doing? Actually this week it seems to be all about the releases. Good sign at least for new music!

Release News

  • 20/06/2012 Dream MORNING MUSUME – Dream MORNING MUSUME. Special LIVE 2012 Nippon Budokan ~ 1st Chapter Closed [Yuusha Touch, Shuugou Seyo]~ (live DVD)
  • 04/07/2012 NoGoDTHE 10TH ATTACK ~LIVE TOUR 2012 THE 10TH GAME -FINAL- (first live DVD)
  • 11/07/2012 Called≠Plan Yozora Lion (single with 3 versions)
  • 25/07/2012 ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – Soredewa, Mata Ashita (single)
  • 25/07/2012 Watanabe MayuOtona Jelly Beans (single with 4 versions)
  • 25/07/2012 NICO Touches the Walls – Ground of HUMANIA 2012.3.20 IN MAKUHARI (live DVD)
  • 01/08/2012 Kimura KaelaKAELA WEB TOUR 2012 @ Nippon Budokan (live DVD)
  • 15/08/2012 D=OUThigh collar (mini album with 3 versions)
  • 22/08/2012 AYABIEANSWER (first major album)
  • 22/08/2012 POLYSICS – Lucky Star (single with 2 versions)
  • 22/08/012 & 29/08/2012 Buono!(to-be-titled) (mini-album with 2 versions),  CLIPS Vol.2 (PV DVD)
  • 29/08/2012 sakanaction – Yoru no odoroko (single)
  • 05/09/2012 KameleoKensaku Kekka 0 (single)
  • 19/09/2012 SuG – sweeToxic (single with 4 versions)
  • 26/09/2012 Kra – Kakusei distortion (single with 2 versions)

Live News

  • exist†trace will be releasing their Just Like A Virgin live DVD for a limited period.
  • Golden Bomber are asking fans to submit their own dance videos to 女々しくて / Memeshikute for the chance to see them live.
  • MAN WITH A MISSION will play 4 dates for their US tour.
  • On 23/06/2012 MEG hosted her one man live (shouldn’t that be one woman :P) 10TH ANNIVERSARY PARTY ‘Arrivee” at Tokyo’s SHIBUYA-AX.
  • Sendai Kamotsu (Nightmare’s alter ego band) and Golden Bomber have been added to the Kishidan Banpaku festival line up.
  • SPYAIR hosted a guerilla live on 26/06/2012, which they called Road to Nippon Budokan.

And finally;

  • HearJapan, the Japanese music digital download store will close on 30/06/2012 after 5 years. So with one less outlet, make sure you support your legal distributors of Japanese music.

Be Genki (^o^)y