Acidclank is a stunning Indie Rock/Pop project worth listening to

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I’m still pretty new to the indie and underground scenes of Japan. In the last few months, I tried to explore these worlds as much as possible, making some great discoveries that made my research for new and almost unknown groups wonderfully rewarding. I’m starting to think the real treasure of Japanese music, the one I wrongly claimed to have found six years ago, is actually hidden in small clubs and underground bars lost in the suburbs of Japan’s cities.

As if to give strength to this, a few days ago I received an email from Yota, young singer and guitarist of the Indie rock outfit Acidclank. As regular self promotion from these groups, I found a Bandcamp link and in the message… and man, I’m so glad this guy contacted me. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this is some of the best music I listened so far this year.

Acidclank self-released two records: the 2015 full length Inner, and the EP Night In, released just a month ago. While the first greatly implements British rock/Shoegaze influences and successfully exposes the talent of this guy in composing valuable tracks, the latter is the one that got me totally hooked: Composed by two tracks, Night In is a brief but extremely pleasant experience, and one that will catch you in no time. The soothing title track, made of delicate acoustic riffs and electric guitar melodies, traps the listener in a mood that could fit a late night walk in Osaka’s Namba district, or in the district of Shinjuku beautifully represented in the record’s cover. The distant vocals, the rich but not invasive arrangement, and the overall vibe of the track, makes Night In one of the best tunes I heard in recent times. The upbeat Yolna delicately leans on the electronic side, with digital beats and fresh synths balanced by a great progression of acoustic chords, keeping itself close to the previous works of the band with distant and filtered vocals.

Acidclank is a valid and talented group that deserves your attention: While the first album is a great piece of work that doesn’t hide its well adapted influences, Night In is an heartfelt and pleasant EP, that gives hope for a future album featuring a fresh and enjoyable sound.

Be sure to listen and freely download Acidclank’s music on Bandcamp, and let me know what you think about it down here in the comments!

– Alex

 

JAPANESE CHRONICLES | How music connects people in Japan

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It was December 25th 2013 in Shinjuku. After the final epic date of Perfume’s LEVEL3 Dome Tour, I decided to go alone for dinner and then chill at the hotel for a while, to relax a moment and decide what to do later. But time passed, and right before I was going to sleep, I received a message from a friend of mine that asked to join him in a Perfume party in Shinjuku, just near my hotel. Of course I accepted immediately, and in a minute I was out in the cold of the wonderful Tokyo night. Once I met with him, we reached the place where the party already started: It was an underground place in one of the main streets near Studio Alta, and after we entered and walked down the stairs, we reached a room with a bar, a small dance floor, and about fifteen people: There was a DJ playing Perfume’s songs and also videos on all the walls, for a pretty calm but cool atmosphere. In just half an hour, though, the situation got way hotter as more DJs joined the party and the volume started to rise, and so I ended up half drunk dancing with people I had never met before, laughing and singing like there was no tomorrow, and as grand finale, everyone took positions and started dancing to Akihabalove all together in perfect synchronization; It was an incredible sight, and seeing them having so much fun and sharing the same passion and love for this group has been exciting and wonderful. It was pure and genuine fun, and yes, everything was full of love.

Another funny episode happened with some friends in a rock bar in Shibuya called Rockaholic, where you can sit down, have a drink, and request songs to the DJ while rock and metal music blasts your ears. It was a Saturday night, so around 11pm all the people inside the bar was so drunk that madness took over the place and everyone started to jump, scream and hug (?) each other to tracks of groups like Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. It was kinda sudden, really, but so beautiful that I didn’t even wondered why: I just enjoyed it. I went back there alone once and still had a blast, chatted with a girl for a while and failed in getting her contact, literally drank and screamed like a mad man with the guys at the bar (that broke three bottles in ten minutes) and met an US army dude outside the bar, where we talked about life and our futures.

I’ll never see all those people again, but instead of being sad about it, I believe that’s what makes these experiences so special. Because while I’m here miles away from them writing alone in this room and aware they all probably forgot about me, they’re still part of the reason why I travel to Japan and love its music and people so much. Little experiences make great memories, and music is the bond that creates and keeps them together, and music is everywhere in Japan: Like a world inside a world, a secret place where to share our passion and have fun, while the entire city outside keeps its eyes on everyone and takes care of us at the same time.

You don’t only listen to music in Japan. You live it.

– Alex

Japanese labels, Music Videos and Singles: The nonsense marketing that will unavoidably end

I could spend all day listing all the things I love about Japanese music, and thankfully they represent a good 80% of the overall opinion I have on the world’s second biggest music market. The annoying facts representing the remaining percentage still come to bother me from time to time though, one of these represented by the controversial method of the Short Music Videos and all the nonsense marketing behind videos promoting Singles, a type of release still alive and pretty well in the Land of the Rising Sun.

If you’re familiar with Japanese music, you probably know the pattern used by pretty much most of the artists and labels: One or two weeks prior the release of a new single, a Short MV that usually varies from thirty seconds to two minutes is uploaded on the group’s YouTube channel in order to give the fans a sneak peek and “promote” the upcoming release, an uncommon method that rarely gets adopted in other music markets. While anticipations are always welcomed by fans, a question still automatically raises from everyone: Why not just upload the Full Music Video?

The answer is to search in the release itself. Most singles in the Japanese market come in two editions, Regular and Limited, the latter usually featuring a bonus DVD with the Full Music Video for the A-side track, and here’s where the problem lies. By uploading short MVs on the web, labels keep the Full videos exclusive (or so they think) to the above mentioned DVD, in the hope to boost sales for the most expensive version of the single. Now, let me ask you: how on earth is a low quality Music Video on DVD, an almost dead format created twenty years ago, the selling point of a release? Simply, it’s not. Yet labels are convinced this is a legit commercial method, and as a huge Perfume fan owning all their Limited Edition singles, I can tell you that I’ve never ever put one of those useless DVDs in a… oh wait, I don’t have a DVD reader since 2009.

It’s pretty clear that this dead format is a counter-productive choice for labels and an useless addition for fans. They just don’t need to be there anymore, except to make the price of a Limited Edition higher, or, more precisely, to be the Limited Edition. Singles are still a strong entity in Japan, so wouldn’t it just better for anyone to drop this DVD ridiculousness and for the sake of technology adopt Blu-Rays with real exclusive content and upload the Full videos on YouTube to gather new fans? Certain artists (mainly from the Idol world) started to feature Blu-Ray discs in singles with HD quality footage, while others are slowly starting to upload Full music videos to their channels (making the Limited DVDs absolutely useless) but still, it’s clear that the difficult relationship between Japanese labels and video quality and this thing called Internet is an actual problem afflicting way too many artists. There are still many official Music Videos released in low quality, and groups that heavily rely on visuals like Sakanaction and Perfume made the jump to high definition only in the last few months. Again, this year some niche artists like pop singer Ayami Muto released Live shows exclusively on DVD format shamelessly sold at the price of a Blu-Ray, for the will of labels milking money as much as possible without investing on the quality, which is unacceptable and also disrespectful other than being a commercial suicide. Fans are not stupid as labels like to think. Who on earth would pay 8,000 Yen for a 360p video in 2015? No one. So I hope they’ll realize that video quality is not a selling point for releases, where legit content in an acceptable video quality (for our times) is the only thing that matters if you really want to keep it old school and sell physical copies of singles.

I’d really love to see labels in Japan shifting away from this prehistoric method and start treating fans with more respect, a necessary move to make a step forward that would benefit for both sides. And even though they’ll keep going on with this ridiculous trend made of short Music Videos, 360p footage and DVDs, the Japanese industry will see itself shrinking in no time together with their “World’s second biggest music industry” title if they don’t start keeping up with times. This old school approach is a comfortable guarantee for easy cash, but people is not stupid, and no matter what, times will change in Japan too.

– Alex

The controversy of Music journalism in Japan

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I wrote my first review when I was thirteen. Back then my main passion were Videogames, a medium I still keep very close to myself today that now finds itself at the second place of the most influent art forms in my life, where Music now steadily holds the top of my personal list. I still remember those times clearly: I used to write the draft on paper to then rewrite the final review on my father’s Pentium 133mhz. At first I didn’t work for any website, so the only reason why I was doing it was to express my opinions on certain works and let my passion flow through words, where the impossibility of sharing my point of views in a small italian town where no one cared about this medium was weighing on me as much as today.

Fifteen years later, I’m writing articles and reviews in english about Japanese music. Since I discovered this industry five years ago, my point of view on this medium has changed drastically, formerly tied to the stereotypes that too often lurk in the Western markets. I found an open minded approach to this important form of art and a never-ending series of valid artists that gave new life to my passion for music and for a country I always loved since I was a child. After the initial period full of excitement and great discoveries, though, some controversies came to light, and as a passionate writer the first thing that I couldn’t avoid to notice was the worrying lack of information on music. I’m talking about the way Japanese music headlines cover music, a controversial scenario where every information seems to be available for everyone, but lacks in consistence and relevant content.

There are many examples that can be subject to analysis. Some of the most famous websites are news-only portals, usually tied to labels and companies to support breaking news and announcements of groups. It’s something mostly noticeable with triple A artists: whenever these acts make an announcement live, to make an example, the news is instantly up on these sites, showing an obvious link with labels showcased through brief articles written in a cold and systematic way that unavoidably make these headlines look like support bots to spread and promote artists under particular companies.  Updates are obviously a fundamental aspect in music journalism, and while even such sites are needed to spread basic informations on the industry’s happenings, news and interviews are pretty much the only source of music knowledge fans can get in Japan, except for a few english-written websites based in the country that offer a way more complete coverage. It’s understandable in a way: news take little time and can bring lots of visitors, making the vision of a a big audience gained in little time not far from reality, with the fame gained through this system acting as benefit for the websites that obtain an iconic status that people and artists alike rely to.

But what about articles regarding the many aspects and the state of the Japanese music industry? What about reviews analyzing music? That’s where the worst part kicks in.

Simply put, Japan doesn’t judge nor analyze its music and artists. No headline in the land of the rising sun will tell you if an album is good or bad, leading to the most disheartening scenario I’ve ever seen, which is people not caring about the quality of music. Someone would still buy the last Kyary Pamyu Pamyu single because of her huge popularity and not for the quality of the compositions featured in it, which is very low in this case. Another clear example is the case of Ayumi Hamasaki: one of the most famous and successful singers of Japan has seen a huge decline in popularity during the last years, yet, when asking for opinions about it to the fans, most complaints are aimed towards her age, her tormented sentimental life, her posts on twitter, and so on. Only few mention what actually is the reason behind it, which is overly uninspired music.

This obviously doesn’t mean people in Japan don’t have opinions on the quality of music. Many of them just don’t extern it. The cause of it is to search in the lack of an environment, identity or website that criticizes music and pushes people to discuss and face debates on the subject, probably the most beautiful thing that there is in having a passion. If no one talks about it, if there are no voices praising the artistic value of music, people is not inclined to do so. What’s worse, most headlines mainly use their popularity and iconic status to publish gossips on the artists’ private lives, which is a worrying situation that puts futile and disrespectful content before music: Would an artist be more offended by leaked informations about his/her private life, or by a negative yet fairly critical review?

All of this leads to a final question: Why Japanese headlines don’t care about analyzing music? My opinion here, that’s widely open to discussion as a very personal one, is tied to a particular aspect of the Japanese culture, that sees the individual avoiding harsh confrontations with others to avoid disappointment and incomprehensions. I apply the same concept to Japanese websites, not analyzing the quality of music in order to avoid controversies with labels, fans and artists, yet feasting on gossips to attract a certain part of the audience, a controversial behavior that sees benefit only from the mere commercial standpoint, leaving behind the passion and the art that permeates music.

The truth is, judging music is a weight on a website’s conscience. Reviews can be enormously supportive or brutally truthful, and highly influent on the general public. Japanese headlines don’t want to deal with this uncomfortable burden, creating an environment where journalists as well as the audience don’t care about discussing music quality. And knowing how I always struggled with this issue due to the reality of a hundred inhabitants town, it’s really sad to see the same situation in a huge market full of innovative artists like the Japanese music industry.

– Alex