Of Wonderful Japanese Music: BABYMETAL

BABYMETAL++PNG+5Many of you probably don’t know this, but before being so passionate about japanese music and lovely groups formed by cute girls and dreamy melodies, I was a pretty hardcore metalhead. From the beautiful and classic tracks of Iron Maiden to the cold and cruel melodies of Norwegian black metal, I spent many years following the metal scene, and I still dedicate some time to this genre even though my heart and ears are now definitely sold to the Japanese industry.

So when I heard there was an “Idol Metal” unit around I was surprised and skeptical at the same time: How can these two completely different genres perfectly collide together to obtain a good musical result? I was a bit hesitant, so I did what I always do when I have doubts: Try.

My first impact with these three girls wasn’t the best: The Doki Doki Morning music video was my entrance ticket to the BABYMETAL world, and what I heard was a pretty simple metal song framed by standard riffs and idol singing, and a music video featuring satanic circles, skeletons and so on: A festival of stereotypes I didn’t like and honestly couldn’t understand.

But judging a group from a single song or video isn’t smart at all, so instead of giving up I tried to gather informations about these three girls and understand this project from an overall point of view. BABYMETAL, formed by SU-METAL, MOA-METAL and YUI-METAL, is a three girls idol group, initially sub-unit of Sakura Gakuin, later became an independent group. After obtaining great results in the indie panorama with two singles, the girls signed to a major label and released their major debut single Ijime, Dame, Zettai. From that moment on their popularity increased drastically, bringing their valid and solid single releases higher on the charts, guaranteeing appearances in summer festivals and one-man lives, including an overseas show in Singapore. A surprisingly fast and successful escalade, but there’s no trick here: Simply put, their music is very good and they’re great performers. 

1265143_10200783456614792_219838711_o

After a couple of days from my first disappointing impact with these girls, for pure coincidence the Megitsune PV was released, and I’ve been completely blown away: Powerful riffs, great melody synth and amazing vocal performance by SU-METAL, exactly as the presence of the adorable YUI-METAL and MOA-METAL, whose voices are relevant to the catchiness of the track yet not invasive in the global result; My first negative impression soon turned into total admiration.

For the news, SU is the main voice of the group (impressive vocal skills for a 16 years old girls), while MOA and YUI deliver cuteness and charisma thanks to their main role in the choreographies and back vocals. Musically, they’re valid and accessible even to those who don’t appreciate or never listened to the metal genre, and the production is of high quality as well as the technical level, thanks to many members of various Visual Kei bands and well known session musicians taking care of the instrumental part, while the production is entirely handled by their main producer Kobametal. The songs take elements from many metal sub-genres, from Death to Black and Heavy metal, mixing them together and guaranteeing variety (in the genre itself) and different approaches in the composition, while maintaining a pretty basic verse/chorus/bridge structure in order to not get too far from the pop/catchy zone. The balance between J-pop and Metal is the core philosophy of BABYMETAL, and thanks to the experienced musicians behind the instruments and the ever growing talent of these young girls the result is absolutely valid, something that’s definitely not easy when different genres are fused together, and songs like Megitsune, Headbanger!! and Catch me if you can prove that this team can masterfully handle this hard task.

But BABYMETAL is not only about studio music, and while listening to these girls is surely a valid experience, their live performances are something definitely worth checking out as well: Most of the times their live shows are really live, featuring a full band playing the songs (usually dressed as skeletons, or wearing black metal-like makeup) and SU-METAL singing live, while YUI and MOA literally set the stage on fire thanks to the entertaining choreographies created by MIKIKO (Perfume’s historical choreo director), adding all the amazingness of the live experience in addition to their already solid base of great tracks.

RMMS-BABYMETAL-Shibuya-O-East-2012-10-06-DSC7800

Last but not least, it’s a duty to recognize the charisma of these girls: Their amazing presence on stage gives a great contribute to the Idol/Metal contrast, and the choreographies are extremely entertaining to watch, for a lively performance that will definitely make you headbang like there’s no tomorrow.

BABYMETAL may be a controversial group for someone, but it’s just another proof of how the japanese industry is way more open minded (from a musical point of view) and brave in proposing new and interesting projects than the western markets; Especially in Europe, where the metal fanbase is probably the biggest, a group like this would be definitely seen as a joke, while the others wouldn’t get the sense in fusing such different musical genres. But the truth is that these girls have lots of talent and a great team behind, and while the J-pop/Metal contrast may seem like a voluntary and funny combination, BABYMETAL is no joke. At all.

To be completely honest, their performances and songs are even better than some of the so called “true” metal bands… Don’t tell the metalheads though. 😉

babymetal-album-poster

♪ BABYMETAL – Ijime, Dame, Zettai (LIVE)

– Alex

P.S. : BABYMETAL’s first album is out today, and believe me when I say it’s absolutely killer. I’ll talk about it properly another time. \m/

Advertisements

Of Wonderful Japanese Music: Negicco

negicco-melody-palette-lpExcept for some rare cases, I’ve personally never been that much into Idol groups. To be honest, I think there’s still a lot of confusion in recognizing this kind of unit in the midst of cute girls, shining smiles and sugary melodies. Someone says even Perfume are technically idols, and even though this might be true in a way, I don’t think the three girls from Hiroshima would fully agree with this.

But does it even matter in the end? Honestly, no. Only music and talent is what makes the difference in the end, and Niigata based unit Negicco have lots of good music and passion to deliver, and their 2013 studio album Melody Palette, released under Tower Records’ indie label T-Palette, is the proof of it.

Let’s take a few steps back: Negicco formed in 2003 (Yes, eleven years ago) as young promoters of the local Yawahada Negi, a particular type of green onion, under contract of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives Group. While this may not sound like the most serious or enthralling beginning, the real intentions of these three girls were anything but a joke; Indeed, after the end of their promotional period, Nao, Megu, Kaede and Miku (who left the group in 2006) continued their activities as an idol unit, still using the green onion leaks as symbol. Produced by their hardcore fan connie and creating the choreographies by themselves, Negicco continued to dance and sing for all the 2000s, and between change of formations and label shifts, in 2010 the three girls won the local idol award U.M.U. , a turning point of their career. In 2011, after the release of their first Best album, they left the old label to join T-Palette, finally getting more attention by the national audience.

The story itself already makes it clear: These girls are tenacious and incredibly passionated. Even nowadays, after more than ten years, they still perform in small stages and put one hundred percent in their performances, something that definitely not all the short-life idol units out there can claim.

What’s more interesting, though, is the evolution of their sound, that recently opened to more musical influences, including techno-pop, electronic, shibuya kei, jazz and more, thanks mainly to the collaboration of great producers such as Pizzicato Five’s Yasuharu Konishi, tofubeats and RAM RIDER, while maintaining their core sound obviously provided by connie. All of these qualities are showcased in the Melody Palette album, which is an excellent demonstration of their sound versatility: From the beats of the reflective Ai no Tower of Love to the ironic/genial Idol Bakari Kikanaide and the joyful Negicco kara kimi e, and all the other sounds you can find in the middle, this album can easily satisfy a wide range of listeners, guaranteeing variety and quality production. Even their last single Tokimeki no Headliner featuring the excellent Sayonara Music is another proof of their qualities, that reach the top in live performances where all the charisma of these three girls comes out, dancing and singing tirelessly, and constantly involving the audience: There are no special effects here, only lots of passion and fun, and you’ll grow to love these girls more and more. I honestly can’t wait to catch one of their shows in my next trip to Japan.

new

Negicco is a more than valid group that deserves your attention; With good quality music, variousness, and a great on stage presence, Nao, Megu and Kaede definitely stand out in the endless underground sea of idol groups. All they need is just to get even more noticed, in order to evolve… and that’s it. They already have everything it takes to be major acts, and I can’t wait to see what these girls have in store for their future.

In the meanwhile, enjoy one of their best songs and videos so far, called Idol Bakari Kikanaide, literally Don’t listen to only Idol Music.

… Seriously, how can’t you love them?

– Alex

[Of Wonderful Japanese Music] NAGISA COSMETIC

21NXV8161VLWe all know that Yasutaka Nakata is a musical beast: From lounge to Shibuya-kei, from EDM to Avantgarde, this guy I had the pleasure to see live twice in my last trip in Japan is one of the most talented and open minded producers I’ve ever had the pleasure to discover in my endless journey at the discover of new music. During his career, started in 1997 with the foundation of capsule together with singer Toshiko Koshijima, Nakata explored many different musical genres and worked on many projects that make his portfolio definitely various and interesting to discover step by step. His most famous projects surely include his main group capsule, the amazing COLTEMONIKHA featuring Kate Sakai, and obviously the long list of collaborations that includes bands such as SMAP, Scandal, MEG, Ami Suzuki, and many more respectable acts of the Japanese music scene. Oh, and of course he’s Perfume and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s producer, but I guess there’s no need to say that, right?

But out of all of this rich list of projects, works and collaborations, there’s something that sadly got forgotten with time, something that appeared and disappeared ini a blink of an eye, ready to be caught only by those who carefully observe and listen: I’m talking about NAGISA COSMETIC.

71010436

NAGISA COSMETIC is a duo composed by Yasutaka Nakata and Nagisa Ichikawa, a unit structured exactly as capsule and COLTEMONIKHA, with Nakata producing the songs and Nagisa singing on them. Their story is simple: At the beginning of 2004, Nagisa, a designer, model and friend of Nakata, asked the guy to found a musical unit to produce songs influenced by the fashion and cosmetic world, with full approval by the producer.

On July 21st of 2004 the duo releases its first and last work, a mini album called NAGISA COSMETIC, featuring seven songs and lots of passion. Let me tell you guys, this little pearl is an absolute joy for your ears and soul: It’s happy, thoughtless, catchy, and wonderfully kawaii, yet not predictable or lazy. The influences on this album are many: From lounge vibes to jazzy basslines and shy electronic synths, Nakata handles everything in a masterful way by maintaining the right balance, perfected by the absolutely adorable voice of Nagisa. It’s apparently a simple album but there are a lot of things going on in the background, and the overall result is brilliant. This album will make a summer day brighter and your happy days even better, conquering you with its catchiness and prolonging the listen with quality production and variety of sounds perfectly balanced. I discovered this duo one year ago, and even though only seven songs have been produced, I can’t get tired of it at all: And believe me, this truly means a lot.

The duo performed only once at capsule’s Sound Furniture release party in 2004, and after a short time they decided to quit activities to focus on their own personal projects. This has probably been just a short adventure of two friends having fun making music and combining their own passions, probably without even getting themselves too seriously, and it’s definitely thanks to this attitude that this album is so genuinely full of happiness and love. NAGISA COSMETIC is a little pearl that will probably remain just a niche release for a certain audience, but maybe this is also what makes it so unique and special. Absolutely brilliant.

NAGISA+COSMETIC+nc

♪ NAGISA COSMETIC – Life Balance

 

– Alex

Of a walk in the dark streets of Yokosuka

IMG_1139 copiaOne of the main things I wanted to do in my last trip in Japan, that I couldn’t make during my first vacation, was to go to Yokosuka.

Just two stops away from the way more famous and beautiful Kamakura, this city is mainly known for the huge american naval base, whose presence highly influences the population of this little city and everything you can see around its streets.

But why Yokosuka? Is there anything special for a tourist here? Frankly, no. The reason I came here is because this the place where my favorite Videogame called Shenmue, from which I got part of my nickname, is placed. I wanted to come here not only to see the similarities between game and real life, but also because I felt I had to, for a personal feeling that I can’t exactly explain; I just had to do it.

The station is the endpoint of the Yokosuka line that begins at the Shinagawa station in Tokyo, and you can reach this city in about an hour. At my arrival at the very small station, the first thing I can notice is the huge naval base and the impressive number of ships, both American and Japanese. After a quick look in the station area, I wait for one of the several buses regularly stopping in front of the station and head towards the area of main interest, which is Dobuita Street, where all the main plot of the game takes place. After a 3 minutes ride, I finally reach the main entrance of the street under indications of the driver and start walking towards the entrance.

IMG_1132 copia IMG_1137 copia IMG_1138 copia

It’s January 3rd, so almost all the shops in the streets are closed for national holiday, yet the atmosphere is all here. And just like in the game, it’s FULL of jackets and American/Japanese military clothes shops and everything combining both the western and oriental cultures. Walking in the street (it’s 4:30pm, still day) I can actually see more American militaries and western people than Japanese citizens; As I’ve already said, the influence of the base is extremely heavy in this city, including Empire State Building shaped lamppost and reproductions of the Statue of Liberty here and there. Even the symbol of Dobuita Street itself features both the U.S. and Japan flags together, like a sign of unity, which is undoubtedly a demonstration of the respect running between these two countries, leaving the past far behind.

IMG_1146 copia IMG_1147 copia

 

RyoWalkDobuita

 

IMG_1151 copia

 

I walk towards the centre of the city, leaving the other direction leading to the Hill (where Ryo’s house is located in the game) as last destination. There are many pubs filled with piles of Asahi, Budweiser and lonely militaries, as many quiet American/Japanese couples walk towards the romantic seaside walk to fully enjoy their day off. I’m honestly impressed with the similarities of some streets and corners with the game, and as good nerd, I instantly feel like I’m inside the game: A new and exciting feeling that I honestly couldn’t wait to live.

I keep walking on and I reach the end of Dobuita Street in just five minutes. I take a look around the commercial area, visit a little but pretty nice music store, take a break in a Conbini drinking matcha latte and eating one of the fabulous Family Mart sandwiches (my personal drug), and then I’m ready to continue exploring the Dobuita zone, this time towards the Hill area.

In the game, Ryo lives in a beautiful traditional house at the top of the hill of Yokosuka, and that’s where I’m headed now. I already now there’s no house at the top of the hill (the game is set in 1986), but I bet the similarities will be a lot.

I walk all the way back in Dobuita Street, and just like in the game, as it gets darker, the true soul of this little city comes out: Sailors literally invade pubs and locals to drink (and probably get drunk), while bikers dressed in leather jackets with their Harley Davidson parked near the street gather together to talk about something I can’t possibly understand, as the weak Empire State Building lights shyly illuminate the street: It’s a very underground atmosphere, but I like these kind of situations, so I don’t mind at all. I finally reach the street leading to the Hill, now completely covered in darkness.

IMG_1165 copia

“Do you know where sailors hang out?” (cit.)

The beginning of the HIll area.

The beginning of the HIll area.

As I walk up the hill, I can almost say this place looks like the Japanese version of the Favelas: Abandoned cars, empty houses, total silence, and a very intimidating atmosphere. There’s probably only some old couple living here but in all honesty, for the first time in Japan, I’m feeling pretty scared and unsafe. As I keep going up, I walk in front of what looks like an abandoned elementary school, some empty parkings and a couple of random guys talking that definitely give me a weird stare and stop talking as I walk in front of them: Where they dangerous people, or some evil bikers from hell sent by a Shinigami? No. They were normal guys. Because I’d have the same look on my face if a tourist shows up in my abandoned hometown, so I guess it’s absolutely legit and normal to behave like that. Just something to add to the atmosphere.

I finally reach the end of the street. I’m still not at the top of the Hill, but I can definitely recognize it: the street leading to Ryo’s house. There’s no traditional habitation at the end of it, but still I smile at the sight of it: It’s identical.

IMG_1174 copia

IMG_1180 copia

IMG_1169 copia

IMG_1182 copia

View from the Hill.

View from the Hill.

The street leading to Ryo's house

The street leading to Ryo’s house

This is where Ryo's house should be.

This is where Ryo’s house should be.

I can say I’ve finally accomplished my mission: Visiting Yokosuka and being inside my favorite Videogame. I know this statement sound disturbing and extremely nerd-ish, but Shenmue has a very important meaning to me, even after all these years. Leaving aside the fact that it’s a masterpiece of a forgotten era, just like the message hidden in the game, it’s also been the sign of my personal transition from teenager to adult, a sweet yet melancholic revolution, the last witness of the thoughtless days that will never come back. When Japan was important, but not vital. When the future wasn’t scary, but exciting. And as Ryo will probably be in search of his father’s killer forever, I’ll never forget the emotions I lived in that summer when I played this game for the first time. Because every period of our lives is tied to a song, a band, a movie, a videogame, or anything that can leave an emotional trace inside us. 

I walk down the hill and go back to the station, waiting for the train that will bring me back to Tokyo, in my beloved Shinjuku. There’s a shivering wind. A young Japanese mother plays with her little son, smiling as he joyfully laughs at her funny expressions. The train finally arrives, and I take a seat near the entrance. For one day, I lived in the border between reality and imagination, where my present and past meet and face each other, where my real life and the one inside my head collide.

Maybe I’m going too far with this. I close my eyes and put my headphones on. I’m still inside my world after all, still in Japan. As the lights quickly appear and disappear outside, I fall asleep on the notes of Echoes.

♪ Pink Floyd – Echoes

– Alex

Of Wonderful Memories: Remember that night at Tokyo Dome

lfA couple of days ago the well known private Japanese TV WOWOW broadcasted a good part of Perfume’s Tokyo Dome concert I attended last December in Japan, and thanks to the fans that fragmented the video and uploaded it on YouTube, I had the chance to watch again what has been the biggest concert I’ve ever attended, and also one of the most unforgettable events of my life.

Seeing the Enter the Sphere (extended mix) intro once again, the girls walking at the top of the sphere, all the crazy lights and lasers work, the crowd going completely insane to the Party Maker drop, and the wonderful Dreamland performance with the final walk towards the sphere, is something that made me completely realize how this show has been something of great importance, not only for the fans, but also for the girls themselves; This was one of the best Perfume concerts ever held, without a shade of doubt, and I feel lucky to had the chance to attend it twice.

The first time I attended a Perfume show was last summer during the Perfume World Tour 2nd, and while I had a total blast during that wonderful time in Paris, my memories after that event have always been pretty much confused and “misty”. It’s weird, cause I remember everything perfectly, but it feels like it’s been only a dream when I think about it. I felt the same after my first trip in Japan in 2011, and I’ve understood after some time that all of this is caused by the excitement for something that I have waited for a long time, and that finally became true. But this time everything was sharp and clear, even the memories. I remember exactly all the feelings felt in every part of the concert, and living them again through these videos makes me extremely happy. It’s the proof of having lived an event of huge proportions in my favorite place, with the people I love.

ly

I feel so proud. Not of myself, anyone can do what I and many other fans did, you just have to want it. I’m proud of these girls. For being so incredibly amazing, for giving one of the most professional, spectacular, and technologically advanced shows of the world, and for being extremely talented yet normal and down to earth girls. I spent half of my life complaining because I couldn’t see my favorite bands live, cause most of them were from the 70s, or because they were not the same group anymore, or simply because I didn’t honestly had the balls to buy a plane ticket and go to a show.

But all of this doesn’t exist anymore. I can finally say I saw my favorite group live, at the top of their success and at the best of their shape, performing their most epic show ever.

For once, and just once, I wish I could meet these girls to hold their hands and say “Thank you”. Thank you for everything they did for me, even if I’m just a little dot in a sea of 3D scanned fans, even if they never and probably will never see my face or know what I did and still do to spread their love and music as much as I can. They did to me more than anyone in my life did. They revolutionized the course of it, triggered the change I needed at the right time, and everything that arrived after has been just a wonderful collection of memories that enriched my life: Travels, friends, girls, feelings, happiness, delusions, airports, waitings, izakaya, beer, laughters, neon lights, skyscrapers and more and more.

It’s not blind devotion to a random group or a thought by someone who desperately needs a life. It’s a honest and true feeling I feel towards these girls.

I will be with them until the end, no matter what. It’s the best I can do to show them my gratitude.

– Alex