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Rant: The Guardian takes a huge unprovoked dump on the Japanese music scene

8:15 PM on 10.14.2009 // Zac Bentz

Welcome to the UK, where our world view has not changed since 1995. Or maybe 1985.

At least that's the feeling you might get upon reading a recent post in the tritely titled "Turning Japanese" column over on The Guardian UK's website.

In "Notes from the Underground," columnist Alex Hoban interviews three people about their experiences with the Japanese underground scene. Right from the start things start to go a bit sideways. The first interviewee is Fumi Chikakoshi, owner of the Rallye label, which she herself describes as dealing "mostly with western artists" because "sadly I don't think there are any Japanese artists that are any good right now."

I'll give you a second to pick up your jaw. I'll be waiting for you after the jump.

Alright, so we can write this one off immediately. Her interview was obviously included only to meet an already missed deadline. I mean, why else would you include someone's views of the Japanese music scene who seems to have no experience at all in dealing with Japanese music? OK, Chikakoshi does go on to talk about the lack of real understanding and shallow imitation that all Japanese punk bands practice. This sounds a lot like a friend of mine who sings exactly like Eddy Vedder and thinks that any Japanese band with a distorted guitar is just copying western bands. In short, like a douchebag.

The second interview goes a bit better. This one is with VV, the lead singer in a US hip-hop band. OK, yeah, sigh. Again, here we are trying to get the pulse of an entire nation's indie culture from someone thousands of miles away. You'd have to be a pretty big cock to think that was a good idea. Anyway, VV expresses the same wide-eyed desire to tour Japan as many other young bands do. (I should know, since I've been in a few like-minded bands for the past 15 years or so.) VV talks about how tough it is to book a tour overseas and how some venue owners might be a bit on the shady side. If this was news to anyone, then this might be a genuine insight into how the Japanese systems works, but, and again I can assure you from first-hand experience, it is not. The idea of "pay to play" is far from unique to Japan. Booking aside, VV says that the fellow bands were great, the crowds were open and enthusiastic and that it was a worthwhile experience. Oh, and that the doorways are small. Other than that, not much insight into the column's opening "Why has Japan struggled to foster credible underground music scenes?" question.

Finally, on the third page, Ian Martin of Call and Response Records steps in to save the fucking day. Well, almost. You see, it's here that some of the cracks really start to show in Hoban's approach. It turns out that, in response to how he was treated in the post, Martin was compelled to post the entire interview between himself and Martin on his own blog. He specifically points out that:

"I nevertheless have a problem with the way the sentence 'Shibuya-kei is the only scene anyone really speaks about here.' is somehow put into my mouth. This is both patently wrong and makes me look foolish and ignorant."

In fact, that sentence does not appear anywhere in the full text of Martin's interview. That aside, Martin does go on to actually talk about the Japanese bands in the Japanese music scene. Shocking! He even goes so far as to offer up this massive middle finger:

"Japanese musicians are often more technically skilled, partly because bands play for much longer before they get anywhere. You never get popular indie bands still in their teens like you do in the UK. Perhaps because of this, experimental music in Japan is light years ahead of the UK."

And that is how Ian Martin of Call and Response Records managed to save the day and stop me from destroying my entire desk and its surrounding area.

So, all of this just leaves me wondering what the hell was going on here. On the one hand, you can't fault the interviewer for being saddled with poor interview subjects. Christ knows. But Hoban has been at this, uh, "Turning Japanese" thing (bleck bleck patooie) for well over a year now. While a quick glance over the 32 posts seem to show a majority of Brit bands in the titles, there are some more meaty looking forays into the Japanese music scene. I mean for Christ's sake, he talks about Midori being the best thing in Japan, and I can totally agree with that! So why choose a severely jaded promoter, a band that just wanted to go to Japan, and then shove a cock in the mouth of the one guy with a clear perspective and real love for the actual, living, breathing underground Japanese music scene?!

I don't know. This entire thing has blown my mind. I hope this was just the result of something like that one episode of Lucy where the conveyor belt starts to go crazy and Lucy has to just eat all the bon-bons and shove them in her pants and things just keep spiraling out of control until it's all just some hilarious mess.

Also, Ian? I know a band who would love to come to Japan. We will buy you all the beer you want.

[Thanks for the Twitter tip from NipponRock.net]



Zac Bentz,
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