This is a beautiful collection of gentle, wistful ambient music. There are strong echoes of the ’80s, and to a less extent some ’90s chill out. At times it comes close to being a bit cheesy, but it always manages to stay on the right side of things. I’m particularly impressed with how strong the collection is – it’s 2LP and there are very few weak tracks on here, the whole release is excellent. This really is a great album for putting on when you are tired or having some quiet time. Well worth checking, one of my favourite releases of 2014 so far.
I get quite a few emails asking for tips about Tokyo / Japan. I’m getting tired of answering them, so I’m just going to write this post and ignore any more emails I receive. Please note this is not supposed to be in any way comprehensive. This is just the basics and something to get you started. If you want to find out more, then go digging.
Clubs / parties
If you are interested in checking out Dommune, they run Monday – Thursday nights, with music from 9pm – midnight. They normally announce their schedule for the upcoming week on Twitter at some point on Sunday. You need to register in advance if you want to attend. For full info and directions about Dommune in English, please check here: http://www.dommune.com/about/en/
Resident Advisor has a pretty comprehensive list of upcoming parties, and this is the best place to check if you want to find out what’s going on. You can also have a look at the events page on Clubberia.
Also keep an eye on the MNML SSGS Twitter, I will tweet about parties that I think look good or that I’m playing at.
Shibuya is the easiest place to go record shopping. There are a number of main stores all pretty close to each other:
Technique Records: Up to date range of techno and house, plus a very strong and well priced second hand collection.
Disk Union Shibuya: Unfortunately it is not as strong as it used to be, but still a good selection of new and second hand techno and house. You can sometimes find some real gems here at reasonable prices.
Lighthouse Records: Mainly new stuff, focus is primarily house music.
And if you are looking for gear, or want to look at gear, then you need to check out FiveG in Harajuku. From what I’ve been told, some of the stuff there is a bit expensive, but they have an amazing selection of stuff to check.
General tourist stuff
If you are planning on traveling around Japan at all, then it is probably worth investing in a JR rail pass. These are excellent value if you want to ride the bullet train.
Tokyo is an impressive city, and definitely worth checking and experiencing, but I would also suggest making sure you try to check out other parts of the country. Japan is a beautiful and amazing place, and Tokyo is just one side of it.
For everything else, buy a guide book.
“After25” is a special party happening next Saturday 1 March at Unit. This event is to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, and to celebrate connections between Berlin and Tokyo. The lineup they’ve put together is very impressive: Robert Henke / Monolake is presenting his new audio-visual performance, “Lumiere”, Burnt Friedman will be playing live, as will Guenter Schickert (from the Schulze-Schickert Sessions that was one of the best reissues of last year). To round out the mainfloor, the Japanese supporting artists will be DJ Nobu and myself. I’m very excited about having the chance to open the mainfloor of Unit, especially for an event like this with such a thoughtful lineup. I’m going to be taking full advantage of getting to play on such a nice system, and plan on playing a set that is very sonically powerful. Anyway, I’m just a small entree, Monolake’s new show, Friedman, Schickert and Nobu make for an impressive lineup of electronic music. Tokyo lacks the festivals you find in Europe – CTM, Unsound etc – so this is a pretty rare chance to catch some very interesting artists. Definitely worth checking.
Elaine Radigue can often be a bit too “minimal” to put it politely… But her best stuff is incredibly powerful. And this recent reissue on Important Records certainly is some of the most impressive works I’ve heard from her. 3 CDs, 3 very long drones. For it to really work, you need to hear on a good setup and be in the right headspace. But if you have that, you should find it to be a pretty special trip. Also this is perhaps the most accessible work I’ve heard of Radigue’s, so if you have heard her name and are curious, this is a good place to start. Deep, meditative music that feels like a very long and slow brain massage.
There is a new Kangding Ray album and it’s excellent. Yeah, that is not so surprising… But it is still very good news. Building on “OR” and a series of EPs and remixes, “Solens Arc” is the clearest statement of Kangding Ray’s interpretation of techno. The result is a remarkably self-contained album, which stands in stark contrast both to the glut of lo-fi house and techno, and the rather laboured attempts at techno from some of his Raster-Noton labelmates. While the album is split into four sections / arcs, it has a very clear and cohesive narrative. It also benefits greatly from its brevity – Kangding Ray does not overstay his welcome, with the album clocking in around the 50 minute mark.
The beauty of “Solens Arc” lies in the way it perfectly blends the existing KR aesthetic with music that is much more directly orientated for the dancefloor. It is a clear early highlight of 2014, and it reminded me that I am not bored of techno, it is just that there is a shitload of mediocre techno floating around these days. When techno sounds like KR, it’s impossible to be bored.
So “noise techno” (or “post-techno” as Dave the silent ssg bravely dubbed it) has become a lot more prominent in the last 12-18 months. And like many trends, what started with promise has quickly petered out into something pretty crap. Too often it has just been an excuse for flat out shitty music passing off as something acceptable (i.e. Pete Swanson). But listening to the new EP from Container – who has been one of the most pivotal artists in this trend – has made me reassess my opinion slightly. While I remain highly sceptical of most of what has been coming out (including the vastly over-rated and thoroughly mediocre “Feral Grind” comp), Container demonstrates that there are still interesting possibilities to be explored in this noise – techno crossover (I know this is a simplified way of putting it, but you know what I mean). The problem is more the ideas and the execution is lacking… I remain doubtful that much more interesting music will emerge from this trend, but at least Container is still pushing things. This EP is well worth checking.
Umm… I got busy and ran out of time to do this post earlier… But given that they are reissues, it shouldn’t matter this post is a bit late. I don’t have the time / motivation to say much about each of the releases, but just trust me, all are worth checking:
Palm Highway Chase – “Escape From New York” [Spectrum Spools]: This is only a few years old, but it is a reissue, so it gets included here. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just some throwaway 80s pastiche. There is a lot more going on here. It’s a perfectly structured and weighted record. So good.
Mike Ratledge – “Riddles of the Sphinx” [Mordant Music]: Just the right amount of weirdness on this one. An enchanting listen.
Klaus Schulze & Guenter Schickert – The Schulze-Schickert Session [Mirumir]: This record went largely unnoticed last year, which is a shame, because it is stunning. Perfect after a party or a late night. Beautiful, drifting kosmische. Essential.
Mammane Sani et son Orgue – “La Musique Electronique du Niger” [Sahel Sounds]: This is some dude jamming on shitty electronic organ in the 1970s, but he manages to create something pretty special. Simple but stunning.
Recollection GRM: These reissues have probably have a bigger influence on my listening over the last 1.5 years than anything else. Most of it may not be easy listening, but it is incredibly rewarding and powerful. If you have a bit of patience and want to learn more about the foundations of electronic music, I strongly suggest you spend some time with this label.