By Martin Smith | 5 April 2015
Many years ago I visited South Korea, where the record shops were full of Japanese music. I was like a mouse in a cake shop. Among the many albums I bought, three stood out – Flower Travellin Band’s (Make Up), Speed Glue and Shinki’s (Eve) and Takehisa Kosugi’s (Catch-Wave). Those albums began what has now been a 15-year love affair with Japanese experimental, jazz and psychedelic rock music.
These musicians were fiercely independent. Their music challenged traditional conservative Japanese values and at the same time refused to just follow in the footsteps of their American counterparts. For me it opened up a world of new harmonic soundscapes and rhythmic patterns. Some bands like Les Rallizes Denudes and Panta and Toshi dedicated their music to both musical and revolutionary transformation.
Purely by accident this month’s selection has a distinctly Japanese flavour. Two of the selections are dripping with radical passion, two others are inspired by Japan, the fifth album is rammed full of some of the best dance music to come out of the country and the last has no connection with Japan.
GENYA Concert – Various Artists (TV Union) CD/LP
For me the GENYA Concert was the holy grail of radical albums – a cross between Woodstock and the Anti Nazi League’s 1978 Victoria Park Carnival. I have spent 15 years trying to buy a copy. I have only ever seen one for sale before and that was for a £1,000. So imagine my joy when I found a copy of this record for £5 in an antique shop.
GENYA Concert was recorded in 1971. It documents the three-day Genya Rock Festival. Bands like Blues Creation, Dew, Panta and Toshi and Zuno Keisatsu were on the bill. The concert highlighted the plight of poor farmers whose land was being taken off them to make way for a runway extension at Haneda Airport – which doubled as a US airbase.
The festival was organised by Seine Kodotai, a wing of the Communist Party’s youth section. They invited the local farmers to perform their traditional folk dances and songs at the festival. Word spread across Japan – hippies, radicals and trade union activists descended on the festival. For three days famous Japanese rock and experimental bands performed their sets interspersed with local “folk” bands, dancers and political speeches.
On the third and final day the last band up was Lost Aaraff. Carried away with all the radical energy they performed a number of nihilistic songs. Halfway through their set the band’s lead singer turned on the audience screaming that he wanted to kill everyone and then proceeded to hurl invective at the police. It was the excuse the police needed. They charged into the festival batoning the festival audience and a full-scale riot kicked off.
This album is a record of those three days. It’s hard work to say the least. One whole side is taken up with an inaudible speech and the recording of the music is so poor it’s hard to tell who is playing let alone what they are playing.
So was the 15-year search for the GENYA Concert LP worth it?
But it was a great journey and you can decide for yourself – later this year the album is being re-issued on CD.
I’m afraid I can’t find any video recording of the GENYA Concert, so you will just have to make do with the Blues Creation’s proto-metal version of Baby Please Don’t Go.
Horace Silver – Tokyo Blues (Blue Note 1962) CD/Vinyl
After that slice of buzz-saw, brain-numbing, acid-soaked rock it’s time to calm it down.
This reissue of Horace Silver’s Tokyo Blues is just the thing. It was recorded in 1962 after the band visited Japan. Silver wrote some compositions combining traditional Japanese phrasing and melodies with Latin feeling in the rhythms. Four of the album’s pieces were composed by Silver, while the lush ballad Cherry Blossom was by Ronnell Bright.
Blue Note production values and musicianship of the highest quality makes this the perfect album for a warm lazy Sunday afternoon.
Soichi Terada Presents – Sounds from the Far East (RH 2015) CD/LP
Soichi Terada is a Japanese composer and producer who releases various styles of electronic music on his own label, Far East Recordings. He is in my opinion much underrated and a bit of a musical genius.
Sounds From The Far East shines new light on Soichi Terada’s music. It consists of material that was originally released in the early 1990s. Included on the album is the Paradise Garage gem called Sunshower.
This album is a perfect entry into his work.
DJ Sprinkles and Mark Fell – Insights EP2 (Comatonse 2012) 12’/Download
DJ Sprinkles is a US DJ/musician/producer based in Japan. If you want to know more about this amazing DJ, check out this earlier article.
The 12” remix is quite simply outstanding. Released a few years ago this is a slice of political Deep House. Under a pulsating and hypnotic beat the late, great Tony Benn puts forward the case for socialism. The track works on so many levels. I’ve seen it silence a record shop and provoke debates and discussions, while in a club setting I’ve seen it move the crowd.
This is cerebral, provocative, beautiful music – get a copy if you can.
Aphex Twin – MARCHROMT30aEdit2b96 (Warp 2015) Download/12”
Aphex Twin’s album Syro was one of the best albums of 2014. On the Japanese deluxe edition of Syro, there was a bonus track called MARCHROMT30a Edit 2b 96.
Why it was only included on the Japanese edition I will never know – it’s a classic. Fortunately the record label Warp will now be giving this track a UK release and the 12” will also include a remix of XMAS_EVET10  and an alternate take on MARCHROMT. Here is the track Syro from the original album.
Kendrick Lemar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Aftermath/Interscope 2015) CD/LP
The murder of Michael Brown and the protests against police brutality that erupted in Ferguson and across the US last summer had a profound impact on black music.
Among the many records inspired by Ferguson was D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. It is an outstanding album firmly rooted in the classic soul/funk tradition of Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield. And now there is Kendrick Lemar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. In my opinion it surpasses Black Messiah and it’s one of the most important pieces of US music to be released in the last decade.
Laden with funk, jazz and soul breaks To Pimp A Butterfly has been compared with the great soul protest albums of the 1970s. It is true that Kendrick has been fearless in his use of samples – a dash of George Clinton, a sprinkling of free jazz, a holler from Tupac and a break from the Isley Brothers and Sly.
But what makes this a pathbreaking album is that is shaped more by Obama’s America than Nixon’s. Its rage against the police and the system is undeniable and the defiant challenge to white America is palpable. Kendrick’s articulation of black nationalism is shaped by Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver – but it has also been forged by the truncheons that rained down on Rodney King, the bullets that killed Michael Brown, the nihilism of LA’s gangs and the positive and negative elements of rap culture.
Then there is the music. Something is happening in LA, Kendrick’s hometown. A young generation of artists – the most famous being Flying Lotus and Thundercat – are producing music that is influenced by experimental jazz and funk. Both can be found on Kendrick’s album. Joining Kendrick are pianist Robert Glasper and soul/jazz singer Bilal. They, along with the other musicians and samples, create a bittersweet vibe.
The music is beautiful, the lyrics are sometimes ugly and brutal but To Pimp A Butterfy is a game changer, a classic album.