Voices from the Inside

To find out what 2006 meant to others in Japan, we spoke to people involved in the industry. Here’s their take on the best, the worst and what comes next.

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Polysics, the Japanese pop-punk band that spent much of this year taking their Devo-inspired madness on the road, is fronted by singer-guitarist Hiroyuki Hayashi. After touring in the U.K. with Kaiser Chiefs in 2006, early next year they plan to hit the U.S.

My favorite event of 2006: The “EUROCKEENNES 2006″ festival in France that we visited in June was totally great! The location, weather, our performance and the audience, everything was so terrific and we truly enjoyed it! Depeche Mode performed the day after us, but regrettably we had to head off to our next gig. However, we were instead able to see Roger Waters perform in Hyde Park in London! It was such a superb show visually and acoustically that I was overjoyed to see it for real. Just being in that atmosphere alone made me happy.

2006 for me was: It was a very productive year for us. Our tour experience with Kaiser Chiefs in April meant a lot for both Polysics and myself. We were able to take another look at ourselves on the tour: our attitudes toward gigs, new discoveries, reaffirmations, finding faults, etc. Also, we were able to really feel the changes in the U.K. rock scene.

This year, I’ve been listening to the music of my roots. Japanese indie and punk music from the late 1980s to the early ’90s. Haven’t bought as many new, international artists’ CDs as last year.

Disappointment of 2006: Not really a disappointment, but I am worried that there aren’t many interesting rock bands coming out of Japan these days. Also, it was truly shocking to hear about the collapse of Tower Records.

Most annoying song: HIGH and MIGHTY COLOR’s stuff was annoying.

Prediction for 2007: Vinyl might come back again. Other than that, I don’t think much will change. I’ll do my best without any illusions.

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Mike Kubeck is the manager of SuperDeluxe, a multipurpose event space that tries to be open to a wide variety of high-quality music without regard to specific genres or origin. Kubeck hails from Fresno, Calif., and has been in Japan since 1993.

My favorite event of 2006: ICP Orchestra at SuperDeluxe on Nov. 1. It was a fantastic jazz gig that held the entire audience spellbound for 2 1/2 hours. That is personally my favorite single concert we have held at SuperDeluxe so far.

Trend of the year: I hope this is not a trend, but in 2006 my local convenience store played nothing but 24-hours-a-day Elvis. I don’t have a problem with Elvis, and it is kind of interesting to hear some seriously obscure tracks while buying a juice, but it does become tiring.

On the brighter side, YouTube, MySpace and Mixi have all enabled countless artists and goofballs alike to easily disseminate their work to the general public. This is interesting because it confuses and inspires at the same time.

Disappointment of 2006: Missing the Fuji Rock Festival and Metamorphose, again . . .

Most annoying song: This is an extremely difficult question . . . I don’t listen to much pop music these days, so I have become rather insulated from “annoying” tunes. I can barely keep up listening to all the excellent music I stumble across.

However, I suppose that anything produced by certain musicians I enjoy could easily qualify as annoying to some folks. (Names omitted to protect the innocent.)

Album of the year: “God and Hair,” a 13-CD box set collecting the entire output of 1970s cult rock legends Ya Ho Wha 13 from California. It is great being able to listen to large chunks of this without having to change CDs.

It is completely insane acid-rock, so always a nice surprise when tracks pop up at random as well.

Prediction for 2007: More cheesy celebrity vanity releases and more phenomenal independent music.

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The least annoying gaijin tarento in the Japanese media, George Williams presents “Good Morning Garage” with Taro and Mike, Mon.-Fri., 7-9 a.m. on 76.1 Inter FM and “George’s Hi-Fi Zone” on Tues.-Thurs., 11 p.m.-midnight on M-ON! TV.

2006 for me was . . .: A case of the same big artists still selling. I’m 36, and when I was in my early 20s the only way to find a rare record was by mail order or by going into those small record shops in Shinjuku. Now you can buy these obscure records on the Net. I’m surprised the Internet hasn’t made people more selective.

Trend of the year: There are always movements that the media wants to grab onto, and there’s always interesting music.

There’s been some great dub reggae this year, such as Warrior Charge and Adrian Sherwood. You don’t really read about them, but they can certainly pack the crowds in.

Disappointment of 2006: Missing the chance to see Lee “Scratch” Perry. I think he’s 70 now. Hopefully he’ll be back many more times, but I missed him!

Most annoying song: I tend to switch off anything I can’t stand.

Album of the year: Arctic Monkeys’ “Whatever You Think I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” It was like singer Alex Turner was speaking to me. I was able to feel here in Japan what it was like to be a teenager growing up in England.

Prediction for 2007: !!!’s album is probably going to be one of the albums of the year next year. They’ve already opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in England, and I hope they sell lots of records.

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Yuki Hasuda is manager of Tower Records Ario Kameari in Adachi-ku, Tokyo.

2006 for me was . . .: All about the rise of social-networking sites; the development of the Internet as a means of gathering information; and Tower Records starting its distribution service with Napster. Increasingly the way we are listening to music has become diversified.

Trend of the year: In terms of any particular scenes or movements from this year, we’ve seen a revival of 1990s neo-acoustic music — namely the freak-folk movement — and “body music” (Nitzer Ebb, Meat Beat Manifesto).

Another development was the improvement in the quality of traditional Japanese music. Again, there’s a sense that music is diversifying.

Disappointment of 2006: The death of [former Pink Floyd leader] Syd Barrett.

Album of the year: “Singles Breaking Up” by Don Caballero, an instrumental math-rock group from Pennsylvania.

Favorite song: “Hold Me Sen~orita” by Tomohisa Yamashita. The song moved me and I liked the lyrics

Prediction for 2007: The online distribution of music through cell phones can only increase. At the same time, I think that distribution format will be reassessed. The consumer will choose which service to sign up to depending on their own needs. But besides that, we’re probably going to need more precise marketing to find out what the consumer wants.

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Simon Bartz is a music columnist for The Japan Times. He is the founder of the Web site about Japanese music, and when he’s not saving kids from certain death, he props up bars and is lead singer of the band Factotums.

My Favorite event of 2006: The Halloween party at Shimokitazawa’s Shelter livehouse, mainly because Saturns played. A Tokyo band that dress like Nazis with Iron Crosses, German World War II helmets and trench coats, they play two or three melodic rock ‘n’ roll songs through a blitzkrieg of feedback before storming off stage. They’re my favorite band right now. On a personal note, my badbee event at Shinjuku Jam where my band played with three fantastic bands — Melt-Banana, Nokemono and Falsies on Heat — was great, too, even though my throat was screwed up and I couldn’t sing to save my life.

Trend of the year: Illegal drugs, are, well . . . illegal and can land you in jail, which is not a nice place. So don’t do them, kids. “Legal highs” seem to be catching on, however. Eating snakes’ testicles mashed up with chocolate and a lot of caffeine during the Asagiri Jam festival in the foothills of Mount Fuji in October got me dancing my legs off to The Pogues. The strangest thing, though, was Shane MacGowan remembering his lines. And Red Bull is now all over the place in Japan. Down a few Red Bull and vodkas and you just don’t sleep.

Album of the year: People still buy albums? When I go to HMV or Tower Records it feels like a hospital. Sickness hangs heavy in the air. The only people there shuffle around with their heads down, feeling embarrassed to be there because they haven’t worked out yet how to download music for free from the Internet. Soon we will download everything, including the artwork, which is the only reason remaining for buying an actual album — unless you want vinyl. This year was the worst year in living memory for new, innovative, great music. Everybody is raving about the Arctic Monkeys, and I have no idea why. The only records I liked enough to buy this year were Dirty Pretty Things’ debut, The Strokes’ third album and Babyshambles’ five-track “The Blinding EP” — which is magic. Everything else I got for free.

Disappointment of the 2006: Kiyoshiro Imawano falling sick and missing Fuji Rock. I wish him all the best.

That Michael Jackson fans in Japan are willingly pay 400,000 yen to have their photo taken with that freak at an event where he doesn’t even intend to perform. Tragic.

And gaijin bands touring Japan who lord it over the polite locals and abuse their hospitality. Someone I know was severely beaten up by members of a British band last week in Shibuya, who stamped on his head while allegedly filming the attack on video. I would advise this band — who I won’t name for legal reasons — to stay in their hotel next time they visit Japan.

Prediction for 2007: Better music to load into an iPod cellphone, which surely will be the next must-have gadget. After this dismal year, the only way is up. The only true genius in music right now is Pete Doherty. He has the spirit of Byron or Shelley, which will likely prevent him from living long enough to outgenius Dylan. The way this troubled troubadour can bang out great songs at the drop of one of his trendy hats is an inspiration to me as a songwriter. After watching an excellent Arena documentary about him on, and listening to “The Blinding EP,” I was inspired to write several new songs — and NO, they didn’t all sound like Babyshambles!

For other related stories, please click the following links:
2006: The year that hip-hop finally grew up
When the kids lost the music