Dance artists come together for Japan

by Mike Sunda

Special To The Japan Times

Last Friday, at exactly 2:46 in the afternoon, the “Nihon Kizuna” bonus album, containing a further 34 electronic tracks from a range of producers worldwide to supplement the 50 tracks on the original album, was released for free online. As well as marking one calendar month since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of northeastern Japan, the bonus album was also intended as an expression of gratitude for the music fans who bought the original release, which raised over $20,000 for the Japanese Red Cross Society.

“Nihon Kizuna,” which loosely translates to “bond of friendship with Japan,” was the brainchild of three staples of the Tokyo underground club scene — Keisuke Ito, Ukraine-born Eugene Kovalenko, and Frenchman Francois Bibard, better known as Broken Haze, XLII and Audace respectively — as well as one London-based music journalist whose holiday in Japan took an unexpected twist.

“We were all stressed in our own ways; I had my parents e-mailing every day going, ‘What are you doing in Japan?’ Having this project was good because all our energy went into it,” says the latter, Laurent Fintoni, himself a former resident of Japan who considers himself ‘spiritually Japanese.’ “I sent out one e-mail, to 30-odd people, most of whom feel some sort of kinship with Japan — be it touring here or having (Japanese) artists on their labels. That was Monday (March 14) midnight. On Friday at 7 p.m. we launched ‘Nihon Kizuna.’ “

As the four involved contacted artists, who themselves contacted other acts, a combination of goodwill and positive energy from the electronic-music community soon manifested in an impressive 49 tracks in just four days. Promotion was sacrificed for brevity as the compilation was released with minimum fuss, but Fintoni believes that may have been a blessing in disguise.

“I think that’s why people connected with it so well, because it was spontaneous and faceless,” he says. “The energy, the willingness to help was already there; we were just the conduit for it.”

The album was available for a minimum donation of $15 (¥1,500) through retail site Bandcamp and, three days later, through iTunes. Although sales figures for the latter are yet to be released, Fintoni is hopeful that the already impressive figure of $20,000 could potentially double: “We’ve been featured on iTunes America, Italy and Holland. We’ve been No. 1 on the electronic chart, and we went up to 11 in the overall chart above Lady Gaga,” he says, making little effort to conceal his delight that a compilation of such plainly uncommercial music could usurp the global pop phenomenon, if only on iTunes Japan and only temporarily.

Of the 49 tracks, around half were previously unreleased, including one joint by Kuedo (one half of Planet Mu dubstep duo Vex’d) that he’d been sitting on for around five years. Further big-name label support came from Hyperdub owner Kode9, recently in town for SonarSound Tokyo, as well as Ninja Tune, whose generosity was welcomed shortly after the album’s release — the original tracklist of 49 had to be postnatally revised up to 50 when the label offered Fintoni a track by drum ‘n’ bass act The Qemists an hour after Nihon Kizuna had gone live.

Ultimately, though, Nihon Kizuna is very much a triumph of the Japanese underground scene, without which the compilation would never have come into existence, let alone have become the success that it is. Many of the country’s finest electronic producers have donated tracks, including the likes of Eccy, Yosi Horikawa and the Raid System crew (which includes XLII and Broken Haze), who will all perform at the album’s release party at Be-Wave, Shinjuku on 15 April. It is this unique mix of homegrown and foreign involvement that makes ‘Nihon Kizuna’ a fitting symbol for the relief efforts that have brought together communities worldwide, as well as an indispensable release for anyone interested in cutting-edge electronic music.

The ‘Nihon Kizuna’ release party will be held at Be-Wave in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on April 15 (11 p.m.). Free entry; donations accepted. For more information, visit www.nihonkizuna.com.