“Drape the Messe in day-glo deco,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
A-list lives acts and top DJs,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Make your plans for Makuhari,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
It’s Vision & Solstice’s Christmas party,
Fa la la la la, la la la la!“
(Apologies to “Deck the Halls”)
It appears that we have been super good boys and girls this year after all, to get a holiday gift this choice. Yes, there must be a Santa! (And is he secretly Goa Gil?)
Capitalizing on this rare opportunity of Dec. 25 falling on a Saturday, Vision Quest and Solstice Music are teaming up once again to present “Vivid Experience,” Christmas night at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture.
Live acts Astrix (Hom-mega), G.M.S. (Spun Records), Hallucinogen (Twisted Records), Skazi (Chemical Crew) and Alien vs. The Cat (Vision Quest/TIP World), plus DJs Dino Psaras (Vision Quest) and Dimitri D.K.N. (Solstice). Let this wholly awesome A+ list be the answer to your Christmas wish list.
What more can be written about Skazi, G.M.S. and Astrix? These five guys are at the very top of the heap, in that order, and they slay the Japan crowd every time they play. “Alien vs. The Cat” is Alien Project’s Ari Linker and Space Cat’s Avi Algranati, and the album they released together earlier this year is a mind-melting blend of both artists. The Hallucinogen show becomes even better once you read the next paragraph. Dino and Dimitri are the best from both camps for a big-arena event like this.
Vision Quest and Solstice have experience working big shows like this together at Makuhari Messe, and they’ve assembled an excellent support crew: sound by Acoustic and Zach; visuals by m.m.delight, Zakuro and Dragon 2; lighting by Egg House/Bags Groove; decoration by Aqui; and lasers by Psychotech. (Yeah! Lasers! Hallucinogen! Go ahead, grin!)
The arena at Makuhari Messe offers a vast rectangular dance floor, which basically can be configured either as “deep” — stage on the far end, closer to the crowd, better straight-on sound, but requires a control booth in the middle of the floor — or as “wide” — stage is higher and harder to see, sound falls apart on the far edges of the floor, but there’s more space as the control booth can be positioned directly opposite the stage on the second deck. I’m hoping for “deep,” otherwise the stage presence of Skazi and G.M.S. will be pretty much wasted way up there.
It tends to get pretty warm in the middle, but some of the chill-out areas get really chilly if the doors are flung open to let in the winter air. Be prepared for extremes.
In previous parties at the Messe, there has been a wide range of food, drink and other vendors, and a large-bag cloaking system that worked surprisingly well.
Tickets are 8,500 yen advance, or 10,000 yen at the door. The doors will open at 8 p.m. and the music starts at 9 p.m. It’s easy to get there via the Keiyo Line, just 36 minutes from Tokyo Station to Kaihin-Makuhari. (Getting home is always much more difficult for some reason.)
As for the following Friday night — New Year’s Eve — the word from Vision Quest is that “there will definitely be a New Year’s countdown party, and it will be with Solstice,” location and lineup to be announced soon. Watch for a flier when you exit the Christmas party and keep an eye on both organizers’ Web sites.
The winter calendar is overflowing with choice parties. Solstice Music seems to attract and maintain the best listings — click on “Events,” then scroll to the bottom for “Other Party Info.” There are several gems in this list now, including one for a rare Chikyuya (www.async.ne.jp/chikyuya/) gig on Dec. 22 listing only Techno Shaman Goa Gil and a free open air countdown party.
New releases for every stocking!
There has been a flood of great new music hitting stores in the past couple of months. And if you’ve got party friends on your Christmas list, here’s a list of possible stocking stuffers, all priced at about 2,500 yen.
“We Interface,” X-Dream (Solstice Music / Gplusrecords.com, released Oct. 13)
This is the long-awaited X-Dream album, or is it? About two years ago, Marcus C. Maichel and Jan Muller undertook what purists would consider sacrilegious — reinventing the seminal X-Dream sound.
Well, not exactly reinventing. “It’s more like we were widening our sound,” Marcus tells me in a one-on-one during his recent visit to Tokyo, one stop on the Solstice Tour 2004. “And it wasn’t anything that we planned, it all started by chance, really.”
Ariel, who adorns the cover with her husband, Jan, writes poetry. And the intrigue of trying to incorporate Areil’s futuristic silicon-laced verses into the X-Dream sound took over. It wasn’t just a matter of standing somebody up to sing — they had to develop a “character” for Ariel’s voice that would blend well. For that they turned to VOCODA processing to apply the proper synthetic mutation, but not enough that you can’t hear every word on the four tracks on which Ariel sings.
Marcus explains: “There’s a message inside this, that we should start thinking about what’s coming in the future, emerging technology, it’s impact on our society . . . we wanted to keep the message clear.”
“We Interface” is still a little like your older X-Dream, but the sound is more emotional, more compact, and some tracks have a brighter retro clubby feel. Marcus points out that integrating the vocals gave a mainstream structure to several tracks — verse, chorus, refrain.
This album, says Marcus, is giving X-Dream access to dance floors on the electro and full-on dance scenes like they’ve never seen before.
“It felt like a restart (to release “We Interface”), he continues. “Whenever you do something new, there’s a risk. But now we are reaching more people, and that’s great, isn’t it?”
Obviously so. “We Interface” sold out its initial 5,000 copy pressing in Japan during its first week on the shelves — “gold,” by The Second Room’s benchmark. And the Osaka and Tokyo show (Nov. 22) were both packed houses.
For the disoriented purists, take heart in the assurance that there will be a new Delta album in 2005, hopefully in a less minimal flavor than the last one three years ago.
“Artcore,” Astrix (Hom-mega / Vision Quest Records, released Nov. 12)
Avi Shmailov’s second album is fast and powerful, and an excellent followup to “Eye to Eye.” But whereas “Eye to Eye” had an innocent, spacey air about it, “Artcore” is direct and mature.
Astrix has, since bursting onto the scene in 2002, always been able to deliver killer goods to a wider swath of the dance floor than most full-on Israeli acts. “Artcore” will show you how much he has learned since then.
“Monster,” a remix of a track Astrix did with Infected Mushroom, is one of two 147 bpm selections on the album, “On Fire,” a much different version than you’ve been hearing on Tokyo dance floors since spring, is the other. The title track, “Artcore” (track 5) and “Underbeat” (track 7) are sure to find a good spot in my playlist.
“Subliminal,” Cyrus the Virus (Vision Quest Records, released Nov. 12)
There are indeed subliminal messages in the tracks on this CD. First they tell you to “Smile! Wide!” Then it’s something like “Get your damn body moving!” I just couldn’t help myself.
Cyrus the Virus is Jan-Willem Bot’s solo project at SPUN Records, having previously released with G.M.S., Juvenile and Poli. Who hasn’t heard the “William Wallace” track? He shines in this debut album.
“Subliminal” is a twisted ride at the hands of Cyrus on his own, wrapping carefully crafted sound bytes around positive thought-inducing bass lines from a seemingly endless imagination and range of tools. Jan-Willem has managed to give each its own uplifting flavor so that it sounds great in any order. DJs will want to look a bit deeper into these tracks, as the intros can go on dreamily for a bit before bursting into high-energy smiles.
Give this one to a similarly twisted friend and entice him or her to get the holiday party started.
“Sharp,” Etnica (Solstice Music, released Nov. 17)
This is the “Surprise Album of the Year.” I can’t get enough of this vibe, even hauling my decrepit Rio600 MP3 player out of retirement to take it with me.
It has been almost three years since the release of “Chrome.” Talk about long-awaited.
And talk about vast improvement. Since “Chrome” in January 2002, Italians Max Lanfranconi and Maurizio Begotti have become a powerful influence, actively producing and boosting the stature of their label Etnicanet to world renown, including the ambient “Macau Cafe” series. But “Sharp” is destined to become the Etnica pair’s best loved work.
“Sharp” is a delight of chunky tribal bass lines averaging out in the mid-140s that play vast host to spacey shoulder-twitching melodies. The effect seems familiar, like it’s the vibe you didn’t realize you were missing. But that’s a clever illusion. This is way better than your memory serves, especially as you can’t keep your finger off the stop button.
If you’re buying this one for a friend, make them play it for you over a big bowl of spiked eggnog, or whatever makes you giddy. It will make for an enjoyable reunion either way.
“Collaborations,” Space Tribe (Solstice Music/Space Tribe Music, released Nov. 17)
Definitely the most aptly named release in this list, “Collaborations” is Ollie Wisdom’s Space Tribe presence morphed with G.M.S. (two tracks), CPU (two tracks), Psywalker (two tracks), Electric Universe, SAFI Connection and even X-Dream.
This ninth Space Tribe album is also the first release on Ollie’s new Space Tribe Music label.
To really enjoy the full effect of this, I had to finally get over “Religious Experience” as the benchmark Space Tribe sound and put it out of sight. Instead, I focused totally on this track list, which listeners will also find themselves doing all too often out of shear amazement.
Ollie is clearly in the driver’s seat on this breakneck safari. Buckle up! “Wacko” with CPU and “Alternate Future” with G.M.S. rip along at 148 bpm, “Tall Poppy Syndrome” with Psywalker spins at 146. But it’s out at this speed where Mr. Wisdom is at his psychedelic best.
The result is a collection of ingenious tracks that you will want dip into from time to time just to shake things up. The first track, “3rd Eye,” with GMS, is already making itself at home on a dance floor near you. For a real jolt, kick over to Track 4, “Twitch,” with Psywalker, laden heavily with bytes from the ubiquitous movie “Waking Life,” and wait for the riff that screams “1999” before snapping you right back.
“Forest,” Doof Records compilation, already released
Honestly, I can barely see “Forest” for the trees on this CD jacket, but it stands out big on the plastic inside, which is where you’ll find the latest trip from the crew at Doof Records.
Doof’s end-of-summer compilation brings together U-Recken vs. Zion, Double R.E.L., Entropy, Zirking Vs. N3XU5, Iron Madness, Zirkin vs. Rev, Blanka and one each by themselves for N3XU5 (Luis Lopes of Portugal) and Rev (Troy Leidfich of Holland). You can’t help but feel jealous of the people who got to hear these tracks played at parties, which look killer, based on the gallery of photos on the Doof Web site.
If you like neuron-distorting galloping tracks on phat bass lines and you enjoyed Doof’s “e.s.t.” compilations, then “Forest” will have you shimmying in delight. And some of you are going to want this simply for the mischievous Ronald Reagan vocal. (Time to kick “The Messenger.”)
“Natural Born Chillers,” alephzero, compiled by DJ Shahar and Shulman
After two successful albums from Shulman and Bluetech, alephzero presents its first compilation of cutting edge chill tracks, with a list of established artists: Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Ishq, MIDIval PunditZ, Son Kite, J.Views, Agalactica, Anahata, Cosmic Fools, Eastern Spirit, Jirah and Zen Mechanics.
Shahar and Shulman concocted have a genre-breaking journey that spirals around the world, from the far corners of Ireland to India and Egypt.
This is a wholly different sandwich than the “Macau Cafe” series — hold the Ibiza, extra sand, garnish with quiet dream-penetrating soundscapes, hypnotizing atmospheric moments and mystical ambient touches. A real highlight here is “Disconnect,” by Jirah, one of the best trance acts to come out of the U.S.
“Future, The Remixes,” Analog Pussy and various artists (AP Records, released Nov. 19)
This slick little project and excellent stocking filler is a collection of nine remixes of the eminent and telling Analog Pussy track “Future,” from their recent album “Trance N Roll.”
Now a major highlight of Jiga and Jinno’s powerful live shows — and my personal favorite AP track — “Future” is served up in flavors to fit nearly every situation from the likes of Son Kite, SBK, Sharigrama, EDL, Element, Indika, The Melovsky’s, Feurhake and even a “Baby Remix” by Jiga and Jinno themselves. It is surprisingly not tedious, even letting it go continually for several hours on end.
Analog Pussy recently played to a way-under-capacity crowd at Club Spiral, but it didn’t deter them in the slightest. It was in fact an even better performance than their April gig at Cube326 and included new tracks that feature cello recorded from a musician they met on a street in Germany, where the Israeli pair reside.
The Second Room looks forward to their next trip to Tokyo, hopefully in the first half of 2005.
Second Room Report Cards
The Gathering 2004, Palcall Tsumagoi, Sept. 18-20: A+
Vision Quest got so many things right for their signature summer event that I barely know where to begin. The action-packed lineup we’ve already talked about. But this was by far the best-organized outdoor event I’ve ever attended.
VQ maximized the use of Palcall Tsumagoi — a fantastically accommodating, easily accessed ski resort with a delightfully energetic staff — and held the attention of some 9,000 lunatics for three glorious days. Everything worked, it was incident- and arrest-free, and there was enough fun for everybody, including opportunities to shoulder up to Skazi and Infected Mushroom as they ran amok through the crowd. We even got a fireworks show on the first night (fortunately not from the nearby glowing volcanic hood of Mount Asama). The only weakness in the year’s best psychedelic carnival came right at its somewhat abrupt end.
It’s a strange paradox, but to entertain an ever-growing and demanding Japan crowd, Vision Quest has jam-packed its Gathering lineup with the world’s best full-on acts. The result is a rave that’s popping at top speed long before the first sunrise and which doesn’t let up. By the time Monday afternoon rolls around, we can’t stop either. But what can Vision Quest do? Four encore tracks at Gathering 2002 were proof enough that in this state of frenzy there is no such thing as “enough.”
Shantipi, Tamagawa Camp Village, Oct. 1-3, B+
Oct. 2 was probably the last real day of summer and the Lake Okutama area was indeed a groovy place to be, hanging out with the Shantipi and Bionics Records crowd. Tamagawa Camp Village is enchanting, nestled between tall tree-smothered hills with a rocky stream bustling with tasty — I’m told — pint-size fish running through it. By train and scenic bus ride it’s reachable from lower Tokyo in less than three hours and perfect for a party of less than 400 people.
This gig unfortunately lost out on a highly competitive weekend of half a dozen other outdoor finales. I arrived on this lovely Saturday afternoon and could barely count 100 people, including the super-accommodating staff of both organizer and campground.
It was hard to tell how many more showed up because with nightfall came a low, heavy fog, which blacked out the three-quarter moon and turned into mist and sprinkles and then into incessant light rain, never letting up. The dance floor had no decent chance to come together, despite some really spirited efforts. Sometime around mid-morning, Mother Nature scored an hour of silence as the equipment succumbed to the all-night barrage of moisture. Amazingly, there was practically no mud anywhere.
The music came back, of course, and we — bobbing under our umbrellas and clad in rain gear — were treated to a string of inspired performances. Outstanding DJ sets by Yoshidance, Tokage and Splifnik set a solid tone for the night. The morning was loaded with live sets by Nissimyani, PTX, Onyx and Melicia, featuring the enchanting vocals of his lovely sister Odelia.
Bionics Records will be releasing a new compilation inspired by the Thursday night parties they’ve been holding in Israel. PTX, the talented Patrick Chen, is about to release his debut album and it promises to be killer.
Sirius Blasting Tour, Nov. 27, A
What phase was the moon in on this night? From the dance floor of Ariake Differ, it felt like full. Something was sure going on. My friends and I still go all dreamy eyed when we recount this one.
Without question, my most enjoyable night ever at Differ. Just enough people showed to comfortably fill the auditorium. And starting from the incredibly talented and totally adorable DJ Miki, the vibe was so enthralling that the chill area was practically a ghost town all night. I wish I had this one on video — it was that good.
Tokage’s DJ set was possibly the best I’ve heard indoors this year, thoroughly tenderizing the crowd for live acts Psysex, Dali and 40%. DJ Goblin closed it and he is in fact even better than the ecstatic folklore about him.
The guys manning the CD vendor table deserve a nice mention while I’m here. Instead of packing up before the end of the party, which is the usual, they were still there on my way out, with a compilation I couldn’t pass up and will mention again.
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