There are a couple of weird reasons why I am in Japan; Dragon Ball Z and Gundam are notably not among them. However, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and the shibuya-kei musical genre are.
The shibuya-kei genre (literally “shibuya-style”, Shibuya being a district in Tōkyō) can be loosely described as a Japanese pop mash-up of French 60’s pop music, bossa nova, lounge, jazz, and anything else that might sound retro-exotic to Japanese listeners in the 90’s. The most notable artist fitting under that style is probably Cornelius, along with its previous band project Flipper’s Guitar and the other famous Pizzicato Five band. There are others, of course: Kahimi Karie, Fantastic Plastic Machine, and, among my favourites, Buffalo Daughter.
Buffalo Daughter played last Friday in Noon, an awesome underground club in Ōsaka, very small and intimate. Although shibuya-kei was greatly popular in Japan in the nineties, it seems to only really apply to people who care about music (think of the lot who would listen to Beck, Radiohead and Arcade Fire in the Western world). Thus a reduced audience, absent-mindedly elitist, and passionate.
The night was entitled tropicarhythm, and the first performance was by OKI, the most prominent tonkori performer (says Wikipedia. cool!). Couple with electronic effects, it was a rather excellent performance, of melodies and repetitive rhythms slowly building up in a captivating circle.
Next was EXPE, with its impressively flawless frontman guitarist, whom you might mistake for Jimmy Hendrix, if Jimmy Hendrix was Japanese, and a largely awesome non-Japanese bass player, who looked about as cool as bass players are supposed to look. The crowd was already jumping up and down frenetically by then.
Unfortunately, the DJ sets in between the sessions were high-quality dance candy, perfect mixes of fat underground techno and various weird records, so there really wasn’t much opportunity to sit down to sip some sake.
Which warmed us up for the clou of the night, Buffalo Daughter. Two girls at the front (SuGar Yoshinaga on guitar and TB-303, Yumiko Ohno on bass, Minimoog and Moog Opus 3), one very nerdy DJ at the back (MoOog Yamamoto on turntables), and an unidentified tour drummer. Somehow, it was enough to recreate their unique sound, and so they did, very tight, and very well. I recognized the songs from various parts of their discography, including opener Mutating, and Peace, from their latest album Euphorica. The concert was incredible in quality and energy: great duo vocals; bass and guitar playing together like old friends; deep, fat minimoog parts; hypnotic build-up on the 303… The show rocked the audience, perfect.
I must apologize for the poor quality of pictures. Unfortunately, the stage was rather dark, without any flashy spots, so my amateur camera failed rather noticeably. However, to make up for that, there are pictures of Yumiko and SuGar with Wilson (another NEC intern from Stanford) and me! The club was very intimate indeed, and the band came to the bar after their performance, so we got an opportunity to talk to the two frontwomen and thank them for the amazing show. Very lovely to talk to, and not acting the slightest bit like stars.
Let’s hope someone invites them to play in Switzerland soon; they would love to!