Welcome back to the Summer of Netlabels. This week’s show is a continuation of last week’s, where we heard tracks from the first few years of Maltine Records. Those tracks gave hints to Maltine’s developing sound and the label moving past breakcore and rave sounds to poppier tunes, but still delivering tracks “based on DANCE.” That’s not to say that Maltine sold out its hardcore rave roots. That’s not really something you can do when you’re giving all your music away for free, anyway. Maltine never seemed to be about anything more than the founders looking for music they liked, and their tastes surely changed. With a label, website, and a fanbase already established, Maltine’s tastes began in the latter part of the decade to influence other artists. The Maltine Sound started being heard.
Which presents a problem: the Maltine sound isn’t, really. It’s not a unified genre attack. Nothing on the label sounds alike; even subsequent releases by the same artist can sound wildly different. Sure, it’s often dance music, electronic, and sometimes uses anime samples, but otaku dance music isn’t new. Maltine, despite cartoon album covers, doesn’t fit neatly into the anime dance genre. If anything, the label has one foot in the Akihabara culture, but many other feet in many other styles. What unifies these releases is that they’re on the same webpage, and that Maltine is cool, in the true sense of not giving a fuck about trends and releasing what you like. It’s obvious Maltine also has excellent taste and passion for music. So, that’s the Maltine Sound.
In this playlist, we hear it broadening even further. Pop music consumes as much as it is consumed. This is hungry pop music, sucking in sounds from anywhere it can to make something new and excellent. The past five years of Maltine should be the envy of any label. I played many of these tracks on prior shows, and I remember Maltine being the reason I checked netlabel websites every week, hungry myself for a new release. Maltine often delivered. From 2010 through 2015, it seemed like there was always something fresh from the unstoppable Maltine, and I was far from the only one paying attention to the label. Musicians worldwide were pushing Maltine artists, and other labels, even the Japanese record industry, started paying attention. As you can tell from the links, this story is, by now, well told, but, as with so much of modern music, it’s still ultimately niche. When I talk to people I know about Maltine, even those into electronic music, there’s a turn in their nose I often see, as though it can’t be serious or good music. It is, though, but it’s not the music you were expecting, and occasionally more cutesy or more esoteric or maximal or minimal. It’s bold music, emboldened by the pastiche the internet inspires, and, correspondingly, it’s impossible to separate Maltine from the network of influences the internet allows. It’s a world of music to explore and contribute to, and the world of music is immense, crowded, and fleeting. The songs on this playlist are outstanding, however, and I hope you enjoy them.
The Summer of Netlabels continues! This week, we’ve got two hours of music from Maltine Records. Unlike last week’s episode, this isn’t a broad look at the label’s catalogue. All the songs on this chronologically arranged playlist are from the first six years of Maltine Records, one of the earliest netlabels and the most influential in Japan. At over 160 releases spanning hip-hop, gabber techno, anime-sampling house, and idol pop, it’s difficult to write about Maltine as honing a specific aesthetic. Instead, Maltine channels the internet itself in its effortless blending of myriad styles. Sometimes those sounds are pureed together in the songs of Maltine, and other times they are more coarsely mixed, but the spirit of the internet, taking influences and tweaking them until you wear them like your own, is the 140 bpm heart of Maltine.
That, and irreverence with some disdain for authority– both traits woven into the fabric of the internet. In the footer of some pages this opinion can be found: “Jasrac is a joke.” For young, data-driven musicians wanting to remix and sample songs they enjoy, this isn’t just an idle volley. Many of the earliest releases by Maltine can no longer be downloaded, and that’s probably because they sampled something Jasrac was paid to protect. As has been demonstrated since the days of Napster, protecting copyright is not high on the list of virtues for most internetters. Maltine owes more than just aesthetics to the qualities of the internet.
And, honestly, I’m not sure we’re missing too much by not being able to download those early Maltine releases, but I say that as someone who’s not much of a breakcore and rave techno fan, though I’m curious to listen to some of it(I’m a bit of a completist, anyway). In fact, much of Maltine’s early catalogue is hit-or-miss, but maybe not, I guess, if you’re into breakbeats. Really, when people talk about Maltine now, they talk about shinier, friendlier(but still on-the-edge) music, the kind Maltine has released for the past seven or so years. The early Maltine, I’m sure, reflected the tastes of its creators when they were adolescents full of hormones, maybe pissed off, maybe bored, and clamoring for something different. That’s still pretty cool, though. That’s one reason for music, and why it’s so important. This spirit persists in Maltine to this day, and is why the label is so good.
tofubeats is here as dj newtown. He got his start on Maltine and honed his sound here in these early releases. The moody shuffle of high school girl(we loved) is a standout track, remixed many times over by other excellent musicians. Mikeneko Homeless(三毛猫ホームレス) has, and still is, a Maltine stalwart, and their early work, including the crucial KANEKURE, is represented on this playlist. Many more important and excellent artists are on this playlist. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre(and much on Maltine can’t fit in a single genre), if it’s on Maltine, it’s going to be worth the listen. No other netlabel puts as much care into such a variety of music. Enjoy.
Every Thursday morning, just after midnight, I confuse, bemuse, and irritate the insomniacs and late-shift workers of Santa Fe, and whoever is listening online, with the music of my radio show Lullabies for Cthulhu. The magic of freeform public radio is truly realized in my show, I think, and much of that magic is thanks to the various free netlabels that run out of Japan. My weekly playlist creation involves trawling through forty or so of them every week scouting for new sounds to play for you all. Sadly, it seems the golden age of the free mp3 label in Japan is past, though some still push on. Years ago, and even further back, before Soundcloud and Bandcamp made it easy for artists to have their own branded outlet for their music, netlabels were a way for people who shared the same tastes(and perhaps an Ableton Live license code) to pool their efforts into the embodiment of a musical ethos: a label. Netlabelsexistallaroundtheworld, of course, but when I started my radio show seven years(!) ago I decided to play mostly Japanese music(themes are nice, and it encourages me to keep learning the language), so I went deep into the rabbit hole of Japanese netlabels.
And it’s quite deep, but not as vivacious any more. Few new netlabels seem to be springing up as artists turn to self-distribution. Many older netlabels haven’t put out releases in years, though their websites remain up. Bless whoever keeps those servers lit, because it means you and I can download that music and keep the fire of those netlabels burning. Despite the quiet, I still believe, and sometimes, old netlabels become active again, even if only sporadically.
So, in honor of these labels that have contributed a billion gigabytes to my music collection over the years, I’m going to be crafting playlists all summer long from their catalogues. One show, one netlabel! This week’s show features music from the first netlabel I became excited about(and first one I discovered, not coincidentally), Altema Records. Altema hasn’t released anything since 2014, sadly, but its catalogue is rich and still available. Most netlabels skew towards electronic music, and Altema is no different. It leans heavily on the anime and otaku subculture, but never becomes beholden to it, nor is knowledge of anime required to enjoy the music(though when listening to the now deleted(due to copyright claims, I can only imagine) SCHOOL GIRL AKATHISIA, it does help to know it’s all tracks sampling and inspired by the beloved anime K-ON, one I never got into myself, but is perennially popular).
Many of the artists on Altema also appeared on other netlabels. Many, including Go-Qualia, y01ce, and Calla Soiled, appeared on the wonderful Bunkai-Kei records. Some appeared on Maltine records and Marginal. Seeing these familiar faces across netlabels reinforces a sense of community among these artists and labels. Certainly they knew of each other, influenced and worked with one another even. It proves this is a real scene with its own rules, aesthetics, and personalities. In fact, it even has a physical hub: Club Mogra, in Akihabara, where the artists would perform live, hold release parties, and the music was celebrated and danced to. This little niche is a universe to many. Please enjoy.
Two on Tuesday features two songs by two different artists and the author’s explanation of how they are related, however tenuous the connection. This one is rather late in coming, but here it is.
It’s been a while since I updated! Let’s see if I can make up for some lost time for the rest of year and post a few times a month. The world of music from Japan, and my weekly radio show that mostly plays that music, hasn’t slowed down. Rather than write about this week’s show, however, I’ll continue my Tuesday tradition and write about two songs I enjoy.
If you know me or listen to my show, you know I tend towards the light, the poppy, the sugar-coated and over-stuffed with sweet kind of music. There’s so much music out there, and while I, truly, madly, and deeply want to listen it all, time is fleeting, so I’ll take the poppy stuff I can enjoy without much effort, if you please. The spectrum of pop is pretty wide, however, and growing ever wider, so fortunately, there’s plenty of music for me to enjoy.
These two songs I’ve been playing and enjoying lately have very little in common, really. But what these songs by Jitabata-P and BoAT do have in common is a soaring chorus, a hook, that they ride out well to the end of the song. It’s not a soar in the modern pop terminology, but it does have that feeling, but it’s earned in both of these songs. These two songs are my kind of pop music.
It’s been quite a while since my last post, but as it’s the new year and all, I’m resolving to get back on track once more with writing about my radio show, the hastily-named Lullabies for Cthulhu, which is quietly still going strong over here in Santa Fe. This week’s playlist, like almost every playlist I do, is eclectic, mostly upbeat, and features mostly netlabel and free music from all over the world.
A couple of tracks this week are from OMOIDE LABEL, which has become my favorite netlabel, insofar as it is reliably putting out otaku-influenced music across genres, filling in the gaps left by the dormant Altema Records. The Jun Kuroda mix of Harito’s Home soars with a chiptune solo after a lengthy and saturated buildup. There’s a glorious mixture of styles at play here, including drum n’ bass, house, and even eurodance techno. The other OMOIDE track on this playlist is the iida(who was responsible for one of my favorite remixes from last year) Remix of ANIMAL HACK’s TIME, which is itself a cutup of a trance track from a few years back. This remix is a footwork song at heart, and shows it when the pizzicato break comes in between the vocal samples.
Also featured in this playlist are a few tracks from the recently released compilation from Kiiro Records, the Kiiroi White Album, another netlabel that continues to rise in my estimation, but for putting out excellent garage and indie-pop guitar music. Baby Drive by Takeaki Oda with Rush, presumably not the Canadian band, keeps the frivolous fun spirit of Shibuya-Kei alive, and for this I am deeply thankful.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks over here at the oh hey guys casita(there’s much ahead, like a month-long stay in Japan that will certainly be written about here _hella extensively_), but we haven’t stopped putting out mixes for public radio consumption. Here are two of them. There’s no theme I was thinking of in particular when I made them, but the music is uniformly great, as usual. Of particular note among many great tracks is the swirling and swoony cover of Cornelius’ New Music Machine by Passepied, the bouncy new-wavy remix by Shako-Pani of Suzuka’s Do You Know?, and a rare non-Japanese track by an Argentinian shoegaze band named Un Planeta. That track was found on a wonderful shoegaze comp on the excellent Kiiro Records, which has threedifferentbandcamp pages.
There’s no genre attached to a season. Summer isn’t made for any kind of music, and the diversity you see in most summer music festivals is exhibit A for that notion. Still, a jangly guitar is the sound of summer I hear when that first hot and sunny day lifts us out of spring. So, I was thinking of that after last week’s playlist of summer relaxation music. I wanted something a little more joyful, energetic, sparkling even. And, anyway, I hadn’t had a rock show in a bit.
So I tried to fit in more guitar sounds here. It’s not purely rock: one of my favorite Perfume songs is in here and I’m sure there isn’t anything not made by a computer in that song. And that’s fine, because that’s okay. It still feels like a summer song to me. Between the aggressively emotive Sambomaster, the slightly more detached disco of Sakanaction, and the shoegazing of Supercar and Kinoko Teikoku, there’s enough guitar here.
I put one of my favorite songs, New Music Machine by Cornelius, and it’s screaming wall of guitars, near the end of the playlist. I remember playing this song on my other radio show, form when I was the indie music director at my college radio station, a position that just involved listening to all the indie rock cds labels sent us. I bought many albums just because they were on Matador back then, and Cornelius was one I treasured. Passepied put out a single with a cover of New Music Machine as a b-side, and it’s wonderful. I hope to play it on the show soon.
Summer is deep and present here in New Mexico, but I’m a winter kind of guy. Summer means long, sleepy days, and that awful sensation of sweaty skin peeling off wherever you happen be lying down or sitting. That written, I like the idea of summer as expressed through music, and maybe best expressed as a road trip playlist, for when you’re driving to your idyllic summer vacation. Songs that are eager to bounce outside in the warm sun –that’s the kind of music I like most, even if I prefer to stay inside listening to them on my headphones while sipping a glass of ice water. Bland reality, but luscious dreams.
So, that was some of what went into this playlist, but the mood of summer now is mostly relaxed. June and July are hype, but August is a little more chill in my mind. Still warm, still energetic, but calmer about it. Summer, jets cooling. It’s the contemplative portion of summer, too, as you look ahead to autumn and winter, the recession indoors yet to occur. In the meantime, your eyes are a little filmy from the heat anyway. So relax; drink something cool and reminisce over your joyous June and July. Summer is almost over. Listen to this mix. It’s energetic at parts, certainly, but, I think, not too bouncy.
This playlist also features some cuts from the mighty FOGPAK and their 13th compilation. Jellyfish Drop continues the exploration of heavy staccato synths from last week’s show. Is it more ultrapop? I don’t really know, but it’s a fun song that never quite fits into any aesthetic but its own. There’s also some representation from netlabels I have not played much from in a while. Niphlex Recordings and LBT both get some cuts. Doremimate’s excellent evocation of early 80s house, the OH MY EP, is featured twice. These disco-flecked tracks would be at home on a 12″ LP. Doremimate seems to effortlessly build tracks in that mold, while still sounding modern. Niphlex is represented more broadly, with tracks by A_jiki and remixes of Yasuaki Ishikawa. The latter includes a typically lovely remix by perennial favorite i-fls. Finally, there’s four tracks from Mizukage Record’s latest compilation, which is varied in style, but uniform in beauty.
I’m rather proud of the playlist for the latest radio show I did, and it reminded me that I have long neglected posted on this blog. I want to change that. It’s fun to write up what’s behind playlists like this.
Thanks to Make Believe Melodies, Yoshino Yoshikawa hit my radar with his short song about cats being rarefied, hypercute versions of themselves. The song punches through two and a half minutes with staccato synth hits, which bring to mind the sudden bounces and twists of cats at play. Yoshikawa tagged this song “Ultrapop,” and has been exploring this microgenre for a while. In fact, Yoshikawa created it, and he labels all his songs Ultrapop. Yoshikawa’s music is fun, bright, and synthesizes from a variety of sources(Les Chats seems to be influenced a bit by Jersey Club), but, like many of his peers, continues to deconstruct and reinterpret the sounds of Jpop. Yoshikawa is pretty explicit about this: on his Soundcloud he says Ultrapop “extracts the structure of Jpop.” I thought of other artists with a similar aesthetic, like Tomggg, and noticed a more pronounced line to Shibuya-kei. In fact, Les Chats reminds me of a kind of vaporized Cornelius, and Tomggg’s bright and cheery sound hearkens back to the sunny sounds of Flipper’s Guitar(which, of course, also featured Keigo Oyamada of Cornelius).
So this is what I was thinking of when I made this playlist, though, to be honest, it doesn’t really reflect the links that well, as I had to fill two hours of radio time and wanted to push in some stuff I had been listening to lately that fit neither Shibuya-kei or the sounds of artists like Tomggg and Yoshikawa. I’d like to explore the evolution of Shibuya-kei a little more in a future playlist, however, because its presence in the netlabel and indie electronic scene in Japan still feels prominent to me. That said, I rather like this playlist, and think it has a good flow and has some particularly good songs on it. Please enjoy!
Two on Tuesday is a nascent attempt at regular blogging, by writing about two songs that are linked in some way, at least in the mind of the writer. Today it’s late, so I made it more of a three on Tuesday
Sometime in 2007 I was aimless after moving to Santa Fe and trying to start a new life, and I dedicated worthwhile hours to hunting YouTube for entertainment. Somehow, I hit upon the clip above, and so, with this video, I launched into the world of Japanese music. P-MODEL, Hikashu, and Plastics. Twenty-seven years old(older than me!) and as fresh to me as my first sunrise. I had slight knowledge of the industry before, thanks exclusively to those musicians that crossed the Pacific: Pizzicato Five, Guitar Wolf, Puffy, Kahimi Karie, and the many different video game soundtracks I had absorbed over the years. But here was something very exciting and unfamiliar, ancient and formative to all that came after it, at least I assumed that was the case. That ended up being true. This clip, broadcast on the NHK in 1980, was a punk shot in the arm to the refined technopop of YMO. My ears were drawn most to Hikashu, and the strong melody of their song here, “At the end of the 20th Century,” but it ended up being Plastics that captured the most attention at the time, mostly for being kawaii. Their record was picked up in the US(a video of them was even broadcast on SCTV!). Plastics influence is all over later bands like Polysics, Eel, and countless groups flying the day-glo banner of Shibuya-kei.
I didn’t really care for Plastics, to be honest. Like I said, I loved Hikashu, down to their matching red suits and white fedoras, looking like they all got back from their day jobs selling monorails. The sly grin of the vocalist, Makigami, and his utter confidence no matter how he was singing, it was all captivating. My googling of them was immediate and unsatisfying. There was an unhelpful English website and little more in Japanese that I couldn’t translate. But I learned they were still around and performing. They had caught the notice of John Zorn and released music on his label, along with collaborations. Later, an English language blog appeared that gave me more information than I could ever use unless I wanted to go to graduate school for Hikashu studies, but I rarely listen to them now. As you may have guessed from “caught the notice of John Zorn”, they went in a more avant-garde direction, which, while I have a healthy appreciation for, isn’t as deliciously pop as the song they played above, nor even as pop as anything from their first few albums. In fact, I heard a story that they refuse to play “At the end of the 20th Century” at shows, but once, a young child asked for them to play it because it was her favorite song. They couldn’t refuse. I wish I had been to that show, but I saw them at the Fuji Rock festival in 2010. They were fantastic. Makigami played the theremin, danced around, and they even performed a few songs from their first album. I bought a T-shirt.
P-MODEL, the first and most ruthlessly punk of all the performers, was the vehicle for Susumu Hirasawa’s technopunk vision. Take note: he’s the only singer who snarls in the entire video. All the bands owed a debt to Devo, but P-MODEL paid that debt back with interest. This song, “Art-Mania”, was the opening song on their first album In A Model Room, an album of songs with the same frantic energy as the first. It bounces around like a neutoric corgi with a storied history of insomnia. Occasionally, the songs feel suffocating, maximally tinny with plinky flourishes abounding, and rarely taking some time to breathe(except when Hirasawa apparently runs out of breath by the third song on the album). The performance on the NHK documents this in a pristine condition, with the members jumping around the stage and Hirasawa nervously shifting his shoulders to the beat. Hirasawa went on to make less music that was punk in sound, but punk insofar as no one else sounds like him. He is well known for having scored many of Satoshi Kon’s animated works, and still produces his swirling and theatrical music today. It’s often lovely, and thanks to his voice, unmistakably his. Still punk after all those years.