Japan is to the 21st Century what Ancient Rome was to classical antiquity

I say this as something of a Classics buff who has accumulated various Japanophile friends (thankfully no apparent weeaboes, but at least one aspiring henna gaijin). Basically, ancient Rome’s philosophy for cultural superiority was to observe what works in other cultures, adopt it, and improve on it. Rome didn’t invent aqueducts and plumbing, they simply improved on the concept to a revolutionary degree. Similarly, the (relatively) primary inventions to come out of Japan in the 20th and (so far) in the 21st Centuries have been relatively few, and frankly, I can’t name a single one. On the other hand, like Rome, Japan’s method toward cultural superiority has been to take what works in other cultures, adopt it, and improve it; Japan has actually been doing this for centuries, it’s just until fairly recently in their history, their primary contact with gaijin, foreigners, has been with China, and then Korea (and of course, there was other foreign contact with Japan, but those two are the primary contact prior to Western contact). Japan has revolutionised many inventions that were once primarily made in the United $tates.

But Japan’s tendencies to revolutionise culture is not contained to household appliances and electronic gadgetry.

The fashion subcultures of Japan, most of which are indigenous to Japan and only exist in watered-down imitations in the Western cultures, are noteworthy for attracting adults as well as teens and uni students, and this seems to stem from the rigid expectations of day-to-day Japanese life that dressing up is an acceptable outlet. Then there’s the fact that when subcultures are imported to Japan, Japanese adherents will pick up on not only the outward and “superficial” aspects of that subculture, but a lot of the spoken and unspoken philosophies and subtleties for maximum immersion. This is where we learn something very important:

Japanese Mod scene music can be a very different animal from what the Anglosphere Mod scene expects.

As I’ve said before, there is something about the current state of the Mod scene that sort of… Just misses the point. When you look at the 1958-67 scene, you see a lot of colours, a lot of new and exciting music, and a lot of new and exciting ideas and ideals. The outfits described by Colin MacInnes on his unnamed narrator of Absolute Beginners were flashy for a man of nineteen, even by today’s standards. The Op-Art fashions pioneered by bands like The Who were sort of bizarre for their day. Mod boys were evening-out their complexions with pressed powder, donning eye-liner, and lacquering their hair in place nearly a decade before Glam rock emerged as an offspring of Mod. Today, you don’t see much of that: You see a lot of second-hand clobber, a lot of browns, greys, and blues, and a lot of people who seem to pride themselves on conformity more than innovation.

Of course, that’s not to say that everybody in the early 1960s was a fashion innovator; there was no shortage of copycats (as per my research) and no shortage of people who’d bend over backwards just to prove that they just weren’t the Ace Faces who stood out amongst the rest as something to strive for.

There’s something about the Japanese genre of shibuya-kei and the artists that perform it that clearly gets it without merely reviving genres of the past due to misplaced nostalgia. Songs are clearly possessing of a high influence from the 1960s, primarily French ye-ye and modern jazz, but also clear influences in soul, rhythm & blues, and even on occasion ska that makes it unmistakably clear that this is a genre best-suited for the Mod scene, if any.

Then there are the Japanese bands that may not necessarily innovate, but simply go over the top in genre/label purity to the point that it’s almost made a 180° turn into a different genre —or, at the very least, proves its unmistakable Japaneseness. Of course, this “turn it up to eleven” quality isn’t unique to Japanese bands (the UK group Makin’ Time really seems to hit Eleven and beyond at time, in a manner similar to Les Cappuccino), but amongst Japanese Mod groups with a Western audience, this seems to happen a lot more than with Western groups.

Now, I never said that any music from the 1960s was bad, indeed, I listen to a lot of it (as the playlists from my old Modcast and DJing at Direct Hits can easily prove), but if the Mod scene was ever intended to be a retro / nostalgia party, then wouldn’t the First Gen have worn second-hand clobber from the 1940s or even 1920s? (Though I must say, the 1920s influence on Mod fashion is very apparent) Wouldn’t they have been called something other than “Mod”, which is short for “Modernist”? I enjoy vintage clothes as much as the next man, but ideally, I’d be having all my own hand-tailored —or at least be making more of my own than I am; my second-hand items are more about budget than any notion of “playing by the rules”.

[2011-03-28] Downtempo and Covers

I’ve been dragging my arse lately. It’s convenient to blame The S.A.D., how annoying this keyboard is, how cold my new room is, but that doesn’t get this done. I barely have this house unpacked to a manageable level, and I’m already planning a garden for both the front and back.

I’m also going to heartily point to my Tip Jar button, cos my projects cost me money. These are all pretty much labours of love, and so every little bit one can donate toward it all is a big help.

 

2011-03-28
The Velvet Underground – Sunday Morning
Plastic Bertrand – Ca Plane Poir Moi
Elton Motello – Jet Boy, Jet Girl
Hollywood Mon Amour – Call Me
Silicon Teens – you Really Got Me
the Noisettes – Ever Fallen In Love
Flamin’ Groovies – Paint It Black
Love & Rockets – Holiday On the Moon
Nouvelle Vague – Movement of Fear
Fun Boy Three – Our Lips Are Sealed
Marianne Faithful – Working Class Hero
Andi Sexgang – Broken English
Peter Schilling – Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)
Japan – Don’t Rain On My Parade

[2010-04-19] Well, I thought I knew what I was doing with this one…

I would like to apologise for the somewhat disjointed set this week; but first I’d just like to mention that real life and real life illnesses have gotten in the way this last month, so that’s why it’s been so long since my last cast — I seriously thought about it last week, but have you even had such a violent coughing/mucus attack that you were physically exhausted afterward? If not, try and hope you never do.

So, I thought I knew what I was doing with this week’s cast, considering that I’ve decided to be a tad liberal with my definitions of “music for Mods” lately. You see, after I post this, I’m going back to the bathroom to film Part Two of How To Whiten Dyed Hair. If you watch the first part, you may notice that I’ve skipped a day because, honestly, my hair feels in really good condition — its best ever since I first started whitening my hair (including the last year and change I took off after a timing accident — but that’s another story for another time). So it hit me when I was contemplating today’s cast last night — “hey! I have a fair amount of music by people with whiten and/or bleached hair!” (I say and/or as I’m including The Winter Brothers and Welsh eclectic musician and recording engineer, David Wrench, who all have albinism, as well as Requiem In White and the other musical projects of Doc Hammer, who has either a spot-type albinism, possibly a chimeraism, or on odd placement of vitiligo of the scalp, resulting in a rare case of naturally two-toned hair, with a large section growing nearly white-blond and the rest dark brown.)

While this thought of last night is actually true, there are a few realities of my music collection that didn’t fully sink in until a couple hours ago:

  1. All of my stuff by The Winters (both solo and together) is on LP, and I’m still waiting for The Money Fairy™ to drop by and give me a spare $150-ish for a USB record player so I can mp3 my vinyl.
  2. This also means mp3 access to David Wrench Sings Songs of The Shangri-La’s, (which is honestly one of the strangest records I own, as well as one of the few that manages to be more depressing and down-tempo than Nico’s The Marble Index) is completely non-existent. Still, eternal thanks to Thea for acting as my record mule, as the seller did not ship across the pond on that one, the bastard.
  3. While I can reason the inclusion of Gary Numan on this set, considering everything else I lined up ahead of time, I really couldn’t do that for anything I currently have involving Doc Hammer — which makes me sad on several levels.

Furthermore, by “a fair amount”, I really meant “a lot of Johnny & Edgar Winter, David Wrench’s entire solo catalogue, and a complete discography of Japan”. At some point, I remembered Suzi Pinns is really “Jordan” (Pamela Rooke), who was best-recognised in part for her Mondrian-inspired make-up, and in part for her very bleached hair. Then I started really stretching the definition of “bleached hair” (and so included Divine, whose hair never got as fair as even Jayne County’s, and Nina Hagen, whose hair has been many colours, but never a very light blonde), and at some point gave up entirely and slipped in “White Punks On Dope” by The Tubes, because it’s my Modcast, and I’ll do whatever I want. Also, Ray Columbus & The Art Collection later became a band known as Powder — their inclusion is the latest of my many jokes, so if it doesn’t immediately come to you, think about why that might be funny.

In the end is something about as listenable as my Last.FM radio personalised stations, or at least WCBN 88.3 FM in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and more predictable than their Free Form Radio hours.

 

2010-04-19
Suzi Pinns – Rule Britannia
Japan – Fall In Love With Me
Dusty Springfield – Windmills Of Your Mind
David Bowie – Look Back In Anger
Ray Colubmbus & The Art Collection – Snap, Crackle & Pop!
The Tubes – White Punks On Dope
Cuddly Toys – Fall and Decline of the Universe
David Wrench – Never Seen A Good Man Die
Tubeway Army – You Are In My Vision
The Cramps – Tear It Up
Nina Hagen – African Reggae
Jayne County & The Electric Chairs – I’m In Love With Dusty Springfield
Divine – I’m So Beautiful

[2010-03-08] Idols

I like when I have a theme, and yesterday, I came up with a great theme — my idols. By that, i mean the musicians who have shaped my life and my creative process in certain ways that I can see, even when others can’t.

This, of course, implies “favourite artists of all time, ever”, but doesn’t necessarily imply “current top-X favourites” — nor does it imply that these are my favourite songs by these artists, as concern for time (I try to keep these casts under an hour) and flow/matching (not necessarily “beatmatching” — I’m also sure those of you who are well up on your muso trivia as I am have caught that I’ll make little in-jokes with song order, some jokes more obvious than others, I’m sure). For example, I tend not to listen to so much Queen these days, as I can get fairly weepy (having your favourite person in the world die when you’re ten can affect you), and even so, I rarely listen to “God Save the Queen” — but making it a closer to an opening of “Star-Spangled Bologna” just struck me as incredibly amusing.

 
[right-click here to download]

2010-03-08
The Evolution Control Committee – The Star Spangled Bologna
Marc Bolan – Dandy In the Underworld
Daucus Karota – Raw Power
Iggy & The Stooges – Gimmie Danger
Gavin Friday – Man of Misfortune
DEVO – Be Stiff
Dexys Midnight Runners – Soul Finger
Rufus Wainwright – Greek Song
Danielle Dax – Fizzing Human Bomb
Japan – Talking Drum
The Who – Armenia City In the Sky
Cat Stevens – Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?)
David Bowie – London Bye Ta-Ta
Secret Affair – Only Madmen Laugh
Prince & the Revolution – America
Marc Almond – Brilliant Creatures
Queen – God Save the Queen

[2010-01-25] Oooh sha la la la ooh…

There is a very good reason that I haven’t uploading anything in a few weeks, and why this week’s cast may be best described as… well, “not Mod”. A very good reason, but not one I’m going to extrapolate on here because, frankly, if you don’t know, you don’t need to know. But it makes me feel better, and only four or five people seem to listen to this with any sort of regularity, it seems — and “five” is me being an egotist.

Think about it though: what could be more Modern than electronic music?

 
[download link]

2010-01-25
The Buggles – Living In the Plastic Age
Fad Gadget – Speak To Me
Tuxedomoon – Desire
Shriekback – Beatles’ Zebra Crossing
Yoko Ono – Wlking On Thin Ice
Silicon Teens – Sun Flight
Stereo Total – Dans le Parc
Sylvester – Band of Gold
Colourbox – You Keep Me Hangin’ On
DEVO – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Berlin – The Metro
Vicious Pink – My Private Tokyo
Japan – Life In Tokyo

[2010-01-25] Oooh sha la la la ooh…

There is a very good reason that I haven’t uploading anything in a few weeks, and why this week’s cast may be best described as… well, “not Mod”. A very good reason, but not one I’m going to extrapolate on here because, frankly, if you don’t know, you don’t need to know. But it makes me feel better, and only four or five people seem to listen to this with any sort of regularity, it seems — and “five” is me being an egotist.

Think about it though: what could be more Modern than electronic music?

 
[download link]

2010-01-25
The Buggles – Living In the Plastic Age
Fad Gadget – Speak To Me
Tuxedomoon – Desire
Shriekback – Beatles’ Zebra Crossing
Yoko Ono – Wlking On Thin Ice
Silicon Teens – Sun Flight
Stereo Total – Dans le Parc
Sylvester – Band of Gold
Colourbox – You Keep Me Hangin’ On
DEVO – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Berlin – The Metro
Vicious Pink – My Private Tokyo
Japan – Life In Tokyo

[2009-12-14] No, really! I’m not backdating this!

As much as it shames me to admit this, there isn’t really any excuse for this to be as late as it is, but it is. There are a few reasons I could use, but honestly, it just feels like a cop-out, as perfectly valid as those reasons appear on paper, were they to come from another.

I decided to do something different withthis one, and so it’s all instrumentals and minimal-voice pieces.

Also, I have no excuse for uploading 30 November’s cast again last week. I just fixed that.

 
download link

2009-12-14
Pizzicato 5 – Trailer Music
Japan – Voices Raised In Welcome, Hands Held In Prayer
Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets
The Tape-beatles – Grave Implications
The Evolution Control Committee – Hurdy Gurdy Men
The Monochrome Set – The Etcetera Stroll
Style Council – Our Favourite Shop
Jean-Jacques Perrey – Soul City
Pierre Henry – Teen Tonic
Booker T & the MG’s – Mo’ Onions
Giddle & Boyd – Going Steady With Peggy Moffit
Les Cappiccino – Move Move Move
QYPTHONE – Tension Attention, Please / Modernica In the House
Pizzicato 5 – Readymade FM

2009-11-30

Tired. Going to bed.

 

2009-11-30
The Kinks – Dewdicated Follower of Fashion
Cyrkle – Penny Arcade
Donovan – Season of the Witch
The Beau Brummels – Laugh Laugh
Marc Almond & Gene Pitney – Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart
Fosca – The Agony Without the Ecstasy
Gavin Friday – Next
Jacques Brel – Jacky
David Bowie – Amsterdam
Gitane DeMone – Gloomy Sunday
Segue
Dali’s Car – Create & Melt
Japan – European Son
Jobriath – World Without End
Marc Bolan – Dandy In the Underworld

2009-11-16: New Dance

So, OK, I know i promised this weeks ago, but things happen when you’re Ruadhan J McElroy.

This week’s Modcast is songs that inspired characters and scenes in my second novel, New Dance, which is available on Amazon.com right now:

Click here to read the back-of-the-book description of New Dance and for valuable purchase links.

…the story is very character-driven and plot is meandering — but then again, so is most of Truman Capote’s work.

 

R. Dean Taylor — “Back Street”
The Monochrome Set — “The Jet Set Junta” (Jacky’s theme)
Dexys Midnight Runners — “There There My Dear” (Gaz’s theme)
David Bowie — “DJ” (Alice’s theme)
Secret Affair — “What Did You Expect” (Jace’s theme)
The Fall — “Just Step S’ways” (Nino’s theme)
Brian Auger & The Trinity — “Back At the Chicken Shack” (Dougan’s theme)
Mari Wilson — “Let Me Dream”
The Specials — “Nite Klub”
Twiggy — “Beautiful Dreams” (Eliza’s theme)
Rip Rig + Panic — “Eros (What Brings Colour Up the Stem)”
Makin’ Time — “Nothing Else”
The Jam — “Absolute Beginners”
The Purple Hearts — “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”
John’s Children — “Just What You Want – Just What You’ll Get”
Japan — “I Second That Emotion”

“Back Street” inspired the name of the club the characters regard as their favourite — both as I wrote and in the story.

“The Jet Set Junta” was partially what inspired this scene with Jacky beating the crap out of three other young men after Gaz was attacked by them. The song that initially inspired it was “3-5-0-0″ from the soundtrack to HAIR, but I was listening to “The Jet Set Junta” as I went back and polished it up, edited, etc….

Gaz was listening to “There There My Dear” by DMR in a scene where, after back home in Belfast for a week, and in his own blue funk, he meanders down to the kitchen for breakfast with his mother. I hesitate to call this one his “theme” as I’m not sure what this says about his personality, but he was a main character in this one, and I felt compelled to associate a song with him on this mix.

I decided that Alice was a David Bowie fan as I was setting up her background, which included being a long-time DJ of Rhythm & Blues, soul, garage, psych, etc…, so I put a bunch of David Bowie in WinAmp while writing another scene. Lodger was an album I’d listened to only seldom before them, and so when “DJ” came on, sparks of Alice’s personality seemed apparent in the emotional tone Bowie used in his voice whilst recording that one. There’s a causticity alternating with nonchalance that I think helps round out Alice’s character nicely.

I decided that Nino’s favourite band was going to be The Fall, cos that’s one of my own personal favourites. I made his “theme” one of my favourite songs of theirs from the years appropriate to the time of the novel — which has its story-line ending in 1983. Nino is alarmingly literate and wise for being the youngest amongst the characters, and his parents are “deep old-schoolers” and intellectuals, making him an oddity amongst them, and The Fall has also been one of those plain quirky and weird bands that exists outside the realm of genre. My decision wasn’t random.

“What Did You Expect” was selected for Jace because it’s lyrically melancholy, implies alcoholism as an escape, and I decided that Jace’s favourite band was Secret Affair.

Dougan’s personality really didn’t bring itself out to me until I decided that his father was Black. After that, it just made sense that he was a bit more introverted than the others, he has a good-standing relationship with his mother, and even an amicable one with the man his mother implies is his father. It also seemed very apparent that Dougan most allows himself to express his feelings through music, and he took up the piano (and later Vox Continental organ) after discovering Brian Auger at about the age of eleven or twelve. I think the Auger instrumental i chose “for Dougan” adds something to his character that I only hinted at in the story, and that even i don’t feel I hinted at very well.

“Beautiful Dreams” directly inspired Eliza’s “big scene” — those pages would not have happened if I hadn’t decided to hit “back” to repeat this one and really listen to how Twiggy emotes this one. The lyrics have nothing to do with the scene, and while Twiggy has a flawed, almost tinny soprano (which almost compliments Eliza’s otherwise flawed, one-sided character of “the selfish girl everybody secretly hates, but puts up with”), she’s pretty good at emoting as she sings (and the other characters, at least those who have a band together, put up with Eliza cos she’s a good emotive singer). I think Twiggy seems to actually “cry” through her voice in this one, and when i picked up on that, Eliza was given a chance to break down and cry, and apologise to the others for something she had done. This song also doesn’t “fit in” very well with the others, and Eliza is absent through most of the book, except to act as a catalyst for something or another — basically, she doesn’t fit in very well with the others.

“Eros (What Brings Colour Up the Stem)” inspired a concert scene moreso than the song I named in that scene did.

I chose the cover of “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” cos 1) I’d already used a Bowie song, and I didn’t want to use another, and 2) listen to the lyrics. This song is about gayness. If you can’t hear it, then you just may be lacking some grey matter.

“I Second That Emotion”, I realised, was left off the track-listing for the CD-Rs that i gave away at the book signing *after* I had already printed out the tray cards. You have no idea what a pain in the rear I was having printing them out. I selected this for the mix because… Honest answer? David Sylvian and Mick Karn are gods among men. Do not argue with me about this.