As I’m writing this I’m listening to the new My Bloody Valentine tribute album, Yellow Loveless – Japan –, a compilation of Japanese indie rock bands, each covering a track from My Bloody Valentine’s seminal Loveless.
The timing of this release is no accident; My Bloody Valentine are set to play several shows in Japan at the beginning of February, their first shows since 2009. These shows are a big deal – they may just end up being the first shows where My Bloody Valentine play new material in over 15 years. As teases of a new album being finished pop up here and there, fans all over the world are waiting for the follow-up to Loveless, which has been “delayed” so many times that it’s become a running gag in the music press and community (“which will come out first? The Loveless follow-up or Chinese Democracy?”)
My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”
Japan in particular seems to get a massive hard-on for My Bloody Valentine and “shoegaze” in general. Let’s remember that the term originally was a derogatory umbrella term for all those Manchester bands back in the day, which seems to have become lost in translation (see what I did there?) It was called “the scene that celebrates itself” for Christ’s sake! But I digress.
The release of Yellow Loveless, and the My Bloody Valentine shows bookend two weeks of shoegaze-related festivities – a shoegaze festival in Kichijoji, a My Bloody Valentine/shoegaze guide being released, as well as a release-party for the book. The shoegaze festival is particularly noteworthy, as it brings together some of the best acts of the genre from Tokyo’s indie scene, including Tokyo Shoegazer and Lemon’s Chair, the two acts mostly responsible for the Yellow Loveless compilation (who have taken the opportunity to release a new split-single while they were at it).
The compilation is interesting, because it doesn’t seem to cater to a standard “indie shoegaze” crowd – more obvious picks would have been bands like Luminous Orange (yeah), The Novembers (eh), cruyff in the bedroom (hmm), BLGTZ (bleh), and My Dead Girlfriend (hmm), all of whom are absent.
While most shoegaze fans in Japan are probably the same type you would run into at any old club in any old city (bad hair cuts, cardigans, don’t like Black Sabbath), the bands on this compilation have strong ties with visual-kei, goth, and heavy metal bands; not the sort you would normally associate with the genre. Tokyo Shoegazer is primarily led by ex-Plastic Tree member Hiroshi Sasabuchi, with members like Kiyomi Watanabe of post-rock band Kara and Acid Android (better known as L’Arc-en-Ciel’s drummer Yukihiro’s other band).
Tokyo Shoegazer – “Bright”
Another band on the compilation is Sadesper Record (who has done a note-for-note reproduction of “Soon”), a side project of Narasaki, who is better known for being leader of metal/shoegaze band Coaltar of the Deepers (and who is perhaps more known these days for penning hits for idol sensation Momoiro Clover Z). Narasaki is known for his roots in underground hardcore with his first band Rinjyu Zange, and has come to be well-known for blending extremes of metal, hardcore, new wave, and shoegaze together. The current line-up of Coaltar of the Deepers includes former members of acts like Sex Machineguns, and also boasts Plastic Tree member Akira as guitarist.
Coaltar of the Deepers – “C/O/T/D”
And then there are two “non-shoegaze” bands – Shonen Knife (who have done a cute and fantastic rendition of “When You Sleep”) and Boris, both acts who have international acclaim and were most definitely included so that the compilation will get some attention overseas. These two bands, while respected, aren’t as popular in Japan, and certainly aren’t too popular with the aforementioned indie shoegaze crowd. But they definitely bring a level of credibility to the compilation, and will get some people outside of Japan to take a listen to some of the other bands.
Boris – “Statement”
The compilation seems to be an attempt by Tokyo Shoegazer and Lemon’s Chair to be a defiant statement of the shoegaze scene in Japan. As if they were saying, “these bands define shoegaze in Japan, not them” (and by them I mean the bands not on the compilation). The album is called Yellow Loveless after all. It’s bold, and as a fan of these bands it’s something I gladly support. A lot of so-called “shoegaze” bands and fans in general just aren’t rocking enough (friends will recall my talking about how I went to a Ringo Deathstarr show a few months ago at Koenji High where no one in the audience was moving, despite the fact that the band were going all Iron Maiden by the end of it). Many bands take only the superficial elements of the genre (mumbled vocals, tons of effects, “dreamy” soundscapes), and fail to simply recognize that this type of music is meant to be LOUD.
Of course, there’s something very tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing too. It is called Yellow Loveless after all. And while the name Tokyo Shoegazer seems very ambitious, confident, and genre defining, one look at the kanji characters in the name (東京酒吐座) and most Japanese people will find themselves scratching their heads, wondering whether the band is really being serious or not (the latter part of the name is just three unrelated kanji characters, individually meaning “alcohol”, “vomit”, and “sit”, that sort of sounds like the word “shoegazer” when strung together).
In either case, it’s great that this sort of compilation was put out right before the My Bloody Valentine tour. It’s hard to find great Japanese bands that play in this sort of musical sandbox (the “scene that celebrates itself” tag definitely applies here), and I’m sure a lot of Valentine fans are desperate for anything that will tide them over until the new album comes out.
Which should be out, soon.
Lemon’s Chair – “What You Want” (from Yellow Loveless – Japan-)