Oi Polloi

Japanese Concept Pop mixed by Andy Votel

Published: Mon Apr 18 2011

We interrupt our scheduled Monday Mixtape broadcast to bring you this, something a little way different… In the run-up to our Japan Fundraiser it seemed fitting we enlist the self-diagnosed “obsessive-compulsive-charity-shopaholic” that is Mr. Andy Votel of Finders Keepers fame to supply a suitably Japanese soundtrack.

Andy is much better qualified to explain the content of resulting ‘Futen Carmen meets Keizer Ketchup’ mix than us, so over to Andy…

Being a self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive-charity-shopaholic (OCCS) when it comes to foreign language music I’ve managed on recent DJ travels to get caught up in a bit of shortsighted cultural cross-fire whilst hiding behind the DJ booth. Playing Russian pop in a Polish nightclub or getting needle-swiped by an Armenian bouncer for playing synth-fuelled Turkish protest music has quickly taught me to check the rough-guide before a burly doorman gives me another rough-ride. I recently turned up at a Portuguese fundraiser as the only confused DJ playing Portuguese rumba records while everyone else played drum&bass and hip-hop. My recent Nepalese funk night at the Gurkha Grill had it’s obvious limitations.

Anyway, when Steve and Eoin recently asked me to play at their Japanese fundraiser I thought I’d re-check the email before I offered up my psych rock bento box. Encouragingly, after playing triple-truant on my OiPolloi Monday mix-tape Eoin decided that we should take the opportunity to kill two birds with one sharp stone… so before I put the Nippon-Funk back on the shelf I’ve put together a long overdue collage of some of my heaviest Japanese jams, comprising eerie acidik folk, communal prog rock, new-wave-pop and general unclassified oddness that I’ve picked up over the years.

The recent news from Japan is heartbreaking to say the very least. As the years go by the natural disasters that flash onto our TV screens seem to be occurring on an increasingly regular basis. While we watch these images from the comfort of our armchairs on oversize tellys the mental recovery gaps seem to get shorter. But all too often these occurrences happen in far-off lands, that as much as we try, are kinda hard to relate to… This, however, was not the case in Japan. When this sort of thing happens in such a developed and advanced nation the images hit you right between to eyes – evoking the kind of terror only seen in Hollywood blockbusters. Japan is a nation that so many creative people look to for inspiration. The quality of art, design, fashion and film that comes from Japan consistently combines the ultra-cool and the sublimely-exotic, resulting in a simple can of peas from a Japanese supermarket or a packet of batteries providing endless inspiration for salivating Western typographers. For an awestruck graphic designer Japan “looks” indestructible. When natural disasters of this magnitude happen we feel helpless and there is enough conflicting information out there to make us wonder if “natural” is an apt way to describe many of the possibly “man-made” problems that seem to be haemorrhaging. The importance of recycling and eco-friendly living is undeniable. But the recycling and sharing of cultural and creative ideas, like music and art, are also one of the most important, enjoyable and easiest ways of understanding other cultures.

Like most of my favourite “foreign” records, most of the Japanese music in my collection comes from an interest in cinema, design and theatre. Vintage poster designers like Tadanori Yokoo or Keiichi Tanaami, who worked closely with communal pop-up theatre groups like Tenjo Sajiki, provided early images that inspired revolutionary animation like Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna Of Sadness (1973) with its witchy proto-Manga stylings and freak-funk score. These movements went hand-in-hand with street performance, tribal-youth-culture and protest music which manifested itself through the Acid Folk and rock music of Carmen Maki, The Flower Traveling Band, J.A. Caesar and the films of Shuji Terayama (Emperor Tomato Ketchup 1971) and Mitsuo Yanagimachi (God Speed You Black Emperor 1976). In title alone the second and third hand influence on Western pop music is plain to see. These DIY and proto punk sensibilities were already well established in Japan’s self-sufficient pop culture before punk and new-wave became marketable genres in the West, resulting in bands like The Plastics (featuring early exponents of the Major Force label) and The Sadistic Mika Band fusing punk-funk and electronic pop while scoring record deals in the U.K. and U.S. – leaving western contenders dumbfounded. This mixtape contains some rare and obscure examples of the aforementioned artists and ties a common thread around the branches of a family tree from which much of Japanese alt-pop culture (in visual and sonic form) has blossomed.

Thanks to OiPolloi for encouraging me to tidy-up my Japanese record shelf. For anyone who wants to hear some of these records played in their entirety (at a semi-loud volume) then i could easily be persuaded on April 30th at The Gaslamp.