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[personal profile] imomus
Relax; if you live outside Japan, once you finish this article you'll never have to hear of Flumpool again. That's one of the nice things about being on holiday in a foreign country; things which are destined to persecute the natives, possibly for years, are merely local curiosities for you, the tourist. You can derive some passing amusement from the marketing around Flumpool -- a new band from the Osaka region, completely without musical interest, currently promoting their debut album -- without having the sinking feeling that you're destined to spend several decades either listening to or resisting them.



I made a decision in 1984 to ignore Madonna, you know. I decided she wasn't interesting. I've been living with that decision for 26 years. But ignoring Madonna is not an option in Western culture. Madonna, her management and her marketing people have made absolutely sure of that. There is no freedom of choice when it comes to attention, though there may be freedom of choice when it comes to purchase. As far as I know, none of my money has ever gone Madonna's way. But I've "paid" attention to Madonna. Look, there she is on the subway wall, modeling for H&M! Look, here's a serious, intellectually-respectable book about Islam that talks about her! And here's that song where she paid a bazillion dollars to ruin Abba's "A Man After Midnight" forever! This song sticks in your brain like charred tar! Can we leave the taxi at the traffic lights?



But Flumpool. Flumpool are big, but they're not as big as Smap or Arashi. If you made a decision in Japan to ignore Smap when they came up in the early 90s, well, I'm sorry for you. Smap are on the cover of almost all the TV magazines in Japan this week, as they seem to have been continuously for the last twenty years. (The ones Smap aren't on, Arashi are. And let me remind you that if you chose to ignore Arashi, well, your girlfriend or your wife didn't. Instant couple conflict, as you are daily revealed to be not-Arashi. Thanks, marketing! Thanks for pissing on me from a great height!)



But to get back to Flumpool. You'd think it would be a no-no for a band with "pool" in their name to refer, on their first album sleeve, to the piss mannekin, the Manneken Pis in Brussels. But why not? There's a successful musical called Urinetown, and a piss manifesto. So this band is a pool of piss, and proud of it! They even pun cunningly on the proximity of "piss" and "peace" -- in April they'll play a "Love and piiiis kids' show".

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Musically, as the clip above shows, Flumpool are crushingly banal. Their ultra-formulaic songs sound as if they've been written by a machine, and completely exemplify the super-conformist "aggressive normality" which characterises so much of Japanese -- well, let's face it, of all -- commercial culture these days. But if innovation is banished from the music, it's alive and well in the marketing, and that's how we seem to want things.

I went into a branch of HMV yesterday. In stark contrast to all the other shops in the And& shopping centre in Osaka (clothes shops, Muji, Loft, Chisato Tsumori), HMV was quiet as the grave. And I thought to myself: "Was there really a moment when record shops teemed with people, and when a young Me would come here looking for the newest, most exciting things in the world?" There was, but that moment has passed. There will be no more cakes and ale at HMV.



There was also a moment when I was employed as a songwriter for the Japanese market. I'm reminded of it during a business meeting with Sony Music Japan, my worldwide song publisher, in Tokyo. It's a sort of surreal experience. Books about Bob Dylan lie around reception, and somewhere someone's playing The Beatles' Abbey Road album (Sony Music Japan publishes Lennon and McCartney).

Sony Music Japan signed me in 2001 on the expectation that I'd perform as well commercially in the 00s as I did in the 90s, when I wrote a string of hit records for Kahimi Karie. Of course, fashion is fickle, and the Shibuya-kei movement I was associated with got replaced by... well, nothing special. So the big sum of money Sony gave me has never been earned back, and because I'm on a roll-over contract, I stay signed to them forever. I don't mind at all; I get a worldwide music publisher with an impressive name and Japanese connections. But regularly we have these meetings where Sony nudge me gently about the outstanding debt: "So what are we going to do to recoup this advance we paid you, Nick?"

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At this moment I remember all sorts of famous Japanese people I've been told like my songs. That sensitive one from Smap, what's his name, the one who reads novels? He once mentioned me in an interview! And Miki Nakatani, is she still making records? She's got good taste! She likes me! Or what about if I wrote for Arashi? My girlfriend would fucking love that! I could even get revenge on Ninomiya for being so pretty by making him sing something stupid and self-effacing!

Sony tell me, gently, kindly, that sure, they have connections to Arashi's management and could play them anything I wrote for them. But they mostly do rap numbers, in Japanese, with fairly generic music. And the days of Japanese bands being impressed by foreign writers and producers are over. I listen to all that, nodding, then ask if perhaps Aoi Yu doesn't want to make a record at some point? She might, thinks my publisher, but her management would probably want it to be a sure-fire hit. Solid, commercial material. We both know that doesn't mean me. (Intriguingly, Sony Music Japan employ their own full-time songwriter, a kid who's sitting on the sofa beside us wearing headphones, making songs on a laptop as we speak. How very Tin Pan Alley! There in the office, under the strip-lights!)

We end the meeting with a compromise; I'll send in an mp3 of me and Kyoka singing Dracula; MTV have asked for some horror film-type track to be used in an ident and who knows, we may be in with a chance.

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But, to get back to Flumpool... well, let's not bother. You and I, since we don't live in Japan and are beyond the reach of even its most inventive marketing, need never hear the name Flumpool again. We can let our definition of Japanese music be encompassed by this fabulous 1985 documentary about Ryuichi Sakamoto instead. That and Akio Suzuki banging on a can, Doddodo screaming, some monks playing conch shells, the enchanting story-chanters at the kabuki theatre, and a gorgeously mournful snatch of gagaku.

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(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 03:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] microworlds.livejournal.com
Abba's "A Man After Midnight"

Oh, Momus. It's ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)". Although I do agree that Madonna butchered it, and I will never forgive her for doing so.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 03:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
I'm so indie, I always feel sorry for the bit in brackets.

(no subject)

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(no subject)

From: [identity profile] count-vronsky.livejournal.com - Date: 2010-01-04 04:36 am (UTC) - Expand

get into the groove momus!

Date: 2010-01-04 03:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] count-vronsky.livejournal.com
Oh come on momus, Madonna's first album was awesome! I used to love that one song she did... how did it go... Gonna dress you up in mylar, all over, all over, gonna dress you up in mylar, all over my body.

Re: get into the groove momus!

Date: 2010-01-04 04:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Madonna has done one or two interesting things. The one that really infuriates me currently is Susan Boyle. Japanese HMV stores have no Momus records, but huge Susan Boyle displays. I think Japan needs to respond to this peacetime invasion with enormous Flumpool promospend in Ullapool and Falkirk.
Edited Date: 2010-01-04 04:33 am (UTC)

Re: get into the groove momus!

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Re: get into the groove momus!

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Re: get into the groove momus!

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Re: get into the groove momus!

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Re: get into the groove momus!

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Re: get into the groove momus!

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Re: get into the groove momus!

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(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 04:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] telemeister.livejournal.com
I made a decision in 1984 to ignore Madonna, you know. I decided she wasn't interesting. I've been living with that decision for 26 years.

I made the same choice about Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas and Britney Spears, who are similarly uninteresting, and I can say with some smug satisfaction that I could not name you one of any of their "songs". If it comes to that, I could say the same of many "bands" and "artists" that the media regularly throw at us and who all fall short of the hype. It's easy if one stops ones cable subscription and avoids listening to godawful music radio.

There's much to be said for saying "no, thank you."

gaga

Date: 2010-01-04 05:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] milky-eyes.livejournal.com
I hear you... but, I honestly think Lady Gaga is of a little different breed.

I'm under the impression that Gaga is of a younger free-er breed, sort of post sell-out generation.
I think she's sort of running her own show and calling her own shots. (But... I'm not that invested in scrutinizing her career)
I'm not that fond of her music (but dont hate it)... for the record. But do find her 'personality' of actual substance.
And... I like her style. As far as 'Famous Icons' go... she could be worse.

but yes for all practical purposes, I dont listen to 'that crap' either.

Re: gaga

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Re: gaga

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(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 04:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stanleylieber.livejournal.com
you should have asked if they could hook you up with Perfume!
From: [identity profile] kumakouji.livejournal.com
Is this Pop Idol music? Is this Rock music? It doesn't matter... because we have the money to promote it, which means you will buy it.
From: (Anonymous)
My favourite Japanese rock bands all seem so terribly under-promoted… Onmyōza, Inugami Circus-dan, Guruguru Eigakan, MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS, Nekomushi & Goto Izumi…

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 07:21 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Nakatani's music career went on hold around 2002. Sakamoto sees to have had some sort of WEA Japan label deal for him, his daughter and Nakatani but that ran it's course with Sakamoto saying on a couple more years. I guess Miu joined mom on Yamaha. Ryuichi settled his divorce and set up the indie commmons and was interested in YMO again.

the nakata version
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aHER70OAq0

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 07:25 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
sorry, the perfume video was a mashup, though the Nakatani track was Sakamoto's own 3rd use of that melody

The Local Fool

Date: 2010-01-04 07:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jdcasten.livejournal.com
Perhaps this idea is beyond a “hack of all trades” such as myself… but is it possible to look at the phrases you bandy about (“crushingly banal,” “ultra-formulaic,” “written by a machine,” “super-conformist,” “fairly generic,” and (my fave) “aggressive normality”) as challenges to original artists such as yourself?

I mean, free-form poetry was a liberating breakthrough; but for those who’ve tried their hand at using traditional FORM know that it can challenge you to be creative. I’ve tried to “refresh” clichés in my own art (and in turn been paranoid that other’s were echoing ME) – isn’t it possible to USE formulaic patterns to your own advantage, while still maintaining innovation? To insert the figurative subversively into the formulaic literal?

But maybe I’m assuming a hope for a wide audience, rather than critical acclaim… or just peer respect… or friends… mom? Maybe, at least someone is listening?

I think an amazing art project would be to get some “real” artists together to try and create a “popular” sensation from scratch… rather than using the “industry.” But then again, I think the band “Metric” had to fork out a half-million to promote their album without a label.

Re: The Local Fool

Date: 2010-01-04 08:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Originality and unoriginality shift meaning (and even places) according to scale, context, relation. It's hard to fix them in a hard and fast way; all you can say is that you know originality when you see it, in a Gladwell-blink sort of way.

Just talking to Maggie of street blog Broad&Market about this in an Osaka cafe right now!

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Re: A Local Fool's Destiny

From: [identity profile] jdcasten.livejournal.com - Date: 2010-01-04 10:15 am (UTC) - Expand

Quality & Acclaim

From: [identity profile] jdcasten.livejournal.com - Date: 2010-01-04 10:30 am (UTC) - Expand

What is "aggressive normality"?

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2010-01-04 05:05 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: What is "aggressive normality"?

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Re: The Local Fool

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(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petit-paradis.livejournal.com
some bits of the sakamoto documentary reminded me of the chris markers sans soleil, I love both.

boybands

Date: 2010-01-04 08:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] petit-paradis.livejournal.com
how come SMAP and ARASHI can stay famous for so long? they are boybands! how long can you stay boy in japan? or do they get constantly replaced by new members?

one interesting thing aobut ARASHI I think its the openly gay gestures, members kissing eachother on the mouth during concerts etc., while western boybands are extremely guarded about their sexualtity.

Re: boybands

Date: 2010-01-04 09:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
It's all down to the near-monopoly exercised by their management, Johnny's (in both cases). And Johnny Kitagawa is gay, which might explain the gay-friendliness.

The Susan Boyle Syndrome

Date: 2010-01-04 01:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I agree with this, although I'm not sure if the solution is for pop to get more subterranean and avant garde but for people to actually write decent, memorable songs again. The main problem with Flumpool (and the UK charts) is that they are not pressing the buttons that pop itself elects to hit (ie fun, full of character, social, s*xy, refreshing, fashionable) never mind do something musically new with it. It's bland. Young and bland.

The average age of a TV viewer is now around 50, and that is very evident in TV's content and advertising. I suspect that the average age of people who pay for music has therefore gone up too. The massive success of the Susan Boyle album is a portent for record companies – sell discs to those too old to use a torrent site!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 01:24 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
ah! music publishing! the dark and evil/cuddly and lovely/passive agressive side of the 50% of what we call "the music game"!

remember seeing the SMP copyright line on one of your recent records and wondering how that might be panning out..

how cute of them to not actually be able to have a recording of the track they publish! etc

DC

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 04:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 11eleveneleven.livejournal.com
I'm curious. What are your thoughts on Shiina Ringo, Chara et al?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-05 02:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
Don't really have any worth giving.
From: [identity profile] viceanglais.livejournal.com
Why, universally, do women want their sex so sexless? Fleshless, just a suggestion? Why does their porn go bankrupt, or why does a body-positive sex industry still come under attack when it is merely filling the hetero desire gap?

Bettina Arndt, a sex therapist in the Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/03/30-ways-to-improve-your-life) yesterday says she has seen so much mismatch of male-female desire in her career that she is now advising women to have sex even when they don't want it. Isn't that aka rape?

Is heterosexuality designed to be impossible? Why do women bitch instead of moving on? Is being a breeder the sadistic punishment of a gay God? Is God a cunt, or are women just pussies?
From: (Anonymous)
" ...she is now advising women to have sex even when they don't want it. Isn't that aka rape?"

That's aggressive normality.



captcha: GAIN sackman

becuz

Date: 2010-01-04 10:49 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Momus; your ass is mine; and I wanna do something with it

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenny-junkie.livejournal.com
Momus:
producing Boris would be a really interesting challenge.
Just saying.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-04 11:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Why would Momus produce something as vulgar as metal music? This is the man who wrote THE PHILOSOPHY OF MOMUS - not some hack looking to cash-in on a trio of posers who wouldn't be making that kind of noise if they hadn't already heard of Nick Currie's tunes.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] jenny-junkie.livejournal.com - Date: 2010-01-05 12:46 am (UTC) - Expand

flumpool apocalypse!

Date: 2010-01-05 04:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marcswadel.livejournal.com
Agreed - I had to put up with their 'nice' strip tease promo all through the christmas/new year period on the telly. Total scrotal scunge.
Slightly better TV fare was the Japan Record Awards programme.. or the 5 comedians as busboys, getting the arse whack from the black gimps.

Hopefully these boy band gimpoids crash flash and burn.. point taken about SMAP though..

Would have been good to see your thing at the gallery opening!
Missed it.. due to being in Tochigi. Also missed catching Sakamoto recording in the studio - missed him by a day.

So it's a victory for shit music exposure at the end of 2009!

Enjoy your blog, which I have recently discovered - keep it rockin'

Marc

i speak new york and new jersey great!!!

Date: 2010-01-06 04:27 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
i loved the gagaku music and Ryuichi Sakamoto is now a new treasure for me to explore further. It makes me want to learn more languages, however being poor and from stroudsburg pennsylvania, i don't see much traveling in my future. . . however i am quite fluent in "new jersey" and "new york".

Re: i speak new york and new jersey great!!!

Date: 2010-01-06 04:46 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
hahah speaking of madonna. I just wiki'd Ryuichi Sakamoto, and he was in Madonna's "Rain." Madonna's web spreads wide. . . .

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-13 05:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slime-slime-sly.livejournal.com
wow thats a pretty cool portrait of 80's tokyo, thank you for sharing. I wish Ryuichi would have just said that debussy quote at the beginning and stuck to looking cool and experimenting with toys for the rest of the movie, can't stand his totally trite observation (still mad at him for having spent 40 euros in the most boring piano show Ive ever seen)

Memories of Matsuko

Date: 2010-01-14 04:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anglerfish96.livejournal.com
I recommend 'Memories of Matsuko'. It's a spectacular, heart-wrenching, over-the-top musical drama-- Nakatani's performance in it is perfect.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 08:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imomus.livejournal.com
A week or so after Rotterdam Erik directed my attention to Elizabeth Lennard's Sakamoto film Tokyo Melody, Toog tracked Lennard down and interviewed her on his blog (http://toog.blogspot.com/2010/01/elizabeth-lennard-directed-tokyo-melody.html). Interesting reading!