Intervjuer Musikk

Keith Cahoon om japrock

Japrock-uka, dag 2: 2007-intervju med Keith Cahoon, sjef for iTunes Japan. Han er også japansk konsulent for Sub Pop og driver publishingselskapet Hotwire, som jobber med Brian Eno, Ninja Tune og Smalltown Supersound i Japan.

ØH: Have you read Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler? Anyhow, do you agree with his claim that some of the best Japanese rock from the early 70’s is as great – if not better – than demigods like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Who etc. And do you like the term “japrock”, or would you prefer to use something else – like Jrock?

KC: “Japrock” would offend some people and others not. They would wonder was it meant to offend or simply a convenient abbreviation. Recently there was a big Japanese music event in LA, and it was called J-rock Revolution. Ever since the professional soccer league calling itself J-League, the J prefix has been popular.

ØH: Do you feel that Japanese rock is underappreciated and underestimated abroad, or not? Or are the artists more appreciated abroad than at home?

KC: It is changing, but most Americans and Europeans have little chance to hear Japanese music. There are many kinds of music in Japan, and so it depends on a persons taste. Most foreigners can not understand Japanese, so often the playing, the staging and music itself must carry the feeling.

ØH: Julian Cope writes that “Japanese rock’n’roll informs so much of the interesting twenty-first-century music playing now”, but ends his book in the middle of the 70’s. Who are the most important artists since then, and why?

KC: I do not know if I would agree with his statement. Japan produced some of the first electronic pop. Some of the early ambient music. They created “visual-kei”, and their own form of noise. They created an advanced version of “Idol stars”. They have long had and enjoyed elaborate staging. At least they have been doing interesting things with music.

ØH: Cope mentions “eleki”, “group sounds” and “futen” as forms of Japanese rock. What are the most important “schools” after that, and today?

KC: I have never heard “futen” mentioned as a type of music, usually it just refers to late 60’s young people who were sort of beatniks. Japan has had many booms since those early days.

One was called “new music”, which just meant sophisticated (upgraded from 3 chord) pop music, something like Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro. “Visual-kei” is the biggest and longest running niche music. The biggest bands in this category are X and Luna Sea (who recently announced a reunion show and sold out 50,000 seat Tokyo Dome in one day), and more recently Dir En Grey and Nightmare.

“Noise” has fans in Japan, but most noise bands tour more outside Japan. Within the “Idol” genre there are also many sub-genres. Idols remain hugely popular, but the style evolves. Another movement that was quite big was “Shibuya-kei”, which consisted largely of mixing music from various genres in a stylish, cheeky sort of way, such as Cornelius and Pizzicato 5. These days both rap and reggae are very big in Japan, and both have taken from the original and added Japanese style to them.

ØH: According to Japrocksampler Japanese rock was influenced by artists as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Shadows and Pink Floyd, but also Miles Davis, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. In the last 30 years are there some Western artists that have had huge influence on Japanese rock, perhaps without being that big stars.

KC: David Bowie had a very big impact in Japan. In the late 70’s The Band and Little Feat were very influential. Also David Lindley is a sort of cult artist from this era. Deep Purple also was very big, in part because they were one of the first bands to play here on a regular basis.

You mention the Shadows, but I think most people would say the Ventures were much bigger, and were the main spark of the “eleki” boom. Japan quite likes melody, and really went for the Zombies, who had a number of their songs covered in Japan.

Like pretty much everywhere Eddie Van Halen blew people’s minds. Generally Japan respects great players, but sometimes they like people largely for their look, like Duran Duran and Boy George. Kajagoogoo is a cult artist from that era. There is big respect for classical music, many young people study piano or violin and have exposure from a young age.

In jazz Chet Baker, and Bill Evans are to this day both hugely popular. Weather Report. The Japanese also love r&b, especially Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Minnie Riperton and Denice Williams. In blues, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Mojo Hand” is a must item, and still sells well.

ØH: What about Japanese rock in Japan then and now? Is it important or just another subculture, while Jpop and their like catch the public’s main attention? Doesn’t the most challenging and forward thinking artists still have their main audience abroad? Why is this?

KC: Where American and European rock often had an anti-establishment growl, to most Japanese, rock and pop music are more entertainment. The Sex Pistols and Public Enemy were fashion and fun, their politics were barely heard if at all. Japanese people love pop music, but the lyrics which touch people most are personal ones, not political.

The more extreme bands tend to play overseas often, but this could be said of many American jazz players, and folk musicians of many countries. Japanese people are huge lovers of music, and there are people who are interested in virtually any sort of music which exists here, but “challenging and forward thinking” musicians anywhere usually play to small but very dedicated audiences. I think the Boredoms and Sonic Youth are not so different in this regard.

Av oyvindholen

Father, journalist, author, and journalist in D2/Dagens Næringsliv (www.dn.no).

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