Category Archives: Music

Interview: Kumiko Murayama, IA Producer

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IA is a newer Vocaloid persona created by 1st PLACE, based on the voice of anisong singer Lia. Based on Vocaloid version 3, she has appeared in a few games, many Youtube videos, and other media, and recently got her own rhythm game, IA/VT Colorful.

At Anime Expo 2015, we spoke with Kumiko Murayama, the CEO of 1st PLACE and the lead producer of IA. She answered questions about IA’s origins and the future of music with Vocaloids in general.

This interview was conducted by Michael Huang and has been edited for concision and clarity.

How was Lia chosen to become the sampled voice of IA?

It was Lia and her management who came forward–she had gotten married and had kids, and was on maternity leave, so she didn’t have the time to continue promoting herself and continuing on as an artist. She wanted a way to keep her fans happy while also raising her family, and using the Vocaloid as a means to do that was something she proposed.

That’s really fascinating. Do you think that is something that singers who can’t perform as much as they like to might use to extend their artistic abilities in the future? Could it be a general trend?

One of the other goals Lia had was to become a worldwide artist, and at the time of her leave, she hadn’t met that goal yet. She wondered what could help achieve that goal. Since the Vocaloids are popular not just popular in Japan but all over the world, that was one way of pursuing that dream.

As for other artists using that approach and maybe making a trend, it sounds like it could be something that’s viable.

IA is based on Vocaloid 3, a newer version of the software than some other Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. How has the company used the newer features of Vocaloid 3 to produce IA, and how is it different, even improved over previous Vocaloids?

As technology comes out, there’s always new features that get added on. As we were developing IA, Vocaloid 3 had just come out, and there was a feature called “TriHorn” as well as many other features specified in the manual. But we used other features not in the manual, without specific names.

Vocaloid 4 is already out, and we put a lot of time and effort into IA’s development, so even though it’s still on 3 we think the quality matches that of 4. TriHorn produces much better, much more natural voice quality. It sounds a lot less animatronic and a lot more human.

Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)
Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

How long does it take to prepare for one of these live concert appearances, where she’s being projected onto the stage?

It depends on a case by case basis, but the one that you saw on the sample video, that took about half a year to produce. And the production that’s playing on July 4th for AX took about a year to produce.

IA has been used in different kinds of branding for different companies. Out of all the companies IA’s been involved in, which industry do you think has had the most impact in terms of attracting fans?

There was a game, Groove Coaster, that really helped internationally in getting people more familiar with IA overseas…people that played this game and went to Youtube to watch the videos. As a result we got 2 million views.

Do you think Vocaloid artists like IA or Hatsune Miku are the future of pop music?

The main mission or goal is to get a worldwide fanbase for Japanese music. For the most part in Japan, there aren’t a whole lot of new musical genres that are being created. [Instead] there’s a lot of refinement of the existing genres. This is taking a genre and giving it worldwide appeal and getting as many people outside of Japan interested in the music, and Vocaloids.

Do you see this beginning to spread outside the anime fan culture? Or do you see that as the primary audience?

We want to appeal not only to otaku and anime fans, but to make it mainstream, worldwide music. The way we feel we can do that is to create places where people can make that jump. For instance, “City Lights” was one of our big collaborations with a drum n’ bass group. So that was a way to get more people to become more interested. Similarly, Groove Coaster is not so much an anime, but it’s a music game, so again a bunch of people played that and become more interested in IA and watched all the videos on Youtube.

The grand plan is to bridge the gap between people who believe that Vocaloids are only for otakus and make it more widely acceptable. It’s not going to be like people are going to be turned off by looking at the image and thinking, “this is just another Vocaloid, this is just anime style and I don’t care about that.” The idea of this was to broaden the horizon for Japanese music in general, so that we have international customers who say that, “Oh I want to listen to Japanese music.”

Concert Review: IA and Wagakki Band @ AX 2015

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Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

IA

Having been told that the entire projection took an year’s worth of preparation by the producer herself, it should not have been surprising that the show began an entire hour later than scheduled. Something as complex as a Vocaloid hologram is likely difficult to set up and prepare for public performance, even though this is not the first time a Vocaloid has shown up at Anime Expo, and it is using a later (though not latest) generation of the Vocaloid software than Hatsune Miku. When IA’s figure, gyrating and swinging to the synthesized beat, rose onto the piece of transparent glass that is her medium, the crowd finally went wild, glowsticks aloft. There was much pent-up energy that needed release.

IA sounds smoother and more “natural” (i.e., more like a human voice) than her more well-known sister Hatsune Miku. Based on samples of the voice of anisong singer Lia, there are moments during the performance where, if you close your eyes, you can believe it’s a human being singing the song rather than a voice synthesizer–that is the difference between version 2 and 3 of the software. (This is quite different from Miku, who sounds like a robot, which is part of her charm.) It helps that a few of the songs are catchy in the inimitable J-pop way of most Vocaloid music, and for those who are into going full otaku with the glowstick motions, the songs are easy enough to follow along. Nevertheless on some songs the synthesized nature of her voice becomes apparent, especially during the “stage banter” parts where long awkward pauses give away the fact that everything was preset. The appeal of this sort of performance is going to be inherently limited so long as uncanny valley moments like this still exist.

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Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

The choreography of the projection and the human dancers that often surrounded her was reasonably well-rehearsed, though occasionally awkward. The animations themselves were well-captured, however, and it’s easy to see how it would have taken a year to record, animate, and render the dance moves.

IA does not have the fame or cachet of Hatsune Miku, who is the face of the Vocaloid phenomenon, but her more natural sound points toward an interesting possible direction for this sort of singer: there may come a day when a Vocaloid will be almost indistinguishable from a live human voice. Whither, then, the future of pop music? Perhaps the tireless moe robot overlords are coming to a future stage near you.

 

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Photo by Lily Huang (Sh1zuka)

Wagakki Band

On the surface, Wagakki Band could not be a more diametrically opposite act than IA. Wagakki Band, for one, was a live band, with all their musicians playing real, even oversized, instruments. Many of those instruments are the ancient ones of Japanese traditional music: taiko drum, koto, shamisen, shakuhachi flute.

Yet, there is also the drums, guitars, and bass of modern heavy metal too, and it becomes apparent that Wagakki Band–despite its name which means “traditional Japanese instrument band”–is a thoroughly modern concoction, a cultural and technological collision as profound as that of a robot animated singer. It would be accurate, in fact, to say that Wagakki Band is more a hard rock/metal band with traditional Japanese flourishes, as Beni Ninagawa thrums on the shamisen like a hard rock guitar player with a pick and, during a thrilling drum solo between drummer Wasabi and taiko player Kurona, they bang out a talking drum duet as hard and fast as the great rock drummers of yore. (I was reminded of a heavier version of Chester Thompson and Phil Collins’ drum duets during Genesis’ latter prog days, but that may be a bit obscure for many readers.)

The thing is: this works. If you are a fan of hard rock music, the powerful, shigin-tinged vocals of Yuko Suzuhana belting out the theme from Samurai Warriors will excite as much as any female rocker. Crunchy riffs from Machiya rock as hard as anywhere else–occasionally sounding like John Petrucci of Dream Theater (whose music played, appropriately, over the PA during the intermission between IA and Wagakki Band). The melodies are much more traditional if you listen hard, but somehow lend themselves to rock much more than one thinks–and much more than the comparatively limp studio recordings suggest. This is a band best appreciated live, by far. They may not dance quite like IA, even though they do sometimes sing Vocaloid songs in their inimitable style, but they certainly know how to rock out, on the usual instruments as well as the wagakki instruments they are named after.

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Photo by Lily Huang (Sh1zuka)

The Wagakki Band set, for this relatively unfamiliar newcomer to their music, was consistently exciting and full of energy and rock goodness, with only an occasional moment where the loudness appeared to peak out the PA and cause some clipping. This is normal for a lot of rock shows, however, and convention concerts in particular, where live instrumentation is not as common. It was not enough to flag the energy of the crowd madly waving the same, somewhat faded glowsticks from the IA set. Their encores were well deserved, even if it was a repeat of the song from the start: a reminder that this is a still relatively new band just beginning to find its stage all over the world.

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Photo by Lily Huang (Sh1zuka)

Song Stream: Lantis Anisong Festival, Las Vegas

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bamboo (milktub)

 

This is the first of several articles/interviews about the Lantis Anisong Festival, held a month ago in Las Vegas in conjunction with Otakon Vegas. Interviews and videos coming later during the weekend.

This article is based on the second day of the festival on Saturday January 17.

There was a certain clockwork efficiency to the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, with the way each act came and left the stage in relatively rapid succession. It had to be, given that there were about a dozen acts reprising anime song favorites, 2-3 songs per artist, who sometimes doubled up and collaborated (as ChouCho and Sayaka Sasaki did). Despite being all managed by the same record label, a great diversity of anime was also represented, from pure shounen action (such as with the headliners JAM Project and solo performer Hiroshi Kitadani with songs from One Piece) to otaku fan service comedies (Bamboo, singing the OP to Baka Test “Baka.Go.Home”), to moe parody (ChouCho‘s Fate Prisma Iliya OP “starlog“), a cover of Haruhi Suzumiya’s legendary insert song “God Knows” by veteran singer Yoko Ishida, and even the Power Rangers theme song at one point with JAM Project founder Masaaki Endo. The presence of a stage band anchored the live musicianship consistently, with only other full bands like Yousei Teikoku needing to take the stage with their own players. Full, live musicianship is relatively rare at convention concerts, so hearing nearly four hours of actual performed music was a treat.

Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho
Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho

And yet this was not a convention concert in the usual sense, despite the festival’s ties to concurrent Otakon Vegas: it had its own management, ticketing, and arrangements, but both logistics and logic dictated some overlap. Its relative independence proved a boon, because the general convention audience and the audience that would “get” the majority of these songs do not necessarily overlap: there were relatively few cosplayers in the audience, for instance, and many of the songs played were from obscure-in-America properties, like the original live-action GARO. The truly committed had paid over $100 for VIP tickets, and many of them were decked out in traditional otaku fan garb: glowsticks, headbands, and coordinated gestures. Buying a VIP ticket also entitled the holder to high five the artists on the way out of the venue, a touch opportunity that is generally coveted highly in Japan, the subject of lotteries and contests. This was the Anisong Festival’s only non-Asian stop and it was Asian-style fandom that was fully on display.

Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project
Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project

As for the performances themselves: they were, above all else, consistent in their high level of musicianship and singing, with sacrificing the distinctives of each artist. Standouts include not only the highly energetic headliners JAM Project, with their excellent operatic singing and rock god poses, but the exuberant bamboo (milktub). As he sang the Baka Test OP, he clambered down from the stage and simply started mingling with the crowd–not just the VIPs!–singing all the while with his wireless microphone, high-fiving everyone. He carried and showed off a body pillow. Bamboo came off as a man who has truly embraced anime music as a culture, perhaps a job requirement given his other job as the head of MangaGamer but deeply felt all the same. Sayaka Sasaki, who we saw last year at Otakon Vegas, also gave a spirited performance, though the more restrained ChouCho slightly edged her out in vocal consistency. Both were equally charming though during their joint performance of “Enter Enter Mission!”, the ED to Girls und PanzerFaylan, who sang the OP to the Nasu-conceived PA Works action series Canaan, showed off some great choreography skills along with aggressive singing.

Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)
Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)

Perhaps the hardest rocking performance was given by the goth metallers Yousei Teikoku, who at one point seemed to be launching into something resembling the intro to Metallica’s “Masters of Puppets” before proceeding into one of their own songs, “Kyuusei Argyros” (the ED of Tokyo ESP). Many heads banged along. True to their image, they played the aloof, too-cool-for-school part, even during the final ensemble festival anthem “Starting Style” where all the artists took the stage at once: perhaps a bit too syrupy for their taste? The singer did induct all the audience into her Fairy Empire however, and in a show that featured much more pop and light rock, their heavier sound was welcome.

JAM Project
JAM Project

A few more words about JAM Project and their associated members, Masaaki Endoh and Hiroshi Kitadani. Perhaps no other act embodied the spirit of the festival and its purpose than them, a supergroup started explicitly to carry on the spirit of anime music. The two leads, Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, are veterans of the industry whose operatic metal-influenced voices practically defined a generation of shounen, super robot, and tokusatsu animes, shows, and games from the 80s-90s onward. That sort of anime is now only one type of many in today’s media landscape, and arguably garners less immediate commercial attention than the cute/moe aesthetic typically favored by today’s otaku (the sort of anime an artist like ChouCho sings for, for instance). Their sheer performance chops are undeniable, however, and they were absolutely the correct act to close the afternoon: after seeing them belt out passionately, jump and wheel about on stage, working in near perfect coordination, one feels almost as pumped up as they evidently were. For an evening that started with the purely artificial Hatsune Miku, the end was about the power of raw, organic performance, the essence of what rock music has always been about. It is an “anime” music festival, yes, but it is a “music festival” too, and all in all it succeeded being that just as much as being a celebration of anime.

Our photos, taken by Jeremy Booth:

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Official photos by Lantis:

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Setlist (Saturday, January 17, 2015)

Hatsune Miku

  1. Sharing the World
  2. World is Mine
  3. Tell Your World

ChouCho

  1. starlog (Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya OP)
  2. Authentic Symphony (Mashiroiro Symphony OP)
  3. Enter Enter MISSION! (Girls Und Panzer ED) w/Sayaka Sasaki

Sayaka Sasaki

  1. Reason why XXX (So I Can’t Play H OP)
  2. Zzz (Nichijou ED)

bamboo (milktub)

  1. Uchoten Jinsei (Eccentric Family OP)
  2. Baka.Go.Home (Baka Test ED)

Hiroshi Kitadani

  1. We Are! (One Piece OP 1)
  2. We Go! (One Piece OP 15)

Yousei Teitoku

  1. Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Future Diary OP)
  2. Kyuusei Argyros (Tokyo ESP ED)
  3. Baptize (Seikon no Qwasar OP 2)

Yoko Ishida

  1. Eien no Hana (Ai Yori Aoshi OP)
  2. God Knows (Haruhi Suzumiya insert)

Masaaki Endoh

  1. Yuusha-Oh Tanjyou! (GaoGaiGar OP)
  2. Go Go Power Rangers (with Hiroshi Kitadani)
  3. Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger (OP for show of same title)

Faylan

  1. Last Vision for Last (Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls OP)
  2. mind as judgment (Canaan OP)

JAM Project

  1. Break Out (Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars OP)
  2. Vanguard (Cardfight Vanguard OP 1)
  3. GARO-Savior in the Dark (GARO live action OP 1)
  4. SKILL (Dai2ji Super Robot Wars α OP)

All Artists

Starting Style

Yoshiki Concert: Otakon 2014

 

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Yoshiki began by plugging his upcoming Madison Square Garden concert. A video recap of his past exploits played, exploring the dichotomy of his soul – a drum smashing rock iconoclast; a classically trained pianist who composed and played for the Emperor of Japan’s ascension anniversary. Who was the real Yoshiki? Neither? Both? Some impossible in-between? The video was frenzied, even messianic in its undertones, as he was quite literally borne aloft by his fans at prior concerts.

After a brief chat about Hige’s death and the breakup of X-Japan, it was on to the songs. Yoshiki was very much turned out in classical style for this – a Shigeru Kanai piano, a flaring wool long coat, sunglasses, and his trademark leather pants combined with royal blue lighting to give him the look of a maestro.

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The three violinists and cellist who accompanied him (the “Yoshiki Sextet”) were good but not mirror-perfect; a minor mismatch in note timing at a transition in ‘Anniversary’ was noticeable but not fatal to the performance. Perhaps no one noticed more than Yoshiki himself, as the camera caught him grimacing and he apologized for nervousness immediately after the song concluded.

As expected, soaring piano riffs dominated the packed hall. Yoshiki was very much a performer, content to play his role. He announced his protégé, Katie Fitzgerald, a former Otakon attendee. Together they debuted ‘HERO,’ the new Saint Seiya soundtrack song. For darkness and light, for its rich depths and the majesty of its soaring heights, nothing could match the piano work in ‘HERO.’ However, Katie’s performance, while technically proficient, failed to engage with its harrowing tale of cutting and suicide attempts. There was no daring in her vocal range, in her slow and steady progression through classic themes of unrequited love and abandonment. All of Yoshiki’s cunning and craft, though they were in full force, could not make up for the lack of authenticity with which she sang loss.

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The English version of ‘Tears’ was more emotional, but baffling in its differences with the well-known Japanese. Long-time fans will recall that Yoshiki suffered a difference of opinion with other members of X-Japan in that he wished to Anglicize the lyrics of X-Japan songs to appeal to the international audience. By the time he closed on ‘Endless Rain,’ however, nostalgia was in full force, with a good chunk of the audience softly echoing the chorus.

The remaining members of X-Japan appeared on stage briefly during ‘Kurenai,’ but seemed to be there only to tease the audience, promising a full appearance during the upcoming Madison Square concert. As such, this was both more and less than an X-Japan reunion concert: Yoshiki was its clear focus.

The genius of Yoshiki really lies in his exacting precision combined with a menace that speaks of hidden depths. The way he can over- or understrike notes, remaining within the acceptable range for the piano while hinting at more, is surely not something to be replicated by lesser performers. It may be that they lack the essential tension of conflicting forces that seems to always accompany him.

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Yoshiki Press Conference Transcript: Otakon 2014

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Pata, Yoshiki, and Heath

Yoshiki, joined by fellow X Japan band members Pata (guitar) and Heath (bass), gave a press conference at Otakon 2014. This is the transcription of that event, edited for clarity. (Yoshiki spoke in English throughout so it is not filtered by translation.) Our photographer Shizuka was on hand to take pictures and to ask a question as well.

X Japan will be performing at New York’s Madison Square Garden (MSG) on October 11, coinciding with New York Comic Con.

Will another world tour be able to follow [the MSG show] within the next year or sometime in the foreseeable future?

Yoshiki: Yes, we are actually going to be announcing some future shows at MSG, but right this moment, we just concentrating on MSG. MSG, MSG, MSG. (laughter)

Are these shows to promote your album, or are these just great opportunities for X Japan?

Yoshiki: Well, we haven’t released an album in a long time, though we released a compilation CD just a few months ago. About 22 years ago, we had a press conference in New York at Rockefeller Center when we signed with Atlantic Records. That was supposed to be a big deal, we were then supposed to release an album, but a lot of things happened. So, 22 years later, we come back to New York and are playing a show. I can’t really tell you why we’re doing this MSG show, but you are going to know soon. There is something going on. Yes.

Yoshiki, you’ve been involved with charity projects, such as the Red Cross for tsunami relief. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve taken away from those experiences and whether you have any projects like that planned for the future?

When I was 10 years old, I lost my father to suicide. So I had a pretty depressed childhood. So I kind of understand the pain children have, so several years ago I decided to create my own charitable foundation. I try to support children who have that kind of pain….Unfortunately right after I established my foundation, there was the big earthquake that happened in Japan. At that moment I concentrated and focused on that, to support victims of the earthquake and tsunami. When you save people, I also feel saved for some reason. It’s like I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life, just at my own pace.

Yoshiki, you’ve been touring Yoshiki Classical…I was wondering how preparing for that differs from preparing for X Japan.

Pata: Maybe the same thing. I just play guitar. (laughter)

Yoshiki: X Japan is pretty much my life. Everything else is like a side project. Even on my classical tour, when I went to many countries and places, I said, “X Japan is my life.” It’s not like we’ve been doing different projects and coming back to this…it’s not like we just got back together and played….[X Japan] just runs in my blood. X Japan is more than a project. It’s our lives.

How did you first find out about Otakon, and what made you come back again? Also, what are your thoughts about Baltimore as a city?

Yoshiki: because you guys are so cool! (Laughter) Yes, I cam here for the first time in, what, 2008? 2007? 2006. Wow, that’s like 8 years ago! So that means Otakon was my first convention experience. At that time, I wasn’t even doing X Japan and I wasn’t even talking to Toshi. Since then a lot of things have happened. We didn’t know we had that many fans in America, or even outside of Japan, so we started finding out that whoa, people throughout the world have started listening to our music. It was so cool surrounded by these people.

This is our third time in America though, in 2010 we played at Lollapalooza. So 2006, 2010, 2014…I’m going to be here in 2018 then. (Laughter) Every four years, like the Olympics.

All your friends call you a “vampire” and that you should play Lestat in a movie. When are you going to do a vampire-themed rock opera?

Huh, good idea. I think I have a split personality about some things. Sometimes I’m called a vampire, sometimes I’m Yoshiki, sometimes I’m a character called Blood Red Dragon, created by Stan Lee…. Wherever I am, struggling during the Yoshiki Classical World Tour over 10 countries, I always stayed up nights. It’s something vampirish…I’m only half joking, half serious. Sometimes I say I’m half Japanese, half vampire, something like that. I just love the image of the vampire, you know. So yeah…it’s a good idea to create a vampire rock opera. That’d be cool.

(Our question.) You’re not just a musical icon but also a fashion leader. How do music and fashion relate for you?

Before my father died, he used to own a kimono shop, a Japanese traditional clothing shop. I grew up in that kind of environment, so I was always surrounded by kimonos. When we started X Japan, we put on a lot of interesting clothes and makeup, and dyed our hair red and purple. So fashion and music are inseparable, at least to us. Fashion is music, music is fashion, so it’s very natural to have both. Everything came very naturally.

Now I have a YoshiKimono clothing line. Actually, I’m going to be debuting the YoshiKimono Tokyo Collection 2015.

You’ve been involved in a lot of different collaborations–credit cards, wines, just to name a few. What other products would like you to release in the future?

I would like to do something more musical as well. Actually there are a few more projects coming that are very musical. My main focus is music. Everything else is like a hobby. I’m planning several more press conferences, so I can’t talk about it yet…

(To Heath) We saw a video once in the past. It was Phantom of the Opera styled, you were in a cage coming down, you had people doing robot dances around you, and there was an incredible bass solo…will you ever do something similar to that again, especially in a venue like MSG?

Heath: I think that rock needs something very shocking, both visually and musically…that is rock, that is X Japan. MSG has shock to it that is not like something before, so I’d like to do a new kind of shock there. In the near future, please look forward to it.

Have any of you have had memorable experiences interacting with your fans?

Yoshiki: We’ve been around for a long time, and we’ve seen a lot of bands come and go. When you are on top of the world, sometimes you don’t realize–some bands think they are the best, but, we exist because of fans. There are no bad fans or good fans, we really care about all of them…because there were fans, X Japan reunited. Without fans, we couldn’t have reunited after all those tragedies happened to our band. We actually thank every single fan. Of course, sometimes we bump into some crazy fans too, but yes…

Some of the songs on Yoshiki Classical were previously released and performed with vocals. (For example, “Amethyst” was originally written for Violet UK.) How are you able to convey the messages of the original vocal version of the songs in the instrumental version?

“Amethyst” was classical from the get go, so I didn’t write lyrics first…I wrote the lyrics later. What happened was, we had an incident at a Tokyo amusement park–an X Japan event. At that particular attraction, my classical music was playing. One of the old members, Hide, said, “What is this song? This is one of my old compositions. We should use this at the Tokyo Dome for X Japan’s opening.” Like, really? I didn’t even think about that. Then, that was the the beginning of using “Amethyst” at the Tokyo Dome X Japan show.

As long as there is a great melody, we can put some nice lyrics on top of it. X Japan songs can be instrumentals, with or without lyrics. I think about melody first.

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ALTIMA Concert Otakon 2014

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Six hours ago, ALTIMA made a daring promise. The Japanese pop trio, responding to a question of whether they would ever cover a Run DMC song, boldly urged members of the press and public to attend their evening Otakon concert.

One hour ago, they delivered.

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Full of power, grace, and confidence, ALTIMA put on a dynamic performance – flitting about the stage, posing with each other, and swapping keyboards for guitars. They stopped at nothing to please the audience – dancing, strutting, jumping, and thrilling Baltimore with rousing renditions of Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ and Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock n Roll.’ The audience responded with adulation – jumping out of their seats, waving colored glow sticks, and even running in place as Motsu trotted out Japanese dances for them to attempt.

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Everything was on the mark: the sound technicians, the lighting, the beat, and the cavorting performers. There was one time when a sound tech did not make an instantaneous adjustment, but it meant nothing next to the sheer energy and raw enthusiasm displayed by Motsu and Maon, set against the backdrop of digital pop provided by Sat.

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There are times in live performances where the human element falters, rendering the result less than a recording, and there are times when humanity rises to all challenges and creates a work of true beauty and matchless wonder.  At the end of the concert, Maon cried out that she would remember it for the rest of her life. This was no exaggeration.

Set list:

  1. I’ll Believe (Shakugan no Shana ED)
  2. Fight 4 Real (Strike the Blood OP)
  3. Mission Dispatch
  4. ONE
  5. Backfire
  6. Walk This Way (cover)
  7. I Love Rock n Roll (cover)
  8. Here We Are
  9. Indefinitely
  10. WISH I WISH
  11. CYBER CYBER
  12. (Encore) Burst The Gravity (Accel World OP)

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ALTIMA Press Conference Transcript: Otakon 2014

ALTIMA are a digital J-pop group widely known for making the Shakugan no Shana ED. They are:

Altima

  • Maon Kurosaki – vocals – a self-described anime otaku
  • Mototaka “Motsu” Segawa – rapper – loves US dance/house music
  • Satoshi “Sat” Yaginuma – sound production; instrumentals

Motsu, you put the band together. Could you tell us why you felt compelled to work with these artists?

Motsu – At first . . . ? I love J-pop – and my old band, m.o.v.e., starting doing less digital J-pop. I found on YouTube that I could do digital J-pop with Sat, and we just needed a vocalist who was into it. We found her, and we were set!

Any funny or inspiring stories from the road?

Maon – In Thailand and in HK, the crowd had memorized the songs and sang with us! I felt that music connects us, even across distance, borders, and cultures.

Motsu – I love how loud the fans get in the US! It’s the best feeling, being cheered on like that.

Sat – We visited many places for the music videos and had a lot of experiences. It’s a real honor to be in the US.

You are each from different musical traditions. What is the concept of ALTIMA?

Sat – What we aim at is digital J-pop. I don’t know if you’d say digital pop exists elsewhere in the world, but digital J-pop is exactly what we want to do.

What artists inspired you?

Sat – Motsu~! (Grins across.)

Motsu – (Laughs.) (Pauses.) For me, as a rapper . . . Beastie Boys, 2Unlimited, house music . . .

Sat – Run DMC, Walk this Way!

Maon – For me, actually, a lot of anime artists! Minami Kuribayashi, Mizuki Nana, JAM Project – I found this style of music most interesting and I want to tell the world how wonderful it is!

Sat – I also manage FripSide . . . we were successful and I had the chance to work with Omura Tetsuya. I said, “I did it!” It really felt like a milestone in my life.

Maon – I also really respect Hamasaki Ayumi.

Sat – Hey Motsu – you’re in the same company as her, aren’t you? (laughter)

How do you deal with creative differences?

Motsu – Janken! (laughter)

Maon – Jan! Ken! Pon! (makes hand motions)

[Editor’s note: This is Rock, Paper, Scissors, which is ubiquitous in Japan.]

Sat – Seriously, though, we’re all in different age groups – 20s, 30s, 40s. We don’t really argue and we have no problem talking things over.

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your music careers?

Motsu – Starting up this group, actually. Three years ago, not everyone was sold on this idea. We faced a lot of opposition. It was worth it though – we’re here now!

Sat – I likewise feel the greatest challenge was putting this group together. But I was a huge fan of Motsu already, so I knew I wanted to work with him!

Motsu – (Embarrassed) Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Maon – My own greatest challenge? Actually, it was stepping up and singing! I am really the introverted type; I love being inside playing dating simulation games, but when I discovered the world of anime music, I became passionate about sharing it with everyone. So stepping into the light was my biggest challenge.

You mentioned that Run DMC influenced you. Is there any chance we’ll see a Run DMC cover some time?

Motsu – Yes. Come to our concert tonight!

What’s your favorite swear word?

Maon – English or Japanese?

Motsu – Jikusho!

Bonus question: Where’d you get your shades? They’re very distinctive.

Motsu – It’s my own brand! Ghetto Blaster. So we could say I made them myself.

You move so fluidly! Did you have dance training, Motsu?

Motsu – I started out as a dancer.

Do you have a message for your US fans?

Motsu – You guys give us huge greetings when we come to the US. It’s great to have you cheering us on!

Sat – As the producer, let me say – we try for an unconventional style. I really want to see how fans react to it!

Maon – Even in Japan, it’s a rare opportunity to do everything raw. Here in the US, it’s an especially rare opportunity to bring you our raw sound, our raw voices . . . I’m looking forward to it!

Sat – I really hope we can spread exposure across the country to those who are looking for our sound. So I hope you guys can write good articles and convey our spirit to the world!

Katsucon 2014 – Lolita Dark Concert

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Lolita Dark gave a tight performance to an unimpressed audience Saturday night at Katsucon.

Guitar work was solid and unremarkable. Vocals were indistinct, taking on an almost shoegazer-like quality. The bass and drums worked together well on some of their older songs, interweaving their notes to create a driving beat. The meter of songs was instantly recognizable, even classic, though the chord progressions were anything but. In many ways, that exemplified Lolita Dark – a technologically and culturally hip reworking of a rock formula as old as the Rolling Stones.

Media-savvy and brisk-paced, the band paused for the briefest of explanations of their songs and reminders to like their Facebook page or visit their website before launching into more. Lead singer Ray’s harmonies were operatic, even shrill at times. Where her gestures were sharp, imperative, forceful, keyboardist May’s movements were bubbly and effusive. Bassist Rain played his part to the hilt, contributing no vocals but strutting along the stage. Drummer Joey and rhythm guitarist Patrick, while technically flawless, were also flavorless.

In many bands, the effect would seem overly prissy, even sophomoric, but Lolita Dark delivered the occasional apology without giving away their hard-edged passion. Alas, the audience’s lack of familiarity worked against the band. Though visually flawless, bearing costumes inspired by cyberpunk and – what else – gothic Lolita, Lolita Dark struggled to engage the con-weary audience. Cosplayers leaned on props, texting, and only seemed to muster up the energy to engage in fist-pumping or baton-waving when prodded by the band, or for the final song, a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name.’ When the set was over, over 80% of the fans filed out, not even waiting for an encore.

Lolita Dark has the potential, and they are developing the connections. They lack only the audience. Time will tell if there is truly support for US-based J-rock.

Interview: Man With a Mission

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Official photo by Nobuyuki Kobayashi

The Japanese band Man With a Mission, best known for their work on the OP of Log Horizon, “Database,” answered a few questions I posed to them by email. Here are their replies!

This isn’t your first time in LA. What do you like best about the city?
Everything is great. The atmosphere, the people, the view, the weather. I love it.

What’s your favorite Jimi Hendrix guitar solo?
The one he did it in Atlanta Pop Fes. The solo sounded like he was actually talking and screaming out something.

Was “Database” written especially for Log Horizon? The lyrics fit so well.
We did think about the message and the concept of the animation but it wasn’t really totally made just for the story. But we’re really glad that it fits and matches.

Do you play MMORPGs like Log Horizon depicts? Which ones are your faves?
I don’t know much about MMORPGs but if you’re talking about what’s my favorite RPGs the Final Fantasy series rule.

If you were stuck in the world of Log Horizon, would you still want to be wolves? Would you start a wolf guild?
We’re ready to get stuck in that world anytime. Wolf it should be.

Many of your songs, like “Database” and “Emotions,” are sung predominantly in English. Did you plan on having an international/English-speaking audience right away?
We’ve always wanted to spread our music throughout the world and English is the most common language. Singing in English was a natural thing for us to do. But we both like Japanese and English. I guess it only depends on what kind of message we want the song to have.

Finally–you mention in your story* that the Principality of Zeon was behind some of the evil int he world. Does that mean one day you are going to fight against them? In a Gundam?
Woah. Do I have a chance to become a pilot? I’ll definitely do that. But I think we’re done with fighting. We’ll stick around and play music to see how much people can assemble and share the feelings we have in music.

*Their official bio notes the following:

In the year 19XX the earth was engulfed in war. Nation pitted against nation, human against human. Every living thing on the planet was locked in a chaotic battle to acquire each other’s wealth and power. In the meantime, in the farthest away land of “Ladyland” there lived a genius biologist named Dr. Jimi (hobby: guitar) who was about to conclude a mad science experiment for a pack of superior creatures that would be called MAN WITH A MISSION (MWAM).

Are they human? Are they wolves?

Their looks may be deceiving and even comical at first glance, but they have incredible brain power and a superhuman physique. Such superb abilities enabled them to carry out the planet’s most challenging top secret missions, and made them untouchable by the world’s fearsome and powerful leaders including Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and Ivan the Terrible. The Principality of Zeon had them work in the dark shadows of history in various locations around the world.

Dr. Jimi was plagued by guilt and regret that his creations had contributed to some of the most evil deeds in history and decided to put an end to it. He wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t fall under the spell of evil again and so he froze them into eternal sleep in a far edge of the world. Determined not to let his creativity potentially bring more evil into the world the Doctor burned his guitar. He managed to escape the hands of evil and cheat death three times, but he couldn’t avoid his destiny.  Retribution for his death was to keep MWAM frozen under the glaciers in the South Pole. Jimi’s last words were, “I’ll try getting a straight perm in my next life.”

Time passed by and it was now the year of 2010. The planet had gone through worldwide economic crisis, numerous political and social tensions across borders, and was slowly being destroyed by pollution induced global warming.  The warming and deterioration of the planet then melted the icy caskets that Dr. Jimi had jeopardized his life for. MWAM awoke from eternal sleep!

Are they working for justice for this world, or are they nothing else but evil?

Either way “MAN WITH A MISSION” is now back on the mission around the world!

Man With A Mission: Live at the Roxy, December 2013

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Official photo by Nobayuki Kobayashi.

In the rather plastic world of Japanese pop music, the relatively new band Man With A Mission stands out. Rather than opting for boy band flash and glitter, or the elaborate costuming of the visual kei set, the members of Man With A Mission don just one thing: wolf heads. They are more than just masks: they are a commitment, covering the whole head and leaving only holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Their mouths do not move visibly, even as they sing. (Though the bass player’s eyes did glow red at one point.) They are transformed when they take the stage. They become their act.

The fanciful backstory that they conceived for themselves–that they are the botched products of human experimentation by a super-powered Jimi Hendrix–shows that their sense of humor is matched with an appreciation for the rock masters. Amid their original numbers, which included the anime opening song for Log Horizon “database” as well as anthemic numbers like “Emotions,” was a surprisingly faithful, spirited cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” They did it their own way: with their blend of rap and the original’s hard riffs, though the chorus returned to the original version. The whole crowd headbanged along. It wasn’t exactly like being back in 1992 Seattle, but I don’t think Kurt Cobain is rolling in his grave either.

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Official photo by Nobayuki Kobayashi.

(Let’s not forget, of course, Cobain’s appreciation for Japan’s original pop punk band, Shonen Knife. The distance between American alternative rock and Japanese rock is not as far as one might think. )

Much of Man With a Mission’s music is actually reminiscent of a slightly later period of music, the electronica/DJ tinged rap rock of the late 90s and early 2000s, which is most evident in “Database” and “Get Off of My Way,” and perhaps most obviously and notably, “distance”–in which DJ Starscream (SID) from Slipknot showed up to guest DJ. (The Slipknot influence runs deep: the band’s use of costumes, the stage diving, and their sound….) But unlike Slipknot and other acts in that genre, there’s a positivity to MWaM’s music, which is infectious and helped the crowd–a diverse mix of Japanese fans, regular clubgoers, and a few otakus like myself–get into the right mood, even if the songs were not necessarily familiar to everyone. Evidently realizing that the anime crowd is perhaps giving them the most exposure now, they saved “database” for last, and this got the crowd going harder than anything else. The song is a good representation of their sound, and it also fits lyrically with the themes of the show very well. Anyone who was a fan of the show left satisfied that evening, ears ringing with the powerful vocals and guitars that ring through all of their songs.

The masks never came off, so we never got to see the “real” faces of the band. They decided, instead, to allow their music to be their identity, and it’s a fresh, interesting one.

Set List

  1. Take What U Want
  2. Bubble of Life
  3. Smells Like Teen Spirit
  4. FLY AGAIN
  5. Emotions
  6. distance with SID
  7. Get Off of My Way
  8. DON’T LOSE YOURSELF
  9. Enc.1 / MASH UP THE DJ !!
  10. Enc.2 / database feat.TAKUMA(10-FEET)
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Photo by gendomike.

 

 

Porno Graffitti, Live at Anime Expo 2013

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Prominent J-Rock band Porno Graffitti performed their many anime songs and others live at Anime Expo 2013 this year. Both Monsieur LaMoe and Shizuka were on hand to cover it, with Shizuka taking photos along the way. These are their joint impressions of the show.

LaMoe: So when the concert started–yes, that’s right, I’ve heard this song before, their debut piece, “Apollo.” That completely blew me away. I heard this song more than a decade ago, but it still sounds so vivid and fresh! It made me nostalgic, that speedy and powerful that I still remember so well. It’s amazing how Akihito projects his voice! I’d never heard him sing live until now, and it was incredible. He’s close to 40 years old, but still jumping and running around during the entire show. Such admirable stamina! Listening to the live performance is so much better than listening via iTunes with earbuds on.

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Later they played “Saudade,” which is a song that has a Latin feel to it. The word “saudade” is the fundamental feeling behind bossa nova music, the music pioneered by Antonio Carlos Jobim. But “Saudade” did not sound like bossa nova at all, but more like Santana-like Latin music with a very J-pop sound. They told us during their press conference that the word fit their song, so the mood was still recognizable.

And then there were the recognizable anime songs, especially from Great Teacher Onizuka and Bleach, that made the crowd go wild. Yes, when I first heard “Hitori no Yoru” (the GTO opening song), instead of “Lonely, lonely,” I heard, “loli, loli.” So, I thought it was about a lolicon song, just like The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Yup, Mr. Onizuka is a lolicon! “Loli loli, I want to see you~♪” Darn! But turned out that was only my soramimi (“mishearing” literally “empty ears (空耳)”). But seeing the crowd dancing to a lolicon song would’ve been so hilarious.

And that Fullmetal Alchemist opening, “Melissa,” oh, such nostalgia. Yup, this anime was from a decade ago! Reminds me… Ah, so good. Yeah, listening to the anime songs live felt so great after all.

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Shizuka: Porno Graffitti delivered an incredible performance for their fans, keeping the energy high within the crowd, as they got the audience to sing along in “Century Lovers” and swing towels (which had been thrown into to the crowd) like cowboys swinging lassos during “Mugen.” But I wasn’t just impressed by Porno Graffitti’s ability to keep the crowd excited – I was equally impressed by their dedication to the music, as the lead singer of Porno Graffitti took out and played a real harmonica during “Winding Road!”

And then, “Melissa” played. My (and probably most fans’) most anticipated song, it was so much better performed live that all I could do was bask in the music. The audience’s response to this song after it was over was so strong that Porno Graffitti played this as their last song in an unexpected triple encore!

It was a give and take relationship between Porno Graffitti and the audience. With Porno Graffitti giving such an energizing performance, the audience gave an incredible show of support through their towel-swinging, “porno-porno” cheering, and frenzied hand-waving back to Porno Graffitti. I’m sure they weren’t ready for rabid American fans, as Porno Graffitti had to tell the audience to quiet down so their voices could be heard at the end of the concert… so they could announce that they would be back!

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LaMoe: Between the encores everyone was screaming, “Porno, porno, porno!” That sounded really weird, but refreshing. It’s something just lost in translation in Japanese. The word porneia (πορνεία) originally meant “fornication” or “sexual immorality” in Greek. Yes, as a rock band, that’s the name it should be. The term”rock’n roll” also meant “fornication.” So, it’s a music for fornication. They provide the kind of music that gets everyone horny. Yes, sexual burst, an outlet for the daily repression of capitalism!

Set List

  1. Apollo (Debut song)
  2. Koyoi, Tsuki ga Miezutomo (Bleach 3rd movie ending song)
  3. Matataku Hoshi no Shita de (Magi 2nd opening song)
  4. Hitori no Yoru (Great Teacher Onizuka 2nd opening song)
  5. Anima Rossa (Bleach 11th opening song)
  6. Saudade
  7. Winding Road (Ayakashi Ayashi ending song)
  8. Ai ga Yobu Hou e
  9. Century Lovers
  10. Mugen
  11. Melissa (Fullmetal Alchemist opening song)
  12. Haneuma Rider
  13. Music Hour

Encore:

  1. Agehachou
  2. Dilemma
  3. Melissa

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Porno Graffitti at AX 2013: Photo Gallery

Anime Diet was privileged to attend and take photos of J-rock band Porno Graffitti at this year’s Anime Expo! Pornograffitti is best known for anime OPs and EDs for Great Teacher OnizukaFullmetal AlchemistBleach, and most recently Magi. They named themselves after the album by Extreme (see their remarks in our liveblog of their press conference about that and more), and currently consists of Akihito Okano on vocals and guitar, and Haruichi Shindo on background vocal and guitar.

Here we present to you our best photos of the concert, taken by Shizuka. Our full review of the concert, as well as a full translated transcript of the press conference, is coming very soon as well! Stay tuned.