All posts by Caty McCarthy

Caty McCarthy is the current Art Director for Xpress Magazine. When she's not bemoaning about layout duties and being a perfectionist, she's playing video games or watching anime. She enjoys writing about music, video games, tech, and anything "not boring." She also suffers from an addiction to McDonalds iced coffee; no one knows how her addiction began.

Beats n’ Stuff #14: tour de beats n’ stuff (the end!)

Illustration by Caty McCarthy

We’re at the end! The end of the semester, the end of my time at Xpress, and the end of Beats n’ Stuff… the real end this time, I swear.

Throughout this column I’ve written about everything that fills up my iTunes with joy, from J-Pop, video game music, J-Rock, K-Pop, K-Indie, hip-hop, to Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends. I’ve covered it all, baby.

Rather than doing another 5-song playlist complete with descriptions, I decided to go a lighter route for my final column, themed as a sort of walk-down-memory-lane. The playlist is longer than the usual – 13 songs – but there won’t be any track-by-track analysis. Why not? Some of these artists I’ve already covered in the past, and others are so similar to others that I have featured, that it would probably be repetitive. So in lieu of a track-by-track analysis, enjoy the playlist on your own terms, without me throwing words at you. Maybe you’ll walk away, or rather open a new tab, Googling to discover more about Japanese idol pop group Negicco, or maybe you won’t and you’ll just be happy to be rid of my J-Pop-pushing ways after today. Regardless, this playlist is for you guys; this is Beats n’ Stuff #14: “tour de beats n’ stuff.”

Thanks so much for reading and listening over these past eight months (wow, it’s really been that long since the first one?), and I hope that I at least introduced you to some new artists, or made you re-fall in love with ones you already loved.

Anyways, that’s it. I’m out. See you space cowboy. In the words of the great Aubrey Graham: I’m leavin’, I’m leavin’, I’m leavin’, I’m gone.

13.) “Car Carpet City” by Chroma-Kei

12.) “Cat Cafe” by Yoshi & Komono

11.) “iPhone Bubbling” by Qrion

10.) “Gotta Be You” by 2NE1

9.) “Crazy” by 4MINUTE

8.) “Fergsomnia (feat. Twista)” by A$AP Ferg

7.) “Picture This” by Kero Kero Bonito

6.) “Triple! WONDERLAND” by Negicco

5.) “Butter Sugar Cream (feat. tsvaci)” by Tomggg

4.) “reunion (PARKGOLF Remix)” by Izumi Pillow

3.) “Fog” by Daoko

2.) “Wrong (Produced by Ryan Hemsworth)” by Tinashe

1.) “Get Loose With Me” by I LOVE MAKONNEN

Beats n’ Stuff #13: The semester’s almost over, stop stressin’

I’m the worst at not being stressed out. At this point in my college career, I think being stressed out is ingrained in my every day life, coupled with sleep depravity and a worrisome caffeine addiction that would make a doctor’s head spin. The one thing that keeps me from not going insane is music and a nightly episode of Friends on Netflix.

Right now, it’s nearing the end of the semester. Everyone’s stressed out. Instead of tearing your eyes out about the three five-page papers you have due on the same day, sit back, grab a soda and snack, and listen to these lovely, positive tunes.

You’ll get through this tough time, just as you did last semester. Stay strong. I believe in you.

 

5.) “trUe thang” by I LOVE MAKONNEN

The “Tuesday” warbler is one of the most weirdest success stories in recent hip-hop. Drake found his track, rapped on it, and then signed I LOVE MAKONNEN to his own label October’s Very Own, or so the story goes. Makonnen’s newest mixtape Have Some Water 5 further demonstrates his bizarre sensibilities in r&b. The track “trUe thang” has a serene-area-in-a-JRPG-vibe that baffles and delights. Perhaps Makonnen will become the first purveyor of hybrid genre dream-pop-r&b.

4.) “くるかな” by Especia

Especia has been dubbed as the first “vapor wave idol group,” but their idol pop melodies translate far beyond the oversaturated and yawn-inducing genre of vapor wave. Especia’s music is reminiscent of Western 80s pop, and you’ll be humming along whether you like it or not. In addition to a far different aesthetic to other J-Pop idol groups, the girls of Especia are easily one of the most stylish idol groups around.

3.) “LIFE IS GOOD (feat. Jay Park)” by Epik High

Korean hip-hop group Epik High’s been around since 2001, and their most recent album SHOEBOX was their best record yet. Epik High’s going to be playing at the Warfield in May, but unfortunately it’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg. Instead of shelling out nearly $100 to see them, one’s probably better suited to watching their amazingly colorful vertical video for track “Born Hater.” Note: watch it on an iPad or iPhone for the best effect.

2.) “SO WHAT! (feat. Seira Kariya)” by tofubeats

I’m surprised that I haven’t thrown this song on a playlist before, but tofubeats’ positive, enjoyable forays into pop and hip-hop are among my favorite tunes of the past couple years. “SO WHAT!” features 21-year-old singer Seira Kariya and evokes a throwback-pop sound, much like the afore-featured Especia. Tofubeats’ genre of choice sways, but his sense of structure and melody is unmatched in the electronic scene in Japan.

1.) “Wishes (feat. Tkay Maidza)” by Swick & Lewis Cancut

Swick & Lewis Cancut was featured on Ryan Hemsworth’s first Shhh Secret Songs compilation, themed after the color pink (which also features my favorite Kero Kero Bonito song, “Flamingo”). Singer Tkay Maidza’s a cross between Charli XCX and Santigold, bubblegum pop vocals with attitude. “Wishes” is a track to play at a party to get pumped up, or just to dance around your room while doing your very, very late spring cleaning.

High-tech, low-life: Inside the Mission’s secret cyberpunk fanclub

An illustration of founder of Cyberpunk Cinema, Tosh Chiang, and founder of Thrillhouse Records, Fred Schrunk, driving the iconic motorcycle from Akira, a featured film at Cyberpunk Cinema. ILLUSTRATION BY JEREMIAH WILLIAMS. ALL PHOTOS BY ANGELICA WILLIAMS.

 

Akira’s opening scenes establish the setting of the grimy dystopia of Neo-Tokyo. A once-shiny city turned desolate, as questionable hero Kaneda races through the city with his biker gang while riding his iconic, blood red motorcycle. Kaneda’s bike is sticker-ridden, and looks bound to fall apart at any moment – yet it’s the envy of all his comrades. Kaneda’s aesthetically cool bike has been the fancy of fans of the film for decades – including fans sitting in the dive bar Knockout, located in San Francisco’s Mission district; a bar that screens cyberpunk movies every second Monday of the month. With its techno-junk charm and rugged punk look, Kaneda’s bike encompasses the aesthetic of the cyberpunk genre in a nutshell: lots of grit.

Cyberpunk, formerly relegated to the depths of William Gibson science fiction novels, has attained cult status among sci-fi fans. Typically focusing on gritty, low-life realism in a hyper-technological futuristic society, cyberpunk is grungy in all aspects but the name.

Tosh Chiang organizes the monthly Cyberpunk Cinema night at the Knockout in San Francisco's Mission District.
Tosh Chiang organizes the monthly Cyberpunk Cinema night at the Knockout in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Perched on the cross streets of Valencia and Mission is Knockout, a modest-looking bar that is hosting its monthly Cyberpunk Cinema night. Inside Knockout it’s quiet, contrary to other bustling Mission bars, and full of attentive locals simply looking to enjoy a movie and sip on a brew or two. Knockout’s event is unique and singular to its neighborhood, and a night dedicated to weird, often-forgotten science-fiction is nearly unheard of in the Mission – until Cyberpunk Cinema happened. This particular night’s feature of choice is Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 gritty post-WWIII anime Akira.

Films such as Robocop and Total Recall brought the cyberpunk genre to commercial success, films that Cyberpunk Cinema organizer Tosh Chiang would label as “mainstream” choices rather than “integrity.”
“We always try to choose a movie you would wanna watch in a bar,” says Chiang, noting that a crowd wouldn’t show up to watch cult-Japanese cyberpunk film 964 Pinocchio, but they would for say, Blade Runner. Chiang switches between these two “types” of cyberpunk films every month for the Knockout event.

A small gathering of people enjoy Akira at Cyberpunk Cinema night. PHOTO BY ANGELICA WILLIAMS.
A small gathering of people enjoy Akira at Cyberpunk Cinema night.

As Akira is projected on a wall in the darkened bar, the occasional text will scroll by the top of the screen to encourage the crowd to tweet facts or reactions using the hashtag #cyberpunkcinema. Tweets, and written text from Chiang himself, scroll across the screen during various points in the film: from facts about the film (“The creator of the film and manga didn’t know about cyberpunk before making Akira”), to notifications about the free popcorn going haywire coincidentally during a climactic scene (“Much like Akira, we need help controlling the popcorn”), and to general humor (“Where is Godzilla when you need him?”). Crowd participation makes Cyberpunk Cinema feel more like a community event, rather than simply watching the movie at home.

Cyberpunk Cinema collaborates with local punk-vinyl enthusiasts Thrillhouse Records, that host the event at Knockout every second Monday of the month. Fred Schrunk, the founder of Thrillhouse, bartends regularly at Knockout and collaborates with Chiang, fellow Thrillhouse volunteer, in hosting the event.

A typical night at Knockout is uneventful. On any other Monday night the bar is nearly empty, with only a few folks, Chiang included with Schrunk bartending. They retell familiar stories and talk animatedly about music and films that they love. Chiang and Schrunk have been friends since 2005, when their respective bands Crimewave and Robocop 3, eventually decided to embark on a joint tour: Crimecop.

The status of the punk scene, apart from cyberpunk, in the Bay Area is alive and well, surviving the internet age in surprisingly unique ways. Schrunk started the volunteer-run, non-profit Thrillhouse Records, and continues to run it in the belly of the Mission to this day.

“I love records and always dreamed of opening a record shop,” says Schrunk. Schrunk and Chiang have been involved in the local punk scene for years, which adds to their passion for cyberpunk.

“I love the complete non-standardness in punk,” Chiang says. “Once you get beyond the different intricacies, at the end of the day it’s about having a good time and no matter how angry it’s perceived, it’s still hopeful.”

“And mohawks,” intercepts Schrunk. Of course, there’s always mohawks.

“In college, I wanted to start a cyberpunk film festival,” Chiang says of his time at Bard College in New York. Although that plan never truly formulated, the idea for a cyberpunk cinema night stewed for years, before coming to fruition during his time volunteering at Thrillhouse Records and hanging out at Knockout.

Fred Schrunk, bartender at Knockout bar and founder of Thrillhouse Records, sponsors Cyberpunk Cinema night.
Fred Schrunk, bartender at Knockout bar and founder of Thrillhouse Records, sponsors Cyberpunk Cinema night.

Cyberpunk for Chiang, Schrunk, and dozens of like-minded fans, run parallel to the punk music scene. Disruption, the collapse of the 1950s American Dream, and the running trope of manipulative corporations are all a common thread among cyberpunk media, sharing more likeness with punk than what meets the typical sci-fi eye.

“We’re in the most tech-advanced city in the country, and it happens to also have a large punk culture,” says Chiang. “And for some of us, it tends to overlap.”

In a typical night at Cyberpunk Cinema, the event begins at 6:30 p.m. with an episode of the classic 1998 western-space-noir anime Cowboy Bebop, a show about a group of cigarette-smoking goofball bounty hunters in the year 2071, as they hunt criminals of the week to composer Yoko Kanno’s delightful bebop jazz. Cowboy Bebop is a show that Chiang holds dear, due to its strong content of space-bound hijinks coupled with typical rascal struggles – cyberpunk personified.

Cowboy Bebop is a foundation of the entire space genre,” says Chiang. “It’s also presented in a way that’s visually appealing.”

Chiang and Schrunk play an episode of Cowboy Bebop at every event to account for “punktime,” a term that Chiang and Schrunk define as when someone is a half-hour to an hour late to the event’s start time. This way, the feature film won’t begin until after the episode, giving those that run on “punktime” a cushion, and it seems to be a proven formula. As the episode “Bohemian Rhapsody” of Cowboy Bebop ends, and silly old trailers for Akira are shown, one of which loudly proclaims, “Akira makes Blade Runner look like Disneyland” to the laughter of Knockout’s crowd. A steady stream of people slowly fill the bar’s seats and order the “Tetsuo” drink special, named as an homage to Kaneda’s friendly foil in Akira.

The event has become a monthly community staple for cyberpunk fans in the depths of the Mission, garnering a steady following of returning attendees. For Schrunk and Chiang, cyberpunk is more than just a genre.
“Cyberpunk tends to incorporate the chaotic aspects of technology,” says Chiang. “There’s no frills, just rough edges.”

Cyberpunk Cinema hosted its special one-year anniversary event on April 13th, where they screened Dredd, a film that Chiang believes is the perfect blend of crowd-pleasing and obscure, the ideal film for Knockout’s one-year celebration.

Like the everlasting coolness of Kaneda’s motorcycle in Akira, Cyberpunk Cinema isn’t a niche event looking to fade, but to remain static as an oddball staple in everything weird this little-big city has to offer.

I Went to Record Store Day 2015 and Left Disappointed and Ashamed in Myself

My boyfriend and I’s collective Record Store Day 2015 haul. Photo by Caty McCarthy

“Who even checks for Brand New anymore?”

More than a few people apparently.

It was 8 a.m. on April 18th as my boyfriend and I woke up and readied ourselves before heading to Amoeba Music on Haight Street for Record Store Day, an annual celebration of all things vinyl, or Black Friday for music geeks. This is my first time attending the event, whereas my boyfriend has attended in years past. He was rushing me out the door, and I didn’t understand why. We were leaving over an hour early, and all the records we wanted weren’t that ‘popular,’ at least they weren’t in my eyes. However, I was in for a rude awakening.

Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades: The line for Record Store Day is longer than I naively anticipated. PHOTO BY CATY MCCARTHY.
Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades: The line for Record Store Day at Amoeba is longer than I naively anticipated. PHOTO BY CATY MCCARTHY.

Upon hopping off the 71, there was a corner-wrapping line. Iced coffee in hand, I glanced over to find an “I-told-you-so” face from my beloved. I shook it off, still assured, thinking to myself, “All I want is Shugo Tokumaru’s L.S.T. and the repress of Brand New’s Deja Entendu, and really, they haven’t put anything out in like six years since Daisy, no one should care anymore… Right?” I’ll be fine, or so I thought.

My poor boyfriend was anxiety ridden, his Notes app scribbled with nearly a dozen records, including an exclusive, ultra-rare pressing of Elvis Presley’s first recording ever (released by Jack White’s Third Man Records). I felt awful. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so sluggish in the morning? Maybe we should have woken up earlier? I royally, excuse my language, fucked up.

We were about a hundred folks deep in line, and by the time we got inside, split up entirely. I rushed to aisle 1A, where Brand New’s Deja Entendu was supposedly hiding, only to see a mere white post-it in its place. It had sold out within ten minutes of Amoeba opening. I saw a nearby man holding its RSD-exclusive brown packaging, and seethed at him. I cried over that album a million times from ages 14 to 16 (to present 22-year-old self). I deserve it, not you, late-twenties-aged bearded man. I blamed everyone else, when really who was at fault was myself.

The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows: Inside the nightmarish crowd gathered for Record Store Day 2015 at Amoeba Records. PHOTO BY CATY MCCARTHY.
The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows: Inside the nightmarish crowd gathered for Record Store Day 2015 at Amoeba Music. PHOTO BY CATY MCCARTHY.

Instead of relishing in my pouting, I teamed up with my boyfriend to help uncover the various albums he was lusting after. We got most of them, sans a Metronomy album and the soundtrack for mega-popular true crime podcast Serial, but at least he got that damn Elvis record. Despite our shortcomings, he left happy. I was less than so.

While I was bummed about my naïve, chaotic Record Store Day experience, I’m also reminded by the fact that I don’t collect records as avidly as my significant other or his pals. In fact, I only own around ten, and they’re either signed by artists whose shows I’ve attended or hold deep personal significance to me. Plus, I hardly ever play my records, which I’m guessing isn’t the case with avid record “collectors,” the people that Record Store Day is catered towards (obviously).

Maybe that’s why missing out on the Brand New record hurt so much, being someone who only buys vinyl for sentimental value rather than playable value. Regardless, I’m reminded of its standard reissue to be released in May, and my hopes aren’t diminished for that, yet. If I really needed the limited edition so bad, I could have woken up earlier, alas, here I am. Sad and disappointed in myself.

Good to Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die: A depressing screenshot of Ebay.
Good to Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die: A depressing screenshot of Ebay.

I walked into Record Store Day a naïve girl who severely underestimated the rampant vinyl enthusiasts that attend it, but left a more aware, future-Record-Store-Day-prepared lady. I’m hoping next year I actually get what I long for. If not, there are always the insane second-hand sellers on Ebay.

Beats n’ Stuff #12: The Throwbacks

Positive K accosts a lady in hopes that she’ll want him. Not happening. (Screenshot from his music video “I Got A Man”)

 

Ah, throwbacks. The songs that make parties come alive with joy, bad dancing, and inaccurate lip-synching.

Luckily, new San Francisco radio station Q102.1 has all the throwback tunes you need to get you through the day. It’s a tranquil radio wave in between the repetition of Top 40 hits across other local stations, and after discovering it by mistake on a grocery run, I’m ever-so thankful for its existence. The statement “I totally forgot about this song!” will be uttered by listeners everywhere.

For this week’s Beats n’ Stuff, “the throwbacks” (aptly named, I know), I dug into the depths of my iTunes to dig out classic hip-hop tracks, or at least the ones that were find-able on Soundcloud (sorry DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and E-40, you guys are left out of this one).

 

5.) “I Got A Man” by Positive K

Released: December 1, 1992

A really creepy song by today’s standards, but damn, is it catchy. “I Got A Man” is about a man accosting a woman on the street, despite her insistent commenting that she has a boyfriend, and longs for him to simply leave her alone. Of course, in song-world, this guy won’t quit. An additional fun fact: Positive K himself recorded the female’s voice in the song, simply raising the pitch of his voice in the studio.

4.) “I Wish” by Skee-Lo

Released: March 27, 1995

“I Wish” is actually a pretty sad track. Poor Skee-Lo bemoans how he wishes he was more like the girl he fancies’ boyfriend. As he wishes he was taller, a baller, and drove a 64 Impala, one can’t help but feel bad for the guy. It represents low-self esteem at its finest, but at the very least the buried-melancholy tone created one of the most recognizable hip-hop tracks of the 90s.

3.) “Xxplosive” by Dr. Dre

Released: November 16, 1999

Dr. Dre doesn’t even rap on this track, and yet it’s on his album 2001 (most commonly known as The Chronic Pt. 2). Dr. Dre is one of the most well-known names in hip-hop and for good reason: he’s one of the best producers and rappers of all-time. Before Beats by Dre, Dre was one of the godfathers of gangsta rap. Dre has influenced and mentored various other big name rappers – such as the superb Kendrick Lamar (by the way: stop reading this and listen to To Pimp A Butterfly if you haven’t already) and the immensely popular Eminem. Despite not rapping himself on “Xxplosive,” the track shows off Dre’s talent as a producer.

2.) “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube

Released: February 23, 1993

“It Was A Good Day” is another track that’s seemingly positive, but has a sad, dark undertone of life in South Central LA. Ice Cube describes his perfect day with a chilled out attitude, from watching Yo! MTV Raps to not being randomly stopped by the police to finally hearing from a girl he wanted to hook up with since the 12th grade – Ice Cube’s day has zero problems. I gotta say it was a good day.

1.) “Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest

Released: November 9, 1993

A Tribe Called Quest is a group that I didn’t discover until I watched the boring quirky indie dramedy (made for white people), The Wackness, a film about a white drug dealer who trades weed in exchange for therapy. It stars Josh Peck from Drake & Josh, (weird, I know) but its soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites. The soundtrack is full of throwback hip-hop tracks, and is virtually the only thing that makes the film worthwhile. A Tribe Called Quest is great, more alternative and jazzy than the typical hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest is something special.

Beats n’ Stuff #11: I Know What You Scrobbled Last Summer

I’ve had a Last.fm account for eight years. Eight. Years.

Glancing at that join date is pretty daunting. In those eight years that I’ve had a Last.fm account I’ve gone through puberty, had a Myspace, deleted a Myspace, created a plethora of other social media accounts, graduated high school and moved out of my rinky-dink small town to go to college, and most importantly: drastically changed my music taste. Last.fm has been there with me through all of that, whether I knew it or not.

Last.fm, for the uneducated, is a music social media site that “scrobbles,” or tracks what you listen to, and caters lists according to it. For example, my top played ‘overall’ artist is Kanye West. However, at the turn of my music taste as a budding indie aficionado, I deleted a lot of the artists I listened to in the past. In truth, my top played would probably be rock group Say Anything, but that fact is now lost in the realm of 17-year-old “pop-punk is dumb” era-Caty.

In 2007 I was 15, young, angsty, and really into pop-punk, as any young girl would be. My first concert was My Chemical Romance (of course), and I loved Fall Out Boy (and anything signed to pop-punk staple Fueled by Ramen), Say Anything, and Brand New more than I loved myself. Music was a ride or die type of hobby, and I wish I was as passionate about music today as I was as a 15-year-old teen (…says the girl writing a bi-weekly music column).

The most insane thing about my long, presumably lost last.fm account is that it’s still active, scrobbling my music unbeknownst to me. Every now and then I’ll get a notification from the app on my computer, but other than that, I rarely check it anymore. I hope that Last.fm keeps scrobbling my music for all eternity, and exists as a relic for teenage-me’s sake.

This playlist, “I Know What You Scrobbled Last Summer” is dedicated to the forgotten pop-punk tunes everyone seems to pretend they didn’t listen to. This column will be more of a walk down memory lane, so you can skip down and listen to the playlist if you don’t really care to read sentimental garbage from yours truly. Proceed at your own risk.

 

1.) “Colorblind” by Say Anything

When I first saw Say Anything, I was chaperoned by my mom to the Warfield. I was up in the balcony, but I remember seeing Say Anything, my favorite band at the time, and how passionate their performance was. Hellogoodbye closed the night, and I left with my mom to catch Bart home, only to run into frontman Max Bemis in the lobby. I was 15 and star-struck: here is this dude whose lyrics meant everything to me. When he autographed a goofy belt I had bought from the merch booth, I damn near wept. I saw Say Anything a total of three times in my youth, and they never let me down.

2.) “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” by Taking Back Sunday

Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends is a pop-punk classic, and a record that I listen to far more than I care to admit (but here I am, admitting it). “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” catalogs the scandalous feud between other pop-punkers Brand New (specifically frontman Jesse Lacey, who was formerly a bassist for Taking Back Sunday). As a teen on the Internet, reading about their vehement band drama on Livejournal was the equivalent to skimming through celebrity tabloids in line at Safeway.

3.) “Honey This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us” by My Chemical Romance

Ah, My Chemical Romance. MCR. The pop-goth princes of rock. My Chemical Romance had less of a pop start, and more of a hardcore one. As they grew as a band, their sound grew much more accessible, and soon were dominating the airwaves with records like The Black Parade. My first concert ever, and no I do not count seeing Smash Mouth at the Alameda County Fair as my first concert, was My Chemical Romance on the Black Parade tour, and it was great. I wore way too much makeup and looked like a raccoon, and I sang my heart out (with my dear mom by my side, bless her heart).

4.) “The Future Freaks Me Out” by Motion City Soundtrack

A Facebook friend recently posted a status about an alleged Commit This to Memory, their most notable album, tour Motion City Soundtrack embarked on, much to my dismay. I didn’t go, but I wish I had. Motion City Soundtrack encompasses the nerdy-side of the pop-punk scene, with their highly danceable tunes and earnest lyrics, and even features production by Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus.

5.) “My Heart is the Worst Kind of Weapon” by Fall Out Boy

Back in the day, Fall Out Boy and their signed record label Fueled by Ramen were everything to me. FBR was how I found new music and kept up with the music I already loved. When I went to Warped Tour years and years ago, my heart was broken when Cobra Starship and The Academy Is… held their meet and greets simultaneously, I chose to meet the latter, which I don’t think I regret. Regardless, Fall Out Boy was opened a massive door to a lot of music for me, and even if their music past their album From Under the Cork Tree isn’t really my taste, I appreciate them nonetheless.

Beats n’ Stuff #10: A Girl’s Guide to J-Rock

During this ongoing column, I’ve covered the grounds of both K-Pop, J-Pop, and even C-Pop, as well as electronic artists in those respective countries, to seemingly no end. Unfortunately, I haven’t really featured any foreign rock bands, a problem that I’m going to remedy this week.

And thus, “A Girl’s Guide to J-Rock” has been born. This week’s column will feature the likes of Tricot and Passepied, and will feature all lady-fronted bands (because girls are superior, duh). While I do love me some Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Number Girl, and KANA-BOON, I’ll save them for another day (maybe).

So here we go. Girl’s Guide to J-Rock. Grab some Pocky and strawberry-flavored Calpico, because let’s face it, that’s the best flavor. And let’s do this.

 

5.) “ここだけの話 (Just Between Us)” by chatmonchy

Chatmonchy is an all-girl indie rock band hailing from Tokushima, Japan. Despite only having two current members, chatmonchy’s remained active for the past 15 years, even doing a brief US tour in 2010. The duo-former-trio has even had their tracks featured in anime such as the progressive Princess Jellyfish in the past. Chatmonchy’s all girl power, all of the time. The last album released by chatmonchy came out in 2009, and while lead singer Eriko Hashimoto recently had a child, the state of the band has yet to be determined en masse. Here’s to hoping Eriko and bassist Akiko Fukuoka don’t call it quits yet!

Recommended if you like: Cutesy indie rock duos and anime theme songs

 

4.) “僕に彼女ができたんだ” by SHISHAMO

Contrary to the prolific chatmonchy, SHISHAMO’s only been around for a couple of years. SHISHAMO’s a trio, consisting of two gals and one dude, not quite a 100% girls’ group, girl-power charm still radiates from its female lead singer and bassist. Plus, lead singer-guitarist-lyricist Asako Miyazaki has really cool hair. (Her bangs are cut in a slant for crying out loud!)

Recommended if you like: Girls with cool haircuts

 

3.) “E” by Tricot

I’m not really that well-versed in math rock. I guess Number Girl qualifies under this genre, as well as the American band Slint. Other than that though, I can’t tell you off the top of my head what math rock is (a Google search tells me that the genre is guitar-heavy and “rhythmically complex,” whatever the hell that means). However! Tricot is a great band. Currently a trio of awesome ladies, the band emanates exactly what a girl-rock band should be: cool. Switching from melodic to angst driven at the drop of a hat (or key), Tricot’s a band to watch. Plus, their newest album just dropped, and has the cutest streaming site I’ve ever seen.

Recommended if you like: Math rock???

 

2.) “スマトラ警備隊” by Sōtaisei Riron

Etsuko Yakushimaru, a.k.a. one-of-my-favorite-vocalists-as-I’ve-probably-mentioned-before, fronts this post-rock band. Sōtaisei Riron hardly plays any live shows, doesn’t really talk to press, and doesn’t allow photos taken during performances; however, they’ve regularly produced albums since their start in 2006. While each of the members does seem to have their own projects apart from Sōtaisei Riron, the group as a whole create beautiful, collaborative music together that goes unmatched in the J-Rock realm, or at least so in my opinion.

Recommended if you like: Mysterious, elusive rock groups

 

1.) “MATATABISTEP” by Passepied

Passepied is once-more a lady-fronted pop rock band from Tokyo. Formed in 2009 by keyboardist Narita Haneda at the Tokyo University of Art, the band comes from a unique background of classical music and deep music theory. Their pop sensibilities ranging from various eras, as evidenced by their dense catalog of singles and mini albums, give Passepied a unique outlook among other J-Rock and even J-Pop acts in the scene. With a girl at its helm, PASSEPIED’s strong pop vocals add another layer to their overall strength.

Recommended if you like: Bands that aren’t quite pop and aren’t quite rock

Beats n’ Stuff #9: Noise Poppin’

It’s Noise Pop Festival week, so for this edition of the Beats n’ Stuff playlist I’ll be spotlighting the best artists playing around the Bay Area for the festival, and why they’re worth your due attention.

For those not in the know, San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival is an annual celebration of independent music, art, and film, and it’s now in its 23rd year (wow, that’s a long-ass time). Venues all around San Francisco and Oakland host shows under the Noise Pop moniker from February 20 to March 1, so right now it’s in full swing.

Have fun Noise Poppin’! I’ll see y’all at the Giraffage/Spazzkid show on Thursday.

 

1.) “Bother” – Les Sins

Les Sins is the slightly-experimental, electronic dance side project of Toro Y Moi’s Chazwick Bradley Bundick, created in an effort to give him more freedom in putting out all sorts of music. Les Sins is great: a lot more dance-y, a little less accessible and chillwave-friendly. If Les Sins’ Boiler Room set or FYF set (that I personally witnessed) is anything to judge by, then Bundick’s show at Oakland’s The New Parish is not to be missed.

Where & when to see Les Sins: The New Parish, with DJ Cali, DJ Dials; $20; Thurs. Feb. 26

2.) “Bloom feat. Manics” – NITEPPL

Local in both name and vibe, Gage Seber and Alton San Giovanni’s NITEPPL is a modern disco-pop project. Being a San Francisco local, it’s not hard to picture NITEPPL’s music soundtracking your house parties or even post-night-shift muni rides home. NITEPPL is an outfit for fans of Ed Banger-esque electronic music, for those wanting some funk in their electronic music.

Where & when to see NITEPPL: Rickshaw Stop, with Natural Curves, Tenderlion, Lemaitre; $15; Sat. Feb. 28

3.) “Daytime Disco (feat. Neon Bunny)” – Spazzkid

I’ve fallen into this bad habit of accidentally featuring musicians on these playlists twice, so I apologize for that, but it’s only because I really really want you to listen to them. Spazzkid is one of those “I’m sorry but you have to listen” artists. From earnest chill-electronic to the more pop-enthused singles he’s released of the past year, Spazzkid is one of the most well-rounded electronic musicians of today. I had the pleasure of seeing him open for Daedelus a few months ago, and it was absolutely splendid, so much so that I’ll be seeing him open for yet another great act, Giraffage, this Thursday. While the show is sold out, if you have a Noise Pop badge you can get in no problem.

Where & when to see Spazzkid: The Independent, with Avidd, Glenn Jackson, Giraffage; $18 (SOLD OUT); Thurs. Feb. 26 

4.) “The Lovers’ Suicide” – The Bilinda Butchers

San Francisco-based dream pop band The Bilinda Butchers have been active in the music scene for years, releasing an album on Los Angeles-based netlabel Zoom Lens in the past, and most recently releasing Heaven, their newest full-length, a concept album about a young woman living in 19th century Japan. In releasing a chillwave-y record in 2014, a genre that is pretty tired at this point, I was caught completely by surprise by TBB’s Heaven. It’s not only dreamy, but it’s unique and remember-able, and that’s reason enough to keep paying attention.

Where & when to see The Bilinda Butchers: Great American Music Hall, with Balms, Cotillon, Craft Spells; $16; Wed. Feb. 25

5.) “Pantyhose” by TV Girl

TV Girl is a lo-fi indie rock band hailing from Los Angeles. They sing a lot about love, lust, and basically just that. TV Girl are easily the most un-electronic group on this playlist, making them an anomaly compared to my other Noise Pop picks for this year. If you wanna stand in a stuffy room and nod your head and shuffle your feet, I recommend catching TV Girl’s Noise Pop set, and if you dare: dance a little. Show that crowd how it’s done.

Where & when to see TV Girl: Brick & Mortar Music Hall, with RZN8R, Yalls, Monster Rally; $10; Wed. Feb. 25

Having an Oscars party? Here’s a ballot to follow along!

Does the smell of popcorn and the aura of pretentious film snobs encase the air around you? If so, it’s probably because it’s Oscars season, and in fact, the big awards show is this Sunday night.

While winner-prediction posts are tired and overdone, with the same films being picked time and time again, in its place we at Xpress Magazine have created a free, printable Oscar Ballot for your big Oscar parties (try not to spill any drinks or dip on it!). Whether you’re rooting for Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel, or really hoping that the animated short The Dam Keeper beats out Feast (as I am hoping for), this ballot is great for everyone to follow along and keep score of their picks for those shiny gold trophies. And you get bragging rights for having the highest score, a win-win situation, basically.

Enjoy! And happy predicting!

Oscar Ballot PDF (via DropBox)

Beats n’ Stuff #8: ♡ heart-shaped box ♡

Hey everybody!

I’m back, with another ‘round of Beats n’ Stuff playlists for you all to enjoy and uncover your as-of-yet undiscovered new favorite artists. For those unfamiliar, Beats n’ Stuff is a bi-weekly playlist and blog around a central theme, with a typically-five-song-long SoundCloud playlist residing by its side. I switched up the logo for the new semester, opting for a Vib-Ribbon-inspired getup. Anyways, this week’s theme is pretty obvious: Valentine’s Day.

For my Valentine’s playlist ♡ heart-shaped box ♡, I’ve curated a six-track playlist with songs about being in love. Be it frolicking through Golden Gate Park with your significant other, or curling up with a sitcom that’s been with you during the toughest of times. Being in love isn’t strictly romantic, in my opinion, so I hope this playlist isn’t a downer for those without partners to call their own.

My plans for Valentine’s Day involve hanging out with my boyfriend, ordering pizza, and probably playing a bunch of Towerfall Ascension. For everyone else’s plans, good luck braving restaurants, couple-y activities, or avoiding such things.

Alas, Happy Valentine’s, Galentine’s, or Me-entine’s everybody! Enjoy the playlist~

1.) “Give Love” by Akdong Musician (AKMU)

I’ve featured YG Entertainment’s Akdong Musician in the past, but their music is impossible to ignore whenever a theme calls to it. Arguably the cutest K-Pop duo in the world, AKMU’s sunny springtime sound is perfect for the sunniness that is Valentine’s Day.

Recommended if you like: Insanely talented 15-year-olds

2.) “Prom Night feat. Bianca Raquel” by Anamanaguchi

Anamanaguchi were once-upon-a-time a chiptune band, but have since evolved into so much more. Now more of an electro-pop outfit, Anamanaguchi’s updated remix of their own track “Prom Night,” from 2013’s successfully Kickstarted full-length Endless Fantasy. “Prom Night” is a love letter to teenage love for 20-somethings, and is damn fun to sing along to. The remix is just as delightful as the original track.

Recommended if you like: Chiptune-esque pop

3.) “First Love” by Uffie

Uffie is probably the coolest girl in electronic music, even four years past her only album, an indefinite hiatus, and two kids later. The Ed Banger records’ muse has collaborated with virtually every artist on the French label, before culminating her own record, Sex Dreams and Denim Dreams. Cheeky references to Myspace (yes, it was that long ago) and playing saxophone plague her debut album, but one of my personal favorite tracks is “First Love,” a momentarily quiet track on the record produced by Mr. Oizo.

Recommended if you like: Myspace profile songs

4.) “Under Your Spell” by Desire

Did you watch Drive? Yeah? That soundtrack sure was somethin’, huh?

Recommended if you like: Drive

5.) “Something About Us” by Daft Punk

“Something About Us” and “Digital Love” are two of the greatest love songs ever made, and they both exist thanks to legendary French electronic music duo Daft Punk. Okay, maybe “the greatest” is too high of a compliment, but at the very least, Daft Punk’s Discovery is in all actuality the greatest electronic album of all-time, which counts for something. “Something About Us” is sweet and mellow, contrasting some of the heavy dance-y House tracks on the album, but somehow not messing up the flow of Discovery whatsoever.

Recommended if you like: Songs that you could probably dance to at your wedding

6.) “Bound 2” by Kanye West

Kanye’s ode to Kim Kardashian is a shockingly sweet and genuine one, given the anger that resonates through the rest of Yeezus, and the media’s perception of the two celebrities. “Bound 2” is a middle finger to everyone that’s accused Kanye of only superficially loving Kim, and vice versa, and I think as an end to an album filled with anger and grievance, it shows that through love, Kanye sees a light at the end of the tunnel. If that’s not good tracklist construction, then I don’t know what is.

Recommended if you like: Kanye, Kim, and their adorable child

Club Nintendo announces new rewards before service closes

Mourning the loss of Club Nintendo, with exclusive items from the program on display. Photo/Graphic by Caty McCarthy.

Club Nintendo is a U.S.-based rewards program by gaming giant Nintendo, offering digital and physical prizes in exchange for coins earned from registering first-party Nintendo games and filling out surveys. After its seven years of service, Club Nintendo is coming to an end on June 30, 2015, but not without some final prizes to offer members.

I’ve been a member of the joyous rewards program for as long as I can remember (I cannot recall anything in my life prior to 2008, apparently). I’ve redeemed prizes, hoarded coins, shaken my fist at the screen when I didn’t have enough for that rare gold nunchuk, used my Club Nintendo-exclusive Pikmin tote bag whenever a situation required it, for like, shopping and stuff. There were various instances where before purchasing a game I asked, “But can I register this game on Club Nintendo???” I even got the delightful invitation to attend the Wii U Experience at Fort Mason for being a Club Nintendo member, where myself and friends were able to play the Wii U before anyone else. We drank blue-tinted Jones soda and ate cookies that said #WiiU, and posed with Nintendo-related props for pictures. I love Club Nintendo and all it has to offer, and that’s why when Nintendo announced its closure a fortnight ago I got really sad.

On February 2, however, President of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aimé parted the figurative clouds of Club Nintendo, revealing a staggering slew of new rewards. It’s their way of saying “spend your coins or you’ll regret it.” A host of 117 games total, including Earthbound, Super Metroid, Game & Wario, Super Mario 3D Land, and The Wonderful 101, and 13 new physical rewards are now available to Club Nintendo members. Among the most enticing of the physical rewards include exclusive posters, a classy 2016 calendar, adorable pastel-hued Animal Crossing playing cards, a Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask messenger bag, and even a Majora’s Mask jigsaw puzzle.

The final day to register games for coins is March 31, and the last day to redeem coins for rewards is June 30. On July 1, Club Nintendo will shut down for good to be eventually replaced by an as-of-yet unannounced new rewards program by Nintendo.

Alas, Club Nintendo is nearly dead and buried, and what a sad thing that is. But at least they’re going out with a bang.

Akiba Kei gone local

Japan has been known as land of the most hard-working people in the world, home of over two hundred flavors of Kit Kats, the anime utopia, but perhaps most notably: a mecca for quirky, diverse fashion.

In the past few years, art, street fashion, and the Internet have become a trifecta in cyberspace. Thanks in part to Tumblr’s reblogging and the simplicity of sharing, obscure American artists with Eastern-influences have garnered more of an audience than ever before. Rather than posting miscellaneous anime fanart to DeviantArt to be seen by basically no one, Tumblr’s reblogging functionality has paid off, literally and figuratively, with unique brands coming to fruition online.

  • Self-proclaimed Pebble posed at Japan Center in San Francisco's Japantown. ALL PHOTOS BY LORISA SALVATIN.

     

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  • akiba kei_sailor moon compact

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  • Self-proclaimed Pebble posed at Japan Center in San Francisco's Japantown. (ALL PHOTOS BY LORISA SALVATIN/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Goldie Cylon poses in San Francisco Japantown's MARUQ.
  • Cylon wears a hat from Shibuya SF.
  • Tiffany Yu poses in San Francisco Japantown's Peace Plaza.
  • Self-proclaimed Kimi x Kimi poses in MARUQ.
  • Kimi x Kimi wears a Sailor Moon Crisis Moon Compact made by Kuma Craft.
  • Kimi x Kimi carries an Angelic Pretty bag.

Artists Justin Wallis, OMOCAT, Michy Soong, and Brandon Reierson have jumpstarted their personal brands on the Internet with their Japanese-inspired art and clothes. Some of Wallis’ 1990s-Japan-enthused art has garnered as much as twenty-four thousand notes on Tumblr. OMOCAT launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year for her first video game Omori, a semi-autobiographical surreal horror Role Playing Game (RPG) Maker game, and made over $200,000, enough for a 3DS port and smashing its miniscule $22,000 goal. While not quite household names, their art is widespread in all corners of the Internet, from Tumblr to Instagram to Twitter and elsewhere, these artists and others are gaining traction with Japanese-inspired fashion – and fast.

With other niche-cyber-fashion trends such as the sporty-yet-dark, amplified-subtrend-of-normcore Health Goth and aqua-infused Seapunk slinking their way into modern U.S. streetwear, the Japanese street fashion trend Akiba kei is a slang term for the style that resonates from the Akihabara district of Tokyo, a home for otakus, or obsessive fans of anime and video games. Akiba kei is dorky yet accidentally cool: oversized shirts with anime girls and boys plastered on it, skater skirts paired with boots or platform sneakers and thigh-high socks. Akiba kei lifts direct influences from anime, video games, manga, and any other sort of Japanese-produced media; western artists and designers have tapped into this obscure trend.

  • Amarin, as she is called at MARUQ, suggested that the store carry OMOCAT when picking new bands to feature. While MARUQ used to carry only imported items from Japan, the store is changing direction and beginning to include American brands as well, Amarin said. In this photo, Amarin wore a TVGIRL sweater by OMOCAT.

  • OMOCAT's Weeaboo Sports Jacket at MARUQ in San Francisco's Japantown.

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  • Amarin, as she is called at MARUQ, suggested that the store carry OMOCAT when picking new bands to feature. While MARUQ used to carry only imported items from Japan, the store is changing direction and beginning to include American brands as well, Amarin said. In this photo, Amarin wore a TVGIRL sweater by OMOCAT.
  • OMOCAT's Weeaboo Sports Jacket at MARUQ in San Francisco's Japantown.
  • OMOCAT's GLITCHBOY and GLITCHGIRL t-shirts at MARUQ.
  • OMOCAT's sweatshirts and T-shirts featuring her manga, Pretty Boy.

Artist OMOCAT’s, who wishes to remain anonymous for this article, foray into Japanese-inspired art and fashion is simple: it is a personal outlet.

“My favorite thing about Japanese pop culture and fashion is how free, fun, and open-minded it is,” says OMO. “I was often made fun of for looking and acting different than others. It was very hard to make friends so I focused my time elsewhere. To me, Japanese fashion and pop culture really embraced standing out and being exceptional, so it provided some respite for the harder years of my childhood, and gave me hope that things would get better.”

OMOCAT has expanded from simply producing prints of anime fan art of Cowboy Bebop and Gurren Lagann to her very-own sweatshirts, t-shirts, and even a wristwatch. OMO’s career can be credited to young people’s rampant usage of social media, as well as like-minded fans of anime and manga who did not have an outlet to buy Japanese-inspired merchandise. On getting started, OMO wanted to change perspectives.

“I wanted to change the connotation of what it means to be an anime fan,” says OMO. “Liking anime has a really negative connotation and I wanted to bring something new to the table.”

Meanwhile, artist Justin Wallis of brand MILKBBI created a line of accessories, clothes, and stationery a few years ago, and has also seen his brand grow exponentially since he began. His cute, dreamy, artistic style is inspired by 1990s Japanese aesthetic, and has garnered a following: it is nearly impossible to attend a Japanese Pop music, or J-Pop, concert without seeing a fan wearing a crewneck designed by him, laden with sketches of a Nokia phone, a mecha helmet, a droopy-looking puppy, and 90s internet browser windows.

“MILKBBI is a way for me to create my own version of the things I love, like clothes and accessories,” said Wallis. “It’s very inspiring to me to see successful brands who create their own unique style. There seems to be a lot more exposure for Japanese street fashion over the last few years. [Since] more people are really into it now, I think it’s natural for them to start imitating the styles they like.”

  • The OMOCAT, MILKBBI, and Aymmy displays at MARUQ in the New People building at San Francisco's Japantown.

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  • The OMOCAT, MILKBBI, and Aymmy displays at MARUQ in the New People building at San Francisco's Japantown.
  • A T-shirt and accesories by MILKBBI at MARUQ.

Wallis’ clothing brand has recently been displayed in a pop-up shop at MARUQ, a quaint boutique located inside the New People building in Japantown. MILKBBI has been featured at MARUQ alongside OMOCAT and the kawaii accessory line punimelt, by self-proclaimed “internet majokko artist” Michy Soong.

Soong of punimelt got involved with MARUQ after meeting an employee of the anime streaming site Crunchyroll, whom used to be an employee at MARUQ. Soong credits her inspiration in beginning her brand of accessories to her friends around her successfully creating clothing and accessories in the industry, and decided to try it on her own, and is even launching her first clothing line in Spring 2015. In terms of Akiba kei-esque fashion garnering popularity across the world, Soong thinks the internet made the trend possible.

“I think it’s because countless kids and adults from all over are connected through the internet,” says Soong. “It’s really easy to share images and ideas. It brings people together. I think that if people see things they like, they will definitely spread it. That’s why people are becoming more aware of Japanese-inspired fashion.”

Meanwhile, Brandon Reierson of Lactose Intoler-Art, a “mini line” of clothing in Japan, is an Oklahoma native living in Japan; he moved to Japan in January of 2013. While Wallis, OMO, and Soong are inspired by Japanese pop culture, Reierson is meanwhile inspired by Japanese street fashion itself.

“When I started Lactose Intoler-Art back around 2008 or so, most of my illustration work was very inspired by Japanese street fashion,” says Reierson. “Originally I drew a lot more people. People posed as if they were in the famous FRUiTS or TUNE magazine, waiting to be hunted by the next street-snapper. I think being inspired by the artistically creative outfits just naturally transformed into me making a mini line of clothing. All along, I’ve really found the idea of fashion as a means of personal artistic expression very fascinating. I would say that is the core of my work. Examining how art meets fashion, and all of the inspiration mixed in changes here and there.”

Reierson sees the rest of the internet’s view of the internet being slightly inaccurate, citing that the whole country is not what you would expect on the streets of Harajuku and Akihabara.

“The mainstream culture here is actually quite conservative, and the pressure for young people to succeed can be really intense,” says Reierson. “Perhaps fashion is a means of escape, creating a character for oneself, an armor, or maybe even just fun.”

Reierson believes the rapid usage of the Internet is instrumental to Japan’s street fashion scene, and its sui generis qualities.

“I think that the internet is extremely powerful,” says Reierson. “When I first started getting interested in Japanese street fashion, there wasn’t even half of the content online as there is now. It’s amazing how mainstream ‘subcultural’ looks can be widely recognized and named online now by so many people… What’s interesting now though, is a lot of the kids here in Tokyo are looking outside for inspiration, and even Tumblr as well. Of course there is always a lot going on here, Tokyo is huge. To put it all in one bubble would be crazy.”

While Reierson draws inspiration from people, 1990s Nickelodeon nostalgia, and the Internet, he is also thankful of his chance to liv e his dream as an artist in Japan.

“I honestly wake up early often, just naturally, because I’m so ready to start the day and get working on my stuff,” says Reierson. “I think that’s when you know you’re living your dream.”

 

 

All photos by Lorisa Salvatin except punimelt pins photo, by Michy Soong.