Remembering March 11, 2011: For What It Is Worth

Posted by Kells, March 8, 2012 12:34pm | Post a Comment

Everyday I think about what it would mean to suffer the panic of a disastrous earthquake. Sometimes the thought is latent, residing somewhere in my metal recesses. But at other times, like a few mornings ago when a magnitude 4 earthquake centered a few miles away literally shook me out of bed at 5:33am, it glows at the front and center in my mind like a warning fire. Can anyone ever really be ready for a seismic shift of any size? How does one prepare for the aftermath? Is there a price you wouldn't pay for hindsight?


It has been almost a year since the Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis and during that time there has been a great deal of giving, in terms of fundraising and charity, so that those in Northern Japan affected by the calamity may bolster their hope and know whatever relief may reach them while muster the strength to move forward and rebuild their communities. This Sunday, March 11 marks the one year anniversary of the natural disaster and I urge everyone to seek out and participate in local memorial events that honor those whose lives were claimed while maintaining awareness and providing support for organizations that continue in their effort to provide relief to survivors still striving to carve out an existence in the wake of such a catastrophe. For example, I will be heading to San Francisco's Japan Town for the community remembrance fundraising events featuring live performances and street sale (the Rise Japan booth will have all kinds of artwork on sale, including totes by Kelly Tunstall) then afterwards to Sushi Zone where owner, chef and Amoeba Music regular customer Kimiyaki Aoyama will have the restaurant open from 1-5pm -- mind you, they are never open before 5pm or on Sundays -- selling sake, beer and sushi with all profits to benefit the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation. However, you can make a contribution and score some new vinyl at the same time.

If for no other reason than to acquire some beautiful music, Kazu Makino of the band Blonde Redhead has recently released a charity compilation on her newly founded Asa Wa Kuru label (meaning "Morning Will Come" in Japanese) with proceeds to benefit the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund and Architecture For Humanity (a list of these and other groups, individuals and institutions active in the disaster hit areas in Northern Japan can be found here). The vinyl-only compilation, titled We Are The Works In Progress, features some of the most hauntingly 4AD-esque broken-yet-crystalline pop-synth clarion calls to be heard of all the relief offerings put together by musicians with a mind to support Japan's post-tsunami healing process. The collection, spread over two LPs, features Blonde Redhead of course, plus an impressive array of singular artists like Four Tet, Ryuichi Sakamoto teamed up with David Sylvian, Broadcast, Deerhunter, John Maus, Interpol, Terry Riley, Pantha du Prince and many more - it is available for purchase through Amoeba Music here. Simply put, it is a gorgeous effort created to further a worthy cause - one that shouldn't provoke a pause to contemplate the value of music, but rather the value of hope.

And if you have any question of value on that score I suggest viewing the following hour-long BBC documentary which chronicles the events of March 11, 2011 and weeks and months following as it was seen through the eyes of children. The accounts captured here are nothing if not the essence of hope in its purest form. Please do whatever you can to help Japan's healing, for what it is worth. がんばれ日本。

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's Disturbingly Cute Debut!

Posted by Kells, November 28, 2011 12:12pm | Post a Comment
Harajuku superstar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's debut mini-album, Moshi Moshi Harajuku, was spotted recently among the new releases in the J-Pop section at Amoeba Music SF and, like a saccharine-laced shroom-hazed acid flashback citing the fallout that was my impression upon viewing her now-long gone viral music video for the single "PONPONPON", many intriguing questions about the psychedelic limits of Japan's popular Kawaisa and Decora cultural aspects immediately bubbled up. Chief among them: how much Pon could a Pon Way Way if a Pon Way could Way Pon?

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - "PONPONPON"

That, and where can I get that giant box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? Has Pee-Wee Herman seen this? Some of the realizations spawned during the review: there really can never be too much pink and, something I had forgotten since, say...1997, Doc Marten's pair well with just about any ensemble. But I guess it took this Tokyo model and blogger fashionista turned J-pop wunder-gyaru to hip me to that fact, or re-hip me I guess, as the case may be. Seriously though, speaking of Kyary's fashion blog, this is the face that greets you when you arrive at her site:

Initial reactions to this visual recall that silly Allison Harvard x Sifl & Olly "Fake Blood" video by Rich of FourFour fame and spur a barrage of imaginary taglines like: "cute kills (or at least causes internal bleeding)." Poke around long enough -- skipping her posts about insomnia, mini M&M manicures and dining out with friends, etc. -- you'll understand that Miss Kyary shares something of little Edie Beale's enthusiasm for achieving the best look for the day, every day. I mean, somebody has to think up these things, you know...


I wonder what you'd get a girl like Kyary for Christmas -- a new computer? Or perhaps a teaching job?

Maybe all she really ever longs for is a new DO, you know, something special and highfalutin that pairs well with eau de Christmas Tree for the holidays. Something like THIS:

Doesn't she just look so happy?! There's just no help for it, I think she's hypnotizing me. While I still possess a barely-there thread of psychic defense against the two-pronged attack that is Kyary-chan's  techno-candy ear-wormage (produced by Yasutaka Nakata of Capsule) juxtaposed against the je ne sais quoi appeal of her terrifyingly cute aesthetic I urge those of you who have made it this far into this post to come on down and check out Kyary and friends in our J-Pop selection at Amoeba Music! ピースアウト!

Japan Tour 2011: Part 2 By Gomez Comes Alive

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, November 7, 2011 12:36am | Post a Comment

Joe Bataan Tokyo Show Poster
After our Shenanigans in Shibuya, we rested most of Saturday. The next day was the Joe Bataan show and load-in was at 10 a.m. Joanna and I spent most of the day resting and taking walks around Chofu. There is a small river/reservoir that runs through Chofu. The water level was low but it’s full of lush greens. Giant crows and cranes dive into the water to pick up the smaller fish that were making their way downstream. There were many cats that hung out by the reservoir. I would see the same cats everyday, hanging out in their favorite spots. The cats in Japan are much bigger than the cats in the U.S. A good word to describe the cats is “beefy” They are not necessarily fat, just thicker than the average U.S. cat. In the evening, once Shin and Miho were done with their duties with Joe Bataan, we took Shin’s bikes and rode to one of his favorite “hole in the wall” to eat. The best places to eat anywhere in the world are the neighborhood spots that only locals know about. This place was no exception. Shin & Miho were concerned that some of their favorite dishes wouldn’t go over with us but those were the dishes we liked the most. Fresh sardines to start off followed by fresh cucumbers, Miso soup with small oysters, ginger pork, octopus and many other great homemade Japanese delicacies. The place had a few drunken locals hanging around; include one drunken guy that kept asking us to move from our table so that he could look for his lost cell phone. It reminded me of being in one of those great taco spots in L.A. and being harassed by the local tecato. It made me feel at home.

The next morning we were up early to get ready for the show. By then, my internal clock was all messed up, having to adapt to Japan time followed by staying up until 7 am then having to go to bed early for Sunday’s show. Shin’s company is a record label but from time to time he serves as a promoter. The venue was a big empty room. There was no sound system or stage and all had to be constructed before sound check. Joanna and I used this time to walk around Asakusa, another part of Tokyo, were the venue is located. The club, Super Dry Hall, is inside the Ashai Beer Building that is famous for it’s Philippe Starck sculpture on top of the building. It is supposed to look like golden beer foam coming out on top of the building that is shaped like a pint glass.  Almost everyone that looks at the sculpture thinks of the same thing, “ is that a piece of poop on top of that building?” The Japanese has given it a nickname, kin no unchi, which translate into “The golden poop” The building is now know by locals as unchi biru (the poop building)

Sensoji Temple
Nearby kin no unchi is Sensoji, a Buddhist temple dating back to the year 645 and is Tokyo’s oldest. The following day was a national holiday so the temple was extremely packed with tourist. We didn’t go into most of the temples, as there seemed to be services in many of them. We walked around the many vendors, including a street called Nakamise, somewhat outside of the temple. From there we walked around Asakusa and watched a somewhat unusual marathon. They didn’t block the streets for it. The runners had to obey the traffic lights and run on the sidewalk. They ran in groups of a fifty at a time so they wouldn’t talk over the whole street. Every so often runners, many of them in Halloween costumes, would overcome us as we walked.

Joe Bataan (center) & Willie-San (left) at soundcheck

We returned to the venue and everything was up and running. I’m always amazed by the efficiency of Japanese workers. In less than a few hours they had constructed a stage, set up lights, a sound system and were already sound checking the band. Having worked for sound companies in the past, I know how long a job like that should take and it was pretty impressive they did it so quickly. We said hello to Joe and his wife Yvonne, as well as Willie-San, getting ready to shred on his timbales. The hired band from Japan wasn’t well prepared. They were sloppy and forgetting parts. You could see the frustration in Joe’s face. Other than Willie-San and a few other musicians, the band lacked the swing that most of Joe’s backing bands have. It looked like a potential disaster waiting to happen. At the end of sound check, Willie-San took all the members of the group backstage and had a half-time style meeting with them.

Gomez With A Japanese Lowrider
At this point, I was sound checking the levels on the turntables when the other DJ showed up. It was Masaki Motomiya or DJ Motomix, a Japanese Lowrider from Sapporo, located in the northern part of Japan. I met him randomly on the street the last time I was in Japan. He and his friends were in Tokyo to catch the Quetzal/Luis J. Rodriguez shows and he saw us eating in a restaurant. We had food together and took photos outside the restaurant. Later, some of his crew came to the show. Masaki is the president of the Esmeralda Car Club in Sapporo and it’s main DJ at the car club events. Shin said he was expecting him to bring a few members of his car club with him, but at the end they were about twenty-five deep. Pretty impressive I must say, coming all the way from Sapporo.

Motomix had the Lowrider set down! He could easily kill it at any Lowrider show in the states. I liked how he mixed in some non-traditional Lowrider jams and made it work. He played Los Amigos Invisibles “Mentiras” a song on its own I wasn’t too crazy about but worked well with all the Zapp and Gangster Hip-Hop tracks he played. It was one of those sets that you start subtracting in your head all the bangers that you can’t play because he got to them first. At this point, I didn’t know what to play. His entire crew is dancing around the DJ booth as people start to pour in.

It didn’t matter. People were there to have a good time. The crowd kept moving and the Lowriders high-fived me anytime I played a song they liked. Random people came by to thank me or to check out what I was playing. It was a pretty easy going set. Shin came up a played a few bangers as well before the show started. A group of Japanese Salseras did a choreographed dance to Joe Bataan’s “Subway Joe” just before Shin played an advertisement for his up coming releases on the video screen. I was happy to hear that the loudest response came when they played a Chicano Batman song and album cover came on the video screen.

Joe Bataan hit the stage and immediately you could tell that the band was on fire. Whatever nerves or forgotten parts the band members had were now long gone. They started off with “Gypsy Women” and played all his biggest hits like “Subway Joe, “Afro-Filipino”  “When Sunny Gets Blue” “Mestizo” and many others. Joe was part James Brown, part Sinatra crooner, part Fania/Salsoul legend and all Joe. The band swung hard as well, with Willie-San leading the charge on percussion. All in all, the band blew the doors off the poop building.

Joe Bataan, Gomez Comes Alive, Joanna, Yvonne & Records!

After the set was complete, I went back on the turntables while Joe signed autographs. As the line formed, I also signed a few autographs of my own and took some pictures with the Lowriders. I was happy that people bought some copies of my new mix CD, as well as some of my past releases. After my set, Motomix took over and I got in line to get my Joe Bataan singles autographed and to take pictures with Joe. After we were done, we drove back to Shibuya to drop of Joe & Yvonne, who were leaving the next day. I also had another after party to play. By then, everyone was beat, including myself. Joanna left with Miho back to Chofu and I stuck around with Shin.

We met up with Shunsuke, who catered the Joe Bataan show and whose restaurant was hosting the after party. At the Joe Bataan show, Shunsuke made his version of a taco, made from a Brazilian chorizo sausage with guacamole in a tortilla. It wasn’t the prettiest dish. It looked like a weenie inside of a tortilla with some green sauce. But to my surprise, was quite tasty. His spot, Yagi Ni Kiku wasn’t as swinging as Friday’s event. It was more of “kickback” with couches and a laid back vibe. Some of the Japanese Lowriders came by but soon all of us were all drained of energy and fading fast. I was expected to play until early morning but there was no way I was going to make it. To top it off, Shin was staying in Shibuya to take Joe back to the airport. That meant after my set, I would have to wait until the 5am train to make my way back to Chofu. Lucky for me, Willie-San was there and lived near Chofu. He offered me a ride back. He had the smallest car and it was full of percussion instruments, but there was just enough room for my records and me. I played a short set before a one-man reggae dub artist went on. He had a drum machine, an organ and tons of delay petals. I left as a sea of echo hit my ears.

I can’t remember what Willie and I were talking about. It was a tripped out conversation. I was so tired and Willie-San English was limited. We drove around the empty streets of Shibuya looking for the expressway back to Chofu. It seemed like Willie-San was lost. There were many police out and Willie-San seemed nervous, which made me nervous. Willie-San does not drink so he was fine on that front. Perhaps he had that same nervousness I have when I see cops in Los Angeles. The feeling that even though you are legal and not intoxicated that they still will find something to harass you. Even though I had only been in Japan a few days, until that moment, I had forgotten how it was to feel that way. In Japan I felt free. I felt appreciated and free from some of the everyday fears some of us have living in Los Angeles. In my head I was telling Willie all this, but the words never came out. I was too tired to talk.

By the time Willie-San found the expressway I was out. I slept until we got to Shin’s office, a mile or so from his place. He dropped me off there and I walked the rest of the way home, records in tow. As I walked next to the river/ reservoir that went through Chofu, I could hear the birds’ dive-bombing into the water to get the unsuspecting fish. It was an odd sound because it was so dark that I couldn’t see the birds but could hear them. There wasn’t a single person out except for me. It felt like the whole world was asleep. Soon, I crept into Shin’s place. I took off my shoes at the door and tried not to make too much noise. I didn’t want to disturb the sleeping world. I only wanted to join them.

Joanna and I would like to thank the following people for making our trip so great. Shin Miyata and Miho for bringing our hosts in Japan Joe Bataan and Yvonne for letting me open for their show. Thanks to the great Willie-San, for being awesome and giving me a ride back to Chofu. Thanks to Sundaland Café and Yagi Ni Kiku for throwing the after parties and Hajime Oishi (El Parrandero) and Shunsuke for hosting them. Thanks to all the great DJ’s I played with in Japan. Thanks to The Esmeralda Car Club of Sapporo and the lovely Chise, Sanae and Catane for helping us at the Joe Bataan show. See you next year Japan!

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Japan Tour 2011: Part 1, By Gomez Comes Alive

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, October 31, 2011 12:56am | Post a Comment

Sundaland Cafe, taken during my set

A few weeks ago I went to Japan. This was my third time in Japan and my second as a DJ. The first time I went it was in 1994 when I played bass briefly with the artist, Beck. The second time was in 2006. It was for a Chicano/Japanese cultural exchange with the band Quetzal and the writer, Luis J. Rodriguez, author of one of my favorite books, Always Running. Each trip was a different experience. The Beck tour was a straight-up rock tour, with nice hotels, chauffeurs, backstage food & drinks and on occasion, girls waiting in lobby for the bands. The second time was about experiencing Japanese Lowrider culture and how the much Chicano culture and Japanese culture have influenced each other. It was honor to be in the company of Luis and Quetzal on that trip and I was honored that I would be asked to attend. In Los Angeles and even in my own community, most of us feel like we have to bend over backwards just to get a gig. To say that the Japanese have been very good to me is an understatement.

This time around I was to play in three different shows. The biggest by far was an opening DJ set for the legendary
Joe Bataan. The budget for this tour was much smaller then past tours. There was to be no hotels and I took the train to most places. My friend Shin Miyata, who has released several of my albums on his Barrio Gold/Music Camp label, was my host for the tour. We stayed at his apartment while he tended to Joe Bataan, who also has a few albums on Music Camp.

When I arrived in Japan it was a Thursday afternoon. Shin was there to pick us up. I came with my girlfriend, Joanna. We waited another half hour or so for Joe Bataan to arrive. Together, Shin drove through the rush hour traffic of Tokyo, which makes L.A. traffic seem like nothing. Joanna and I were lucky were in good company. Joe Bataan and his wife are the nicest people and Joe was full of great stories. Once we got to Shibuya, where Joe’s hotel was, we met up with a man that we come to know as Willie-San, a percussionist from Japan that at one point studied and played with Tito Puente. With his long hair, he looked part samurai, part 80’s Salsa musician. Shin told me he was a total bad ass on the percussion. He definitely looked it.

We went to eat but I don’t remember much of it. I hadn’t slept much in the last 48 hours and it was starting to catch up with me. Eventually, we went to Shin’s apartment in a town called Chofu, located in the western end of Tokyo. Chofu could be compared to suburb of Los Angeles but it definitely had its own flavor. There were very little traffic or cars and most of the people, young and very old, got by on bicycles. Lucky for us Shin had several bikes so that we could ride whether we needed to get around in Chofu. It was one of my favorite things to do while I was there.

My first gig was the following evening. It was an after-hours gig in Shibuya. Most gigs either start very early (starting at 5pm) or they are after-hour gigs. Since most of the city takes public transportation and the train stops from midnight to 5 a.m., you either have to shut it down early or keep going until the trains run again. The night, called Pachamama, started at 11 p.m. at a place called
The Sundaland Café, a venue not much bigger than a one-bedroom apartment. My host was a DJ that called himself El Parrandero, which roughly translated from Spanish, is “a partier” Sundaland was definitely a party. I played with most of Tokyo’s finest Latin DJ’s, including El Caminante Okamoto, DJ Suda, El Shuffle, DJ Matsumoto, Amemiya from the Caribbean Dandy crew, DJ Papa-Q and El Parrandero himself. All the Japanese DJs had deep playlist and I enjoyed them immensely. They really got me amped to do my best.

Here, they don't hang the DJ, they hang the MC!

As a whole, the night was pretty crazy. We rode our bikes to get some food and to catch the train to the gig. You have to pay for overnight bike parking in Japan much like you would a car in the U.S. It costs roughly five U.S. dollars each to park our bikes. By the time we got to Sundaland, it was crowded and most people were already lit. I spoke to some very nice people and some very drunk people who offered me drink after drink. I passed them off to my girlfriend and our friend Miho, who was our guide that night. Miho works with Shin at Music Camp and although she works for him, that company is just as much as hers as it is his. The dedication she has to her work puts the hardest worker in America to shame.I can’t believe how much their small two-person operation does! Anyhow, the drinks kept coming. There was an MC doing shout outs while the other DJ’s were on. It sounded like he kept saying, “Yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeeeeyah” every other sentence. I don’t speak Japanese, but I’m pretty sure he was saying, yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeeeeyah, followed by the DJ’s names. Then some people in the crowd decided to take the MC’s shirt off, then his pants and soon his boxers. It started to look like a gay beer bash on a Sunday afternoon in West Hollywood or The Castro.

Man down!!!!

That should have been an indication that the crowd was real drunk.” One guy kept messing with me most of the night. I don’t know if he didn’t like me or if he wanted to mess with me cause I was an outsider, but it started to get to me, especially during my set when he started to put his hands on the mixer and grabbing my hands as I was try to mix. Just when I was getting to my boiling point, El Parrandero, (The Party Guy) took him aside and I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened to him, I don’t care what happened to him, but he was gone. Now it was time to get busy with my set. I decided to play only vinyl on this trip. I’m not a vinyl purest and I have Serato, but I figured I could play deeper cuts on wax that the other deejays wouldn’t have. I cursed the vinyl every time I had to carry it on the plane and trains, but when it was time to play, I was glad I brought my records. The people at Sunaland seemed to dig my Cumbia records especially.

Bad ass conga player from Orquesta Copa Salvo

After my set, a band came up. They were called Orquesta Copa Salvo. They were very talented and loads of fun. It was Japanese band that played deep Latin Funk, Salsa, Boogaloo and Bolero covers, sung in Spanish. Most of the people in the club spoke Spanish. Since I don’t speak Japanese I found it easier to communicate with people in Spanish rather than English. Many of the people at the club grew up in places like Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where there are many Japanese living there. Some had jobs in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Some had traveled to Cuba and hung out in the barrios in the U.S. Whatever their story was, they developed a great love for Latin American culture, its people, music, language and food. The night was a reminder of what they experienced and what they missed now that they were back in Japan. I hope I was able to remind them of what they love about Latin American culture.

At five in the morning, it was time to go back to Chofu. I gave a few shout outs on the mic in English & Spanish and we were off. At the train station, we saw all the party zombies waiting for the train to get home. Some were club kids, some looked very wasted. Some of the couples looked like they hooked up for the first time. Most people were still in their business suits from the previous day. I bet all were happy it was now Saturday. We still had to ride our bikes back to Shin's and it was starting to rain. The ride was pleasant though. A cool misty rain while the sun was rising. Miho took off at record speed and we did our best to keep up. Neither Joanna and I have ridden a bike in a while. Twenty minutes later, we were back at Shin's and ready to call it a night.


This Sunday Join in the Aftermath - An SF JPunk Showcase for Japan Relief!

Posted by Kells, April 23, 2011 01:20am | Post a Comment

Another great opportunity to donate much needed funds to the people of catastrophe-stricken northeastern Japan presents itself at Thee Parkside this Sunday in the form of Aftermath - A Citizen to Citizen Tsunami Rescue and Relief Benefit featuring various Bay Area Japanese punk and avant garde performers. Wonka once said, "a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men," and I cannot think of anyone who embodies that sentiment better than my friend Bob Nozawa (pictured below in ommpa-loompa orange) of Aftermath headlining act Ass Baboons of Venus. I caught up with him recently and asked briefly about the upcoming show, his band and their recent fund raising events for Japan.

This isn't the first benefit for Japan the Ass Baboons has played, no? Any idea on how much you've raised for the relief efforts collaboratively?

Bob Nozawa: It's the second show. The first was beyond anything we expected! Tthe final tally (including donations at the door, art and beer sales) ended up totaling around $25,000! There were so many people involved in getting that event together that it would be impossible to list them all, but I would never do that anyway because I hate lists.

What organization(s) will this benefit be donating to?

BN: This one is for Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California's Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.

Will there be any art or merch available for purchase to contribute to the funds raised at the show?

There will be some stuff, not exactly sure yet, as the guy who is organizing, Joselito Sering, is still collecting donations; he is doing an amazing job.

What are you most excited about regarding this Sunday's line up? Is there a performer in particular you are looking forward to?

Tiger Honey Pot's drummer has to play with one arm because of surgery --- they are a blast! The Basements are gonna get me sweaty; the Thunders I have never seen, but the stuff I've heard from them sounds rockin'.

I'm super excited to be finally seeing the Ass Baboons in the flesh, for the first time --- what can a long time appreciator of ABV recordings like me expect from your live show?

Don't expect anything! Our band members have all been deported! But when we started out it was just [famed Japanese comedienne] Naoko and me, so in a sense, we're getting back to where we started, except now we're old and could die at any given moment...really!

Will you be performing in the orange (orange you glad i asked?), or?

I will tie you up...

Yowza! Lastly, and this is for Japan, is there a message in the madness? What do you wish to express to those affected by the catastrophe via your performance?

It has been inspiring to see people helping each other out, anything that anyone could do is simply a gesture of support. It's less about the money than about letting people know that there are people that care and in times of great sorrow, it's always therapeutic to go bat shit crazy!
Thanks Bob, I couldn't agree more! Check out the Ass Baboons' "Naked Lady Wrestler vs. Mango Man" video below and event info following --- hope to see you there!

Do come play with madness and contribute to the support and solidarity of local artists and musicians in the on-going humanitarian aid for our fellow men, women, children, and animals in Japan coping with the aftermath of the country's most catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in recorded history.
Aftermath - A Citizen to Citizen Tsunami Rescue and Relief Benefit:
$7-$10 sliding scale cover / 8pm-2am / 21+OVER

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