Amoeblog

Piko Piko - A look at Picopop on the 34th birthday of Yellow Magic Orchestra's debut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2012 12:44pm | Post a Comment

Back in 1978, on 25 November, pioneering Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their influential, eponymous, debut full-length. The album and group are widely credited with being very influential on the development of several music genres, including ambient, chiptune, electrohip hop, house, J-pop, synthpop, and techno, to name a few. 





The band (also known as YMO) were also on influence on another Japanese scene that emerged around the dawn of the 21st Century, picopop (or ピコポップ). Bands and performers such as EeL, Hi-Posi, Motocompo, Plus-tech Squeeze Box, Sonic Coaster Pop, and Strawberry Machine updated the shibuya-kei (渋谷系) style popularized in the 1990s by Cibo MattoCorneliusFlipper's Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Original Love by adding some good, old fashioned, electro elements with a sensibility that often recalls YMO.


 
Capsule in shibuya-kei mode --> Capsule in picopop mode

Shibuya-kei had initially drawn largely on bossa novajazz, lounge, and yé-yé. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it began to evolve into "picopop" for for the "piko" sounds of classic game sound effects and scores.  Some acts, like Capsule (カプセル), began their careers making shibuya-kei before thoroughly transitioning into picopop. Others, like Yukari Fresh Colorful System, combine elements of both closely associated scenes.


  

Usagi Chang (Little Bunny) Records is the label most associated with pico pop although Motocompo's Shibuya-based label, Poplot and Columbia Nippon's J-Pop branch, Heat Wave, also released popular picopop albums. In the past few years, abcdefg* have released (and re-released) picopop recordings.

The amount of electro elements vary from performer to performer and often song to song. Perhaps the sometimes ridiculously twee, kawaii, visual aspect is almost as important as the music. Judge for yourself by sampling the following picopop videos and happy birthday Yellow Magic Orchestra!

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box




Capsule


Cubismo Grafico


The Aprils


Macdonald Duck Eclair


Hazel Nuts Chocolate


Omodaka



Strawberry Machine 



Hi-Posi



Motocompo



Sucrette



naivepop or petitfool



YMCK



Laugh &
 Peace



Marino


Other artists to check out for those so inclined include: ColtemonikhaMisswonda, EeLSonic Coast PopNagisa Cosmetic, and Copter4016882. Ja!

Update: In 2013 American singer from San Gabriel, Joanna Wang, released an album (Galaxy Crisis: The Strangest Midnight Broadcast) that marks a stylistic shift into Picopop -- probably one of the first Americans to work in the genre.




*****

Trip to Hawai'i: Part 2

Posted by Job O Brother, August 1, 2011 01:28pm | Post a Comment

Waking up on a Hawaiian Island is pretty much the radliest, so I was happy to do it; happier still to begin my first full day on Maui. My brain was brimming with ideas for fun and adventurous activities I could postpone in lieu of doing nothing, but for this I first needed calories I wouldn’t burn.

They don’t make better calories than in Hawaii. It’s all about salty, sweet, and fat, with a side of the freshest, juiciest fruit you’ve ever had. Talk about mixed messages: Here you go, tummy, a meal of simple, raw, nutrient-rich papaya and pineapple. Oh, and also here’s some SPAM fried in noodles with sugar gravy, mayonnaise pork and buttery, buttered butter in butter sauce with butter butter salt butter salted sugar butter. Side of butter. (Salt.)

The boyfriend and I decided to put on some clothing (after repeated, negative breakfast experiences without it) and made our way to the buffet at our hotel. We found a table overlooking the Pacific. Between us and it was a walking trek that many people were using for jogging. How… insensitive. Didn’t they know I was trying to punch as many macadamia nut pancakes down my gullet as possible? And their obnoxious exercise routine was bumming my trip, man – reminding me I was a gross slob with nary a single definable “ab”. But this coconut syrup isn’t going to drink itself, people!

As the boyfriend went out in search of an iced soy latte (you can take the Angelino out of LA, but you can’t LA out of an Angelino), I drank my drip and marveled at the simple beauty of the double-rainbow that stretched from the middle of the turquoise water to the clouds above Kauai. How perfect… how poetic…

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Gardena, the South Bay's City of Opportunity

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 8, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment

A typical street in Gardena with strong Japanese character

This here entry’s about Gardena. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 

Gardena (in Japanese, ガーデナ; in Korean, 가데나 ) is located in the South Bay or South LA region, depending on your definition. It's a bit odd to consider it South Bay, since it's not on the water. However, there's a perception that it's unlike the rest of South LA, which is erroneously thought of as being much more homogenous than it is.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Gardena

surrounded by the slender Harbor Gateway to the east and south, Torrance to the southwest, Hawthorne to the northwest, West Athens to the north, and Alondra Park to the west. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (and on account of it being voted for by readers), I took the CARDIS on a trip, joined by first time traveling companions Matt and Cheryl. We got some eats (‘n’ drinks) at Azuma and Furaibo, some groceries and goods at Marukai, and deeply inhaled the strawberry scented (and hot) air in Sanrio Surprises.

  
                                    Rancho San Pedro                                                          William Starke Rosecrans

In 1784, a Spaniard, Juan José Dominguez, was given a portion of land in reward for his military service which was named Rancho San Pedro in what was formerly a Tongva hunting and fishing area. Anyway, it passed into the hands of the Mexicans afterward, and ultimately was taken by the US. The first Anglo settler was mostly a Civil War veteran, Ohioan William Starke Rosecrans, who established Rosecrans Rancho there in 1869. In 1887, he was followed by another veteran, Kentuckian Spencer R. Thorpe. The name "Gardena" is said to have been proposed by Thorpe's daugher, Nettie.

  

That year, a railway line to Gardena was established and over the next couple of years, many more Anglos came to ranch and farm in the area.


Los Angeles and Redondo Railway

In 1904, Englishman John Bodger established Sweet Pea Farm in the town, then home to 1,000 residents. Another large portion of the farmers and gardeners were Japanese who'd mostly arrived from Hawaii.


Due to the acres of berry farms, the city was nicknamed "Berryland" and there used to be an annual Strawberry Day Festival and Parade. Although the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel fed the area and gave it its green character, it was filled in in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gardena today still boasts several nurseries and parks that reflect its past. Gardena [along with the neighboring communities of Strawberry Park (to the northwest) and Moneta (to the south)] was incorporated into the City of Gardena in 1930.


Japanese-Americans have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Torrance, Boyle Heights, Monterey ParkPasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach and Sawtelle, and Gardena (although, as far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka).


Gardena Buddhist Church

In 1911, the Japanese Association founded the Moneta Japanese Institute. After the end of Japanese internment, many J-towns disappeared, but in Gardena, many Japanese-Americans returned to their former home after regaining their freedom. In the 1970s and '80s, Gardena saw a massive influx of even more Japanese. Today, at over 60,000 residents, Gardena still has a strong Japanese and Pacific Islander presence, making up roughly 27% of the population. Gardena is also approximately 25% black, 12% white and 32% Latino. Mexican and Japanese are the main ethnicities.


Tozai Shopping Center

Gardena is widely known for its Japanese food but, as this list of Gardena eateries suggests, there is a variety to be found at joints and there are a lot of Korean eateries, Hawaiian joints and BBQ places. Some of the better known restaurants and other food-related places include Azuma, Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi, Ahsah, Ana's La Gran Fonda, California Fish Grill, Jay-Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que, Kanpachi, Rascals Teriyaki Grill, Kau Kau Korner, Sushi Boy, Kiraku Ramen, El Rocoto, California 90, Pho Gardena, Pho So 1, Pho Long, Sakuraya, Meiji Tofu, Chikara Mochi, Giuliano's, Sakae Sushi, Polla a la Brasa, MamMoth Bakery, Jade's Bakery, La Villa, Bruddah's, Spoonhouse Bakery, Otafuku, Sea Empress, California Rice Center, Umemura, Daruma Izakaya, Akane Chaya, Kotohira, Classic Burger, Old Time Noodle House, Furaibo, Burnt Tortilla, Rainbow Donuts, A Taste of Jamaica, Fish City, Big Star Cafe, Tokyo Grill, Tottino's, La Perla and the Murakai Supermarket.


Pacific Garden Mall  


...and yes, the Pacific Garden Hotel for the overnight shopper

Today, much of Gardena's character remains, not surprisingly, green and Japanese, as evinced by Sanrio Surprise, Hide's Shiatsu, Pacific Square Shopping Center, Tozai Shopping Center, Masfukai Park and the Gardena Buddhist Church (established in 1926).

Nightlife in evidence takes place mostly at bars like Club Momo, Gaku, Moa, Wild Card, Yes, The Desert Room, Club Diva, The Aloha Room, Celeb, Ray's Place, Marty's and A Sung. Of course, there's karaoke at 501 Music Studio, Suzuran, Donna's, Fantasia, Daruma Izakaya and Sing Sing, for those interested in checking out the local music scene.


The most famous musician born in Gardena is not an aspiring karaoke singer, but rather noted jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. In other Jazz-in-Gardena news, in August the city hosts The Gardena Jazz Festival. The only rock band that I know of from Gardena is The Pretty Kittens, an all-girl rock band in the 1960s.


And although Bookoff is mostly about books (with a huge Manga section), they also had a pretty impressive selection of Japanese Dramas and film, as well as a bafflingly organized music selection. Even Matt, a librarian by trade, could not figure out the system, but we did eventually find the Judy and Mary CD we were looking for. As Cheryl was rung up, the cashier put her money in bowl and said something in Japanese. Cheryl nodded although none of us understood what was going on.






Amoeba Hollywood boasts a pretty impressive collection of Japanese Cinema but nothing compared to the rental store Video Japan. As Cheryl perused the horror films (note to Cheryl: High School Killer), Matt waxed philosophical about Japanese actress Sora Aoi.


Gardena’s been a shooting location for several films. For the years it existed, The Ascot Park Speedway was featured in films quite often, appearing in Roar of the Crowd; the Bowery Boys film, Jalopy; the Elvis film, Spinout; as well as the Jack Hill film, Pit Stop; Gone in 60 Seconds; A Very Brady Christmas; and an episode of CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. It was closed in the 1990s and fewer films have been shot in Gardena ever since.


Gardena Boulevard back in the day

Other film locations include the Marine/Redondo Green Line station, which was seen in Heat, and The Pet Haven Cemetary & Crematory served as The Happier Hunting Grounds in The Loved One. H.B. Halicki was obviously a fan of Gardena. He premiered Gone in 60 Seconds and also filmed portions of The Junkman there. Gardena was also featured in Ed Wood, Mulholland Dr., Run if You Can, Money to Burn, The Abominable..., Fragments (aka Winged Creatures), the Deborah Gibson vehicle Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, The Grind, Flossin and Palmer Chandler's Kitchen Catastrophes. Actor Toby Holguin was born in Gardena. Gardena has been featured on TV a couple of times, once an episode of Hot Rod TV and once on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which featured Jay-Bee's in the episode "Real Deal BBQ." One of the radio station call-ins in CB4 was from a listener in Gardena too.



*****


Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold

(In which Job engages in back-breaking work.)

Posted by Job O Brother, June 1, 2009 01:55pm | Post a Comment

Does the glowing spine make me look fat?

The crippling pain hasn’t exactly ruined my week. My new toy has, after all, given new life to my hobby: collecting all music in the world… except for maybe Van Halen. Let me back up a bit…

Ha! “Back up.” You see, five days ago my back gave out while I was in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, battling La Alianza Triángulo de Oro – more specifically, I was in the middle of a back-alley shoot-out with that rascal, V.C. Fuentes (or, as I like to call him El Caca Bigote, which just drives him nuts!).

As we all know, you never want to fire your M4 carbine with your weaker arm, but it was past lunch time, I hadn’t eaten, and an orphaned child I had just rescued from the local orfanato offered me a fresh sopaipilla which I wasn’t about to let go stale; so I was mackin' on that with my right arm, shooting with my left and, just as I was about to send Fuentes to see his own fatal plastic surgeon, I felt a spring go loose in my back.

“Uh-oh,” I thought, and I was right.

So, for the last half-week I’ve been popping Advil like they were Skittles and walking like I was 99. My boyfriend, sensitive care-giver that he is, has taken it upon himself to make endless jokes about my situation, just to make sure I keep laughing. At least, I think that’s why he does it.


Does this statue of Æthelswith make me look fat?

My new toy is an external hard-drive with something like 99 hergozapazillogabytes of memory (give or take 2 hurquatzobytes). This will, hopefully, be enough to contain what can only be described as an obscene CD collection. In addition to this, I have recently purchased a portable turn-table (from, eh-hem, Amoeba Music) with a USB component which will allow me to transfer all my vinyl into a digital format, just as soon as I get written permission from any and all applicable copyright owners of the music. (Eh-hem again.)

As most of you know, in addition to lording over the Soundtrack Section of Amoeba Music Hollywood, I work as a freelance writer (hence the blog you are now reading which is enabling you to  procrastinate – but don’t worry, your secret is safe with me). The hope is that someday, someone with money and power recognizes how really, really, really, really, really, good I’m at writing stuff and, you know, things, and stuff and they hire me for some rad TV show or film or simply to sit next to their pool and come up with entertaining stories for their personal lifeguard – whatever. I imagine that, even then, with new-found wealth at my fingertips and enjoying a jet-set lifestyle, I will probably still have to maintain some working hours at Amoeba Music simply because I cannot survive without constant access to its inventory. I am hooked. I have an employee-discounted musical monkey on my back. Where’s my support group?

In transferring my CD collection onto my new hard-drive, I am sometimes struck by certain selections I felt compelled to bring home in the past, and I thought I'd share some of the odder albums with you.
Evita – The Japanese Cast Recording

If you thought Madonna was a far-fetched casting as Argentina’s notorious First Lady, consider 野村玲子. I did. And you know what? Madonna is still more far-fetched.



[untitled demo] – Agnès Mrugalski

I wish I could share this with you, because it’s f-wording brilliant. I plucked this vaguely packaged disc from the library music section of Amoeba. It contains 32 tracks of sample advertisements which serve to showcase actress Agnès Mrugalski’s diverse capabilities for radio commercial work. Boasting such titles as “Fabergé (voix sensuelle, complice)” or “United Airlines (voix hôtesse, fraîche, accueeillante),” each selection is a faux commercial with a description of the “type” of voice she’s using.


Internet research on said actress yielding next to nothing. I did find this one, heavily pixilated photograph. Mme. Mrugalski, if you’re out there, please supply us with more information. Nous t'adorons!

God is a Moog – Gershon Kingsley


This is a 2006 release from Moog pioneer Gershon Kingsley, best known as half the team Perrey & Kingsley, whose 1966 release The In Sound From Way Out, is considered one of the first mainstream electronic albums.

God is a Moog is a compilation of Kingsley’s Jewish music; much of it is sacred. There’s something both spooky and hilarious about the incongruous mix of Hebrew prayer intoned over (antiquated) space age sounds.

I couldn’t find a sample on YouTube, but here’s Kinglsey’s most famous composition, “Popcorn”…


He’s Able – People’s Temple Choir

This is a grisly affair, released in 1973 by Brotherhood Records, which was created by the Peoples Temple, under the directorship of Rev. Jim Jones. Taken out of context, it is a typical, home-grown, 1970’s gospel album. It sounds like most any church’s effort. When considered within the broader scope of the Peoples Temple’s fate, however, it becomes a wince-worthy, chilling listen. The first track features a chorus of children singing:

Welcome, welcome all of you!
Glad you are with us!
Shake hands! No need to be blue!
Welcome all of you!


And so on. Not recommended for cocktail parties. Or bar mitzvahs. Or anything ever.


Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela – Lucia Pamela

This is a gem – one of those sweet moments when, in ignorant curiosity, I took something home simply because I couldn’t guess what it would be. It turned out to be nothing but sweetness.


Although a rough recording, what you get here is an eccentric blend of swing and early rock ‘n’ roll, led by Lucia Pamela – Miss St. Louis 1926, featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not for memorizing a record 10,000 songs – as she sings songs detailing her trip to the Moon and the adventures she has there.

Fans of Tiny Tim absolutely must check this out, as it features a similar sense of whimsy.


Now then, the Advil is wearing off, and there’s still thousands more albums to transfer, so I’m gonna say goodbye for now. Well, I’m gonna to type it. Well, I already did.