Saturday, April 30, 2011

Little Nobody interview (in Japanese)

There's a new interview up at Japanese site Clubberia, which is ostensibly there to focus on an upcoming gig I'm playing @ Unit in Tokyo called Charter the Top Number.

It's set to happen on Saturday 7th May, is being put on by the cool cats at Fountain Music/Plaza In Crowd, and features other DJ/producers Shin Nishimura, DJ Wada (Co-Fusion), Hiroshi Watanabe, Foog, DJ Sodeyama, Dublee, Temma Teje, etc.

You can find out more about the party HERE.

If you just so happen to be in Tokyo that weekend, I definitely recommend it as these guys are the cream of what's happening over here in Japan in the techno/house/electronica scene; I just happen to be riding roughshod on their coattails.

In the meantime, if you do happen to speak a smattering of Japanese (日本語) or are just plain curious, you can check out the Little Nobody interview/waffle HERE.

There's stuff about the new album, the novel, and the recent disasters in Japan - from a more positive perspective, methinks.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Qantas: the Fillet of Australia?

I hate to be somewhat moronic here and spin a droll comment on a corporate logo - that's done enough in this world on cantankerous blogs as much as in the 'professional' media.

It's also a bit passe. But I'm a little angry, and whether or not a concept is old hat or not doesn't really swing for me at the moment.

The thing is, if Qantas truly is the Spirit of Australia, then the email I just got from them is a sad state of affairs and makes me ponder swapping citizenship.

Regardless of whether or not you've read anything else in these pages, most people would know about the March 11 earthquake in the Tōhoku region of Japan, and the resultant aftershocks and problems with the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

Obviously these have been of a tiny bit of concern to even those of us here in Tokyo, though we're 230km away; the water supply was briefly (and marginally) effected by radiation, and while things now seem to be coming under control, for a few weeks there no one knew what to expect.

During that time my family and I discussed options, including the possible need to fly out of the country.

I've been a member of Qantas Frequent Flyers since the mid 1990s, and a Qantas aficionado since flying as a wee tacker with the old TAA domestic airline in the 1970s (it was incorporated into Qantas). In English lessons I teach, Qantas occasionally comes up and in those moments I've got all star-struck and proudly mentioned the airline's longevity (it's the third oldest in the world), good safety record and the origin of its acronym (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services).

So, being a bit of a fan and veteran frequent flyer, I decided to check how many points I had on my Qantas account - and discovered there were zero.

This was news to me. If they don't want to pay postage costs to Japan (and fair enough to), then the company could at least email me (free) to advise that they're deleting in excess of 10,000 frequent flyer points, with a reason as to why.

But I'd heard nothing.

Being a long-time customer, a fellow Aussie, and in a potentially diabolical situation, I wrote to Qantas early on in April as follows:

Dear Sir/Madam,

This is Andrew Bergen, an Australian based in Tokyo, Japan, for 10 years now. I hope you can help me to sort out a matter of surprise and relative discomfort.

I have been a long-time member your Qantas Frequent Flyer program, and while I may not fly so regularly now (I have a young family with a five-year-old daughter), we are preparing ourselves for the worst here in Japan, and looking at flying out if the situation with the nuclear reactors happens to worsen.

I was under the impression that I had 10,000+ points on in my Frequent Flyer account, but when I checked just now it appears that I now zero points - because 10,169 points were deducted from my account on 28 February 2010, but I was not warned about this in advance, or otherwise advised of the deduction, until I checked today.

Is there some time limit imposed on points? I wasn't aware of any expiration date on points.

And in the circumstances, would it be possible to waive such time limits? These points would certainly help us (in a small way) to pay for the three tickets we will need to leave Japan in an emergency.

I hope you can help us further,

All the best,
Andrew Bergen

Almost two weeks passed before I received the courtesy of a reply, so I'm grateful that the reactors up north have been as patient as we have.

Unfortunately it wasn't quite what I'd hope to hear. While I'm no stranger to bureaucratic corporate policy trumping basic human decency, it's still sad to see long-time loyalty to a huge, profitable company respected... with nothing at all except a notion of brushed-off indifference:

Dear Mr Bergen,

Thank you for contacting The Qantas Club and Frequent Flyer Service Centre.

I'm unable to reinstate your points that expired in February 2010.

Your points expired because there wasnt any activity on your account over a three-year period. We make every effort to let our members know the status of their points through their online Activity Statements.

If youd like to know more about the Frequent Flyer program, please visit where youll find full details of your membership benefits, along with our latest news and offers.

The Spirit Of Australia my arse - and for god's sake get a spell-checker next time you mail me.

Coincidentally, two days ago I lost a few cards while on my way to work in Kanagawa. One of those cards was my worn out old Qantas Frequent Flyer Card.

To whomsoever finds it: keep the thing. Souvenir it. I don't need the card now, and certainly won't be replacing it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hardboiled Little Nobody

You know, I just looked up the word ’schizophrenic’, probably on the worst possible resource (Wikipedia), and it says that it’s “a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction.”

Commonly, however, most people think of schizophrenia as related to those people on the train, bus or tram who’re seated there talking to themselves, quite often in heated debate, which is what I decided here to try out for size: Yacking with myself about myself. You know, a bit of me, myself & I. Weird concept, for sure, especially before breakfast.

It’s occasionally interesting (and some optimistic types would suggest insightful) to read what people write on their personal soap boxes across the broad spectrum of social networking sites – a form of schizophrenic propaganda bomb, since these diatribes are usually inscribed in the comfort of one’s own home and head space.

Then there are mine, which somewhat fizzle.

In my ho-hum bio on Resident Advisor it says “Australian expat Andrew Bergen (a.k.a Andrez) has been making music as Little Nobody since 1997, and relocated to Tokyo in 2001. Formerly from Melbourne, Bergen helms Melbourne/Tokyo label IF? Records. He’s played live in Tokyo, Osaka, London, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Windsor (Canada), in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and especially Melbourne.” Yawn. I can’t actually remember when I hacked together this vacuous claim-to-fame – I think in about 2006 or 2007, around the time that I did a more churlish one for MySpace, which now sits pretty on Soundcloud: “Entrenched in Tokyo, Andrez likes to steal furtive glances in a pseudo-metaphysical rear-vision mirror, greedily brushing up on the ‘found art’ chapter of the Dadaists’ handbook – all the time stimulated by Marcel Duchamp’s display of a toilet urinal. Blah, blah. Oh yeah, and he also happened to run IF? Records.”

(By the way, that MySpace site is a chaotic mess; soon I’ll get around to tidying it up, but these days… does it really matter?)

The platform on Facebook for Little Nobody is just plain sad: “Little Nobody is the 14-year musical itch of Tokyo-based Aussie expat DJ/producer Andrez Bergen, also known as Funk Gadget, DJ Fodder, Schlock Tactile, Conversational Dentures, Atomic Autocrac, and a member of the LN Elektronisch Ensemble.”

Insightful my arse.

Insight probably better comes via the music itself I purport to make, and let it be said right here and now that making music is for me a hobby rather than a profession – something I like to potter over in the wee hours or in those moments when my wife and 5-year-old daughter aren’t home. I do often play the half-finished tunes to my daughter (she’s one of my best critics), but the act of making music in this day and age is hardly one that’ll support family livelihoods, so I have a rash of other jobs that actually pay the bills.

Also I have a deliberate tendency for waywardness in my music that tends to make chart-action unhappy. See, I was brought up listening to jazz and Gene Krupa, and discovered Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, and a post-punk mentality in my late teens; my Melbourne Uni thesis was about the industrial music putsch in Britain in the 1970s. This madness just has to have some kind of disruptive effect on any kind of attempt at ’stream-lined’ music or the quintessential smooth groove.

Other people tend to be more tactful, which is nice. Sebastian Bayne, who took over IF? Records last year, in promoting my new album Hard Foiled wrote that “Little Nobody and his unique take on the regions between house and techno can be often times raw, with a swinging groove yet never formulaic; he treads a path that would be considered unsafe by other artists, letting nothing get in the way of creativity.”

That sounds far better than anything I’d tend to ‘fess up here, so let’s stick with this theory.

You can read more of this somewhat schizophrenic and completely self-indulgent waffle on the Techno How? site.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1

Something lighter here, as life appears to be edging back on track and into the realm of normality, at least for those of us in Tokyo and elsewhere - at a distance from the smoldering nuclear smoke-stacks at Fukushima.

Personally, I have a lot of reasons to celebrate.

One of these is my family, and my five-year-old daughter Cocoa, who is a just plain god-send. She's funny, talented, and growing up way too fast!

Another is my first novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which was officially released through Another Sky Press at the beginning of April and is now available on Amazon. Yep, it's on Amazon (the UK, USA and Japan versions) and I keep clicking on one of these everyday to peer at the wayward tome and sigh - silently, of course. I don't want people to concern themselves too much with my mental state.

It just got reviewed by Forces Of Geek today, and the reviewer, Tony Pacitti, seems to completely "get" where I was coming from. I love what he writes, even the negative. You can check it out here. Wow.

Another reason to be cheerful is my new Little Nobody album, Hard Foiled, which is finally being released today. It's a collection of electronic/techno stuff I've cobbled together over the past couple of years and is being released through IF? Records.

There's a digital version via Beatport as well as a limited edition CD (with less tracks, but still clocking in at 70 minutes) via Lulu.

Last reason? I live in Tokyo. And I love Japan. This is my home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Japan Relief Compilations by Elektrax

One of my favourite labels in Australia over the past three years has been DJ Hi-Shock's Elektrax imprint, which includes side-labels Gynoid Audio, Android Muziq, Darknet and Hypnotic Room.

The people at Elektrax are doing a series of benefit compilations for the victims of the disasters over here in Japan, and I think they warrant full support. Besides, there're some way cool artists involved including many from Japan itself.

Think Satoshi Fumi, DJ Wada, Cut Bit Motorz, Jin Hiyama, Captain Funk and Takashi Watanabe.

International Artists across the three comps are a who's who of contemporary and veteran electronic and techno producers: Dan Curtin, Thomas P. Heckmann, Bas Mooy, Angel Alanis, Si Begg, DJ T-1000, Donor & Truss, Truncate, Steve Stoll, Damon Wild, Beroshima (Frank Mueller), Mijk van Dijk, Dave Tarrida, Ben Mill, Alkan, Martin Mueller, Claudio Masso, Peder, Mattias Fridell, Paul Mac, Octave and DJ Hi-Shock.

The label released this following press statement:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the people affected. The people of Japan need our help, and we hope that we can do our part through what we love most – the music – and we’ve decided to call this benefit compilation ‘Kibou’, the Japanese word for hope.

This is a combined project of many of the Elektrax Music artists and close friends of Elektrax, who have generously provided their tracks gratis, and it has been put together with the inspiring assistance of our label representative in Japan, Takashi Watanabe.

You can read more here at the Elektrax site.

Worthy stuff indeed - with all proceeds going to the Japanese Red Cross to help victims of the earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear reactor disasters - and Number Two in the trilogy came out yesterday.

It features Bas Mooy, Si Begg, Steve Stoll, Justin Robertson, Martin Mueller, Hi-Shock - plus one of my hack Little Nobody tracks.

Anyway, it's online as a digital release exclusive to Beatport, and show your support if you can.

Respect to the labels and all artists involved.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blood-C: Production I.G gets the CLAMP

Just got this rather brilliant news from my insider at Production I.G here in Tokyo: there's going to be another take on the Blood anime franchise.

According to the teaser press-release notes I received, Blood-C is a creative collaboration between Production I.G (the people behind anime classics Ghost in the Shell and the original Blood: The Last Vampire) and all-girl artist group CLAMP (they did the original manga of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHOLiC) - supervised by Junichi Fujisaku, one of the key people who developed the original concept for Blood: The Last Vampire (2000) and later directed the spin-off TV series Blood+ (2005).

This baby's slated as a TV series that'll be aired in Japan on MBS/TBS starting from July 2011 (see here), and also a theatrical feature film set for 2012.

The TV series will be directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, who helmed the xxxHOLiC - A Midsummer Night’s Dream feature film, based on CLAMP’s manga and also produced by Production I.G.

Anyway, enough cheating off the promotional notes. I'll let you know more when I do, but in the meantime I'm pretty darned excited about this.

I love my I.G.

This (below) was the trailer for the 2000 original.

IMAGE: © 2011 Production I.G, CLAMP / Project BLOOD-C TV

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Meiji Shrine: 明治神宮

It's located conveniently close by the massive Yoyogi Park as well as the Harajuku shopping precinct in central Tokyo, just minutes from Shibuya.

Meiji Jingū (明治神宮) is the Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine soul of Emperor Meiji, the second son of Emperor Komei, and the royal instigator of the much-touted Meiji Restoration - which brought Japan out of 300 years of feudal isolation.

When he passed away in 1912, the emperor was in fact buried in the Fushimi Momoyama Ryo in Kyoto, but his soul was enshrined in Meiji Jingu here in Tokyo once the shrine was constructed on November 1, 1920.

Surrounding the huge shrine complex is a 700,000 square-meter evergreen forest of some 120,000 trees, boasting 365 different varieties.

Literally millions, jammed together, visit over the first few days of each New Year, and seijinsai (the coming-of-age ceremony for girls) is celebrated here, just as it is at other shrines in Japan, in January.

People get wedding pictures here, and kids celebrate shichi-go-san (traditional rites of passage for three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys). We took our daughter here for her third birthday.

But there are some more vital events held in Meiji Jingu.

During the Spring Grand Festival at the end of April, bugaku (a traditional form of ceremonial dance and music), noh (traditional theatre), sankyoku and hogaku (traditional music), hobu (traditional dance), and kyudo (a Japanese variant on archery) are performed.

During the Autumn Grand Festival in early November, in addition to the same events as the Spring Grand Festival, yabusame (horseback archery), budo (martial arts), and aikido are also showcased.

My only complaint is that it's a long stroll across gravel surfaces from Harajuku Station.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hanami Hitch

It's now been over three weeks since the now so-called Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. That's what it's called on Wikipedia, and it's funny how they create media-friendly monikers for these things.

It's like the ironically named Great Kantō earthquake that hit Tokyo in 1923. It was only great in terms of the number of people it killed (over 100,000).

It's now spring in this city, and the cherry blossoms are beginning to unfurl. Usually at this time of year millions of people would start to unravel their mats in crammed public spaces for the hanami – literally “flower viewing”.

Japan's famous for it.

There’s an ethereal quality to the canopy of subtle pink plumage that surrounds you in leafy places in most parts of the country, and the petals drifting on the breeze is like something spun from the reel of a classic Japanese movie... which is, well, just what you’ve probably seen, in anything from the whimsical musical romp of Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon (2005) to the dramatic demise of Ken Watanabe’s character in The Last Samurai (2003). They're also stunningly used in Makoto Shinkai's anime 5 Centimetres Per Second (2007).

It’s a remarkable sight quite unlike anything you will have encountered anywhere else in the world. While there may be the odd cherry tree that sticks out like a sore thumb in front yards from Washington D.C. to Melbourne, here in Japan these woody perennials are cultivated, pruned and spaced to perfection.

What makes the seasonal phenomenon even more special is the fleeting nature of the blossoms themselves, prompting the Japanese to use them as a metaphor for life and its brevity.

Which brings us back full circle to the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11, and the continuing woes at the Fukushima nuclear reactors.

Around 25,000 people are assumed to have been killed across 18 prefectures to the north and north-east of Tokyo, while hundreds of thousands are homeless, without basic essentials like water and electricity.

TEPCO, the people who run the nuclear power plants, have put on a carefully orchestrated stage show of ineptitude, and according to some reports may be endangering the lives of their rank-and-file staff by sending them into the reactors to fix the job that management stuffed up in the first place.

Crocodile tears from TEPCO spokesman and head honchos on the TV just don't cut it. I think the entire board of directors should be rounded up and sent in to Fukushima to replace the workers, and try to fix the plants themselves.

Meanwhile we're collectively treading water, waiting to see what happens.

Of course we hope for the best, and in my case I occasionally pray to an empty mead hall of Norse gods that the nuclear crisis will soon be a thing of the past. But no one seems quite sure what will transpire.

Most people here are dealing with it regardless, and going on with their lives in the best way possible.

There have been exceptions - like one of the talented artists on my old record label, who seems to have embarked upon a sad descent into a petty, self-centred, money-grabbing kind of madness since the crisis began, and I've lost a mate as a result - but I guess people deal with the subliminal stress in different ways.

Me? I really miss my two girls, who have been down with the in-laws in Fukuoka for two-and-a-half weeks now, until this thing blows over (er... poor choice of words) or is resolved, and we know more about the radiation issue in Tokyo. Having a five-year-old daughter makes things a little more complicated as my wife and I are far more worried about her future health than our own.

Every day I wake up in an empty apartment and go through the somewhat surreal notions of going through life and working like nothing's changed, yet in a subtle sense everything has. As I say - surreal.

And now it's spring, the cherry blossoms are on their way, and I think everyone's wondering the same thing: Is it appropriate to just let our hair down and celebrate, with all that's happened recently and that which continues to unfold up north?

Why am I even bothering to write about this here? Isn't it so damned trivial in the grand scheme of things?

To be honest I haven't got the faintest idea, but I find myself beginning to believe that to celebrate would be some kind of collective catharsis. Perhaps not partying quite so hard - in normal circumstances hanami banquets often stretch from daytime into the night (when the name of the jaunt is changed to yozakura, or night sakura), and lanterns dangle all about for people to continue drinking and warble prolific - but all the same sitting with friends, having a drink or two, and just plain celebrating the here and now could be a godsend.

After all life, as it turns out, can be as fleeting and transient as the cherry blossoms themselves, which often bloom and fall in the same week.

Besides, I'm going to throw in my favourite (anonymous) haiku here. When it's hanami season you need sake, and the two combined are part of what makes Japan truly special - especially at times of adversity like these (currently) are:


Without sake
what is the use of
cherry blossoms?