Melodies from Japan and AAPI Artists, Vol. 9
Happy New Year, everybody. I’ve been diving deep into Japanese music again after a bit of a hiatus that was filled with Korean pop, but man, coming back to just pure rock music is a real treat. My objective this year is to actually dive into more of what Japanese people consider as “cult” music, and I actually found a great band as our headliner for this month. So without first ado, let’s get funky!
We are not sponsored by any of the bands mentioned in these posts, and all opinions expressed are of myself, Brian Hsieh!
Tokyo Incidents (東京事変)
Tokyo Incidents. Image from their official website.
I first thought Tokyo Incidents was a regular rock band, but suddenly the next song in an album turned out to be a big-band jazz and swing piece. With their colorful stage costumes, wealth of experience, and Western influences, founder and leader Ringo Sheena and her band surprise me with every song on their album. Bands always struggle with changing their identities over time, and this band, founded in 2003, has explored a variety of genres with great success, and frankly, I respect any band who isn’t afraid to flip the tea table and do something different.
Skilled Stand-out Singer - I literally mentioned this last month about Utada Hikaru, but Ringo Sheena is honestly just as good, with a diva-like stage presence and voice.
Mature Artists - With elaborate stage costumes, these members, most of whom are in their 40s, do whatever they want with dignified grace.
Exceptional Musical Talent - Musicians who can play both jazz and rock styles don’t exist in mainstream Japanese music, and I just appreciate their mad skills.
Tokyo Incidents has an impressive library of live performances on their YouTube Channel, which honestly you should just listen to one by one, instead of their studio recordings. They also are on Spotify. Some standout songs include 「女の子は誰でも」and 「能動的三分間」which are all available as LIVE performances.
I Don't Like Mondays
Image from I Don't Like Mondays' website.
No, that isn’t me complaining, it’s their actual name. I first saw I Don’t Like Mondays' live when they opened for BRADIO, where they FUNKED it up and got everybody dancing to 80s style music. Very clearly inspired by Western old-school rap and funk with songs like “Do Ya?”, I Don’t Like Mondays often likes to sing in English, which is nice since I don’t understand 95% of Japanese music out there. As I’m listening to them right now,
Upside-down Guitar - Their guitarist put his guitar behind his back and played it perfectly at our live concert. Needless to say it made me s h o o k.
One Piece - My boys made it, they performed the opening song to the extremely popular anime One Piece. But I saw them when they were nothing! NOTHING!
Shoulder Wiggles - Good funk always makes me bob my shoulders up and down, and rest assured that this band is Brian-approved for appropriate levels of funk.
I Don’t Like Mondays has music out on YouTube and Spotify. Their most popular songs are the ones that are clearly mainstream, so I’d recommend starting out with their 2019 album, FUTURE, which showcases their funky side a lot better than any song in their top 5.
Ken the Maestro
Album cover of Maestro's Menu Vol. 1, sourced from Ken's Bandcamp.
Ken Mastrogiovanni (aka Ken the Maestro) is a Japanese-Italian-American professional musician from Oregon, specializing in jazz drums. Along with teaching drums at the University of Oregon and touring with the ska band The Daddies, Ken makes his own hip hop beats as a side project. He holds a Master of Music in Jazz Studies, no doubt contributing to his unique and fun rhythms, combining hip hop, lofi, and of course, jazzy vibes to his beats. Put his music up as background music at parties or during work and you’ll find yourself vibing immediately.
Jazz Friend - Disclaimer, Ken is actually one of my good friends
Genuinely Unique Beats - Most hip hop beats are just tunes that make you bop your head, but Ken’s beats have a kind of rhythmic uniqueness that make me bop in, uh, irregular rhythms
Cool Last Name - Mastrogiovanni. Say it out loud. Incredible.
Ken’s two mixtapes are available for free on Bandcamp. For FREE. So go ahead and take a listen starting from the beginning of the album. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.