Recap: Third time's a charm: Japan with Lord Echo and friends

Events Recap

Earlier this year while visiting AZ at his shop, Revelation Time, in Osaka, we decided to drop by another shop nearby, Wonderful Noise, a record label founded by Kenji Sakajiri in 2006. I had emailed Kenji a few months earlier, hoping to send him a copy of the Jah Gumby release we did in 2018. He already had it, turns out.

Although the label releases Japanese artists, Wonderful Noise is particularly focused on music New Zealand, especially the music of Lord Echo and Julien Dyne — two top artists in our book!

Almost without hesitation, Kenji invited me to play an opening set for the Lord Echo 2019 Japan Tour. And without hesistation, I agreed. No idea how I'd get back out here (this was already our second time in one year to Japan), but I was sure I'd find a way.

Kenji locked in two dates – September 21 in Tokyo, and September 28 in Osaka – so, knowing that we'd have a full week in between those gigs, I tapped Hideki Yamamoto and Vinyl Don to join me in hopes we could line up some other gigs along the way. They agreed, and we started planning out the rest of the trip.

The Lord Echo gig, in Shibuya at WWW X, kicked things off with high spirits. The vibe was right, the crowd poured in when doors opened, and people were digging the (mostly) Hawaiian tunes I'd prepped for my set. Asuka Ando and her band did their "dub u set" as the opening live act to much excitement.

After her set, I brought things up in anticipation of Lord Echo's main act. 130BPM isn't something I'm used to, but it felt right for this crowd. Surprisingly, there's a handful of amazing 130-ish tracks from Hawaii — especially from this album, A Chance Of Pace's It's Happening. Mega rare, but mega dance-able on any floor, which isn't something so typical of Hawaiian records (they mesh well with more tropical-inspired, laid back settings).

I also spent some time making my own DJ edits of songs that (IMO) really need a tune up, or a trim down. Music Magic's "Sing" works better on the dancefloor when the high tempo parts are looped and, ironically, the singing is pared down.

Bart Bascone's Disco Island LP, an of-its-time attempt at making impressionable disco music from Hawaii, needs all kinds of editing. The vocals and lyrics become unbearably cheesy in most sections, and the arrangements were made for a late-1970s / early-1980s audience, not for the dancefloors of today. Snip, chop, loop, and pau — a few nice edits to play in 2019.

Seeing Lord Echo live, with a full 7-piece band, was a dream I've had for a few years now. Last year, they played in Osaka with Your Song Is Good and I desperately wanted to attend, but couldn't. Wishing thinking lead to an impromptu meeting with Kenji at Wonderful Noise, led to this golden opportunity to jam alongside the likes of Lisa Tomlins, Mara TK, Fabulous Mike and the rest of the crew. How awesome it was, too, to watch them from my slightly elevated DJ booth, at stage left. I could see everything.

Recently, and by chance, Hideki met a soft-spoken DJ in Nagoya, named Hayassen. The two got along quickly and Hideki proposed we set some things up with his help. Hayassen hooked us with a gig in the city of Fukui, about a 2 hour drive north of Nagoya. The venue was Curry and Music WR, a nicely sized bar, nightclub and record shop on the fifth floor of a building located in what I assumed to be the nightlife district of Fukui. We arrived around 7pm, checked into our hotel, grabbed a bite with WR's owner, Tsukasa, and returned to the venue around 10pm — and DJ'd until 5am.

I think it was around 3:30am that Hideki pulled me aside, "We should probably wrap up soon, gotta go to Nagoya around 12pm." Never thought we'd be gigging in a small city like Fukui, so far from Tokyo or Osaka, until dawn no less. It was so much fun, but the beginning of what would be an exhausting 4 days of back-to-back gigs.

Hayassen also lined up a gig in Nagoya, at this incredible spot not far from the main station: vinofonica, a natural wine and audiophile bar that shares an open-layout building with two other noteworthy gastronomic-focused spots. Nagoya surprised me with it's love of music, enthusiasm for AGS, and welcoming spirit. DJs Moola, Ohtake, and Yong Bo played beautiful sets Yong had all these records I love, but left at home this time around, Moola crushed it with a ton of rare Thai funk and psych tracks, and Ohtake kept the groove much in the same way Hideki pushes me and Oliver along during our Soul Time in Hawaii parties, smooth and well selected. Hayassen too, with crates deeper than the rest of us.

It was in Nagoya that Vinyl Don arrived — his flight from LA to Haneda gave him a short layover before hopping on a domestic flight to Nagoya. About 2 hours into our gig at vinofonica, Don stormed in with a big smile on his face, happy to be back in Japan (his third time this year as well), and ready to play some records. Not sure how he did it, after all that flying, but he jammed harder than any of us (and later than night found solace in the restaurant downstairs, relaxing with some newly made friends and a cold beer). That was Monday evening, the 23rd of October.

Our accommodations were just down the road, but we called it an early night (maybe 12:30am?) to enjoy some rest (Fukui's marathon knocked us back a few points) before making our way to Kyoto for a Tuesday evening spinning vinyl at Hachi Record Shop and Bar, a cozy venue where you wouldn't imagine five guys with a lot of wax to do a gig. But we made it happen. A bunch of friends from Kyoto, Hawaii, and New Zealand showed up throughout the evening. Not sure if anyone made it upstairs to the record shop, but Mara TK was cruising on the stairs that led up, a nice spot to watch the DJs, enjoy conversation and experience Hachi.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera's memory card at the hostel, so didn't get any good footage of the evening. We did, however, record our entire set, which culminated in a 90-minute back-to-back set with Masaki Tamura, Keisuke Dance, myself, Vinyl Don, and Hideki Yamamoto.

You can hear the part where we all start nerding out about Seawind and proceeded to play back-to-back Seawind songs and covers. On my first day in Tokyo a few days prior, I came across both copies of the Paprika Soul "He Loves You" 12's at Disk Union in Shimokitazawa. They're super common, but never pop up in Hawaii, so I had to grab them. Good thing; they came in handy for this Seawind tangent we thoroughly enjoyed.

After four straight days of gigs in four different cities (how do touring artists actually do this kind of thing?), we had time to chill in Kyoto, several days before Saturday's closing gig with Lord Echo in Osaka. What does one do in Kyoto? Relax.

We went digging at Jazzy Sport and Jet Set, as well as the must-visit Hitozoku Records, a curious and highly curated collection of obscure music from all over the world. The proprietor, Bing, has impeccable taste with this ability to select records (and DJ them in the shop while we're digging) that immediately catch our ears. Don and I agreed, we wanted to buy everything he was playing.

Earlier that day, we randomly ran into Paul and Barbie of Love Injection, the underground music magazine from New York. They were in Kyoto for (what else?) a break from their tour, which had taken them from a gig in Tokyo to Okayama, and later that weekend, back to Tokyo.

Don and I had been walking around the shopping arcade, looking for a lunch spot, and stumbled into Paul and Barbie (you'd call this gūzen in Japanese). Ichiran Ramen was in order, although we later found out the walls that separate each diner weren't collapsable, so we ate lunch while talking to each other over the walls and our shoulders.

Seems like we're always running into people, purely by chance, especially while we're out here: read about our 2018 trip to Japan, in two parts.

At this point the days start to blur, but I believe we visited Kurama-dera the following afternoon, and then into Osaka the next day (Friday) for a dig and to see AZ at his shop, Revelation Time. On our way out, we realized DJ Muro had a gig not far from AZ's shop so we dropped into. Muro was happy to see us, and played the Maggie Herron "Another Wish" 45 during his set. So sick!

Exhausted, we headed back to Kyoto for the evening. We ended up at Sou-Ya, the izakaya around the corner from Len hostel. It's probably the only late-night izakaya in the area. We visited the spot maybe 3 or 4 times during our stay.

Misono Universe, or Universe, in Osaka is an old school cabaret venue from the 1950s that has maintained its vintage, sometimes cheeky charm over the years. It was here that Lord Echo and Your Song Is Good played in 2018, where toward the end of the evening what seemed like the entire audience jumped onto the stage to join Lord Echo's hana hou set. (Wonderful Noise used this image for the 2019 flyer).

There were a handful of other bands and another DJ opening the evening. The space is huge. Kenji planned the gig as a celebration for Master Piece's 25th anniversary, so the brand had a station where attendees could pick out a custom-made bag, sewn on the spot by MP's crew. I was too exhausted to do anything more than nap, prep a set, and grind some food. So I missed most of the evening. Lord Echo played a smashing set and, much to everyone's anticipation, invited everyone on stage during their hana hou.

The evening's close was supposed to be a 30-minute DJ set, but I managed to extend it to a full hour thanks to the fact that Lord Echo's band members were cutting loose on the dancefloor, happy to be pau with their tour and enjoying the final hours of their time in Japan (they were reluctantly heading to the airport later that morning).

That was supposed to be the last gig of this trip, but on that drunken evening of our gig at Hachi, Masaki and Keisuke invited us to spin with them on Sunday, at Len, alongside Ryuhei The Man. Waking late in the afternoon on Sunday, spent from the weeks' activities, we slowly packed our things and headed back to Kyoto, arriving around 5pm. We caught Masaki and Keisuke's set, followed by live duo Dadakaka, and then Ryuhei who, to everyone's amazement, absolutely killed it! I can't say I've seen such a powerful all-45 set before Ryuhei's. Much respect! (Fun fact: Ryuhei wrote the liner notes for our Japanese release of Aura "Let Me Say Dis About Dat").

We closed the evening with a back-to-back between the same Hachi Bar crew, about 30 minutes' worth of music. I was stoked to play one of my recent favorites, a Society of Seven cover of Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman". Definitely worth picking up if you see it.

That's a wrap! Well, almost. Hideki headed home to Hawaii the next day, and Don and I went back to Tokyo to kick it, see some friends, and enjoy a few more days of digging / shopping (he mostly bought records, I mostly bought gifts to bring back home).

I returned home on a Friday evening, but as things go, had one last gig in Tokyo before departing.

Earlier this year, Grand Gallery (whose shop is based in Yoyogi Koen area) reached out requested to press the digital-only EP from blank check onto vinyl. Sure, why not? The Grand Gallery x Aloha Got Soul 10-inch vinyl of blank check's fragments became available around the same time I first arrived in Tokyo this trip. I dropped by the shop my first day in Tokyo and met Yasushi Ide, the man behind the Gallery. Yasushi was hosting an opening reception illustrator Nathaniel Russell and asked me to join for a short 30-minute set. DJ Nori was one of the guest DJs, and after playing two incredible gigs with Nori earlier this year (at Oppa-La and Captain Vinyl), I couldn't say no.

So on Friday evening, a few hours before my flight home from Haneda, I dropped into Grand Gallery to share some of the records I'd picked up along the way, plus a few Hawaii gems from home. Got to see Nori (always a pleasure), met several other wonderful people, and dipped into the night solo, luggage-free (stashed my bags at Haneda Airport earlier that morning when I saw Vinyl Don off).

And the next morning, Saturday, I was at the annual Hawaii Record Fair in Kaka‘ako. Jetlagged but elated from a great time gigging with friends in Japan, I showed up during early bird admission to find Hideki and Oliver behind a table, selling used records from their personal collection. We drank a lot of coffee, laughed about the trip, found a few things in the crates around us, and enjoyed each other's company. At some point Nick Kurosawa played a set. It was a good day back in Hawaii nei.

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