Posts Tagged ‘electro’

Today’s Excavating the 80s pays tribute to Plastics, the highly innovative and eccentric Japanese New Wave band who aimed at the American market during their short career. Officially called simply Plastics (though often referred to as The Plastics), the band’s upbeat, quirky and eccentric sound, fusing art-pop with electronica, was highly reminiscent of early B-52s and Devo and still sounds fresh and innovative thirty years on.

Forming in 1976, the band consisted of Chica Sato (vocals), Toshio Nakanishi (vocals, guitar, percussion), Hajime Tachibana (vocals, guitar) Masahide Sakuma (keyboards, guitar, bass programming) and Takemi Shima (rhythm box). Possibly for the sake of easy pronunciation for their Western target audience, the band members often shortened their names to Chica, Toshi, Hajime, Ma-chan and Shima respectively. Chica, Toshi and Hajime’s background in fashion and design led the band to develop a distinctive image as important to them as their music, emphasizing their spiky, artistic edge. Early in their career, the Plastics set their sights on the burgeoning New Wave scene in New York, taking their influence from American kitsch culture of the 60s and fusing this with a preoccupation with Western ideals of technology and consumerism contemporary to the late 1970s. This would become the prime focus of their acerbic, satirical lyrics.

As the legend has it, the band achieved their US breakthrough in 1979 when Toshio Nakanishi was designing tour programs for Talking Heads’ Japanese tour and slipped David Byrne a copy of their demo tape. Byrne was impressed, and noticing the similarity to his peers The B-52s, passed the tape to the latter band’s manager, who subsequently signed up to manage the Plastics.

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The band left a legacy of three studio albums during 1979-1981. Their debut, Welcome Plastics, is a fantastic collection of amusing, cartoony electro-punk tunes with jittery, staccato melodies much abound. It is a fine introduction to the fast, frenetic and neo-futuristic world inhabited by the Plastics. The opening track Top Secret Man gained exposure in the US when the band appeared on late night comedy show SCTV on NBC performing the song, and the band gained a strong following in New York, greatly respected by their peers The B-52s, Talking Heads and Devo, on whom they were to become a solid influence. The band’s tongue-in-cheek cover of The Monkees’ Last Train To Clarksville also gained them attention from the UK and US media.

Follow-up album Origato Plastico continued in the same vein, although the band now showed a firmer grip on their sound, upping the intensity on tracks such as the almost sinister Return To Wigtown and Interior, while lyrics became more dark and cynical in their critique of postmodern consumer culture, most evident in Diamond Head‘s dig at overly-serious artistic movements of the time, and Cards‘ satire of the Westerner’s value of the credit card, with the unforgettable refrain of “You got to get your card into her cunt”. The band’s sound remained predominantly fun and zany, and the potential controversy in the lyrics was overlooked by the US music press.

Third album Welcome Back Plastics in 1981 was exclusively tailored for the US and UK markets in an attempt to raise their Western profile, consisting of re-recordings of tracks from both the first two albums, improved with the band’s fuller, more refined sound. Commercial success eluded them however, and throughout 1981, musical differences arose within the band over their musical direction, Toshi keen to develop as a serious musician while Ma-Chanwanted to maintain the band’s image as a ‘party band’. This led to the band’s split at the end of that year.

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Perhaps their style was just too individual for Western mainstream media to fully embrace them, but the Plastics had been so admired by their contemporaries in both Japan and the US during their career that there was never any doubt their influence would last. They were instrumental in changing the face of Japanese pop, as electronic J-Pop came to dominate the Japanese charts, and bands like Polysics based their image on the Plastics and took their influence to new levels. The band members, meanwhile, remained musically active following their break-up. Toshi and Chica, married and living in the UK, formed quirky pop band Melon, while Toshi went on to form the offshoot Water Melon, who continued into the 00s with various different line-ups. Tachibana ditched his guitar for sax and released several jazz-based solo releases, going on to work with members of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Buffalo Daughter. Sakuma, meanwhile, went on to produce the band Judy and Mary, and later formed the band Nina with Takemi Shima, as well as Kate Pierson of The B-52s and Yuki of Judy and Mary.

Plastics reunited briefly in 1989 for some 10th anniversary live shows, while their 20th anniversary in 1999 was celebrated with the release of the tribute album Welcome To Plastic World, featuring covers of Plastics songs by numerous contemporary Japanese artists and containing contributions from Toshi and Hajime. More recently, in 2010 Hajime reunited the band, minus Chica due to London-based commitments (she is now a successful stylist in London), for a string of Japanese live dates.

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As a band central to both Japanese New Wave pop and the legendary New York underground music scene of the late 70s to early 80s, the Plastics’ importance in music history can not be underestimated, despite them having been largely forgotten by the Western media. With numerous alternative bands worldwide name-checking the Plastics as a major influence, now is a perfect time to revisit their back catalogue and appreciate a band that buzzed with a creative energy that more than rubbed off on their peers both at home and on the Western front.

Reference: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fm20100507a2.html

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Our Daughter's Wedding

Let’s kick off this blog with a shout to one of the first American synth groups ever- Our Daughter’s Wedding.

Just one quick listen to about any one of these guys’ tunes and you’ll wonder why they weren’t massive. Best known for the international hit Lawnchairs with its insanely catchy, singalong chorus and raw, bouncy synth melody, an unsung classic of the New Wave era. But over their limited discography (one EP, six singles and one studio album) Our Daughter’s Wedding came up with many more great tunes along these lines.

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ODW started out as a San Francisco-based Punk band in 1977 using the traditional guitar, bass and drums set-up, but things didn’t work out for them and they split one year after. As electronic music reached the States throughout 1979, the three members (Keith Silva, Layne Rico and Scott Simon) met up again in New York and decided to get the band back together, but this time only using synths and rhythm machines. This whole electronic set-up was not commonplace in the States just yet, and an early gig supporting James Chance and Mi-Sex saw heckles of “Where the fuck are the drums, why don’t you use any guitars” directed their way. But within the next year, synth music took off on their side of the Atlantic, and as audience responses became more positive, Lawnchairs became a dancefloor hit and they struck a deal with a major label as EMI released the Digital Cowboy EP.

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The band became regular guest hosts on MTV, and made several UK television appearances on BBC TV, then their debut- which was sadly to be their only- album, Moving Windows, was released in 1982. A fantastic gem of New Wave, the album is full of solid, catchy synth tunes. Never overly introspective or polished like many of their UK counterparts, the band’s sound is raw, energetic and lively, and stays true to their punk roots despite only utilizing electronic instruments. This is punchy, gritty electro-disco music that makes no pretensions, somewhere between early Soft Cell and early Men Without Hats it has the feel of a Punk album made with synths.

On hearing the album it comes as no surprise that ODW actually regarded themselves as a Rock act as opposed to a Synthpop one. They told Schlager magazine in 1983 (NB: the interview credits this quote to ‘Paul’ although I assume that is a mistake as I can find no record of a member with that name having joined them):

“In Europe we are immediately directed to the same genre as The Human League, Depeche Mode and OMD. But we don’t think we have too much in common with these bands. These are good bands, I can’t take that away from them, but we are not doing the same kind of thing. We are more like a rock band using synthesizers and rhythm machines. Our main influences come from The Rolling Stones, and even from Van Halen. We like American rock a lot, but we also listen to groups like Kraftwerk, OMD and DAF.”

Likewise, their stage presence was more like that of a Rock band than Synthpop; apparently at least one synthesizer used to be smashed at each gig. When you think of how refined many New Wave acts became throughout the 80s as they distanced themselves from their Punk roots, it’s perhaps a shame that ODW were no longer around to maintain the aggression that began it all. Or maybe that’s one of the reasons for their lack of mainstream success; they just didn’t quite fit in enough with their ‘peers’. Whatever the case, had they had the confidence back in the early days, they could easily have answered those heckling mofos’ shouts of “Why don’t you use any guitars” with “The SYNTHS are this band’s guitars!”

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With this band’s whole approach to their music, we could be here all night speculating what they could have come out with had they continued. But the politics of a major record corporation got in their way, and an argument between the band and their EMI boss killed all promotional hope for the album and a major European tour was cancelled. Eventually, caught in an inescapable recording contract with a company that refused to give them any support (sounds familiar), the band split in 1984 after a tour supporting The Psychedelic Furs.

ODW could clearly have lived on to become so much more. After the promising debut of Moving Windows, they planned to record a second album bringing back the guitar, bass and drums and combining them with their synth sound. While most synth bands were moving further and further away from Punk, ODW were set to re-embrace it. As the band told Schlager, “After removing the guitar, bass and drums four years ago we are putting them back in again to see what we have learned.” They also spoke of moving beyond the ‘softness’ of synth music to capture some pure aggression in the studio. I’m imagining an absolute masterpiece in my head, but we can only dream of what might have been. Perhaps their subsequent output would have been a commercial suicide, but it is quite, quite likely it would have been mindblowing.

In late 2007, Our Daughter’s Wedding reunited and set up their MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/ourdaughterswedding81. A reunion tour- and possibly the emergence of some previously unheard tracks- would be most welcome. They’re probably a bit better-known in the UK than they’d imagine, most die-hard 80s enthusiasts I speak to here at least know Lawnchairs and I managed to raise awareness of them on the Manchester 80s club scene the other year when I convinced the DJ to play their stuff, and Lawnchairs became a regular dancefloor filler as its catchiness sank into the minds of the previously unitiated.

So let’s raise a salute to America’s own synth pioneers whose refusal to abandon the true raucous spontaneity of Rock ‘n’ Roll set them easily apart from their peers- Our Daughter’s Wedding, Lawnchairs are STILL everywhere.

Reference: http://www.synthpunk.org/odw/schlager_63/schlager_63.html