Thursday, May 28, 2009


Making good on the promise of his provocative entry in the "I Hate ____" sweepstakes, Carl published a brilliant take-down of Burial, casting the clandestine South Londoner as a hyper-test-marketed lifestyle accessory to doomy cultural theorists. Yeah, I own copies of both Will Belvin's albums, but I can't say Carl's wrong - especially in calling out how "pedestrian" and "same-y" it all sounds. Debuting a full seven years after The Caretaker (which itself was theoretically-enhanced rehash of Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme, itself already sampled of course by Moby, and down the infinite regress we stumble...), Burial is basically Tim Hecker's billowing oblivion pruned down & set to a skittering beat to soundtrack the Starbucks set. It's that (fucking overrated) first Massive Attack record reimagined for those who want something a little more zeitghost-y. It's a sound I like but have also heard before - which, of course, is the precise point, but as Carl says, that's not The Point.

Unfortunately, Carl continues & kinda ruins it by digressing into an embarrassingly naked & bitter indictment of "career artists":
Why can’t more people just pack it in and go and do something else/ take a look at themselves and decide they’re basically never going to produce anything worthwhile and not bother in the first place? ...Why do they HAVE TO make a living as musicians? I’ll happily and have happily not made a living as a writer despite having written for years and in my own estimation having a fuck site [sic] more talent than half the rubbish gets in Waterstones because if you really do care about the art you approach it full of doubt, humility and trepidation, you fall horribly and continually short...
What was clearly started with the intent of echoing Tyler Durden's eulogy for the posthistorical Everyman ultimately sounds like neither a satirical deconstruction of the star system, nor a populist manifesto for the dignity of common hard work. Instead, it comes off like the whining of a self-styled "unrecognized genius" with an adolescent sense of entitlement. Why is it anything but emancipatory to recognize artistry as just another form of nose-to-the-grindstone craftsmanship? Why must art be cloaked in cheap voodoo, restricted to the speaking-in-tongues Shock & Awe of shamanic snake oil salesmen, instead of the patient, earnest product of normal people with bright ideas? And why only cement the cultural stratification erected by the media industry by agreeing that fame is the only valid qualifier of True Art? Moaning about "why are they special?" only reinforces the illusion that they are special.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Hate Is Stronger Than Your Love

I scarcely pass up a chance to talk shit, but when no less a professional instigator than Simon Reynolds issues an open call for character assassination - well, how am I gonna pass that up?

A couple of folks have already responded, including Zone Styx*, who took Brian Eno to task for his Exlax-smooth glide from art-damaged visionary to Svengali of pastel banality. As boldly progressive as the first decade of his career was, Eno has spent the past twenty-odd years terraforming a plateau upon which the most median hacks have homesteaded. I'm tempted, though, to give Eno a pass because, in that first decade, he did pioneer almost everything interesting about modern pop. The tragedy is that he didn't pull a Barrett/Beefheart to cement his legend.**

Meanwhile, I'm putting my money on Carl for Hater of the Year.

The target of my wrath is not a sacred cow and is often maligned in a strictly anti-fashionable knee-jerk (which, naturally, is its own expression of consensus-culture). But as the record shows, I've had a long history of hatin' on these motherfuckers. So let it be writ in flames ten feet tall...

I Hate Animal Collective

Right off the bat, they're hateable on an obvious, superficial level. Their cringeworthy album & song titles - from the verbosely ersatz to bland single-word monikers - are almost as bad as their first-year community college art-elective album covers. Their hooks are as sharp as a pig's ass. Their stoned, smug permasmirks make me wanna punch 'em in the goddamned face.

Their music is... inoffensive. It's a meandering, granola-dude iteration of the Beach Boys' forgettably sunny pop for (and by) sampler-saavy postmodernists. Or, as one friend said, "it's a bunch of cut-rate competent musicians fucking around with delay pedals." Either way, it's hardly the kind of music that invites intense reactions.

Which is precisely why it's so dangerous. Animal Collective are not only a symptom, but an enabler of a contemporary American youth culture that is vapidly hedonist, politically uninterested, and libidinally solipsistic. AC's oeuvre at once reflects and amplifies these revolting traits: their music is kindergarten-teacher chipper, their voices like an animated musical, their subject matter twee and nonsensical. (I'm repeating myself there.) I don't begrudge any band born of the Bush era the urge to retreat from reality (at least a little), but AC have made careers out of a near-psychotic infantile escapism. Following in the footsteps of their forebear Brian Wilson, they're not just offering tuneful respite - they've dropped acid and buried their heads in the sandbox.

But whereas Wilson's contemporaries captured the dynamic & tumultuous zeitgeist in anthemic melodies, a dismaying number of AC's fellow travelers are echoing their chirpy, saccharine nonsense and childish self-indulgence. This could be a result of indie neutering itself of its anger, in an astigmatic move to distance itself from the truly dangerous anger of jingoists & imperialists following 9/11. It could also be that scores of bandwagon-jumpers attempted (and are still attempting) to follow the template for "success" in a Web 2.0 world that AC helped construct.

But either way, we're stuck with this ramshackle sonic sugar-rush by politically glaucomal, narcissistic man-children. If a band is going to drag a whole generation this far up their own ass, they could at least write a memorable tune to whistle as we plough through the shit.

(*) - Zone Styx mentions considering hip-hop as his hate-object du jour. Just the other day, I was having a conversation about how hip-hop could be to blame for the dismally regressive state of music as a whole - but that, clearly, is a big fish better fried at another time. For now, suffice it to say: hip-hop and hauntology share a specific kind of culpability...

(**) - I often think that the best move of Kevin Shields' career has been, despite the incessant pleas from his fanbase, not to release the eternally in-progress follow-up to Loveless.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Great Pretender

Happy birthday, Brian. My respect still outstrips my resentment that you've already had every genius musical idea of the past 35 years.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

A few months ago, I happened upon this video essay (it sure as shit ain't a documentary) based upon Alvin Toffler's prescient-if-not-entirely-accurate tome Future Shock. It's more entertaining than enlightening, especially thanks to its quaintly dated standard of new hotness. Oh, and it's hosted by Orson Welles in all his bloated, furrowed-brow, uh, glory.

The video ran a lap around my social circle, giving everyone a fair chuckle. One friend in particular loved how short the film fell of its own title: "So there's Orson Welles, strolling along a moving sidewalk in some airport - smoking indoors! He can't begin to imagine the shock the future has in store for him..."

I doubt Welles (or Toffler, for that matter) would have foretold the day when smoking became prohibited outdoors, let alone in. Several of Tokyo's 23 wards (including Chiyoda, Shibuya, and Suginami) have limited al fresco smoking to designated "smoking stations", though this is meagerly enforced - at least compared to the new turf subject to the ever-expanding ban. The above picture is of a relic, a once-pervasive staple of contemporary Japanese life, already vanished without a trace: the train platform smoking station.

This network-wide smoking ban came as some surprise: not only is tobacco ubiquitous in Japan, but it's a fraction of the cost in any other developed nation (around ¥300 a pack) because the government is the majority stockholder of domestic tobacco production. My god, there's a smoking section in every McDonald's! What could possess a country so nicotine-addicted to ban smoking in all of its public transportation hubs? An Olympic bid. Gotta look sharp for all the foreign tourists & investors, after all.

But unlike the megadecibel wailing & gnashing of teeth when the EU-wide smoking ban went into effect last year, there was nary a peep out of the Japanese public. There are scarcely any notices posted in or around train stations reminding people to butt out within a hundred paces. The ashtrays disappeared, and along with them, any apparent urge to light up.

Meanwhile, my wife's been teaching a high school debate class. Parsing the list of acceptable topics, she noticed that alcoholism - a reasonably cut-&-dry (ha!) subject - wasn't mentioned. She asked if this was because it hit some of the students a little too close to home (double ha! for tasteless pun). No, mercifully that wasn't the case. The problem was that, when past teachers had attempted to explain alcoholism to the students, they didn't understand that there was anything wrong with the behaviour itself.

There are words for "addiction" in the Japanese language, and "junkie" is one of the few colloquialisms that requires no awkward translation for those minimally conversant in English. But "addiction" is understood almost exclusively in terms of narcotics. The idea that someone could be "addicted" to coffee, gambling, or internet porn is seen as a poetic embellishment. In fact, the most commonly-used word* for "addiction" (中毒 - chuudoku) also means "poisoning" - so addiction is seen less as a long-term destructive habit than an unwise short-term decision or accident.

But it's no accident that addiction, as Westerners understand it, isn't a part of Japanese pop-psychology, because when Japan admits to the detrimental effects of compulsive, unhealthy behaviour, compelled by some agency stronger than individual will, the very foundation of this society will be shattered.

In this context, smokers' quiet acceptance of the widening tobacco ban makes perfect sense: if they're not addicts, why couldn't they just wait for the train without smoking? Were smokers to argue for their right to light up, they would have to argue on behalf of their addiction; meanwhile, any opposition to the smokers would necessarily be based on the ruinous effects of their habit, to themselves and others. But once that line - from unpleasant habit to unhealthy dependence - is drawn, the etiquette & conventions that shackle so many Japanese shred like a paper chain:
  • Is it so important to be drafted into the white-collar army immediately after university?
  • Does drinking for five hours after work actually bring me closer to my colleagues?
  • Do I really need six beers and two chu-his whenever I leave the house to have fun?
  • Why is consensus more important than improving an idea by vetting competing ideas?
  • Why bother lining up in train stations?
  • Why bother registering my bike?
  • Why bother separating my trash?
And that's just the quotidian bullshit the Japanese put up with on top of the other issues of "civic responsibility" that raise the hackles of libertarians throughout the West. Once income tax, legalising marijuana, reforming the streamed education system, and immigration become hot topics of popular discourse, society will have become so socially pulverised that I'll be expecting looting at the local Lawson and the Tocho towers to be on fire.

(*) - Take any statements I make about the Japanese language with a grain of salt, as I'm far from fluent. I've picked up what caveman-grade speech I have from band practices, bars, and late-night talk shows.

Non-Sequitorial Addendum: I've been reading a bunch of musical biographies lately. I'm currently thumbing through Erik Morse's profile of Spacemen 3, which is basically one long anecdotal argument for doing every drug all the time (at least as far as making music is concerned). Last fall, I thoroughly enjoyed Miles Davis' autobiography, even if was basically 300 pages of "[Name of legendary jazz musician] was a bad motherfucker who wouldn't take shit off nobody!" But it's with no small amount of shame that I must confess, if only to pacify a friend's insistent recommendation, I recently read Slash's autobiography. For anyone who doesn't particularly need a roll-call of every groupie Mr. Saul Hudson banged during pre-production of Appetite, this particular quote from page 215 sums up the story nicely:
"Under the circumstances, I did the only thing that made sense: I hung out with David Lee Roth all night."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Follow-Up & Undercut

Given that already five years have passed since he found himself "beguiled" by Coldplay, I'm probably well late in calling this, but let's make it official: JUMPED THE SHARK.

Mark "K-Punk" Fisher is the online polemical analog to Morrissey: an exquisitely-posed dilettante driven by a romanticism so cerebral & idealised that every facet of reality is met with supercilious pessimism, twinned with an arrogance that allows him to argue in favour of his (or his paladins') own failures while glibly dismissing positions or accomplishments that conflict with his imperturbably self-contained weltanshauung. Also, despite incessant use of variants of the word "libido", there's no clear evidence that K-Punk enjoys anything in a sweaty, smelly, unintellectualised, reflexively feral, excretion-of-bodily-fluids way. A Robert Christgau for British Pierrots.

Ooh, is this skirting too close to an ad hominem attack? Here are my terms for detente: instead of ducking your obligation as a critic by weakly reversing my question, Mark, please explain what is so totally uncompelling about Sonic Youth's entire 16-album oeuvre, where is this bridge between the '60s and post-punk SY rebuilt, how they've contributed nothing to the advancement of music as an art. You can lob the "tepid, flannelly, terminally uninvolving college alt-rock" grenade at, say, Washing Machine, but not EVOL. And don't detour into some More Alt. Than Thou game of The Price Is Right by "gesturing to artists more marginal" like DNA or the Dead C.

So that's it. Between the metapolitical miserablism and helping legitimise head-drillingly dull split-hair dance (d/s)ubgenres with moronic names like "wonky", I'm tuning out of K-Punk's frequency. Anyone who can turn an apology for fucking up a live mix first, into an exprobation of the ghetto set-up; second, into a masturbatory epode about a "sound [that] is in no sense normalised; on the contrary, it is volatile and eratic [sic]"... suffice to say he's on very thin ice for lambasting anyone for being "vaguely bohemian/arty middle class urban professionals" who dabble in the "most self-conscious meta-art."'s not my hostility towards SY that requires explanation - it's SY's hegemonic support that needs to be accounted for.
Fuck you, Daydream Nation is mind-blowing. How's that for accounting? How's that for a shattered sensus communis? Go back to your Hyperdub 12"s, stiff.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bad Music Writing

It's no wonder why print publications & word counts are dropping like birds over Chernobyl, now that "tweet" and "text" have become verbs. But if anything has rendered music writing obsolete, it's as much the critical overreach that Mark Fisher calls for (rather uninspiringly) as the consumptive nanocycle to which the relay of all information has been reduced. Yes, I'm going to tread that perilously close to hypocrisy: grossly po-faced laptop scribes are writing themselves out of relevance, dagnabbit!

Mark himself knows a bit about critical overreach - such as his touristic retreat into the realm of doom "superstars" SunnO))) that betrayed far more chin-stroking conjecture than genuine intimacy with the materials & their context. Yet, when he accuses Sonic Youth of being the first band to recycle culture into a closed circuit (as opposed to by refraction or expansion), it reads like rhetorical underachievement by his own standards. Bad Moon Rising was considerably earlier than Beck's kitchen-sink po-mo; earlier still than bland tribute acts like Mudhoney or Oasis, so points for that. But weren't there plenty of dead horses beaten to gluey pulps before Bad Moon Rising?

Punk, for example - and specifically the trichordal adolescent hissy-fits peddled by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Those bands made no secret of their intense affection for the eighth-note strum & clang of old rhythm 'n' blues 45s. The only wrinkle separating, say, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" and "Beat On the Brat" is an extra dollop of au current, tailored-to-outrage antagonism.

Yet we can push back even earlier to proto-punk. Perhaps the Stooges' Fun House was the first retroreferential record. The elemental primitivism of rock 'n' roll's nascent wave is echoed both in spirit (the album was produced by Don Gallucci, of the Kingsmen & "Louie Louie" fame) and in sound: "Down On the Street" and "Loose" flex the same gnarly sinew as Link Wray & Duane Eddy's "rebel music", albeit with more explicit incitements to street violence and prurience.

But hell, why stop in 1970? If Sonic Youth are going to be backhanded for their "curatorial" roles, can't the same accusation be leveled at Frank Zappa? His numerous doo-wop homages were as honestly affectionate as his frequent piss-takes of contemporary artists were vicious. (Not to mention his umpteen nods to various modern classical composers.) Come to think of it, what was quintessentially new about any of the music that white musicians - Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Elvis, etc. - stole from Ike Turner, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, so on & so forth?

But this line of argument is more than a little absurd and ultimately useless. To one degree or another, all music nods to its antecedents; torches are passed, picked up, or rekindled. Of course, music is only beholden to the past to the extent it feels the need to either worship or mock what went before. Actually, it isn't impossible to create music in a cultural vacuum, but y'know what music utterly unencumbered by historical context sounds like? The Shaggs.

Not that Mark Fisher has a problem with artists burdened by history - quite the opposite, what with his essays' manifold mentions of "remnants", nostalgia, "ghost genres", and the like. But what makes The Advisory Circle good and Ciccone Youth bad is Mark's boderline-fundamentalist adherence to hauntology. Initially an intriguing cultural phenomenon, hauntology has come to inspire the kind of unblinking fanboy devotion usually reserved for World of Warcraft and Japanese animation, which makes some of these discussions as enjoyable & open as speculating on the afterlife with a Catholic. The greater problem, though, is that hauntology is a dead end and proud of it; miserablist ruminations over doors locked and out of reach; rubbernecking backwards at all the exits along the highway we didn't take.

Well, hang on - that sounds a hell of a lot like... post-modernism. And it is! As Alex of SBA outlined it with laser accuracy, "hauntology" is fundamentally a chicken-wire fenced erected around "good postmodernism, as set against the bad PoMo of a rampaging retroism" and ironic pastiche. To put a finer point on it, hauntology is the scrapbook of the underdogs & losers of culture wars past, where as po-mo "proper" celebrates every goon who got his 15 minutes.

But I digress. I don't want to prattle on about hauntology today, especially since that conversation's already been had. I do, however, want to call attention to Mark's use of "hauntology" as some kind of meaningful aegis under which he can lump the music he likes, safely squirreled away from the music he dislikes. Clearly he's not concerned with philosophical consistency, because otherwise it'd be fuckin' nonsense to cast the Pop Group and The Fall as dub- and kraut-damaged conduits of primal animus & political dissonance... and Sonic Youth as mere retro-necrophiliacs. Oh, it's certainly possible to like any one and not the others, but on aesthetic terms (and even then, just barely), not philosophical ones.

This is how critical overreach functions as a crutch for petty & fickle opinions. The elaborate scaffolds writers erect provide them a form over which to drape their critical assessments; the larger & more laboured the framework, the more solid it seems. This means any bad review is given the appearance of studious consideration & self-accordant logic - a far more noble & ego-inflating position for a writer, rather than have to admit that, for reasons as inarticulable & irrational as emotions, they just don't dig something.*

Mark Fisher obviously anticipated being set upon by rabid Sonic Youth supporters like myself, adopting a Magazine song-title as his first line of defense: "My mind, it ain't so open..." I don't particularly care if Mark enjoys Sonic Youth or not. But it's bloody difficult to contend convincingly that SY are "dilettantes" who fail to "[draw] on any unconscious material" and whose cachet is derived "from gesturing to artists more marginal than them." They are inarguably one of the most influential & inventive guitar bands ever. On the one hand, it's impossible to reimagine the rock landscape of the past twenty years without their influence (or, yes, their latter-day curatorial presence); on the other, they carved such a singular niche for themselves that anyone who wears their influence on their sleeve is simply dismissed for ripping off Sonic Youth. And don't even try to claim they contributed nothing new to the conversation - I would die to hear any obvious forerunners to songs like "Death To Our Friends" or "Eric's Trip".

Is any of this reason enough to like the band? Nah, not really. But please, Mark, instead of taking potshots at a band twenty years past their peak, just say you think Thurston comes off like an aloof dick, that the beats are too loose to dance to, that the sound is all rusty shrapnel & bleating car-horn doppler. Don't say Sonic Youth are "reducible to a set of easily verbally explicable intentions" - at least not without then verbalising what those handily explicable intentions are.

Others have already rushed to Sonic Youth's defense. Zone Styx Travelcard described Bad Moon Rising place on the geocultural landscape most elegantly. Meanwhile, Simon Reynolds acknowledged the "pernicious adequacy" of Sonic Youth's decade-plus holding pattern, arguing that they've perhaps outlived their usefulness for those who keep "keen the blade of one's dissatisfaction, one's impatience." But he still called for Sonic Youth to be afforded what respect they've earned:
[SY's late-'80s run was] a gorgeous noise where No Wave's stringent modernism merges with numinous psychedelia (a new psychedelia, one that barely references anything in the vocabulary of Sixties rock). As irritating as they can be that shouldn't be taken away from them. One might even feel an empathetic twinge for the vanguardist hoisted by their own reinvention-of-the-guitar petard and faced with the problem of reinventing themselves. Why shouldn't they be like Neil Young, an alt-institution, criss-crossing back and forth within the range of sound they've established?
Of course, none of this appears to have persuaded Mark Fisher, who steered largely clear of critiquing the music itself, instead making a series of contextual accusations that could just as easily be leveled at some of his favourite artists. ("Curators... who can turn a notionally ignorant audience on to cool stuff"; "so pathologically well-adjusted that the music doesn't appear to be performing any kind of sublimatory function for them"; etc.) At times, he appears to deliberately misread Sonic Youth & their place/purpose on the musical landscape, such as when he casts them as an unworthy contemporary standard for "experimentalism" - I don't know anyone obnoxious enough to call the concise pop songcraft of Rather Ripped "experimental". There's something in his tone of a kid who lost cred because he didn't "get" something cool, and now he's come for his revenge.

Ultimately, Mark is picking the wrong battle. When he noted that "the problem with hauntology is its association with a defeated (and defeatist) leftism," he perhaps forgot to what the left owes its apparent & ongoing defeat: the left spends all its time bickering amongst themselves & atomising into combatant factions, each too marginal to function as a foundation.** Meanwhile, the right quashes its petty infighting and rolls out the heavy artillery, intent on little beyond crushing their enemies. Over the hill as they are, Sonic Youth are far from the most stifling, conservative presence in music culture. What other musicians past a half-century in age have remained so curious & engaged in contemporary underground culture? You really want to strike a blow for modernism & encourage breakthroughs into new paradigms? Impatient to hasten the close of one chapter so that we might start a new one?

Kill Jack White.

(*) - Naturally, it works both ways. Not only can critical overreach perform the semantic sleight-of-hand to excuse not liking something for insubstantial reasons, it can also cast the most negligible mediocrity in the most elysian light. After you've called attention several times to the fact the emperor is buck-ass-naked, and several people have insistently shut you up, instead praising his regal & luxuriant threads, you become fairly certain that everyone knows this guy has no clothes - they just like looking at naked people. So it is with music: surely no one's genuinely convinced that the Arcade Fire or Deerhunter are geniuses, but we like to claim so (at length & ad nauseum) just so we can sound more sophisticated that arguing, "It's got a good beat and I can sing along in my car like an asshole."

(**) - Of course, the problem of critical overreach affects political activism too. When parallels are drawn between Ian Tomlinson and Rodney King, Sean Bell, or Burma, it not only cheapens true horror, it sounds histrionic, a cry of "Wolf!" when a chow is sighted. Obviously I'm not condoning physical intimidation by the police, for chrissakes, but am I alone in thinking that Tomlinson (appearing less-than-sportif) might have just pulled a Jim Fixx by total coincidence?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Homesteading On the Fringe

Okay, a return to meaningful content by way of an apologia: where have I been? Why have blog posts dwindled down to a bimonthly rehash of second-hand videos? Well... I've been busy. I actually have some kind of life again, and so haven't been able to spend my days tapping out long-winded dissections of pop-cultural minutiae or sonnets to some blinkered ideology.

So what changed since the last flip of the calendar page? I moved back to Japan. And the reintegration process (well, such as it is in a fairly xenophobic, homogenous society) has been smoother & faster than a greyhound slicked in canola oil. It's easy to forget that I did, in fact, spend a year-and-a-half living in northern Europe, and I'm frequently reminded only when people have asked me what Germany was like.

Okay, so it wasn't really like that - we lived in Hamburg, not Regensburg, fer chrissakes. But for all the memorable encounters I had in Germany, whenever I'm asked about my Teutonic tenure, I'm very tempted to launch into Ray Winstone's crowning monologue from Sexy Beast:
Nah. Fucking place. It's a dump. Don't make me laugh. Grey, grimy, sooty. What a shit hole. What a toilet. Every cunt with a long face shuffling about, moaning, all worried. No thanks, not for me.
I'm not advising anyone avoid Germany at all costs - by all means, go take a gander, the food's great! But the only expats I met in Germany who genuinely took to the place sported some combination of the followings characteristics:
  • an affection for austere, undanceable electronic music
  • an incurable, Morrisseyan melancholy
  • a fatalism that precludes even treading water as a way of life (despite living amidst Occidental affluence)
  • a fetish for black-booted thuggery
  • and/or a German spouse
I, on the other hand, was a poisson en plein d'air. If I was forgiven for not learning the language (having given up when my shitty accent was invariably met with English), I risked becoming a pariah for preferring Belgian beer to the local swill. I found the audiences at live shows stiffer than a cadaver with lockjaw. People in Hamburg talked only of the weather, people in Berlin only of money. I got on better with the ursine Russian who (probably) ran a brothel above my apartment than with any of the other locals, including the senile pensioner next door who'd deliberately lock himself out to earn attention & pity. And over eighteen months, the closest I got to finding a musical collaborator was a guitarist whose head was way too far up Mr. Bungle's clown-painted ass and never returned my e-mails.

Meanwhile, here in Tokyo, I'm gigging around in four bands.

It became wretchedly obvious rather quickly that everything I found fascinating about German culture had been predicated upon a cultural schism & political tensions that have since been buried under a Starbucks. But I've never been romantic enough to be content laying flowers in the dust where once stood the Palast der Republik, or pining for the days when Hafen City was a junkie-strewn shambles. Once the cheap thrills of Cold War kitsch & neue welle nostalgia lost their lustre, there was little more than marzipan to engage my interest.

Yes, it's likely I was missing the bigger picture of being in Germany, but I wasn't interested in hearing that. Also, a particularly pupil-constricting light was shone on my unease about a year after I'd first arrived in Deutschland. I was speaking with two (sorry, dude) satirically textbook British hipsters about which Yankee bands manage success across the pond - or not - and why that may be. I brought up a particular act that, predictably, was poverty-stricken during its lifespan and praised ad infinitum posthumously; a band of which I was a vague friend, and to whom my own music has been compared a few times. Oh yes, the hipsters had heard of them, but this band wasn't necessarily more popular now than they had been in the days they'd actually toured the UK (which is to say: barely at all).

This surprised me a little, considering how unabashedly necrophilic the British listening public can be. What exactly was/is this band's UK audience like, then?

"Well," my friend mulled it over, "People that really actually listen to them are weird. But not like a good weird. Like an... antisocial weird."

Coming from a member of a sociocultural class that prides itself on exclusivity, petty defamation, and inconsistent contrariety, such careful, measured use of the word "antisocial" clearly carried some weight. This kind of "antisocial" wasn't the affected snobbery of a night out at an Upset the Rhythm event - we were talking about someone disconcertingly unknowable and genuinely hostile.

Naturally, if anything makes an already-unsympathetic character even moreso, it's accusing them of being "hostile". But I restrained myself from breaking into some lightweight Tommy DeVito routine and realised that, perhaps, my friend was right. I'd abandoned the American music scene for being an morass of incestuous backslappers, a feel-good feedback loop devoid of innovation. And since then, I'd discovered that Germany had imported the hyperdisposable dance fashions & fickle indie-oneupsmanship that plague the UK. There was no shortage of Adorno-quoting dilettantes with asymmetrical haircuts who talked a mean line of modernist bullshit yet still stumble into the po-mo pitfalls of archival pastiche that make K-Punk apopleptic. I wanted no part in any of the above, and thus far had done a damn good job of extricating myself from all of it.

Where I had felt totally, rhapsodically at home had been in Japan - a country with a long & continuing history of suicidal devotion to maintaining homogeneity; a country that does little (if anything) to discourage hardcore nationalism and whose multiculturalism is as substantive & meaningful as choosing a T-shirt.

Slanderous as this sounds, this myopia (born as much of happenstance ignorance as of supremacist ideology) is endemic and is not merely a function of aging reconstruction-era conservatives. A brief anecdote: in several of the bands I play with, I'm the lone foreigner. Packing up after one practice last month, I overheard one of my bandmates damning me with faint praise (in Japanese, of course):
Seb's an good foreigner. He doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs, he's not a girl-crazy lech - okay, so he doesn't have a real job, but he's a good foreigner!
This wouldn't be unthinkable for a middle-American baby-boomer who pines for the fictive "golden era" of the '50s to say - but this came from the mouth of a chemically-indulgent twentysomething rock musician.

What is, for lack of a better term, totally fucked about these cultural biases & assumptions is that they are the very reason I feel at home here in Japan. Objective distance requires no social sacrifice. Existing well outside the mainstream is the starting point, not the endgame. "Antisocial weird" is the de facto existence of the foreigner in Japan.

And how bloody relaxing it is not to worry that we'll ever have to turn down membership to the club, because they will never have us.