Rave-enge of the Nerds
If you haven’t gathered from my previous Pop Cult columns, music coming from East Asia has been of great interest to me, especially in the last year or so. And while Korean Pop continues to make waves (hi NPR!), my prying and prodding into the nooks and crannies of Asian Pop have led me in an entirely different direction. To my surprise, some of the most vital and exciting music isn’t coming from the glitzy stages of Music Bank or the ultra-stylish back-alleys of Shibuya.
Today’s Pop Cult draws attention to the “nerd ghetto” of Akihabara. Yes, that Akihabara- the one dominated by legions of unhygienic men-children and the hobby shops and boutiques that wish to exploit them. But under this seemingly impenetrable veneer of hopeless geekdom lies a group of passionate and sincerely talented musicians and producers, who have slowly but surely carved an impressive space for themselves in Japan’s vast musical geography.
Let’s not be mistaken, most of these artists are nerds through and through. The music is drenched in otaku influence, steeped in a healthy knowledge of all things manga, anime and video game. For some, the music is as simple as laying some drum n’ bass over a popular anime theme song, or chopping and screwing a Final Fantasy battle theme. In the beginning, these artists operated solely on the internet: communicating via message boards, trading tracks via FTP, recruiting fellow internet denizens to provide a vocal here or a beat there. For a group that, on average, is less well-adjusted to social pressures, renting a club space in the middle of Tokyo is not something that just happens.
Enter Club Mogra. Established a little less than three years ago, this Akihabara space has become a safe haven for all sorts of otaku maestros to commune in real life, practice their craft and perform for their fans in the flesh. And Club Mogra’s schedule is non-stop (except for Mondays): DJ sets focusing on anime song remixes (AniSon), special appearances by renowned internet DJs, Idol group performances, and special appearances from producers all over the world who share the same unfettered nerd spirit.
But the biggest draw of Club Mogra is not any one event or talent. It’s the unique, all-inclusive atmosphere, fostered by the passion everyone who enters the club doors has for this unique meeting of pop culture and music. Club Mogra’s best nights are a continual feedback loop of pure joy, passing back and forth from the DJs to the crowd for as long as the night can sustain. People cosplay, dance, drink, cheer, and wave glowsticks into the early morning. There’s this unmistakable and rare innocence that the music captures; innocence that can only come from social misfits finally finding a place to belong.
And the most beautiful thing is you can join in the fun too. Club Mogra streams most of its events live to the world. There’s not much better than getting to work on a Friday morning, flipping on the stream and watching an incredible party as you sip your morning coffee. Trust me.
A couple “artists” to pinpoint:
Hatsune Miku is not a person. It is a program called a Vocaloid, a voice synthesizer. Vocaloids, and Miku in particular are very important to the Geek Music scene, as they give these fledgling producers and DJs a way to add vocals to their songs without actually having to find a real vocalist. Yes, Miku has been given a nerdy-as-hell back story and there are fans who love her for her image and are convinced she is a real person. But the fact remains, Miku, like the auto-tune effect, has democratized music. Like T-Pain before her, Miku and her songwriters have proven you don’t need to have a good voice to pen some amazing songs. Multiple Vocaloids have sprung up in her wake, but for now Miku is the king of the castle.
Supercell is a mammoth 11-member dojin music group, well known for crossing over into normal J-Pop fairly seamlessly. Dojin music literally is an equivalent to “indie music,” not in sound or ethos but more in resources. Led by songwriter Ryo, Supercell began producing songs and putting them up on Nico Nico Douga (like Youtube but way more wild west/nerdy), some featuring the previously mentioned Miku. The success of their internet songs led them to gigs writing and performing songs for anime and movies. Even with member changes and an ever-changing musical landscape, Supercell continues to gain fans in both geek and non-geek circles.
LiveTune started as a dojin production duo, mostly writing songs using the Miku Vocaloid to amazing effect. Eventually Kajuki P dropped out of the group, leaving kZ as the brains behind the project. kZ has worked with many artists within and without the geek music scene, and recently produced a song using Miku for an extremely successful Google Chrome ad campaign. kZ is one of Club Mogra’s biggest drawing acts.
ClariS is one of the most famous internet-founded-pop groups, and one of the youngest as well, if we’re to believe the story. Ostensibly, ClariS is comprised of two junior high students, who began vocally covering songs and posting the results to the internet. People were surprised at their mature vocal tone, and their fame took off from there. Since then they’ve done a few theme songs for some very very very very popular anime shows (which singles have gone straight up Gold in Japan), working with some of the biggest names in Geek Music like the aforementioned kZ and Ryo, all while never showing their real faces to anyone. Birthday is their highly anticipated first full-length album, and I’m sure it’s going to sell like gangbusters.
DJ WILDPARTY is a frequent visitor to the Mogra space, and mixed their very first official mix, which serves as an excellent primer to what exactly is happening in the Geek Music scene right now. If there’s one album to track down from all this, Mogra Mix Volume 1 is a fantastic place to start.
And of course don’t forget to head to Club Mogra’s live stream itself whenever the opportunity presents itself. You’ll never know what kind of fun you’ll happen into.