Japan Beat: Hoppy Kamiyam

In the small but diehard world of avant-garde Japanese music, one name seems to crop up in many different guises and incarnations.

As fas as musicians, producers and label heads are concerned, few have been as prolific or influential as Hoppy Kamiyama. A newly released compilation of a range of his work from the '90s provides a good chance to get acquainted with his undertakings.

Juice and Tremolo on France's specialist Sonore label collects recordings from 1990 to 1997, and covers a wide swath of Kamiyama's interests. A musical chameleon, the diminutive, elf-like Kamiyama is capable of anything from the tautly composed chamber music of "The Philosophy of Torture," to the percussion improvisations of "Fantasm," to the commercial yet still challenging work that makes up the last part of the album. Kamiyama's mercurial approach also makes this album a great place to start for listeners wishing to delve into the nether regions of Japanese music.

And nether they are. "Average initial sales for underground music CDs are 3,500 copies," lamented Kamiyama in a recent interview. As is often the case with the Japanese avant-garde, he notes, foreigners seem to cotton on before the Japanese themselves. "Most Japanese music fans ignore Japanese underground music," he says. "But foreigners appreciate the Japanese underground as a unique and unprecedented musical subculture."

While you may have to dig hard in record stores to unearth Kamiyama's own recordings, a different project he is involved in as producer has recently become the focus of worldwide interest.

The operatic punk unit eX-Girl that Kamiyama produces has been getting wide airplay on alternative radio, and was even praised by Time magazine as a voice of newly empowered Japanese womanhood.

Kamiyama says eX-Girl is set to sign a record deal with a major label for their forthcoming summer album, and will be supporting guitar noise heroes The Melvins on tour in the US in June.

As for himself, Kamiyama says he's busy right now composing chamber music for an intriguing upcoming event at Cay in Aoyama.

The event, part of Tower Record's Intoxicate series, will pay tribute to the work of French film director Jean-Luc Godard. In addition to the performance by Kamiyama, live sets are also on tap from Naruyoshi Kikuchi and Kama Aina, while actress Mari Natsuki and novelist Yayako Uchida will read poetry.

Meanwhile, Kamiyama's electronic music project, Saboten, will release its seventh album, Beyond the Blue Heaven, on Kamiyama's God Mountain label later this summer.

Hoppy Kaimiyama performs as part of the Intoxicate: Jean-Luc Godard Night at Cay on June 8. See listings for details.

credit: Sonore


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