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by Don Crispy

Metamorphose 2004

In a first, respected German dance label !K7 will have its own stage at this year’s new-and-improved Metamorphose electronica fest

For better or worse, outdoor raves in Japan have been dominated by trance since they began to enliven summers in the early ’90s. Perhaps due to its roots on the beaches of Goa, India, the trance community has been most active in organizing outdoor parties, and promoters like Vision Quest and Annoyo hold some of Japan’s biggest outdoor events.

Perhaps because they offer an alternative to trance, Tokyo-based DJ Mayuri’s Metamorphose festivals, with their emphasis on a broad spectrum of dance music, have begun to pick up steam of late. Since its launch in 2000, the annual one-night party has drawn increasing crowds, with techno, house, breakbeats and ambient just a few of the styles on offer. While the first few events drew crowds in the low thousands, Mayuri says last year’s Metamorphose topped the 10,000 mark.

The party has also racked up a string of impressive signings, with artists of unassailable stature like Derrick May and Ryuichi Sakamoto on the bill in previous years. Newly relocated to the same Niigata ski resort that hosts the Fuji Rock Festival, this year’s event is no exception, with ambient house godfather the Orb and hip-hop innovator Afrika Bambaataa just a few of the heavyweights on the lineup.
Another unusual feature of this year’s Metamorphose, and a first in Japan, will be the presence of a stage dedicated entirely to the artists of an independent electronica label. Since entering the Japanese market several years ago, German imprint !K7 has found surprising success with an artist roster that could only be described as eclectic.

!K7’s best-selling artist in Japan so far has been UK sampling wunderkind and composer Matthew Herbert, who has wowed audiences with his unusual, found-sound approach to composition in Tokyo concerts that featured him solo, with small groups, and even with a full-fledged jazz band. But a number of other !K7 artists have also found followers in Japan.

!K7 representative in Japan Plug Lazenby says that with the increasingly high profile of the imprint among Japanese listeners, the time was ripe to do something big, “to further progress the label’s unique position in Japan by becoming the first label to host its own stage at one of the credible dates on the Japanese music calendar.

“Last year’s Metamorphose hit on a balance that clicked—pitching the likes of Four Tet with Jamie Lidell, the 3 Chairs, Eye’s Vooredoms and Green Velvet all together in one party makes for a wonderfully unpredictable array of entertainment which is essentially the primary ingredient for a festival. As the !K7 roster is broad in style and flavor, we figured it could add something to this mix.”

The !K7 stage will occupy the open area between the Solar Stage (Fuji Rock’s Green Stage) and the Lunar Stage (Fuji Rock’s Red Marquee), which are slated to host live and DJ acts respectively.

While Herbert and some of the other leading !K7 artists like Massive Attack’s Daddy G had previous commitments, a number of other intriguing acts will be performing, including German abstract electronica outfit Funkstörung, eccentric San Francisco jazz-tronika singer Dani Siciliano and hip-hop-influenced Philadelphia producer Victor Duplaix.

In a phone call from Berlin, !K7 founder Horst Weidenmueller said that Dani Siciliano in particular is doing well in the Japanese market. To put things in perspective, he says that for an independent dance label in Japan, doing well means 3,000 to 5,000 in sales, while an exceptional release might approach the five-digit mark.

He says that for European electronica labels seeking to enter the market, Japan has confounded expectations. “The Japanese market in Europe has the image of being a very unique market in which all kinds of obscure, advanced electronica are selling in huge numbers, which is not the case.”
At a time of flux in the music industry, !K7’s decision to set up shop independently in Japan, rather than license its catalog to a Japanese distributor, looks prescient. Says Weidenmueller: “We’re happy that we didn’t have to go through a major partner, because we see other European labels having problems in Japan at the moment.”

He adds that for independent labels fighting to get their music heard in a music market increasingly dominated by only four major conglomerates, a stage at a festival can be an ideal platform. “It’s a logical translation of independent music into a major market. Festivals are a major market, and the difference between a major and an indie, is that an indie introduces music through its own brand. People go into record stores and see what’s new on Ninja Tune or Warp or !K7, and with that you transport a lot of new artists because people know what to expect with !K7.

“It’s the same thing happening with a festival. People say, ‘Alright, all the artists have the frame of !K7,’ and the audience knows what to expect. Major labels don’t have a specific brand.”
As a member of Impala, a grouping of independent record labels, Weidenmueller helped to lead opposition to the recent merger between Sony and BMG, which winnowed the major record companies from five to four. He sees such consolidation as resulting in a kind of cartel-like choke grip of the music market by the majors.

“The biggest problem of the merger is going to be access, in the sense of getting your product into the market. The majors are not intending to let market share go, they want to keep market share with less artists, meaning selling more of their artists with higher marketing budgets and production volumes.
“The question is if retailers are still going to give space to independent labels. We’re afraid they’re going to say, ‘Major label music is so well marketed and branded all over the media, why should I give my space to this indie label that may only sell two a week, when I can give it to a major product that might sell a hundred a week?’”

Aug 28 & 29, noon, ¥10,000 (adv), ¥13,000 (door). Naeba Prince Ski Resort. Tel: Metamorphose 03-3499-3291. Info: metamo.info

credit: !K7