by Don Crispy
In a first, respected German dance label !K7 will have
its own stage at this years new-and-improved Metamorphose
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 Japans biggest outdoor events.
Perhaps because they offer an alternative to trance, Tokyo-based
DJ Mayuris 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
years 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
years 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 years 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.
!K7s 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 labels 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 years Metamorphose hit on a balance that clickedpitching
the likes of Four Tet with Jamie Lidell, the 3 Chairs, Eyes
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 Rocks Green Stage) and the Lunar Stage (Fuji Rocks
Red Marquee), which are slated to host live and DJ acts respectively.
While Herbert and some of the other leading !K7 artists like
Massive Attacks 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, !K7s decision
to set up shop independently in Japan, rather than license its
catalog to a Japanese distributor, looks prescient. Says Weidenmueller:
Were happy that we didnt 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.
Its 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
whats 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.
Its 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 dont
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
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. Were afraid theyre 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.