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501: Neptunes
500: Halloween hi-jinks


by Don Crispy

SonarSound Tokyo 2004

Barcelona's bellwether electronica fest brings its franchise to Tokyo.


Part music festival, part industry convention, Barcelona's Sonar has in recent years established itself as the serious alternative to the hedonism of the Ibiza summer season or Miami's Winter Music Conference.

Held in June this year in Barcelona, the event emphasizes the more thoughtful side of electronica. Not that there weren't plenty of hands in the air at its massive all-night dos in the Olympic Stadium. But in its artist lineup, noticeably lacking in superstar prog-house DJs, its emphasis on multimedia, and its daytime networking sessions, Sonar is about more than E 'n' glee.

SonarSound Tokyo was first held in Tokyo at Roppongi Hills in 2002. This year, following a September Sonar in Sao Paulo, the festival returns to Japan with what seems like a broader lineup and better organization, arriving in concert with the annual Tokyo Designers Block.

Also timed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Ebisu Garden Hall this weekend, the event's big draw will undoubtedly be a covert reunion of the pivotal '80s elepop trio Yellow Magic Orchestra. While billed as Sketch Show + Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sketch Show in fact consists of Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takehashi, Sakamoto's partners in YMO. The pair's 2003 Loophole album had already seen some collaboration between the three, so the upcoming live reunion comes as a welcome fulfillment of that promise.

SonarSound's lineup also includes a number of other familiar faces. Detroit techno innovator Jeff Mills, currently in Tokyo for a month-long residency at Womb, is on the bill with an intriguing program. Recently plumbing the depths of the possible in audio-visual collaboration, Mills will be presenting live original music to Buster Keaton's 1923 silent film classic The Three Ages. Also for the techno faithful, early innovators Juan Atkins and Carl Craig will be facing off in a dual DJ set.

A slew of other Japanese electronica heavyweights are on the bill, ranging from veterans to emerging acts. Best-known as the impish sampling and sequencing talent behind '90s dance-pop act Deee-Lite, Japanese-born Korean DJ/producer Towa Tei has carved out a niche for himself since returning to Japan with a series of discs that defy categorization by juxtaposing anything from drum'n'bass, ambient and click house against kitschy pop. Tei has also been known to resurface occasionally at Tokyo clubs for old-school DJ workouts that recall his days in New York.

Hifana, meanwhile, are an amped-up young duo of experimental hip-hop producers who put on one of the strongest sets at last summer's Fuji Rock Festival, wowing the crowd with their athleticism and ability to trade off on a battery of samplers and effects without losing the beat.

With over thirty acts on the bill over two days guaranteeing plenty of music, SonarSound also presents other diversions. For gear heads who wish to get a peek at the latest offerings from Japanese brands like Roland and Technics, which manufacture much of the equipment with which electronic music is made, SonarSound will feature a technology showcase. And for the merely curious who don't want to pay the hefty ticket price to get inside, SonarSound Extra presents multimedia art installations and live performances at Garden Place's outdoor plaza...

Meanwhile, veteran Tokyo-based American house DJ Patrick and his partner in crime, Tozawa, will be celebrating the release of their recent debut CD Disko Killaz with a blowout at Roppongi glitz palace Velfarre this Monday. Patrick and Tozawa will be spinning together strands of old and new school house from behind the decks, while a live set is in the cards from percussionist Kakuei.

SonarSound @Ebisu Garden Hall, Oct 9-10. Disko Killaz CD Release Party@Velfarre, Oct 11. See listings for details.

Photo by Hirama Itaru