By Dan Grunebaum
If Japans future lies in its gross national
cool, then this hip-hop/break-beats/scratch duo may
point the way
KEIZOmachine! hide behind graphic images Gorillaz-style
courtesy of oWieden+Kennedy
Its always fun to see your favorite bands at the Fuji
But its even more of a gas to be blown away by an act
youve never heard of. Such was the case at FRF 04
when I stumbled across Hifana.
Perched behind a bank of turntables, samplers and effects
machines, two deft young electro-percussionists brought the
stage alive with a syncopated fusillade of hip-hop beats,
cut in with bleeps, ad voiceovers and train announcements:
the sampled sonic detritus of pop culture. Trading off like
synchronized swimmers, they also had a visual screen show
that was as schizophrenically entertaining as their music.
Curiosity piqued, I tracked down Hifana (yes, we get the weed
reference) through their website (www.hifana.com) in time
for the release of their latest effort. A combined CD/DVD
package, Channel H is out on hip ad agency Wieden+Kennedys
music label W+K Tokyo Lab. Thats where I caught up with
the pair, who call themselves simply KEIZOmachine! and Juicy,
on a steamy August afternoon in Roppongi.
The two of us were in a belly dance percussion group
at the end of the 90s, but increasingly we wanted to
produce sounds we couldnt get out of our drums,
says Juicy, a.k.a. Jun Miyata, 28, about the groups
origins in the hip Tokyo suburb of Kichijoji. We began
to experiment with samplers, and Hifana gradually evolved
a separate identity from that group.
We used to play at dance music events, and became interested
in electronic music, elaborates KEIZOmachine!, a.k.a.
Keizo Fukuda, 31. Forms like hip-hop and drumnbass
were more interesting from a rhythmic point of view and offered
the most rhythmic freedom.
As digitally conversant as the two are, its KEIZOmachine!
and Juicys skills as sampling pad percussionists that
separates them from garden variety scratch turntablists. Unlike
most live electronica acts these days, Hifana are glued neither
to turntables nor to laptops. Theyre tapping and punching
their samplers like acoustic drums (which they also keep close
by), ducking and weaving with the deft technique of experienced
As anyone whos watched a scratch DJ knows, even highly
skilled turntablism only sustains interest up to a point.
For Hifana, all the scratching and tapping is only a means
to an end, which is often comedy. We wanted to inject
a note of humor into our music, says KEIZOmachine!,
returning to the subject of Hifanas beginnings. At
first we tried with the percussion band, but it didnt
work, so we ended up channeling the humor into the project
that became Hifana.
Its not only that they lace their music with samples
that sound like digital farts or kitschy fragments of Janglish.
Hifana songs often tell a story thats fully fleshed
out by the visuals that accompany their music. The DVD for
their new album, for instance, welcomes you to a sort of otherworldly,
ungodly cable channel, peopled with zany characters both real
One of the better tracks is Bangzai Cooking, featuring
comic duo Gamarjobat. KEIZOmachine! plays a ludicrously stereotyped
but fearsome chimpira gangster customer, while Gamarjobat
are the hapless cooks and Juicy the unflappable waiter who
has to serve him. What makes the video effective is not simply
the slapstick humor of the skit, but the cleverness with which
the actors gestures are seamlessly timed to the slap-happy
beats and samples of the music.
Its impossible to do Hifana justice in words, so Ill
leave it up to readers to find out for themselves exactly
what the pair are about. Aside from Channel H, another way
to sample their wares is to direct your browser to Apples
new iTunes Music Store Japan, where the Hifana track Wamono
was selected as a Single of the Week in August.
Hifana will be doing a Channel H Zapping tour
of Japan this fall and can also be experienced at their occasional
Zamurai eventsa good place to start for
cultural seekers looking to get in on Japans vaunted
gross national cool.
Hifana play Unit on Oct 14. See concert
listings for details.
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