Things I do – Train Cab View

This will be a short post, as there’s little to say about my latest hobby. It’s very straightforward: watching train journeys on YouTube.

The trend is not new – the Japanese, of course, have been doing it for years. The Norwegians took it to mainstream, dedicating an entire TV channel to the fantastic, 7-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo, which later became the first Slow TV channel in the world:

Of course, you can hardly be a fan of Japan without turning just a little bit into a train geek – they’ve made this form of transport into a form of art, and I had always followed a few train otaku channels like AYOKOI. But on my last trip to Japan, I happened to be sitting next to one of the people making these videos, and became fascinated with the idea of simply watching the recording of a train journey on your TV. The immediate benefits are obvious: it’s calm, meditative, repetitive but not boring, and you don’t have to suffer the annoying commentary common to the documentaries like “The Great Railway Journeys“.

(this is the video from the trip we were on – I’m sitting two seats behind the camera, as it’s one of those panoramic trains with big front windows and no crew in front).

There’s also, of course, the other great enjoyment factor – you get to relive the journeys you’ve made, or imagine yourself making the journeys you wish you’d make. I can’t imagine a better way of “virtual travelling” than seeing the world through the train windows. My current favourite, for example, is this seemingly mundane journey on Haruka Express from Kansai Airport – one that tens of thousands of tourists make every single day on their way to Osaka and Kyoto. The Japanese train videos have the additional meditative element of “Pointing and calling” – the driver speaking aloud everything he’s doing in the cab.

 

Each type of train offers different sensations. Shinkansen drives are more quiet, monotonous, good for falling asleep. Subway trains, on the other hand, are fast-paced, with short, quick bursts of speed between stations:

 

There are many channels dedicated to gathering train view videos from all over YouTube – e.g. TRAINVIDEO – or you can just search for “train cab view”. I’m not sure where those videos originate, by the time I find them they’re already aggregated by somebody – I assume internet forums for train fans, or dedicated websites like TrainCentral. Most of them are from Japan, naturally, but there’s quite a lot now coming from Scandinavia, Alps and Russia, which are all equally spectacular. If you’re really into it, you can buy professionally recorded HD videos on Blu-Ray, e.g. here, but that might be a bit too obsessive…

So there you have it. Some people swear by ASMR or watching a burning campfire, but for me, train cab view videos are just the best.

5 J-Pop songs I can’t stop humming this week (and neither will you)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – these past few years have been the best to be fan of Japanese music. Not only is the access something we couldn’t have dreamt of in the past: the music can be obtained through a myriad of ways – YouTube, iTunes, Amazon MP3, Spotify – you can even get a Niconico account these days without living in Japan! – but the quality of the offerings is as high as it was in the best of times. The indie artists are producing a hit after hit, no matter what genre or style you’re after, and they are all great.

In a music culture that’s so focused on neat melody as J-Pop/J-Rock, it’s a given that all the good songs will be perfectly hummable, but sometimes a song comes along that eats its way into your brain and stays there for days, taking over all your vital functions. Recently, I keep stumbling upon dozens of such songs – and here are five that seem to have the strongest hold on my synapses.

5. Gesu no Kiwami Otome – Momoe

“Gesu…” is a new project of Enon Kawatami, lead singer of Indigo La End. His other band is a more mainstream melodic rock production, also with plenty of great songs (truly, the only reason they’re not on this list too is to avoid repetition) – but “Gesu…” is something else. Part jazz, part hip-hop, part crazy bass riffs, and lots of toe-tapping, head-banging funk. “Momoe” is my favourite song of theirs so far, but also one that, sadly, doesn’t have an official video, so here’s some Japanese guy shredding the bass in his basement like a Boss.

4. tofubeats feat. ONOMATOPEDAIJIN – Suisei

Kobe-born Tofubeats (I’ve mentioned him before) is a one-man Japan’s answer to Daft Punk. Like the robot-headed Frenchmen, he uses his autotuned voice as one of the instruments, invites an eclectic mix of talents from all over the music world to assist him, and is generally the king of funk. Not all his songs are hummable – not all are even listenable for long, to be honest – but when he gets things right, he gets things right. “Suisei” is, as far as I can tell, a harrowing tale of trying to be cool young adult in Tokyo… “Cutie” and “Zipper” are fashion magazines read by trendy Shinjuku girls. This is all irrelevant, as the video is shot in Kobe 🙂

If you’re not a fan of autotune, and prefer soft female voice instead, there’s also a version sung by Seira Kariya (the infectiously cheerful girl in the video below).

3. Kana-Boon – Naimononedari

Kana-Boon is, unfortunately, not available on Spotify, and is in general not as popular and well-known as other bands on the list – and, frankly, most of their songs are pretty generic, ska-influenced power-pop, Asian KFG-style; they may be considered a one-hit wonder, but that one hit – and the accompanying brilliant video – is more than enough for the Kana-boon to appear on this list beside their more popular competition.

2. tricot – Last Step

Having opened for the reunited Pixies this year in England, and to rave reviews, tricot are definitely the hottest J-Rock band in years. They are best known for the overwhelming barrage of hard, melodic grunge riffs, math-rock experimentation, jazz-like precision and powerful voice of the lead singer – seriously, there is not a bad song on either of their two records – but in this solo number from their latest album, Ikkyu shows she can give just as haunting performance with nothing but an acoustic guitar and the raging sea behind her.

1. Predawn – Suddenly

If Bob Dylan and Bjork had a baby… well, their sex tape would probably be worth millions. But also, their child would be Miwako Shimizu, better known as Predawn. With a soft, but unwavering, just-accented voice, Predawn would be just another archetypal, folkish, mori “lonely girl with a guitar”, if not for the nigh super-human talent for writing melodies that will stay with you for weeks.

Seriously.

It’s like a tick on your brain.

Space Shower TV Music Video Awards – winners

SSTV MVA winners have been announced! (over  a month ago, I know, I’ve been busy 😉

The full list can be found here: http://mva.jp/winners/

The overall winner, best video: Maximum the Hormone, 予襲 revenge

Best artist: Yuzu

Best director: Tamukai Jun (of course!)

Special mention: AKB48 “Fortune Cookie” with 4000 extras

Special achievement prize: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

 

1994, M6 on the cable, all’s right with the world.

A friend’s post on Google+ today worked on me like a Proust’s madeleine, throwing me out on a YouTube journey in search of the French pop music of 1994.

I don’t really remember what was so special about 1994 in my life. I was in the middle of high school, so not my best period. The details are a little hazy. I did listen to a lot of new music back then, that’s for sure.

It was definitely an important year in music. Nirvana Unplugged and Kurt Cobain’s death, of course. The Britpop Wars reach a climax with “Definitely Maybe” and “Parklife”. Bernard Butler leaves Suede. Bristol Sound begins with “Dummy” and “Protection”. “Ill Communication”, “Return of the Space Cowboy”, “Mellow Gold”. “7 Seconds” starts out fun and manages to turn everyone crazy by the end of the year. “Zombie”. “Lion King”.

To me, it was the year I discovered European music outside MTV’s English-dominated scene. I must’ve been spending a lot of time at home, in Warsaw, watching cable TV. It was the heyday of cable: we had all the European channels, MTV Europe, Viva, TV5, RAI, some Spanish and Portuguese stuff I don’t remember that well… the best of those was M6 – and not just because it had certain late night shows of particular interest to 16-year old boy 😉 but because it showcased the best of French music at the time – and what music that was!

I don’t know enough proper musical terms to tell why French pop music was so different from anything else I knew at the time – whether it was a difference in phrasing, use of different instruments, or simply another tradition – but to my ears it was a shock comparable only to my later discovery of J-Pop. It was also the year after my return from school trip to Paris – my first journey “to the West”, so maybe I was just ready to be enamoured with anything French, whatever it was. That one year, 1994, spawned songs which will remain with me for the rest of my days.

And here are some of them:

Alain Bashung – Ma Petite Enterprise


(“Les lobbies en Libye” is a brilliant bit of lyrics to this day)

Enzo Enzo – Juste quelqu’un de bien


(this was for a long time my favourite song of the first half of the 90s. Here’s a brilliant version with Suzanne Vega)

Kent – Allons z’a la campagne


(the first French song I got most of the lyrics of)

Les Rita Mitsouko – Les Amants


(personal note: the girl in striped shirt looked like my French language teacher at the time 🙂

Mylene Farmer – Que mon cœur lâche


(directed by Luc Besson, in case you’ve wondered. I had no idea what this song was about.)

Mano Solo – Allo Paris


(what a video!)

EDIT: Oh, just remembered another one! Francois Cabrel – La cabane du pecheur

And one more from Cabrel – the most beautiful one:

Senna

I was fresh out of kindergarten when Senna had started racing in F1. I was in the middle of high school when he died. I can’t remember if I watched him die. I do remember nothing of even remotely similar significance happening in that year.

All of my, what is called, ‘formative years’, Ayrton Senna had been a presence. The 1988-1992 GP seasons were, for my generation, the peak time in the history of the sport. In the bleak years of late communism and early transformation, there was simply no better television. The rivalry between Prost and Senna. The year-long reality show, always with a gripping finale in Japan, was better than any reality show any tv exec would ever dream of in the future. Our mothers had their first soap operas, we had Formula 1, first on the television screens, then shoddily re-enacted on our Amigas and Ataris and first PCs.
I was always driving Williams. My brother preferred McLaren.

The drivers back then were like superheroes, even their personalities were straight out of comic books. An evil, arrogant Frenchman. A youthful, Luke Skywalker-like protagonist from a poor but proud country. A mustachioed English gentleman, always proper and always just, and his trusty Italian sidekick who tried hard but never amounted to much. And, by the end of the period, the slowly growing shadow of the German-built cyborg that would once conquer them all, the Schuminator.

Watching them all fight was like watching the Gods bicker.

The movie “Senna” is now available on Youtube Films in UK.