Asian News 8/16

Summer Sonic, Masafumi, Beijing Olympics, Japan’s Greatest, Hostess, …


Summer Sonic Sells Out

Summer Sonic, the rock festival that took place simultaneously in Osaka and Tokyo August 11-12, sold out in both cities: 40,000 people per day in Osaka and 60,000 per day in Tokyo, or, more exactly, Chiba, a suburb of the capital.

It was the hottest weekend of the year so far, with clear skies and temperatures up into the 90s, so it was just as well that four of Tokyo’s six stages were indoors, with the air conditioning going full blast.

It was an almost perfect festival logistics-wise, with few bottlenecks and only Cyndi Lauper’s set at the Sonic Stage closed because of overcrowding. The headliners were the Black Eyed Peas and Arctic Monkeys, who made their second SS appearance in as many years.


Opera Singer Breaks 1M

Tenor Masafumi Akikawa became the first opera singer in Japanese music history to sell more than 1 million copies of a CD.

Akikawa’s version of "Sen no kaze ni natte" (Becoming a Thousand Winds) was originally released in May 2006. The song is based on a poem by Japanese writer Man Arai that is a translation of "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep," whose writer is unknown and which gained certain popularity in America following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Arai also composed the melody for the song.

Sales of the single didn’t take off until Akikawa performed it on public broadcaster NHK’s New Year’s song contest December 31.

Shortly thereafter, it reached the top of Oricon’s single charts and stayed for several weeks. It also inspired a television drama that boosted sales of the CD even more.


An Olympic Countdown

About 1 million Beijing residents gathered in city parks August 8 to participate in the first of some 60 events taking place all over China to mark the start of the one-year countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games.

Most of the participants engaged in morning exercises on a mass scale.

Later in the day the first heats of the world junior rowing championships took place at the Shunyi venue, and in the evening there was the main event: about 10,000 people gathered at Tiananmen Square for a rally that included popular music performances and pageantry.

Olympic chief Jacques Rogge watched a special clock countdown to exactly 366 days (next year is a leap year) before the start of the games proper, which will be at 8:08 p.m on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008. The combination of eights makes it an auspicious event in China.


Japan’s Greatest

The September Japanese edition of Rolling Stone includes a feature called "The 100 Greatest Albums of Japanese Rock," selected by the editors and several outside music writers.

The introduction to the piece states that, unlike in the U.S., pop music in Japan is rarely "ranked" according to critical response, the main reason being that "music magazines feel obliged to admire new releases in order to please record companies, who are their main advertisers."

Pointing out that this was also the case in the United States before Rolling Stone was founded, the editors decided to make the first-ever list of best Japanese records.

At No. 1 was Kazemachi Roman, the 1971 album by Happy End, a group that pioneered the practice of singing Japanese lyrics over West Coast-style folk rock.

The album is credited with ushering in the New Music boom that produced most of the songwriters and record producers who would dominate J-pop for the next 20 years.

The leader of Happy End was Haroumi Hosono, who later founded the Yellow Magic Orchestra, whose Solid State Survivor (’79) placed fourth on the list.

The godfather of Okinawan rock, Shokichi Kina, came in sixth with his 1977 eponymous debut. Cornelius’s "Fantasma" (’97) came in at No. 10.

The Boredoms’ Chocolate Synthesizer ’94 held the No. 25 slot. Shonen Knife’s English-language pop-punk album Let’s Knife (’92) took No. 37.

Hikaru Utada, still responsible for the biggest-selling album in Japanese music history, came in at No. 99 with First Love, which goes to show that the editors weren’t using sales as a barometer.

Only one artist had more than one album on the list – ’70s folk-rock band RC Succession.


Indie Label Makes Digital Deal

Hostess, an independent Japanese record label with licensing agreements with a number of important overseas indies, including Domino, FatCat, and K7, recently announced a strategic partnership with BMG Japan to distribute its catalog digitally through Label Mobile.

Label Mobile was "launched in 2001 as a company-collective mobile phone retail outlet for selling downloads of its member company’s music," a company statement said. The label will initially offer about 1,000 songs.

Hostess, which was founded by Andrew Lazonby, a native of Great Britain, hit the jackpot several years ago when it secured the Japanese distribution rights for the Arctic Monkeys’ debut CD, which became one of the biggest-selling foreign albums of all time.

The first album it plans to distribute in the partnership is Gossip’s Standing in the Way of Control, which, although released in the U.S. in late 2005, is only now seeing a release in Japan through the British label that Hostess deals with.