Music Picks

Contraband Japanese Music

You can't get Hifana on iTunes. Get it here.

By Thom Wong 4 Oct 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Thomas Wong regularly writes about music for The Tyee.

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Hifana: geeked-out blips, bops and brrrings.

There are days when the possibility of being able to communicate through one medium -- writing -- about material from another medium -- music -- seems distant and grim. Shouldn't I be singing this column, ideally in the same genre as the music I'm recommending? Don't people just buy whatever Pitchfork tells them to anyway? Shouldn't we all just read Adrian Mack's column and be done with it? (The answers: oh god no, maybe, definitely yes and Elaine Corden's, too.)

When the artists in question speak Japanese and rarely have lyrics, it's probably best to just ignore those lingering malingerers and write the damn column.

But due to inane international copyright laws, you can't buy any music from the Japanese edition of iTunes. Paul Collins, author and McSweeney's editor, was incensed enough about it to write a column for Slate, listing several great acts spanning multiple styles. While all of the recommendations in that column are good, my nod goes to Hifana, the DJ team pressing wax on Weiden + Kennedy's Tokyo Lab label.

Hifana makes music so gleefully geeked out you can't help but get caught up in their love for blips, bops and brrrings. As my friend, who first discovered Hifana in the New York location of Uniqlo, a kind of Japanese Gap only better because it's...you know...Japanese, said when he came back, "You know I hate music, but this I like." "Fresh Push Breakin'" showcases their love of midi trigger boards, scratch pads and what seems to be an electric bongo. (Also, the Transformer voice keeps saying the band's name. Like I said -- geeked out.)

Still not convinced? Watch their entry to the China DMC Finals, where they switch places continuously throughout their set, and stop to clap their hands while turning in a circle.

Or how about when they drop the "Super Mario Theme" on an unsuspecting French crowd in Nimes?

Or best of all -- be Hifana! They've made four variations of their trigger board available online. Choose a board, cue up the record and start banging away at those keys -- the effect is surprisingly addictive. And if you live in Vancouver with its substantial Japanese population, drop by the store on Hornby and you can actually pick up copies of their albums.

Short Pick

The Paper Cranes' "Halycon Days": I wrote about the Cranes before, and now they've released a full length on Unfamiliar Records (though none of the tracks are available online). Ironically, since I moved to Victoria, which the Cranes call home, I've missed every one of their concerts. For people who like their pop British with eyeliner. I give it five Braeburn apples.

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