The “radio” of the 21st Century

sakanaction

Radio changed American society in a huge way, and not too long ago our grandparents grew up listening to news, weather, and entertainment programs around the radio. They thought of radio the same way we view TV. This quotation from the newsletter Interadio expresses the importance of the radio:

“More than any other mass communication medium, radio is accessible, affordable, and easily appropriated by groups of people whose demands have traditionally been ignored by the mainstream media. Many marginalized groups are turning to community radio as a forum for expression…” [1]

kirsten-dunst-cosplay-girl-turning-japanese

For our generation, video fills this same role. Think of the ways we use video in our everyday life: Youtube, Facebook, movies, the list goes on. Even Google has a specific video search option. But how has video changed music, more specifically, how have music videos changed the music industry in both Japan and the United States?

Video, in conjunction with the internet, has introduced new possibilities for both Japanese and American artists. We have seen one example of crossover between two different forms in the Murakami animated Kanye “Good Morning” music video. Another celebrity crossover would be Kirsten Dunst’s appearance as a cosplay character in yet another Murakami video, Akihabara Majokko Princess. The video was filmed in Japan, but features a 1980s hit by the Vapors, “Turning Japanese”.

YouTube Preview Image

“Artists, particularly in the west but also in developing countries, have gravitated to video in part because of its low cost and also because the medium encourages experimentation with images.”[2]

How have Japanese artists experimented with images in video? Sakanaction, a unique Japanese band, has created some stellar music videos. Their first video to capture the attention of critics was Native Dancer, and the music video does a great job with lighting throughout the four minutes. One of the coolest parts appears during the chorus of the song, and features one of the band members dancing wearing a pair of Nikes. This attire is another example of the impact of America on Japan- this Japanese group’s music video is inadvertently advertising for an American brand.

It is difficult to categorize Sakanaction as a specific genre because they have taken bits and pieces of so many kinds of music. The group did not set out to be mainstream, but wanted to bridge the gap between the major scene and the underground. The band name “fish” + action, was something band member Ichiro Yamaguchi created to describe his vision: “I’m influenced by freshwater fish. They live in cold water, sometimes underneath the rocks, and they continue swimming against a strong current. I would like to live like them; always swimming against the flow.”[3] The group strives to consistently reinvent their sound, pushing their limits and staying true to a unique sound. In the same way, their videos are unique and unlike many mainstream American artists’ work.

Native dancer: YouTube Preview Image

This is important because music videos are designed to sell not only a song or CD, but the artist. A music video must be “densely textured so it can hold up over repeated viewings. It has to be edgy enough to be noticed, but palatable enough to satisfy the often divergent demands of the performer, the record company, and the public.”[4]

It is evident that although Sakanaction may not be topping the charts yet in Japan, they are gaining popularity. They have now released 4 albums since their formation only a few years ago in 2005. Each album has had specific unique characteristics. The newest compilation, “kikUUiki”, is “closer to Yamaguchi’s vision of blending roots and robotics. The tracks are built from delicately crafted synths and heavily treated electric guitars.” [5] Sakanaction also follows a rule that none of their songs are simple enough to be sung with just one acoustic guitar. The group is not only growing a domestic following, but the internet has allowed Sakanaction to spread onto the PC’s and iPods of many who may not even understand their lyrics. One fan even concocted a mash-up of Outcast and Sakanaction.

For their 5th album, the group may venture yet again into new waters and attempt an English album, an ambitious goal. Some Japanese bands have not been able to make this crossover because of changes in their music but Sakanaction presents such a devotion to their art, and focus less on popularity. If this group can find success not only in Japan but in the United States and other western countries, they will certainly be in a league of their own.

What impact has video had on the music industry?

Do you think that video has made it possible for some groups to become popular who may not have made is as far with only their music?

How would an English record change Sakanaction?

Sources:

Reiss, Steve, and Neil Feineman. Thirty Frames per Second: the Visionary Art of the Music Video. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.

Renov, Michael, and Erika Suderburg, eds. Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota, 1996.

http://www.shift.jp.org/en/archives/2008/01/sakanaction.html

http://community.livejournal.com/aramatheydidnt/707524.html


[1] Renov, Michael, and Erika Suderburg, eds. Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota, 1996. Page 287

 

[2] Renov, Michael, and Erika Suderburg, eds. Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota, 1996. Page 286

[3] http://community.livejournal.com/aramatheydidnt/707524.html

[4] Reiss, Steve, and Neil Feineman. Thirty Frames per Second: the Visionary Art of the Music Video. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000. Page 11

[5] http://community.livejournal.com/aramatheydidnt/707524.html


Entry contributed by Ally McKechnie

 

Comments

  1. cdbarnewolt says:

    I think it is obvious that the medium of video has drastically changed the music industry. In some ways, the music video format can be an advantage for bands who might not have gotten by only on their sound. Video can be a tool to showcase visual forms of artistic creativity that are simply unavailable through sound alone. At the same time, however, video can provide an extra challenge to musicians who feel the added pressure to distinguish themselves visually through video. No longer is it enough to have a great sound – now bands have to have original and exciting music videos as well if they want to acquire the same levels of success. Watching the Sakanaction video, I was struck by just how difficult it must be to come up with such original and visually stimulating material in addition to the music. Conversely, I imagine that Kirsten Dunst, who to my knowledge has not really made a name for herself through musical success, got a great boost from covering an already famous song, and doing so in a format where she was able to take maximum advantage of Japan’s gross national cool – drawing on the strength of all of the”Japanese” imagery and themes that have already acquired great recognition and popularity worldwide.

  2. Maximilian Brumby says:

    The introduction to your post talks about the radio as being entertaining in a social way. Specifically with “marginalized” groups finding a medium that they can interact and create with. Is there the same social connection with music videos? Or is the experience more solitary?