Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strange Artifact: Steampunk Music - Japanese Style

Friday Night Show at The Steampunk World's Fair 2012
 I was recently honored to meet the new Steampunk Band from Japan at the Steampunk World’s Fair 2012 and to spend a bit of time getting to know them. MaRy was very attracted to my performance art troupe’s mascot Kraky, (an anatomically correct Oceanographic Society Octopus - with an eye patch no less), so he was properly introduced and then handed over to her to spend time with while we conducted the interview.   She was, of course cautioned, that this hyper intelligent, super mutated miniature air kraken had developed an inconvenient taste for canines when a Pit Bull damaged his eye recently, thus the eye patch, so to mind he didn’t reach for any passers by.   [Editor’s note:  MaRy   handled this bit of American Steampunk madness like a real trooper and simply played along perfectly with our mascot’s fictional back story]  You can find "Kraky" aka Cuthulu Von Kracken III on Facebook of course!.

Cuthulu Von Kracken III

 I started out by asking about the overall vision for their sound and how they craft the music they make.  They explained that they wanted to make music that was really different and in ways that freed them from the constraints of any one genre.  Steampunk music to them is more than a single form and seems to be a bit like DIY Steampunk design in attire, in that they draw from many sources, mostly organically created and very much hand crafted, but put them together into something new, unusual, adventurous, and emotionally powerful!

MaRy writes all the lyrics as well as singing all the vocals for Strange Artifact.  She writes songs about looking for inner strength, courage, and becoming something more than what we are.   MaRy then uses these lyrics to sing about the highs and lows of life.  She sings about all the most powerful emotions such as the sadness of loss, the heat of anger, great joy, and overcoming fear.  She even sings about the tenderness of romance. In spite of these softer sentiments in some songs, most of their music carries a very high energy at all times.

They also pointed out that the singing style is more staccato than some English styles as fully enunciating Japanese clearly in a song requires strong accentuation of consonants more than would be necessary in English.  This makes the style sound very different as well.

While these deep and powerful emotions are very evident in her singing, it is always difficult for American audiences at first to connect fully to languages unfamiliar to them.  While translations are not yet available, their band manager has mostly completed translations of 7 of their songs and is working on the hardest ones now.  Many of the lyrics are somewhat abstract and deeply emotional, so translating this art into such a very different language, while keeping the original flavor, feeling, and concept is difficult.  In order to do this properly, he is working closely with MaRy to ensure his translations are as true to the original intent of her art as possible.

130Jet composes and plays all the instrumentals on both Guitar and Bass.  He also composes, programs, and plays all keyboard and synthesized drums for their background music.   130Jet then records and masters all their music in their home studio.

130Jet learned much of his skill at music production in a commercial studio producing music and sound for commercial advertising in Japan.  He is always researching new ways to produce different approaches and sounds to support the right mood for the lyrics of  MaRy ’s different moods in her songs.  I would highly recommend checking out their music and finding out for yourself what the new sound of Japanese Steampunk Music is all about.

130Jet also makes most of the Steampunk leather work and Steampunk goods for sale that they vend at their shows.  He enjoys both designing and crafting Steampunk items for their own use and the growing Steampunk Community in Japan.

In the photo above, MaRy is wearing special designer goggles crafted by the Japanese Steampunk designer
Haruo Suekichi which are very limited edition and very hard to obtain.  She makes her own hair falls for all of her shows.   130Jet’s mom hand crafted her beautiful and high quality Kimono.  MaRy’s corset was purchased, but the gloves were made by her sister.  Both of them are wearing very detailed and fascinating tiny bottles (made by a friend) as a necklace pendant with steam punk items inside.

130Jet is wearing a heavily decorated leather harness he made.  Effectively all of the leatherwork they are using, except for one pouch made by a friend, was  130Jet’s handiwork.  His monk’s cloak is actually a real item obtained at an auction.  The mask he often wears was made by Tom Bagwell.  In other words, like most Steampunk performers, their apparel, just like their music, comes from many sources, but is largely DIY or made by those close to them.

It is worthy of note that  130Jet and MaRy are apparently quite active in the burgeoning Steampunk community that is forming in Japan and their photos figure prominently in any pictures I see of public steam punk events in Japan.  These events are still few and the community is small, but it is growing rapidly.  The pictures of such events also demonstrate a very healthy and very international alliance between ex-patriot European, Australian, and American Steampunks with Japanese Steampunks in this growing new subculture in their country.

As part of this effort, Psyche Chimere, of Psyche Corporation, who attended their concerts and became and admirer of their work was introduced to MaRy and  130Jet.  They likewise enjoyed her work, and were escorted to front row seats reserved for them at her next performance.  While this is is still very much up the air, they like one another's work enough that there are at least discussions ongoing about a possible collaboration on one or more songs at some point in the future.   This type of networking and mutual assistance between Steampunk performers is part of what the Steampunk World's Fair, and the Covenant of the Kraken exist to accommodate and support.

MaRy had asked about where to obtain a realistic plush toy octopus like Kraky at the beginning of the interview, so near the end of the interview, I phoned home to my soulmate and second in command of our own performance troupe, SS Kali’s Hourglass, to inquire about the web address for the Oceanographic Institute that sells this Octopus plush toy.  In the end, we decided to offer them the original "Kraky" instead.  As an effort to reach out a hand of friendship and assistance to our Steampunk cousins in Japan, Kraky, the internationally recognized mascot of SS. Kali’s Hourglass, and of our broader Steampunk performance art network, The Covenenant of the Kraken, was sent back with MaRy and  130Jet as a permanent Goodwill Ambassador!

Plans are underway, for Kraky to begin reporting back to America on the various exploits of Strange Artifact and on the growing steam punk Community  there in Japan as well.  Stay tuned for the further adventures of MaRy,  130Jet, and Kraky as they work together to forge new and ever stronger international alliances between the Steampunk sub-culture worldwide!

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