Booze, Babes, and Bawling

archive4

Rock’n’roll not only brought the youth generations of the ’50s and ’60s together, but the original set of songs continued to be the rallying cry for teenage estrangement for decades to come. But now that “modern rock” is rarely more than a revival cast production of sounds exactly twenty years prior or slight tweaks on the ’90s alternarock format, it would be hard to claim the crunch of an amped guitar and the gunfire of a snare roll carry the same weight of cultural import. Hip hop has kind of knocked the wind out of rock by being the one pop format of the moment constantly blazing towards innovation. (“You,” as one Net-friendly rapper proclaimed, “are going to be blazed.” I am paraphrasing.)

Certainly here in Japan, rock is dead as a cultural movement — at least in the way that inspired most of the creators currently in their 30s and 40s. When you talk to a Takahashi Jun (Undercover) or Kitamura Nobu (Hysteric Glamour), you get the sense that they found fashion through an intense passion for Western rock music. Hip hop has had a strange history in Japan: Appreciation started in both working class circles and as an offshoot of the trendy Tokyo New Wave scene. Sometime around 2000 though, things went straight bling. Instead of “respectfully” working around the margins of black culture, kids just plunged right into straight imitation. Investors became bullish about skullcap futures. High school kids started crucifying themselves in homage to Puff Daddy’s profound metaphor for public criticism in the Nas “Hate Me Now” video.

Six years later, Japanese hip hop still has a certain vitality — at least compared to the “I like music” / “Oh, what kind of music do you like” / “Oh, all types” of the rock scene. Select shop United Arrows was smart enough to catch on that there would be splintering within the genre — with some local gang-bangers growing out of their over-sized sweatsuits and wanting to “tighten up” their image.

So just this month they opened the select shop Liquor, Woman, & Tears a couple of doors down from Undercover in Aoyama. Interesting store name: Kind of linking the rugged masculinity (misogyny?) of hip hop with the classic aesthetic ideals of enka. My gut feeling is that the action order should be “woman —> liquor —> tears” but I didn’t see the market research that went into the naming. (By the way, while walking to LW&T today, I glanced into the other nouveau-bling store — BAPE — and there were literally more staff members than shoppers.)

The store’s windows are covered in black ruffled blinds, and the atmosphere kind of goes for a subdued, graceful bling — a little bit like Rivington Club. Yes, LW&T have ¥3,750,000 watches from Jacob the Jeweler (“Wasn’t he just arrested?” I ask, leaving tact at the door), but they are displayed right next to jars of pasta sauce made by an Italian mob family. Clothes generally play it on the conservative side — sweaters, corduroy jackets, Supreme puffy vests, ascots. There’s your odd leather motorcycle jacket and velveteen Fila track suit, but as the clerk explained, the main concept is “just-fit hip hop” — ushering in an Usher upscale look for the “kids” in da “clubs.” Fat gold chains are supposed to go with rainbow turtle neck sweaters. They also have a glass case of expensive jewelry that will help sparkle up your look if things get too L.L. Bean Vermont winter. All in all, kind of mid-’70s low-key pimp meets Howard U. frat preps. A Different World for Tokyo. The budget-limited can just pick up a Malcolm X T-shirt and a fake mink stole.

I asked the guy in the store, “Is this a temporary shop?” Oh, no. His 50-year old superior shouted in response, “This will be around for 50 years!” Rock had its half-century, and now hopefully crying about chicks while crunk will get its own. I cannot claim to be part of the hip hop audience, but I sure hope they understand their historical mission.

Update: Liquor, Woman, & Tears closed shop on February 14, 2010.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
September 28, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

17 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    “Super Colombine Massacre RPG!” is our generation’s rock & roll.

  2. Carl Says:

    YouTube is our generation’s Woodstock.

  3. Carl Says:

    Photoshop is our generation’s LSD.

  4. Momus Says:

    Certainly here in Japan, rock is dead as a cultural movement – at least in the way that inspired most of the creators currently in their 30s and 40s. When you talk to a Jun Takahashi or Nobu Kitamura (from Hysteric Glamour), you get the sense that they found fashion through an intense passion for Western rock.

    The fact that you have to dig, for a sense of rock’s importance, amongst people who’ve made fashion their career says everything we need to know about rock’s irrelevance, doesn’t it? Why didn’t Takahashi and Kitamura find rock through their intense passion for Western rock? Lack of musical ability, or a sense that rock was inspiring the way a visit to The British Museum is inspiring? Let’s take our admiration for a dead form into our practise of a living one.

    I think you’ll also find a lot of people who think rock’s great in the art world. None of them quite thinks rock’s great enough to make them form rock bands, though.

  5. check Says:

    Lived in Aoyama for a year, in the same building as a young, Japanese, twenty-something who was hip-hop incarnated.

    During my first night, after unpacking, I went onto the rooftop to write and I stumbled upon him dancing by himself; tinny boombox blasting. We made eye-contact, and he came to a dead halt.

    A little small talk later, I sat down, turned my back to him, and he kept on dancing.

    This continued for three months, until he reached a point of financial collapse, and his parents came and got him.

    He told me his dream was to be a professional, hip-hop dancer.

    Some thoughts on Aoyama and Japanese hip hop.

  6. marxy Says:

    Well all the big hip hop dance firms have really rolled back their employment numbers. And of course, they go Todai first and can usually fill up just pulling from them. Needless to say: outsourcing.

  7. nate Says:

    if you’re looking at the american singles charts, I can follow your evalutation of hiphop as the new everything, but I don’t think the charts bear this out.
    When the manifesto is flashy pushiness, or pushy flashiness, of course these kids are gonna fill up the fashion districts, but until they start really filling the record shops to the extent that the ballad lovers do, it’s just one genre amongst many. Or rather it’s just one device that can be incorporated into the production of pop music.
    Given that, it’s funny that momus would critique the impact of rock and roll’s link to fashion when this article, and the idea behind it suggest that hiphop has found its strongest expression in skull caps specially designed for the unique japanese cranium.

  8. nate Says:

    also, minus the name jacob the jeweler, that shop looks more like a style I’ve seen described on TV 2 or 3 times lately as a bad-boy look with less reference to hiphop and more to organized crime.

  9. marxy Says:

    I think they are consciously going for “hip hop” whether it could be confused for something else or not.

    Actually, I should reiterate that the clothes are pretty tame.

  10. marxy Says:

    I can follow your evalutation of hiphop as the new everything, but I don’t think the charts bear this out.

    I am talking more about a musical genre that pushes people into full lifestyle. In this sense, a certain kind of rock does go with the current vogue of hipsterism, but more generally, hip hop has a well-fleshed out cultural block that extends past the music in a way that other genres don’t.

  11. marxy Says:

    None of them quite thinks rock’s great enough to make them form rock bands, though.

    Well it’s cool to reference Styx albums, but less cool to actually sound like a Styx album.

  12. jed Says:

    “Well it’s cool to reference Styx albums, but less cool to actually sound like a Styx album”.- Speaking of “rock”, any thoughts on the Nhhmbase album?

  13. smack Says:

    haven’t been to the store yet but the way you describe the style it sounds like what kanye gets himself up in. hip hop is going conservative, yo. shit, seanjohn makes suits and ties sold at macy’s these days.

  14. marxy Says:

    Speaking of “rock”, any thoughts on the Nhhmbase album?

    I had a five-song pre-mastered mix of it and found it kind of boring compared to their original demo. (How super-indie nerd am I that I usually listen to a privately-mixed version of their demo that was never released – even to them!) I would like to hear the album to see how it turned out. I like that band.

  15. alin Says:

    They burned down the gambling house
    It died with an awful sound
    Funky claude was running in and out
    Pulling kids out the ground
    When it all was over
    We had to find another place

  16. Sarah Says:

    I think you’ll also find a lot of people who think rock’s great in the art world. None of them quite thinks rock’s great enough to make them form rock bands, though.

    What ? I think you’ll find a lot of people in the music industry who like to prance around the art world collecting flare with an equally flip attitude. Please note the Office Space reference. By the way, has there ever been a primitive man fashion trend in Japan? That would be interesting.

  17. tjr Says:

    The interesting thing about the decline of rock and the rise of hip hop is that hip hop is no longer seeing the massive, surging popularity it was in the past few years, and has been replaced by the popemopunk phenomenon.

    The kids you see here wearing urban clothing and listening to rap are the ones who don’t have enough money to buy “emo” gear, or those who are a bit behind on the trend wave.

    The funny thing is that while it’s another way for suburban teens to rebel and act like they aren’t suburban teens, it rejects most of the ideals of the popurban culture and allows white suburban teens to act more like white suburban teens.