It’s not every day that we get new long form content from the underground idol scene, especially now that we are in this whole sanitary disaster. So it was with great curiosity that I rented Derek Vasconi’s first episode of his documentary series Flowers of Passion.
Derek Vasconi has made his mark in the idol scene through several ventures: he organized the East Meets West Music Festival, and went on to create the idol merch website Idol Underworld, which aims to make idol merch more accessible for overseas fans, as well as producing original merch, like the many idol exclusive photobooks. Idol Underworld also has a sister site called Cheki World, a second-hand market to allow oversea fans to sell and trade their covetable idol polaroids. Flowers of Passion is his first foray into film and his first documentary.
It’s been a very active year for SAKA-SAMA! The current duo incarnation of Kokone and Mizuho seems to be a line-up that’s really found it’s stride since TRASH-UP!!! Records conceived of the group back in 2016. Aside from a darn-near perfect album released back in February (“DAYDREAM”), as well as a couple of terrific EPs, Kokone recorded her delightful solo EP and Mizuho’s project (Which is basically a solo act right now.)ATOMIC MINISTRY finally brought us a cool single that flew in low-key under the radar.
Now it’s December, and as the year draws to a close, here comes another album by the lo-fi dream-pop twosome. It’s a double-disc, 28-track track opus entitled “You Are The Coolest!”! TRASH-UP!! was kind enough to share audio of the title track, so take a moment and give it a listen if you haven’t already…
While the big streaming services are certainly conveinent and useful, (And surprisingly packed with idol music.) they are, at their core, in league with Satan. And not Satan in a cool metal kind of way, but Satan as in soulless and greedy corporate ogres. You know who’s not in league with Satan though? Bandcamp!
I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but I believe Bandcamp is the very best thing that’s happened to music distribution in the 21st century. I love it and surf it addictively, searching for neat stuff and often striking gold. And the other reason I love is because it’s a terrific company with ethical practices and noble motives. As you may know by now, in light of Covid’s destructive impact on the ability of musicians and music providers to earn a living, the website began “Bandcamp Fridays”, where on the first Friday of every month, the revenue earned on that day goes entirely to the artist. I’ve been trying to keep this when in mind when purchasing from the website, and since today is the first Friday of October, here’s a few idol and idol-adjacent offerings I felt compelled to share with you…
SAKA-SAMA is most-certainly an encapsulation of what we think of when we discuss the ups-and-downs and side-to-sides of this whole idol business. This group has run a full gamut of graduations and roster configurations, all while maintaining a musical vision that alters just as much as the member incarnations. There’s only one thing about the lo-fi dream pop idols that has stayed consistent, and that’s Suzuki Kokone, the leader and sole founding member of the group…
Kokone’s perennial presence in SAKA-SAMA has now paid-off for her (And for us, too.) with her first solo release! While Kokone has dabbled with some solo lives while playing her guitar, this marks the first actual catalogued TRASH-UP!! recording by her. (There may have been some solo CDRs sold at live shows perhaps, but I can’t quite recall.) “FEVER” is a six-track mini-album now available through TRASH-UP!!’s online store.
And right along with that welcome news, we’ve also been gifted this delightful MV of the title track! The video is very much in keeping with the sort of whimsy one would expect from a TRASH-UP!! solo artist. Tell ya what, why don’t give it a watch if you haven’t already…
I’ve been wondering if this steady stream of... um, well…streaming live shows is the beginning of another game-changing alteration in our strange and new socially distant world that’s here to stay, or just a means to get through the weirdness of the times. Ultimately I feel like it’s probably a little of both. A number of idol groups have figured out that there’s different ways to supplement their incomes through these online shows by either charging indie-pay-per-view fees, selling merchandise tied into the moment, or even just leaving up a donation link like a virtual hat laying on the sidewalk busker-style. There’s a ton of these events happening now of course, and thankfully Daemon’s been doing a capital job of trying to help keep us aware of what’s coming up.
SAKA-SAMA summed up the state of idol for 2019 in a nutshell: They kicked off in January as a six-member unit, then experienced a major overall, leaving them as Kokone’s solo act for a bit, and is now ending the year with multiple-group veteran Mizuho stepping up as a support recruit, rebranding SAKA-SAMA as a duo. (I think they’ve been a duo at least once before… it’s hard to remember every incarnation!) How long will this arrangement last? It’s a SAKA-SAMA world, so we’ll just have to simply wait and see! But this moment in the group’s evolving history will be documented in the form of a recorded single that’s title translates to “Goodnight Judy”.So with this new single, how does the dynamic change? Here’s an MV to give us the insight…
SAKA-SAMA have been something of a favorite with Team Homicidols since they first formed in 2016, but at the same time, they’ve remained a perplexing enigma of an idol unit. Constantly shifting membership rosters are always part of this territory, but this group seems especially prone to changing it’s line-up with each passing season, with only Kokone and Dr. Mahiru providing consistency as it’s founding members. And the music of SAKA-SAMA, primarily billed as “Low-Fi Dream Pop”, is in truth equally unpredictable, with a wide variety of unique genres and styles that run the gamut of shoegazey indie-pop to oddball quirky country songs and spoken word pieces, making it a rather difficult task to describe what exactly the group does. Mind you, this isn’t a complaint by any means, I’m just trying to clarify why writing about TRASH-UP!!’s in-house idol group is well… quite a challenge.
So after a couple of years of compilation tracks, EPs, singles, and one live recording, SAKA-SAMA have finally released an actual, honest-to-goodness full length album, titled, appropriately enough, “It’s a SAKA-SAMA World’! I’ve been excitedly anticipating this release since the moment it was announced, and I eagerly snatched it from OTOTOY right away. I came to realize quickly that this is an album that, just like anything related to SAKA-SAMA, has certain unique traits that can’t be summed up after a breezy listening session. This is what we call a “grower”, or a “slow-burn”, wherein one must dig in deeply to truly reap the rewards of the listening experience, and develop an opinion based on multiple takes instead of relying on easy gratification.
You know that it’s a tough time for the team when a Trash-Up!! affiliated act puts out two selections in a week’s time and nobody brought it up. So it has been! I’ve been busy in ways that would scandalous a worker bee, and chats with others quickly devolved into “no, we’re getting killed at work right now.” And also, a Trash-Up!! act has been dropping material all over YouTube!
In this case, it’s SAKA-SAMA, who plural of the people you see write ’round these parts are absolutely in love with, and for obvious reasons: They not only can do it all — all styles, all genres, all times — they do do it all, and with aplomb. Not everything that they do “rocks” per se, but everything that they do is, usually, worth the time you spend with it. This is why, after their exquisite (and weird!) single, their forthcoming album is going to be something to embrace with fervor:
We’re heading into a new season, so it’s only natural that SAKA-SAMA change their line-up and try a new musical style yet again! And before you can say “Hey, this doesn’t sound like a SAKA-SAMA song!!!”, you have to ask yourself: Has anything ever really sounded like a what you’d expect a SAKA-SAMA song to sound like to begin with? Sure they were “Low-fi Dream Pop” just back in February, but the new single is described (by TRASH-UP!! Records) as “Sushi and Space and Disco”, and don’t think for a moment that I’m going to possibly question that bold of a mission statement.
On a personal level, the timing of this new single couldn’t be better, it’s been a weird and hazy last couple of weeks, and the prospect of a hurricane reaching into my coast and wreaking havoc any day now isn’t doing much to relax me at all, so thank goodness the TRASH-UP!! house act is sharing some positive vibes to help allay the dread for a few minutes…
Actually, you know what this reminds me of? Morning Musume’s 2000 single “Happy Summer Wedding”, in which Momusu debuted four new members with an upbeat tune paired to a lively, multi-cultural MV that successfully altered the entire dynamic of the group. It was a departure not entirely devoid of risk, and it paid off big. All those new 4th Generation faces became as iconic as the previous members.
I mentioned this before: I always feel a bit of trepidation when a group I support adds new members because I find myself questioning if they’re needed, but inevitably and before long, I always end up not being able to imagine the group without them. And that’s how I feel about the current seven member SAKA-SAMA line-up. I just adore these girls and the essentially brand new group they’ve become. I still hope we get a dose of the lo-fi-dream-pop-psychedelic-country-arthouse aesthetic with this current roster, but no matter what, I can’t see them ever doing anything wrong. It’s still a SAKA-SAMA world after all…
I was recently re-listening to Yume no Hate Made Mo, SAKA-SAMA‘s EP from February on TRASH-UP!! Records, (I still listen to it frequently actually) and as of this halfway point in the year, I’m still holding firm that it’s the very best release of 2018. I just don’t think anything as comes as close to accomplishing a feat of aesthetics mixed with music as this mini-album. The only question I have is, When do we get more?
The first indication of that is a newly unveiled live recording from the group entitled “LIVE from SAKA-SAMA WORLD”, an audio document of their very first and highly successful one-man show. SAKA-SAMA have quite a sizable catalog of songs now, despite their one EP, a compilation track and a 7″ single being the only tangible products of their work. I’ve been pining for more some time now, so here’s a chance to check of their material just beyond my grasp. The only issue now is that this live-release is only available at their shows, so woe to those currently unable to attend and get their hands on one.
In the interest of expanding awareness of the live recording and spreading the joy of their live shows, TRASH-UP!! uploaded the most professional footage of the group that’s ever been available, and these videos are terrific!
Now here’s a ton of live SAKA-SAMA video up on the YouTubes, but the editing and the pro sound-mix really makes these especially amazing to watch. You’ve always been able to tell with their other footage that these girls give 200 percent and have a lot a lot of fun when they preform, but these really capture a fire and spirit that hasn’t been seen so clearly before! They’re completely singing their hearts out, screaming, jumping, thanking the crowd for their support, and loving every moment of it.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so artfully full of DIY spirit and projecting it so intently in the crowd, who send the love right back at ’em. To me, this is a whole new fresh perspective on a group I was already fully on board supporting, so these videos have made my day.
Now hopefully they’ll take some of these unreleased songs and capture some of this fantastic energy into a studio, mix it up, add some of that trademark A-level TRASH-UP!! graphic design sense, and release another new audio gem fondly enjoy like a fine collected piece of art. It’s a SAKA-SAMA world, and thank goodness we live in it!