Spotlight: Western Mirroring

The 5.6.7.8's - Golden Hits of the 5.6.7.8'sI’m no vinyl junkie, but I do enjoy the occasional record now and then. The more damage, the better. That punchy analog sound pairs great with a few years’ storage next to a leaky basement pipe.

But even without water damage, the sound you can find on some of the best shitty compilations is something a lot of newer bands have been trying to emulate over the last few years. (Listen to a little Dirty Beaches and see if you don’t get that vibe.) Some people call it inspiration, some call it theft, but whichever is closer to your opinion, it can’t be denied that this sort of “borrowing” is the foundation of a large part of the music culture. Where would Animal Collective be without the influence of tribal African percussion? Or how would the story of the Beatles have gone without the overt impact of Indian classical music?

Today’s playlist is a look at another case in point, though maybe a bit different. It’s a phenomenon I like to call “Western mirroring,” which is to say that the artists featured here took a page out of the juggernaut that is Western civilization and put it into their own songbooks. I’m focusing on groups out of Asia primarily because, frankly, I’m biased (read: Asian), and I’ll be damned if they don’t know how to rock out.

Dara Puspita — Pip Pip Yeah

Dara Puspita is a band that emerged in Indonesia in the mid-1960s while Beatlemania was sweeping across the globe. Also, my mother used to listen to them when she was in high school, which is insane, because her childhood stories always involve a lack of running hot water and various household chores that would make a Medieval peasant shudder. If you haven’t already noticed, the title of the song comes from the most overtly “borrowed” phrase from the Beatles’ “Drive My Car”. If you like this, you’ll also probably enjoy Koes Bersaudara, which was a folkier, all-male version that came out of the same era.

The Petch Phin Thong Band — Soul Lam Plearn

The extended guitar solo at the beginning of the Petch Phin Thong Band’s “Soul Lam Plearn” makes you think you’re diving into a traditional Thai number, but that funky bassline is unmistakably Western. I always imagine Shaft cruising through Chinatown. If you like this track, you might enjoy a bit of Takeshi Terauchi, whose guitar noodling is similarly absent-minded and virtuosic.

Ofo The Black Company — Egwu Aja

This offering comes to you from Nigeria in the 1970s, and like some of the best music coming out of the 70s, it’s funky as hell. Ofo The Black Company tethers their home country’s sound with percussion and some bitchin’ flutes, the latter of which I would never recommend outside of this context. Yes, even with Jethro Tull.

The 5.6.7.8’s — I’m Blue

You’ll no doubt remember the 5.6.7.8’s from one or both of two places: 1) Kill Bill, Vol.1, and 2) Vonage commercials. This link captures both at the same time. Aside from that exposure, the 5.6.7.8’s are actually a long-standing girl group from Japan, who formed during a garage rock revival in their home country. With most girl groups coming out of Asia, part of the fun is putting a stereotypically demure person in front of a rollicking tune, but the band’s lead vocalist Ronnie dashes those dreams with a pretty nasty snarl.

Idoli — Nebeska Tema

When New Wave hit it big, the 1980s were well underway and the Cold War was at its peak. The paranoia of the Western world seemed to manifest itself in the cold, repetitive music of the time, which is both romantic and infectious, as is evidenced by Serbian band Idoli’s output. Much of their sound was synth-driven and as ominous as any emerging post-punk groups of the time, but “Nebeska Tema”, released in 1982, has a mixture of strange influences, most notably the Elvis Costello-like crooning.

Shonen Knife — Twist Barbie

Probably the most famous entry on this list, Shonen Knife rose to relative prominence when Kurt Cobain and Thurston Moore revealed their love of the Ramones-worshipping Japanese girl group. They still perform today, and after seeing them at the Empty Bottle a few years ago, I can verify that they are worthy of the praise. Here, you can hear their track “Twist Barbie”, which is either a tribute to or a seething critique of Western culture. The fact that I’m confused is proof enough that it’s good.

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