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J.P.: Yep, funky Fiddler on the Roof music is back. The lyrics are sometimes a bit cumbersome, but the singer has confidence in her own charisma. Nice klezmer breakdown as well. Thumbs up!

Jonti: There is no other band I can think of that sounds like Semi-On. Which is to say, Semi-On have a monopoly on their own unique sound, a kind of bohemian lounge rock thing for the seriously sophisticated and all people who are at one with, er, things. Any which way you look at it, Semi-On and "Thamesis" represent the extremely healthy crust of gaijin music in Japan, and probably deserve even more international recognition. If they were located in Brooklyn, you'd be reading about these guys and gals on Pitchfork every week. - Japanzine - May 31, 2010

Featuring the work of Josef Williamson

Free Gaijin Sounds CD giveaway at the door while supplies last!

Nagoya has a plethora of artists, performers, DJs, theater groups, and musicians, both local and gaijin. And these people have created a community for themselves - one in which all feel welcome, and which sees more people coming out of the woodwork all the time. With bars and live houses opening their doors (and not charging outrageous fees), and events like open mics, club events, exhibitions, and The Creator's Market, people really feel like they have a place within this community, whatever their medium.

But how can we share this community spirit and watch it continue to grow if we stay within our city's walls? Simple - we can't! That's why we're starting to see more and more inter-city cultural exchanges in Japan, with international artists moving between major hubs such as Tokyo, Osaka and - yes - Nagoya.

Theatre troupe Maiden Nagoya took their show to Tokyo a few months ago, and Nagoya has had the pleasure of hosting some great musicians from Tokyo, including Kevin Gray, whom you'll remember from the Gaijin Sounds issue. This month, Nagoya welcomes Josef Williamson, an artist from Tokyo who was featured in The Art Issue back in April. He'll be making his way down to this fair town with his oil on canvas and woodcut prints on Sunday, August 30th, to join the ranks of those who have exhibited at Harmonium Parlour (19:00 till the last train, entry ¥500).

This monthly open mic and art event, which began little over a year ago, has welcomed artists and performers from all across central Japan. The venue is Plastic Factory in Imaike, and owners Heinz and Chiemi have made this the most artist-friendly event in town by opening their doors - and their mic - on the last Sunday of every month.

As one of the bands to make this year's Gaijin Sounds Top Ten, Semi-On will also take their sound on the road to Osaka for Gaijin Sounds Live (in conjunction with the Kansai Music Conference), which is happening on Friday, September 18th at Sam & Dave's in Nagahoribashi. Gaijin Sounds Live promises to be an amazing night of entertainment (and naturally we're holding it to that promise!). The event will feature five bands and five DJs from around the country, knocking yer socks off from 20:00 through to 01:00, for only ¥1,000 - and that includes a drink. Geez, that's almost affordable enough to entice Nag people and Tokyo-ites to get on down to Osaka!

Josef Williamson:
Hamonium Parlour: - Japanzine - August, 2009

First of all, thank you to everyone who contributed to the veritable Fuji-san of CDR-filled envelopes that rose from the desktop to the ceiling of the Japanzine office, before eventually avalanching to the floor. We had around 100 submissions from foreign musicians based in all corners of these islands, and while the office cleaner wasn't too happy with the mess, we liked much of what we heard. And that's the important thing. There was a definite rock/indie bias to the music you sent in, granted, but we also received excellent work in other genres, with folk, house, blues, r 'n' b, soul, hip hop, ska and dub all more than capably represented. And yes, some of you really do know how to rock!

Selecting the "best" efforts from such an expansive, diverse selection of tracks was never going to be easy - especially with something as subjective as original music in various styles. But, after thoughtfully comparing our notes, exchanging frank opinions, offering bribes to one another and eventually just bickering among ourselves like hormonal high school students, we reached some kind of consensus. Even then there remained stray votes and unheard wishes, some of which are rounded up at the end of the feature - so if you didn't make the Top Ten, chin up, because it could still be that we've got some well-earned praise for you over there. And if not, well, you know there's always next year. Music never dies (if I've understood the Tower Records slogan correctly).

Gaijin Sounds as an entity is growing year on year, and 2009 will mark the first time we step out of print and into the live arena with performances showcasing the talents of some of this year's Top Ten artists. Look out for more on that front soon. In the meantime, you can freely download the compilation of this year's Top Ten tracks right here, and hear a selection of other highlights over here. (Individual tracks are also available on winning artists' profile pages; see below.) Download away, stick 'em on your iPod and feel proud to be a part of Japan's ascendant, multi-talented foreign music scene. You are the stars. Bravo.

Jonti Davies, Editor

P.S. Thanks for the help of the Japanzine panel of judges: Emily Millar, J.P. DuQuette, Sam Zipursky, and Rangi Thomson-McCall. Otsukare sama!

semi-on: "well i was" (download)
When you're studiously working your way through a library of close to 200 songs, it's unfortunate but somewhat inevitable that longer tracks tend to have a greater chance of being overlooked - which is why it's remarkable that the near seven-minutes-long epic "Well I Was" had no trouble attracting plaudits from the panel. This is a perfect example of Semi-On's distinctively Bohemian sound, and while it rocks in its own idiosyncratic way, it's a world apart from the verse-chorus-verse formula used by so many guitar/bass/drum-driven outfits. As Emily rightly pointed out, "the gypsy-flavored carnivalesque style is a real departure from the straight rock stuff we usually get." In part this is thanks to the use of additional instrumentation, with Semi-On bravely bringing in the violins when necessary, but it's also down to the band's exquisite sense of timing. The soothing tones of Bryony's voice appear only after a minute of gradual instrumental build-up; four minutes in, Semi-On confidently make a u-turn, finding a completely new string-led direction that ultimately spirals the song into a heady crescendo of fiddle and non-words. It's pure fireworks. As, indeed, are Semi-On's not-to-be-missed live shows. |
Upcoming live date in Nagoya: June 9th at Hard Rock Cafe - Japanzine - June, 2009

Two Canadians, a Brit, an Australian and a Japanese fellow walk into a bar... and start making music together. While most ex-pats living in Japan form bands to escape the daily teaching grind, others form entire communities around them. Semi-on play music as eclectic as their cultures, influences and instruments, and between them they have experience playing trombone, fiddle, French horn and tin cans. But the dynamic fivesome aren't just content with making music among themselves: they've also given locals a chance to perform alongside them at their increasingly packed open-mic night at the Plastic Factory. Between staging creative events and making babies, Semi-on's Coleen had a chat with us about cicadas, chance encounters in parks, and... cowboys?!

JZ: So, why did you choose to name yourselves after the Japanese word for cicada, one of the most annoyingly noisy insects on the planet, when the music you create is rather listenable?

Coleen: I think by "annoyingly noisy" you mean "vexatiously trancey"! We really didn't realize that we were the only ones who loved them as much as we do. Seriously, we thought everyone was blown away by them. If you relax under the trees and just listen for five minutes, focusing on the harmonious cacophony of it all, the movements in their songs will blow your mind. We're all about crescendos and harmonious cacophony, too. Anyway, the on of Semi-on is short for ongaku (music).

JZ: Well, I'll stick to listening to your cacophony for the time being, instead! How did you all meet up and discover you'd like to hang out and play music together?

Coleen: John and Bryony used to play small live houses as a duo, and they were practising some of their songs in Shirakawa Park one day when Kazuya rode up on his bike with his snare on his back, asked "Drum... OK?", and John and Bry said "OK!" Leslie and I were playing for a Canada Day event in Shooters a week later with Fatblueman, and John and Bry were there. They asked if I would like to jam on a Gram Parsons' tune they were working on. Les sheepishly asked if they'd like some bass too, and a band was formed.

JZ: Semi-on has played live so many times in and around Nagoya, but where do you enjoy playing the most? Had any really bizarre live experiences?

Coleen: We've had the kindness of so many club owners and festival organizers on our side, it's been really amazing. It's pretty impossible to pick a favorite venue, but in terms of ambience and sound (and Switzerland), Plastic Factory has the best system around. K-onn in Kasugai has a lovely cruisiness to it, and we are always happy to head up to Hakuba to play at Tracks Bar. Festivals such as Rainbow Benton in Hamamatsu and Jam-Off in Hakuba have been great outdoor experiences - nothing like getting out of your tent to go and play onstage. We recently played at Higashiyama Zoo for its spring festival. But I don't know if anything can top the time we played in Yokkaichi for a room full of Japanese cowboys and line dancers, gun enthusiasts with quick-draw contests and name tags such as 'Billy Bob' and 'Jimmy'. You sure don't see that everyday.

JZ: One of the things that struck me about Semi-on is that you're all really involved in the creative community in Nagoya and have a great rapport with the locals. Did you imagine that starting a monthly open mic event would end up being THE way to spend the last Sunday of every month?

Coleen: We actually never really meant to start this event, it just kind of happened. One Sunday, Bry's parents were in town, and we wanted a place to play together. John called up Heinz at Plastic Factory, and as he was closed that night he kindly invited us to call up some friends and use the club for a little private party. From then, we decided that we needed to do that kind of thing way more often. Bry and Kaz are artists as well as musicians, and because Plastic Factory has an amazing art space upstairs, it felt natural to expand the event into a space for Nagoya's creative community, incorporating visual and performance artists. We've said "any medium, any motive" - and have had everything from stand-up comedy to flamenco, sitar to impromptu jams with the most obscure instruments on the stage downstairs and, of course, brilliant exhibitions in the gallery upstairs. Plastic Factory is the only place where this type of event - collaborating music and art - can work as beautifully as it does.

JZ: Getting back to Semi-on's personal endeavors, you've just put out an EP, too, right?

Coleen: Yes! Very happy times for us. It's called The perils of having too much fun and is available at our shows as well as on CDbaby and iTunes. It's a 5-song disc and is about 30 minutes long - we know not how to write short songs. We put a lot of love into the design of the jacket itself and are really happy with the way it turned out.

JZ: What are your plans now that the Semi-on collective is set to recruit another member in Bryony and John's - Japanzine - May, 2009

So you came to Japan, you’re here to teach English, but you’re not so sure this was the dream career path you’d mapped out back home. However, you soon realize that Japan is actually the perfect place to nurture that other dream you had to form a rock band with complete strangers you only know because you share an ability to speak English.

We all know one (you might even be one): the self-styled rock god, closer to being a legend in his own lunch hour than to the rarified heights of lesser beings such as Orange Range. And despite the best efforts of determined foreign musos to convert their musical intentions from fledgling to fully-fledged, the vast majority end up being shafted by the pay-to-play policy of most venues, resigned to playing at gaijin bars where audiences are tuned to the TV.

So, what if you just really want to play for someone, anyone, without having to fork out a ton of cash to pay for the venue or convince your friends that ¥3000 really isn't that much to pay to come along and watch you? In Nagoya, there now glows a little ray of light to guide all struggling musicians along the path to superstardom…and if it doesn’t lead you there, at least it gives you the chance to practice your manky licks.

Thanks to the extremely generous folk who run the Plastic Factory over in Imaike (and with a little help from their friends in local outfit Semi-On), there’s now Harmonium Parlour, an event that encourages all artists - and not just those of a musical nature - to showcase their talents in an extremely chill environment every last Sunday of the month. The idea took seed when Semi-On lead singer Bryony Ollier’s father, on a trip to Japan, fell in with the DJ and ended up having a good ol’ fashioned jam session on an otherwise quiet Sunday night. From there the decision was made to turn an impromptu amateur performance into a potentially regular event which anyone could take part in.

Though it’s billed as an Open Mic Night, Harmonium Parlour is a much looser concept, and much like the monthly line-up at Plastic Factory, open to interpretation. You might be a band, you might be solo, you might be a performance artist, or you might be a photographer or illustrator or painter - whatever your preferred medium, the Plastic Factory is malleable enough to suit the performance, and visual artists are invited to utilize the brand new gallery space upstairs. The first Harmonium Parlour was held in June, and so far it appears to be going splendidly, with the vibe veering from covers to originals and performers from many backgrounds and musical experiences. These differences culminated in a couch jam session at the first event, a sign that there’s no competition between participants, only support.

Anyone is free to join, and performers are asked that they showcase around three songs, so that everyone is afforded equal opportunity to have their chance on stage (there’s plenty of time for wild improv later in the evening). There’s also Toru the DJ on hand to keep the music coming during set-up and between performances.

So, now it comes to the all-important question of money… how much to view and how much to do? Heading along to Harmonium Parlour will set you back the princely sum of ¥500, whether you decide to just watch or take part. You are free to bring your own instruments along, or have a play with what's available at the venue, and no need to worry about lugging amps and mics, as the Semi-On folks have got them there, too.

So whether you take your trade seriously and want exposure on the cheap, or you're just interested in what’s been brewing in the local music community, head along to the Plastic Factory on the last Sunday of every month (that makes this month the 31st) and check out Harmonium Parlour. You never know who you might jam with. The night kicks off from 20:00. If you want extra info, you can get in touch with the members of Semi-On at

Harmonium Parlour @ the Plastic Factory
32-13 Kanda-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya
(Imaike Subway Sta. Exit 2 or 3)
090-9894-9242 - Japanzine - August 2008


"The Perils of Having too Much Fun" - 1st CD

-5 songs with varying genres (folk, funk, rock, pop, chansonnier)
*Well I Was
**Coffee Shop
*****Park Ideas



SEMI (Japanese): cicada
n : stout-bodied insect with large membranous wings; male has drum-like organs for producing a high-pitched drone.
ON/ONGAKU (Japanese):
n : sound or music.

One Japanese mid summer’s night, a band of sound creators met under a canopy of mating cicada. The frenzied rhythms, swells, high and low orchestral cacophony inspired our sound, and walla; Semi-On was born.

Tin cans and whistles, bicycle drum kits, melodica, clarinet, banjo, mandolin, violin, electronic effects, bass, guitar and much more have become our voice.

Our songs pick up the flavours of the four continents we hail from. Spanning the mountains and lakes, prairies and deserts, bushland and forests of our homelands, our music is peppered with the sounds found on route: country, blues, rock, jazz, funk, folk all bubbling under a gyptian lilt.

Comprising of five members, they are:

Coleen: Canadian prairie girl of the big skies and extremes. Brought up with music on the porch, she can turn an ear and hand to anything. Inheriting her Grandfather’s 300+ year old fiddle she keeps the strings vibrating, though she also plays Mandolin, guitar, banjo, piano and sings.

Lesley: Australian bush whacker, traveled the red sands at an early age playing the clarinet. She later studied contemporary music, at Sydneys’ conservatory for music, specializing in guitar. She transferred to the bass, and drums and dances up and down the strings with fervor.

Kazuya: an artist from the mountains of Gifu, Japan, brings us yet more rhythm. Studying jazz drumming he played with various experimental bands, before stumbling across us in the park. His somewhat unconventional kit include bicycle wheels, and tin coffee cans. To watch him play you would think he was made of elastic.

John: also of Canada, and the lakes of Ontario is a very mixed bag. He plays rhythm and electric guitar, surreptitiously loading our songs with secrets he has been unlocking during his eclectic musical listening studies. His high range voice brings almost a chanson element of story telling at times.

Bryony: from the UK, likes to sing and flail. She always knew that performance was her thing, but could never settle on one particular discipline. Semi-On allows her to move in and out of the characters in songs, dancing as she goes. Her clarinet and melodica interludes temper the gypsy-esque sound.

We are based in Nagoya, Japan, and have had the opportunity to play throughout the country at clubs and festivals since 2007. In 2008, We began one of Nagoya's most popular events, "Harmonium Parlour", which is an open mic and art exhibition held once a month.