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Friday, Aug. 28, 2009

the telephones get their disco on


Special to The Japan Times

Saitama quartet the telephones are unabashed disco aficionados.

News photo
Fire in the disco: Members of the telephones, Nobuaki Okamoto, Seiji Matsumoto, Ryohei Nagashima and Akira Ishige, bring disco-punk style across Japan starting Sept. 1. YUKI SHIMBO

Since their formation in 2005, the band, who are all in their mid-20s, have put out an EP ("Love & Disco") and a live DVD ("Super Disco Hits!!! the telephones One-Man Show!!!") both named after the popular 70s musical genre, have penned no less than three other "disco"-titled songs, and their MySpace site asks, "are you disco???"

Despite all of this, the act view their contemporary sounding, energetic dance-punk and new-wave cuts in a more time-tested light.

"There are many different styles of rock 'n' roll music and we are definitely a rock band," offers guitarist and vocalist Akira Ishige.

So why all the fanboy love for disco? Well, apparently it is as much about marketing as it is a celebration of polyester leisure suits, doing the hustle, and mirror balls — the latter of which being the only vintage carry-over you'll likely encounter around the telephones.

"I think that at the general public level the culture of rock 'n' roll has not yet fully taken root in Japan," Ishige explains. "By using the keyword 'disco,' which is already well-known in Japan, we hope that more people will discover us, will have interest in our music, and will gain a more in-depth understanding of rock culture."

"I think of disco not so much as a musical genre, but as more of a spirit. If it does become popular again it'll be good because maybe the world of disco will become flush with cash again."

Well aware that the music industry is equal parts entertainment and business, Ishige, bassist Ryohei Nagashima, drummer Seiji Matsumoto, and synthesizer and cowbell player Nobuaki Okamoto have taken great strides to build up the telephones after meeting by chance in a Saitama City nightclub and deciding to form a band.

They issued their "We Are The Handclaps EP" in April of 2007 and at the beginning of 2008 put out their first full-length, "Japan." The strength of the CD earned them invites to the Arabaki Rock Fest, the Rock In Japan Festival and Summer Sonic (which they were again asked to play at a few weeks ago) and helped them secure a domestic deal with EMI Music.

"Switching from an independent label to a major was an easy decision because since we started making our music we have been thinking about doing it on a major label. The large-scale promotion we've gotten from EMI Music Japan has made our music more popular."

Released this past July, the telephones major label debut, "Dance Floor Monsters," has moved more than 20,000 units and has ranked as high as No. 27 on Japan's Oricon album chart. Sales figures for "Dance Floor Monsters" will no doubt continue to climb as the group hits the road to support the disc during their "Welcome to the New Disco!!!" tour in September.

The act started crafting material for "Dance Floor Monsters" in the fall and entered the studio in February to lay down 10 new tracks and re-recorded versions of "Urban Disco" and "Habanero," the two leadoff numbers from "We Are The Handclaps EP."

Working with the same producer and engineer as "Japan," Ishige states the only major thing they wanted to change with this recording was to make the drums stronger to present something more akin to the act's live sound. A solid listen all the way through, "Dance Floor Monster" tunes such as "D.A.N.C.E to the telephones!!!" and "Monkey Discooooooo" are wonderfully hook heavy and, more importantly, pure fun.

While dance-punk rose to prominence several years ago overseas, Ishige believes the telephones are benefiting from the fact that few locals seem to be focusing on the subgenre.

"We are very surprised by the positive reactions to our music," he says. "I think people have accepted us because our songs give them the impression of new music which hasn't existed yet in Japan because I still think that most of the general populace is very unaware of foreign music."

It should come as little surprise that the guys like to work up a good sweat by bouncing, twisting, and shaking while banging out their tightly wound grooves. In concert, one member in particular tends to stand out the most, but not necessarily in a good way.

"Our synth player, Nobu, is the most terrible dancer in the telephones," jokes Ishige. "He dances all the time while playing and tries to do remarkable things, but everything he does just looks like strange, weird movements."

Still if Ishige had to choose someone for a dance contest he wouldn't hesitate to call upon Okamoto and knows exactly who he'd like to see him face off against.

"I'd want us to challenge the Happy Mondays. I want to see a battle between Bez and Nobu. I think Bez would win because he is a good-looking dancer and probably has a lot of old-timer's pride."

the telephones' nationwide "Welcome to the New Disco!!!" tour starts Sept. 1 at Heaven's Rock in Kumagaya, Saitama, and ends Oct. 11 at Shinjuku Marz in Tokyo. The band will also play Dec. 4 at Differ Ariake in Tokyo. Tickets are ¥3,500. For more information, visit www.thetelephones.net

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