Maywa Denki

Novumichi Tosa of Maywa Denki

We’re cheating a bit with this week’s “band,” which is really more of a multimedia art project. But music is an integral part of the Japanese “art unit” Maywa Denki, so we’re giving them a pass.

Maywa Denki specializes in creating what co-founder Novumichi Tosa calls “nonsense machines”: mechanical objects that may or may not serve some useful purpose, but achieve that purpose in absurd or impractical ways. Their most famous creation, which Novumichi is brandishing in the above photo, is a note-shaped musical instrument called an otamatone, a made-up Japanese word that sounds (intentionally, we presume) quite a bit like “automaton.” You play the otamatone by sliding one finger up and down the instrument’s neck to hit specific notes, while squeezing the instrument’s “mouth” to control volume, tone and pitch. They come in various sizes and, in the right hands, can be made to produce all sorts of different (but always vaguely silly) sounds:

Maywa Denki has mass-produced some smaller versions of the otamatone, which has helped spread its popularity and led to some pretty great YouTube videos by other musicians. But the otamatone is just the tip of the nonsense machine iceberg. Maywa Denki has an entire product line called Tsukuba dedicated to ridiculously elaborate (but, usually, easy to play) musical instruments, like a set of six guitars played via a pedal organ and a “rhythm-making machine” that’s basically just a series of on/off switches attached to a turntable, all of which can be worn like a keytar.

Most of Maywa Denki’s larger instruments haven’t been mass produced, for obvious reasons, but Novumichi and his brother, Masamichi, occasionally take their nonsense machines out for concerts—or, as they like to call them, “product demonstrations.” Dressed in DEVO-like matching blue jumpsuits, the Tosa brothers and their assistants put a dizzying array of different machines through their paces in the service of creating music that is, surprisingly, pretty catchy and accessible. Videos don’t quite do the whole spectacle justice, but this Slovenian clip is one of the better ones we could find:

More recently, Maywa Denki have launched their own fashion line, Meewee Dinkee. Naturally, they produced an indecipherably bizarre video to promote it:

Sadly, most of the coolest pieces in the fashion line are already sold out. But we have no doubt the brothers Tosa are already hard at work on their next art “products.”

Our thanks to reader Frederick for posting the Meewee Dinkee video on our Submit a Band page and sending us plunging down the Maywa Denki rabbit hole. We’d like to dedicate this otamatone video to you, sir!

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Sunday Shout-Out: WTF Japan Seriously

[Most Sundays, we give a little hype to a fellow blog, website or other source for all things related to weird music and the people who love it. Check the tag “Sunday Shout-Out” for other recommendations.]

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I think it’s probably fair to say that without Japan, our blog would not be half as entertaining. From metal to pop to experimental noise, the Japanese have an uncanny knack for taking virtually any genre of music and turning the weirdness factor up to 11. But music, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. All of Japanese culture is—to us Westerners, at least—pretty bizarre. And one of the most entertaining ways to consume it is via WTF Japan Seriously.

Since 2010, WTF Japan Seriously has been chronicling the “WTFery” of the Land of the Rising Sun in all its glory—everything from TV commercials to game shows to whatever the hell this is. They offer it all with virtually no commentary, because really, no commentary is required—I mean, when you’ve just seen Tommy Lee Jones shooting lasers out of his eyes to sell coffee in a can, what more is there to add?

If memory serves, we first encountered Kyary Pamyu Pamyu when a reader sent us a link to one of her videos on WTF Japan Seriously. And I’ll never forget the day I was surfing their site instead of doing yard work when I stumbled upon this priceless video artifact. For that alone, I feel forever indebted to the folks behind this treasure trove of Japanese pop culture ephemera (Japhemera?)

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