Those of you who were around for our coverage of the 2007 Edinburgh Festival may recall that on Friday August 24th, a couple of us attended the Film Festival's Mirrorball: Made In Japan programme, a collection of Japanese music videos and short films. And to be honest, it wasn't all that inspiring. I didn't really pick a favourite at the time, but for a week or two after the festival the summery groove and ultra-cool video of Halfby's Star Track started burrowing into my brain. Eventually, I cracked and did some investigation to find out more about him.
Halfby, it turns out, is the nom de decks of Kyoto DJ Takahiro Takahashi: and coincidentally, less than a week after that Edinburgh discovery, he released an album called Side Farmers. Like others before him, Halfby's made the leap from playing other people's records to making his own, creating ridiculously bouncy collages out of found sounds in collaboration with Shuhei Ueda (whose 'arranged, engineered and instruments performed by' credit possibly covers a whole multitude of sins). Cunningly, he seems to have got in help from other bands for the singles - Olympic Lifts for Screw The Plan, Rondo Brothers for Star Track and The Chi Chis for Slip ON. (I don't actually know who any of these people are, of course, but I'm guessing their presence helps the singles sell a bit more.)
The result is a quite astonishing mix of dance tunes that's impossible to nail down - Halfby's reference points are all over the shop. His desire to throw in everything including the kitchen sink recalls the digital excesses of his fellow countrymen Plus-Tech Squeeze Box (particularly in the berserk opening hoedown of The Rapid Thames, which quotes from all of the hit singles in just under a minute). But the frequent changes of style recall different people at different times - Halfbeat's kiddy cheerleader chants bring The Go! Team to mind, while other tracks remind you of the good vibes of Lemon Jelly and Fatboy Slim. Meanwhile, closing ska workout Scarecrow Man makes you think about the Supremes because it's a totally uncredited steal of Baby Love, which Halfby possibly thinks a Japanese audience won't spot... (Have a listen to the audio samples on his record company webpage if you think I'm exaggerating.)
So yes, it's happy big beat dance music, and if you like the names I've dropped in the previous paragraph then you'll probably like this. But I have to admit, the one thing that pushes Halfby's work towards greatness is what attracted me to it in the first place: the videos. Made by the good people at Groovisions, they all feature the same lead character - a computer animated, bewigged, dancing man - making his way through an array of insanely detailed environments. The YouTube widget at the top of this page collects five of them for your entertainment: a double bill of non-album track Rodeo Machine and Screw The Plan, followed by Halfbeat, Star Track and Slip ON. After a while they become compulsive viewing, as you start to spot the characters and themes that recur in each video. (Ooh, monkeys.)
And the last video in the playlist shows how much of an impact Halfby is having in Japan - it's a wildly overambitious attempt by (I'm guessing) some fans to recreate Rodeo Machine/Screw The Plan in live action. It's the sort of magnificent foolishness that Halfby's quality jollity seems to inspire.