Seeing in the blue shirt at Kaga Onsen Festival After Party

kagaonOn July 20th, directly after my crazy backpacking trip in Hokkaido, I decided to take a plane from Sapporo to Komatsu airport, where I ventured off to the hot springs town known as Kaga for its yearly music festival.  As a music enthusiast, this was a rare opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up!

About Kaga Onsen Festival

Kaga Music Festival is one of the biggest original music festivals in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, and has a total of 7 stages (some being lounges and some being club stages).  The genre of the festival is mostly electronic, pop, and rock music, though I noticed that there were a number of indie artists that appeared at the after party this year, including one of my favorites from Kyoto City: in the blue shirt.

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in the blue shirt playing a live set at the official Kaga Onsen after party.

Though I was unable to attend the main festival due to time constraints, my experience at the after party made my trip here more than worth it.  If you are looking for a festival that is unique to Japan and isn’t over-crowded like Fuji Rock or Summer Sonic, then this is definitely a solid choice.  Kaga Music Festival has enough variety to keep you interested, but the music lineup doesn’t ever feel overwhelming and you can see almost everything you want.  As an added bonus, there are many hot springs nearby that you can visit on the way home!

Getting to the Venue

To get to Kaga Music Festival, it is recommended to take a bullet train from Tokyo to Kanazawa then take a local train to Kaga Onsen Festival where you can catch a free bus to the main venue.  You can alternatively fly to Komatsu airport and take a local train there like I did.  This is a cheaper option, but the number of flights are limited due to how remote the area is.

Most of the accommodations by Kaga Onsen Station are quite expensive, so I booked a cheap room by the nearby Daishoji Station.  After getting settled, I headed over to the main venue which was called Rurikoh, then walked to the after party located called Mori no Sumika Resort & Spa.  The entrance fee at the door was 3000 yen with one drink.

Attending the After Party

The inside of the venue was absolutely stunning with flattering neon lights, a relatively large indoor stage, and an outdoor pool area you could go swimming in.  The crowd here was mostly Japanese in their early 20s or 30s, but I saw a few foreigners walking outside the area.  After checking out the venue, I immediately grabbed a vodka tonic and went to see the first performing artist.

The first artist was an electronic music producer called Yackle, and I caught their performance right as they were mixing a capsule song into a Nakata Yasutaka song, which was perfect timing because those are two of my personal favorites.  This producer mixes a lot of different genres and makes their own edits so they are extremely fun to watch!  Yackle has recently released an album called Frank Throw which features beautiful vocals and a mix of trap and bass music elements.  This was my first time seeing one of there performances and it was an extremely fun experience.

in the blue shirt played his live set immediately after which consisted of a unique blend of vocal chops and remixes of his own songs, as well as other artists like Pasocom Ongaku Club:

This set was extremely exciting for me, because I haven’t seen in the blue shirt since Large Size in Kyoto which was nearly 5 months ago.  Some of the people that attended that event recognized me here and pulled me to the front of the stage!  I was extremely flattered to see that they remembered me and enjoyed dancing with everyone.

Recollect the Feeling

In April in the blue shirt released his latest album called Recollect the Feeling which is growing to become a respected indie release in the music scene.  With its harmonic and compelling use of electronic samples that are intricately spliced in what appears to be its own language, this album definitely leaves a tremendous impact on the listener. Consisting of both English and Japanese lyrics, each song has an abstract yet nostalgic feel to it using indie electronic and triphop music styles, along with a variety of synths and instruments.  Though some of the songs are short (under 2 minutes), when the album is played as a whole it takes your mind on an unforgettable journey through time.  It’s still too early to say if I like this album more than Sensation of Blueness, but it is a polished release that I truly feel was worth waiting for.

On the latest album, I think “Casual Remark”, “Good Feeling”, and “Bamboo Leaf” are my favorites because they are great to listen to when exploring new places—I feel like I’m completely in my own aesthetic world when I listen to them.  I believe his personal best work is “Cast Off” as it was the first song officially released and has the most consistent composition, but it’s really hard to choose because the album is best listen to as a whole. What’s amazing is most of these songs were played on his sets as WIPs/transitions since 2017 and it’s amazing to see them completed now.

Overall I’m really happy for this artist because they’ve managed to accomplish everything that is most important in album production: they’ve delivered a compelling album with quality merchandise, collaborated and done shows with other artists I really like, uploaded previews and mixes so we know what’s coming, continually have showed their progress, and seemingly created a new record label / collective called The Wonder Laundry.  I’m so happy to have kept up with them through the whole entire release process and see them playing at big festivals now!

Other Recommendations

Of the other performing artists, I also recommend checking out PARKGOLF, Tomggg, and Avec Avec.  All of them have unique electronic styles and are respected performers I have seen at various events in Japan.  I spent the rest of the after party socializing with friends that I met and hanging out by the pool, but here are some of my favorite tracks that I recommend:

I will consider attending the main festival next year if more of my favorite artists continue to make appearances.  I am excited to attend more unique music events similar to Kaga Onsen Festival this summer!

Exploring Shikoku & Seeing Carpainter at Outer Kochi

I never would have dreamed that there was a club scene in the countryside of Japan, but through my travels I have learned that there is an underground scene basically everywhere–you just have to find it!  This time I went on a pilgrimage to Shikoku for the purpose of seeing Carpainter and Onjuicy perform at a venue called Outer located in Kochi.  I was very surprised to meet some very kind friends and enjoy the sights and sounds of a unique part of the country that I had never been to before!

I flew to Kochi from Tokyo a day before the event started so I had enough time to explore the city by myself.  When the plane landed, all I could see was rice fields and I didn’t know exactly where I was, but I knew it was about to be lit.  With a short bus ride to the station, I found that most of Kochi’s attractions were accessible by foot or via a cheap bus ride.  I grabbed some wine from the convenience store, and began my sightseeing trek around the city!

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I first stopped at Kochi Castle, which was quite a lovely sight to see.  I’ve been to a lot of white castles in Japan, but I liked this one because it involved a lot of climbing to reach the top and you could walk all around the castle!  Often you can only access certain parts of castles in Japan, but this one you can fully explore to your heart’s content.

Nearby the castle is the Harimaya Bridge, which is a super tiny bridge located near souvenir shops and the Sunday Market which is fun to see.  I stayed in the Kochi Green Hotel right in this area which my friend helped me get a coupon for only 3000 yen per night.

On the way back I decided to check out the Hirome Market for some delicious sea urchin and egg-like sushi.  There was also a disco ball and a giant tower of fries to see, along with many stalls selling beer and other novelties:

This market was very fun to see because it was so lively.  At all times of the day, you can see people drinking here.  There’s a great selection of seafood, noodles, yakiniku, desserts, and sake!  I could tell that the people of Kochi take a lot of pride in this market, because not only is the food good, but it is also a place where a lot of people come together and pass time.

The final destination on my list before the club was Katsurahama Beach!  Overlooked by the historic shogun Sakamoto Ryoma, this beach had a garden and stunning scenery.  I wouldn’t say it was the most beautiful beach in Japan, but it is definitely worth seeing if you are in Shikoku.

After spending a few hours here, I took a bus back to my hotel and started pregaming for the club.  This event was very special because it was the first time that Carpainter and Onjuicy performed together in Kochi, and also the first time Carpainter had ever been a back-up DJ for an MC (original Tweet).

As a foreigner with blonde hair, I definitely stood out but that was okay because everyone was very welcoming to me here.  I said hello to my 2 friends from Tokyo and proceeded to get drinks at the bar while they got ready for their set.  The event organizer greeted me and personally thanked me for coming all the way here because it was quite a long trip from Tokyo.  I thanked him back for having such a great event, and proceeded to be given shots by some locals and also one of the performing DJs.

The environment of Outer is quite different from clubs in Tokyo because everyone there makes an effort to get to know one another, plus with an indoor and outdoor area it’s quite spacious for moving and dancing around.  It’s not to say you can’t find a venue like this in Tokyo, but often you will find that the city is overcrowded and full of people who just want to party without paying attention to the music.  The crowd here was all very respectful and I really appreciated the time I had here!

During their performance, PAM!!! was played in addition to one of Onjuicy’s unreleased songs:

It was overall extremely fun to be so up-close to the performers and share the thrill  with the countryside people of Kochi.  I am excited to see the next place I end up following my friend’s tour!

The Adventure of Hakodate, Monkeys, and Squid! (Part 2)

I woke up early on a chilly Saturday morning so I could make my way to the famed Hakodate Asaichi seafood market conveniently located near the station.  There I was greeted by many friendly vendors selling everything from freshly caught crabs to mouth-watering ice cream made from Hokkaido milk, but I already had my eyes set on the famous dancing squid dish from Tabiji:

One of the staff told me they receive fresh shipments daily, and I could definitely taste it! It was probably the freshest squid I had ever had because the fish eggs, rice, and wasabi with the slices of squid had an amazing flavor.  Thought I felt bad for the squid, this was a rare dish that I definitely did not want to miss out on!  Tabiji is currently the only restaurant in Japan that offers the dancing squid dish and they even have their own T-shirts available.  No reservation is required.

Also worth trying are the Kaniman (hot crab buns), and the Hokkaido ice cream!  After feasting on this wonderful seafood, I decided to go to Fort Goryaku, the beautiful star-shaped park:

This park is unique because it has an observation tower you can take to the top floor to see a panoramic view, and you can also stroll through it!  In the center is the Former Magistrate Office (reconstructed), and the spot is extremely popular for cherry blossom viewing.  Once again, I felt at peace while I was here.  I think it’s amazing that they transformed a military fort into such a lovely park!

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Nakata Yasutaka performs at Club Riviera in Sapporo, Japan.

After seeing all of the sights that I wanted to see, I decided to take the bullet train to Sapporo to make the Nakata Yasutaka show at Riviera.  The ride takes nearly 4 hours, but since I was exhausted from all the walking I did, it was actually quite relaxing.  When I got to Sapporo, I stayed in another internet cafe called Kaikatsu Club (conveniently located in the Susukino party district).  I pregamed a bit then headed to Riviera which is a very glamorous club!  This was my third weekend in a row seeing Nakata perform, and I was not disappointed!

Overall my 2nd trip to Hokkaido was relaxing and filled with fond memories.  I was able to reflect on my life and also do all of the things on my trip itinerary so I felt an extreme sense of accomplishment at the end of this trip.  I will come back to Hokkaido in the summer to see the lavender fields and hopefully go to the beach!  My aim with each trip is to combine sightseeing with nightlife, and I am sure I will be going on many more adventures!

LARGE SIZE at Kyoto Metro

Last weekend, I traveled all the way from Tokyo to Kyoto to attend a thrilling electronic music event called LARGE SIZE at the underground music club Kyoto Metro.  LARGE SIZE not only featured Japanese indie artists from the Kansai region (Kyoto and Osaka), but also Trekkie Trax Crew from Tokyo, and isagen (the event organizer) from Shizuoka, Japan, along with a selection of other talented music producers from around the area.

Located in the basement Jingu-Marutamachi Station of Kyoto City, this was a highly-anticipated event that united many music fans from all over Japan because it showcased talent from some of the most well-known independent record labels and underground artists that are currently trackmaking and producing music.  In this article, I aim to introduce the artists I saw and write recommendations of their music in English.

The original timetable for this event was listed below (note that “Carpainter” is actually the correct spelling of the artist listed at 17:30).  The event lasted for approximately 5 hours, and tickets were originally sold at 2800 yen (purchasable online, and for extra money at the door):

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Arriving at close to the start of the event, I was luckily able to see the majority of isagen’s 50 minute set.  isagen produces his own desktop music, DJs at events, and also is the trackmaker for his band unit called POLPTOM.  In 2018, isagen released an EP on Trekkie Trax called c.b.a.g, which you can listen to on his Soundcloud below:

Though this EP is tagged as dance and EDM, you can tell from the very beginning that it is not the typical kind of dance music you expect!  isagen’s music really has a unique vibe sounding both progressive and abstract at the same time.  As the event organizer, he did an amazing job of making the crowd excited and earning the respect of other artists, even though he was the opener!  I was surprised to see the club was already crowded at opening time, and the majority of people there had their full attention directed at his performance.  Though I have seen isagen perform in Tokyo before, I could tell that he put a lot of work into ensuring that this was one of his best performances yet!

The next artist was one of my personal favorites, in the blue shirt from Kyoto City.  Having previously announced the release of his new album in April via Twitter, everyone was surprised to see him open with his own banger remix of “If I ain’t got you” by Alicia Keys and then mix his newly produced music into it:

in the blue shirt will always be one of my top artists because he puts so much of himself into his music, and each time her performs he plays exclusive and unreleased songs that you can only hear during his performances.  His music will make you feel nostalgic, energized, moved, and inspired at the same time.  Using a complex range of samples and chords, below is one of my favorite mixes he has uploaded to his Soundcloud:

Another reason I love in the blue shirt is because he designs a lot of his own merchandise. His sticker is an adorable digital drawn mascot that resembles Parappa the Rapper, and his clothes feature a blue shirt logo he created himself with Adobe Illustrator:

Since his performances are relatively rare, I always pick up his merchandise whenever I get the chance!  Not only is it fashionable, but it is also comfortable and a truly magnificent display of aesthetic art.  I was extremely grateful to see this set before the official promotion of his new album!

Next up was Pasocon Music Club (パソコン音楽クラブ) who played an absolutely amazing acid techno set.  They are a duo that write a lot of desktop music resembling nostalgic game music, but recently they have been trying out a variety of styles.  People around me went really hard during their set and I enjoyed seeing them for the 2nd time!  Previously I saw them at an event called STRUCT in Osaka, and it was amazing because people remembered me (as one of the few foreigners) that attended!  Here is one of my favorite releases Pasocon Music Club has had on Maltine Records:

Though I was already mindblown from the high quality of music I had already witnessed, this was still just the very beginning of the fantastic sets I was about to hear.  Carpainter‘s live set featuring songs from his recently released Declare Victory EP (which was officially on-sale the day before LARGE SIZE), was absolutely earth-shattering!  I will write a separate review for Declare Victory at a later time, but for now here is the featured track which I recorded below:

Though this EP was just recently released, Carpainter has had this music produced for a while now.  During Trekkie Trax’s 6th Anniversary on the weekend of Halloween, he played a set that was entirely breakbeat, techno, and old school rave-styled with a bunch of tracks that he would later release February of 2019.  What’s even more amazing is that Virtual Self dropped Carpainter’s “Sylenth Warrior” along with Otira’s remix of “Mission Accepted” at their set in the US just less than a week before they came out:

Watching this all unfold at an underground club outside of Tokyo was an amazing experience!  I enjoyed the change of scenery and also meeting new friends that shared similar tastes and feelings about these artists.  I connect to Japanese people best by listening to music and sharing these exciting experiences with them!

After Carpainter, batsu, an artist from Osaka, began his set with Carpainter’s “EXCITE” and immediately set the crowd into a unanimous cheer:

Batsu is a producer that is really good at mixing and engaging the audience.  I have seen him perform various times in both Tokyo and Kansai, and his mixes are always upbeat and easy to dance to while paying homage to various artists.  Just recently he posted his own WIP of “Face my Fears” from Kingdom Hearts, and also did a mix for Trekkie Trax Radio featuring a ton of artists from this event.  He was overall an essential artist in making this event a huge success!

After Batsu’s energized set, everyone’s favorite crew, Trekkie Trax, made their appearance onstage (consisting of andrew, Carpainter, Seimei, and futatsuki):

In this set, Trekkie Trax played a lot of music from their own artists including Carpainter Qrion, Cola Splash, and also premiered part of their label’s upcoming release of “Trip” by Native Rapper.  My personal favorite part of their set was when andrew mixed a KiNK song into “Quick Turn” by Qrion.  By this time, everyone was jumping up and down and cheering, because this was the first time that Trekkie Trax has ever played at Kyoto Metro, and it was an extremely memorable set!

The last artist that performed was metome, an original music producer from Osaka.  This was my very first time listening to them so it is difficult for me to write a proper review, but similar to isagen, they seem to produce a lot of abstract music with unique sampling that bends your mind.  It was neat because the event ended with a similar vibe to how it started.  This is my favorite song from their Soundcloud:

Overall, I really enjoyed this event because it was very organized, all of the artists played with their maximum effort, and it was easy to talk to people and make friends.  I love to go to events outside of Tokyo as much as I can so I can be exposed to different types of music and learn more about the world around me.  I will definitely come back to Metro and travel to other underground clubs in Japan in the near future.  Please stay tuned for more music news and adventures!

A Steamy Weekend Getaway: Takasaki WOAL & Kusatsu Onsen

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As a free-spirited traveler, I go wherever the wind blows me.  Upon returning to Tokyo from Thailand, I learned that my friends at Trekkie Trax were playing a show at an underground club in Takasaki called WOAL, so immediately I started planning my weekend trip there. I had been through this area before on my way to Niigata for Fuji Rock this summer, but have never gotten off to explore the area, so this was definitely on my bucket list.

Takasaki, the city of luck, is located about 2 hours from Tokyo in Gunma prefecture and is known for its dumplings, daruma dolls, and hotsprings.  The easiest way to get there is by the Joetsu Shinkansen, so I took the very last one from Omiya Station equipped with umeshu and Strong Zeroes to pregame for this all night show (that lasted from 10pm – 5am).  I decided I would stay at a net cafe called Link’s Cafe (for the sole fact that I love Zelda) then immediately go to Kusatsu Onsen when I woke up because that was the cheapest move.  Though there are many onsen scattered around Gunma, Kusatsu is by far the most famous and prettiest!

The atmosphere of WOAL was very friendly and inviting.  It was about an 8 minute walk from the station, but very easy to locate.  As I descended the stairs, I was immediately lost in a world of vibrant rotating neon lights and a boastful sound system.  The bar was conveniently located near the entryway, and by chance I met all of Trekkie Trax there as soon as I walked in!  I was so happy I could make it to their first show of the year, which was located outside of Tokyo (a rare event)!

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it’s a spirtual thing. a body thing. a soul thing. A lo-fi image of my favorite DJ from Trekkie Trax: Carpainter playing in Takasaki, Japan.

At the time I arrived, a Gunma native DJ called Amps was playing.  He is a longtime member of Trekkie Trax and I’ve heard him play juke sets in Tokyo before, but due to the chaos of Tokyo clubs, I had never really got to know him before.  It was wonderful to hear him play in his element.  An example of some of his tracks can be found below, or on his Soundcloud:

Each DJ had one hour to play, and it was great because the club wasn’t very crowded so there was a lot of room to dance!  I had a chance to get to talk to each artist, meet some of the Takasaki locals, and also became friends with one of the resident DJs called Momo who kindly bought me a tequila shot.  I liked this event because all of the artists played the music they wanted and didn’t try to please the crowd.  Everyone here came for the music and it was a great atmosphere.

This whole night felt like a dream to me because in the middle of Carpainter’s set, Andrew brought out a tray of tequila shots, Seimei brought out pizza, and Momo and I were dancing at the very front in this sea of neon lights and banging techno music, so it all just felt unreal.  Tokyo club events like this are usually very crowded and sometimes noisy, but I was able to lose myself completely within the music here at WOAL which is why I love traveling for these smaller shows.  The feeling that I felt here, I will never forget!

What’s funny is the vibration caused from the speakers makes the toilet paper in the restroom fall to the floor, and it’s become somewhat of a meme in the Japan music scene online:

Feeling completely mindblown and fulfilled, the next morning I took the local JR train to Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station, then took a bus to Kusatsu Onsen and was amazed at this beautiful natural hotspring in the middle of the village:

Much like Takasaki, the atmosphere of this town was friendly and very inviting.  Dozens of street vendors were giving free samples of tea, dumplings, and local sake.  Though there was snow on the ground, the steam from the local onsen was enough to keep me farm.  Feeling hungry, I decided to wander around and find some food first.  There are dumpling shops everywhere, so I decided to try the black sesame ones.  I also found an udon shop called Matsumoto, and tried the udon and mushrooms that Kusatsu is very famous for in tempura form:

After feeling full, I wandered to Sainokawara Park and paid 600 yen to go inside the natural hotspring.  The water was very tepid, but it relaxed my muscles and made my body feel amazing.  I highly recommend this onsen for day trippers, because it is very affordable for those who cannot afford an inn.  Additionally, you can feel very in-tune with nature by sitting on the rocks and watching the moon rise.  Witnessing amazing music followed by bathing in an onsen is the perfect feeling!

Scattered throughout the town, there are many free footbaths that you can use!  Additionally, a friend of mine runs a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) called Hotel Miyuki Annex, so I would recommend staying there, because they are local and quite affordable (my friend is Japanese but speaks nearly perfect English).  At night, the town becomes illuminated and beautiful!  Another recommendation I have is coming during winter, because I think the water in other seasons would be too hot for most people otherwise.  I only stayed here for the day, but most people stay here overnight.  Most of the town you can access on foot, and there are an endless amount of hotsprings for you to try!

Before I took one of the final buses back to civilization, I stopped at a local liquor shop.  They had amazing grape liquor as well as amusing sake and award-winning beer, so I picked up a couple souvenirs for my friends.  You really can’t go wrong with the food and drinks here!

I am now back in Tokyo, but I will never forget the vivid memories I have from this trip.  The people of Gunma treated me with extreme kindness, and the views of the mountains, steamy hotsprings, and neon lights are permanently etched within my mind!  I am grateful I had this as my first trip of 2019!

Carpainter – Orient Review: A Soothing Sensation of Techno for the Soul

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Very recently, Carpainter from Trekkie Trax (Tokyo’s beloved independent record label) released a new EP called “Orient” with roots stemming from Detroit Techno and UK Garage/Funk.  The EP contains two songs; the first titled “Orient” and the second titled “Mottled Pattern”.  Collectively they are composed with upbeat, inspiring melodies that are true to their influences, and are very reflective of Carpainter’s ability of an artist.

What I like most about these songs are they can be listened to in any setting–such as a club, a lounge, or even at home in your room.  While listening to this EP, I definitely feel a funky vibe that is overall upbeat and easy to dance too, but simultaneously, the intricate composition makes you feel reflective and contemplative of life.  It is music that is soothing for the soul, much like classic Detroit Techno:

Orient is a song with an intro that sounds similar to the songs that Carpainter produced on his Returning album, but quickly transforms into an extremely unique and funky melody full of energy.  The clashing techno sounds in the middle of the song make it very compelling to listen to, but the drums in the background make the song consistent.  It is evident he carefully chose the timing of the techno chords and electronic components of the song, and much like Detroit techno, this song possesses a lot of spirituality combined with technology.  What I find amazing is that not many people in Japan are familiar with Detroit techno, but this artist has a firm grasp on how to produce it.

In contrast, Mottled Pattern sounds like it had more of an acid techno and liquid house influence, but much like Orient, the percussion and synthetic beats make it a consistent song that is still very funky.  Much like a pattern that is “mottled” or unclear, the song is ambiguous in nature. It sounds like liquid techno at first, then has unexpected spaceship-like SFX in the middle which make it very peculiar.  However, this is Carpainter’s distinctive style, and what makes him stand out as an artist.  Overall, I like this song just as much as I like Orient because Carpainter put so much of himself into it, yet you can tell he had various techno influences as mentioned above.

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Though I have many positive things to say about this EP, my biggest criticism is it doesn’t actually reflect how much as he has grown as an artist.  In less than one year, Carpainter has done amazing things like open for Virtual Self in Tokyo, tour in Taiwan with the rest of Trekkie Trax, and also has performed at extremely reputable clubs in Tokyo while studying music and building a following of loyal fans.  I have witnessed him perform at techno, anime song, and house events as well as open for foreign performers that come to Japan, and in this single year of 2018 he has improved his abilities more than what this EP reflects.

One reason I love Carpainter as an artist is because he has played more genres than anyone else on his label, and has challenged himself to create music that is much different than what your normally hear from other Japanese artists.  However, if you don’t actively follow his club events and only listen to his music online, then you won’t know how much he’s grown as a producer since his last album (Returning, released in 2017).

Fortunately, Trekkie Trax has premiered more of Carpainter’s unreleased exclusive songs on their radio show, so hopefully Orient is part of a larger and more epic release.  Additionally, the reason of why he chose sunflowers as his cover art remains up to the listener to perceive (and will hopefully be elaborated on in a future interview)!

If you like artists like Lone, Ken Ishii, Disclosure, and various UK Garage artists, then I definitely recommend that you listen to it!

Support Carpainter’s Orient EP through Bandcamp here!