Bye-bye, Yoko

Local Yoko: The Japanese music lover's guide to Minneapolis rock

Bye-bye, Yoko
After a particularly grueling two weeks as your local music scribe, I was looking forward to meeting spunky Japanese rock tourist Yoko Sawai, whose enthusiasm for Minneapolis music is famously infectious. Sawai stayed a month in town attending shows, and has become something of a celebrity on the local scene since being featured in this month's issue of Request magazine. But the 23-year-old international indie-pop fan with friends in the Presidents of the United States of America and Neutral Milk Hotel remains a mystery to the acquaintances she left behind last Saturday.

The reason might be that, despite a college degree in English literature from Kobe University (where she experienced the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995), Sawai's spoken English remains limited to basic phrases like "Hang Ups very good." When explaining her travel bug, for instance, she offered the practical reason that rock concerts in Japan are excessively pricey ($60 on average). Sawai has seen hundreds of shows over her two years of American travel. And in that period, she has, in essence, lived, breathed, and slept more rock 'n' roll than any critic or performer I know. Ticket prices don't begin to explain that.

Last Tuesday I met Sawai for ice cream, and she told me of plans to move to Minneapolis, her "favorite city." "It's nice and small," she said. "Osaka too big." Was this flattery aimed at local scenesters? Probably not. When we met Thursday at Grumpy's bar for a party hosted by Toast magazine, some Radio K folks told Sawai she should marry me in order to get a green card. Sawai flashed a blank look in response; it took me a minute to realize that she understood the suggestion and was playing dumb. I had to wonder how often she employs this tactic in dealing with the curious Orientalists she comes across on the Amerindie scene.

I was hoping, of course, to get the inside story of how a Japanese record-store employee became a homeless expatriate rock pilgrim and socialite. Instead, Sawai gave me a giant, neatly written list of bands she'd seen on various trips to the States. This wasn't playing dumb, I suspect. Sawai knows how to stay focused on what matters and what's exciting. "I love music," she'll tell you over and over. Amen.

Radio clash
Though the claim might sound improbable, when it comes to television and radio waves, editorial freedom belongs to you and me, baby. The air is public property, and laws governing its use are subject to democratic review. Understanding this fact is probably the first step toward getting behind Americans for Radio Diversity, a listeners' rights group that still pisses off Milton Friedman types who think radio is the best of all possible free markets.

ARD's main beef with radio law lies in the rules for station ownership set up by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which gave media conglomerates unprecedented leeway to monopolize frequencies in a single market. Now the Federal Communications Commission is reviewing these very rules and has asked for public input before an August 21 deadline. Technically speaking, you must "reply" to comments already made, but this involves about half an hour of your time and three simple steps for anyone with Internet access: 1) Skim paragraphs 17 through 23 of the FCC's "Notice of Inquiry" at; 2) Visit ARD's Web site ( and check out the letter it sent the FCC; and 3) Send a reaction with a mention of "MM Docket No. 98-35" in the heading to:

Office of the Secretary

Federal Communications Commission

1919 M St. N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20554

Keep these addresses handy for the possible issue of the FCC's "Notice of Proposed Rule Making," which would reopen the door for your mailed opinions.

Sunrise, Soundset
Hip-hop fans arriving at First Avenue last week for another edition of Soundset Wednesdays encountered members of Rhyme Sayers Entertainment passing out leaflets explaining why there would be no dance party that night. "Due to the overwhelming amount of people attending," said the flier, "[we] have decided to take a break to re-evaluate staffing and some general procedures in order to bring you the best night possible." The cancellation was spurred by incidents of pot smoking and liquor sneaking, and a single violent altercation between a customer and security staff the previous Wednesday, which resulted in the club shutting down early.

Neither Rhyme Sayers head Brent Sayers nor First Ave. manager Steve McClellan would say when the night might be resumed, but both agreed that Soundset's huge weekly draw of 1,300 to 1,600 since its June 8 debut was a contributing factor in security problems. Speak to anyone who attended the weekly dance night, however, and you're likely to hear a surprised reaction to the temporary suspension. "The vibe was great," says one patron. "There was no tension at all."

McClellan and Sayers do say they're committed to continuing the 18-plus dance night in the future. One can only hope so, given Soundset's potential for scene-building in a town where every step forward in hip hop seems to require two steps back. It would be shameful for this institution to be sunk by the sort of rare drunken behavior that occurs at rock bars on any given night of the week without any attendant media fuss. (By the way, no soul-searching was deemed necessary within the metal community after the white riot at Ozzfest.) Soundset might resume after the Rhyme Sayers open for Ice-T on September 2.

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