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Floating Room lampoons colonizers and bigots in “Shimanchu”

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From the slumberous shoegaze musings of 2016 debut album Sunless, to more placid slowcore impressions in 2018’s False Baptism and lush art rock temperaments of 2020’s Tired and True EP, the songs of Portland-based Uchinanchu American artist Maya Stoner–who performs under the name Floating Room–have hovered above a slew of genres throughout their time in DIY music.

Floating Room – Shima EP

Since their latest release (which we named one of our favorite EPs of 2020), unimaginable atrocities against the AAPI community have amplified in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. Countless racial attacks and injustices in the Okinawan community have been issues Stoner fervently addresses on social media, and they’re also central subject matters of Stoner’s music. Floating Room’s latest single “Shimanchu,” however, is perhaps the most candid reproach to the discrimination she faces as an Uchinanchu American woman.

“Shimanchu” sees Stoner returning to heavier riot grrrl roots while continuing to pen personal and unabashedly confrontational lyrics. With an unyielding core around the song’s chorus (“I’m an islander / But I’m away from my island / So I am the only island here”), Stoner draws parallels to Okinawa’s troubled past and her personal experiences to lampoon the colonists that colonized the island and call out those who have turned a deaf ear to such issues. The last third of “Shimanchu,” where Stoner escalates her chorus into ferocious screams, makes sure you’re fully aware of what Stoner is going through.

Here’s what Stoner had to say about the song’s release and its accompanying video:

In her book Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong writes: “I sometimes avoid reading a news story when the victim is Asian because I don’t want to pay attention to the fact that no one else is paying attention. I don’t want to care that no one else cares because I don’t want to be left stranded in my rage.” Though she wrote it before the pandemic, the quote is even more relatable now. When I wrote this song I was following the anti-Asian violence and murders that seemed to be happening everyday. I kept up with stories and videos through various volunteer-run Asian American news sites and accounts. Elsewhere, the silence was deafening and it seemed like no one cared. In fact, up until the Atlanta shooter killed six Asian women, it felt as if caring about the violence was a cancellable offense. Those of us who did speak up had to work up a lot of courage —yet despite us calling out for help, no one was listening. Often we were silenced or gaslit and put in our place. Eventually the grief was so debilitating I had to stop myself from reading and speaking about it altogether.

My mom is from the Ryukyu Islands, so-called Okinawa, Japan. Indigenous Okinawans identify as Shimanchu which means “Island People.” I could count the number of Shimanchu folks I have met in Portland, Oregon, where I live, on one hand. While all of this was happening here in the US, heinous shit was and still is happening back in my ancestral lands. For context, a third of our people died brutally during the war and were an innocent civilian population caught between belligerents —“attacked by tigers at the front gate and wolves at the back” is how some Okinawans describe it. Now Japan is letting the U.S. use soil containing the bones of those killed to create a landfill in the ocean. On this landfill they plan to build yet another U.S. military base. It’s an injustice which symbolizes our historical and ongoing plight. My people have faced colonization and forced cultural assimilation and the injustices never seem to end. Most people here in the US don’t even realize Okinawans exist.

This has all added to my lifelong feeling of isolation. Like Cathy Park Hong, I am left stranded in my rage. To be stranded means to be left without the resources needed to move from somewhere. Writing this was a means to at least momentarily escape. This song and album has made me feel empowered about being alone.

The music video I made for this song is really fun despite the very un-fun stuff that inspired the song. My siblings and I loved playing DDR as kids so I had wanted to make a DDR based video for a while. It’s funny this ended up being the song that brought that vision to fruition because in hindsight DDR was a part of our Asian American experience. Despite or perhaps because of all the rage I feel inside I want to be happy and that is why I make pop music and art like this.

“Shimanchu” is the first single from Floating Room’s upcoming Shima EP, which is slated for release on November 12 via Famous Class Records.

Header photo by Eirinn Lou Riggs.

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