Japan’s music industry is a contradiction that has as many creative people as it does tacky and full of fluff. There are many talented artists with an equally diverse range of tastes, genres, and styles. Surprisingly, discovering new music is still done through television music shows (like Music Station), interview spots, and as theme songs in anime, drama, movies, and commercials. For a country that aims to introduce more robots in the service sector, streaming services such as Spotify are still finding Japan a stubbornly hard market to crack.
I’ve also mentioned before that purchasing music from Japanese music websites such as Amazon Music Japan and Recochoku are a pain. But since my last rant, I’ve seen more new releases on iTunes, usually released within the same week as Japan, and in 48 hours (Japan releases new music on Wednesdays, but they aren’t available on iTunes until Friday). At least it’s a start in the right direction.
All this aside, the music from Japan that does get attention aren’t necessarily the ones with the best reviews. AKB48 still gets a lot of crap from critics because it’s clearly a baseless popularity contest that has nothing to do with talent, while the ones who do don’t have the motivation to promote themselves outside their domestic market.
So I’ve made it my personal mission to proactively look for artists who deserve the attention while being relatively accessible. The following may be a good start for those who are looking for something to like. Or at least, I hope the following introductions help break the stereotypes and prejudices tied to this industry, which has more to offer.
These are simply my preferences, and I’m more than happy to be introduced to others.
Techno and dance may not be for everyone, but if you like Avicii, this might be up your alley. CAPSULE comprises of Yasutaka Nakata and Toshiko Koshijima and they’ve been working together since 2003. Their latest album, Wave Runner, was released in January 2015. These are great tracks for the gym.
80Kidz are an instrumental electronic duo. They debut in 2008 with an EP called Life Begins at Eighty, and released their first album in April 2009 called This Is My Shit. They don’t show their faces to promote themselves, and their concerts are not decorated in laser shows or storytelling visuals. But every song is a burst of electronica goodness that makes for a thrilling life soundtrack.
Boom Boom Satellites
BBS is an electronica/nu skool/rock/punk duo made up of Michiyuki Kawashima and Masayuki Nakano. If they sound familiar, it may be because they sang the opening theme to Kiznavier.
Unfortunately the band just released their last EP Lay Your Hands On Me because Kawashima has been struggling with a cancerous tumor in his brain, which recently relapsed for the fourth time.
Gen Hoshino was my breath of fresh air in 2015. He’s been releasing solo albums since 2013, although he’s been with an isntrumental band called “Sakerock” since 2003. He recently won the Best Male Video at MTV Japan’s VMAJ awards in 2015 for Sun.
I just hope his music will be made available on iTunes soon. I had to buy his CDs when I was in Tokyo.
RADWIMPS’ front man Yojiro Noda debut his solo work as illion in 2013. I discovered his album by accident when I was in Tsutaya@Shibuya. I have not stopped thanking my lucky stars for buying this album. I still have many favourites from this album, including AIWAGUMA and GASSHOW. He’s in the middle of producing a new EP that was supposed to be released on July 20. However, he announced in an Instagram post that the EP was turning into a sophomore album, and asked for more time to work on it. Most gladly!
Sakanaction made its debut in 2005, and their music is described as a fusion of alternative, electronic, pop, and new wave. It’s quite impossible to categorize them in a box, really. But this band named themselves so to reflect their wish to be like fish in action in water (which is literally how “sakanaction” was inspired), without fear of the changes in the music scene.
Endless is still my favourite.