By Killian Barry
Maybe it’s the language barrier, perhaps it’s misguided preconceptions, but I suspect my own limited exposure to and familiarity with Japanese music reflects the experience of a lot of us. Not content with this state of affairs, I used some of our recent free time to conduct a deep dive into the music scene here, past and present, mainstream and beyond. With deference to Spotify, YouTube and various blogs, what follows is a non-exhaustive, multi-genre introduction to a selection of contemporary Japanese acts deserving of your ears.
Chelmico’s peppy tunes flaunt a glossy sheen and plenty of effervescent commercial appeal. The Tokyo duo’s catchy pop/rap hybrid has substance to complement the style, though, with a latest single that’s a certified bop. A recent placement in an anime opening will do their stock no harm at all.
Best for: toe-tapping on the train with your headphones on
Start with: ‘Easy Breezy’
- Otoboke Beaver
This female four-piece from Kyoto have been a going concern for a decade, but thanks to slots at Coachella and Primavera, they find themselves making waves as the current export du jour. Otoboke Beaver specialise in abrasive noise-rock, though with a dose of humour and some twisted pop hooks not far below the surface. Named after a love hotel, in case you were wondering.
Best for: tinnitus
Start with: ‘Don’t Light My Fire’
- Pasocom Music Club
From beginnings in vaporwave that recalled the smooth digitised grooves of Japan’s 1980s city pop aesthetic, the duo that make up Pasocom Music Club branched out on their latest release to embrace house, accessible techno and on-trend dance pop, and accordingly find themselves at the forefront of popular electronic music in Japan.
Best for: pre-drinks on your scenester night out in Tokyo
Start with: ‘Reiji no machi’
- Yabai T-Shirts Yasan
While Japan has no shortage of melodic rock that favours a poppy sensibility, what sets Yabai T-Shirts Yasanapart is the interplay between the two vocalists. Infectious and irresistible, and with a giddy excitement driving the momentum, this Osaka indie trio offer unapologetically feel-good vibes.
Best for: dancing like a toddler on Skittles
Start with: ‘Happy Wedding Mae Song’
MONO are a four-piece instrumental rock act entering their third decade, but whose slow-burning, sprawling epics are a soundtrack as fitting as ever to our uncertain times. The band’s unhurried soundscapes tend towards delicate and transcendent, yet frequently make time to descend into a shoegazey squall. Just the ticket for imbuing even the most mundane chore with some cosmic significance.
Best for: watching the world go up in flames
Start with: ‘Where We Begin’
Polysics can be easily identified by the distinctive orange boilersuits, straight-bar shades, and their air of detached nonchalance. Keen observers will note clear parallels with new wave pioneers Devo. So while the quirk factor is high, Polysics back it up with a brand of frenetic post-punk sufficiently tightly wound to be the musical equivalent of an anxious tic.
Best for: showing your friends one of those ‘eccentric’ Japanese bands
Start with: ‘I My Me Mine’
- Luby Sparks
Part of the dream pop movement that’s been central to Tokyo’s indie scene for a few years now, Luby Sparks is the sound of wistful nostalgia for a lost youth. The band’s musical output evokes the languid glow of a hazy California sunset transplanted to central Honshu, with Erika Murphy’s airy vocals the cherry on top.
Best for: the closing credits of a John Hughes film
Start with: ‘Somewhere’
If metalcore is your jam, Osaka’s Crossfaith fly the flag for the genre. With plenty of nods to an angsty nu-metal that’s retained a foothold in this country, the band’s English lyrics make them more accessible to a small but ardent international fanbase, but what makes Crossfaith particularly interesting is the use of electronic touches to flesh out their sound.
Best for: a kyushoku that won’t be forgotten any time soon
Start with: ‘Endorphin’
With smooth guitar grooves that represent the broader neo city pop trend of recent years, here’s a group riding the crest of a wave. Reliably funky, always soulful and melodic, Nulbarich straddle that line between indie and commercially viable, topping the list of a rake of contenders fit to soundtrack H&M’s summer collection.
Best for: shopping at Uniqlo
Start with: ‘New Era’
10. The Cherry Coke$
I’d be neglecting my patriotic duty as an Irishman if I failed to draw attention to this curiosity. Though far from the first Japanese band to ape 2000s punk acts from English-speaking territories, the Cherry Cokes are still an anomaly. It’s a boisterous Celtic knees-up indebted to the spirit of Flogging Molly, rowdy Japanese punk set to a backdrop of tin whistles and banjo, a Guinness glass full of shochu.
Best for: spilling your pint
Start with: ‘Rise Again’
Killian is a first-year ALT based in Uchiko. He reviews for publications back in Dublin, Ireland, and is an avid music fan still coming to terms with the dearth of live shows in Ehime.