A slightly embarrassing fact about me is that I used to be a huge fan of the band Chatmonchy. Although I shouldn’t be too embarrassed because I strongly believe they are one of the finest female bands in the history of rock and roll (and I don’t mean just in Japan). They’re mostly known for their radio friendly bubblegum pop but they originally made music that was much more honest, powerful and heartfelt.
Chatmonchy’s music has been a profound inspiration to countless Japanese female rock bands (赤い公園, ねごと, tricot etc) and will continue to be for generations to come. While many bands like Scandal and Stereopony have emulated the bubblegum arena rock aspect of Chatmonchy’s music to great success, very few bands have dug deeper and focussed on recreating the soulfulness and timelessly beautiful melodies that made Chatmonchy’s earlier music so emotionally powerful and grand.
It seems like most female bands today put more emphasis on acting cute or rocking out on stage than actually taking the time to write music that is truly memorable and substantial.
The peggies are a very young band who are clearly influenced by Chatmonchy and thankfully they manage to grasp the true essence of what made Chatmonchy’s music so good, not just on a superficial level. The band consists of three female members all born in 1995, so I believe they just graduated from high school this year. Unlike Akai Koen who have prodigal music talent, skill wise the peggies’ musicianship is still at a rudimentary level but has improved drastically in just one year. The strength of the peggies’ music lies in leader/guitarist/vocalist Yuho Kitazawa’s knack for songwriting and innate talent in cooking up fresh sounding melodies.
At this stage Yuho’s songwriting is still far from the level of Chatmonchy’s Eriko Hashimoto but she shows remarkable potential and just watching the band play once you can tell they have a rare charm and composure that leads you to believe they are destined for greatness.
When I was searching for potential bands for NMFT4, my good friend Yasuhiro Kubota (ex-manager of Akai Koen and Mass of the Fermenting Dregs) mentioned that a lot of A&R’s at EMI were excited about a group of 16 year old girls in a band called ライスボール (Riceball) who were competing in a battle of the bands to perform as the opening act at EMI Rocks 2012. He had never seen Riceball himself but he suggested I check them out just in case they were the 2nd coming of Akai Koen.
So I went to the finals of the battle of the bands showing up just in time… to miss Riceball’s set as they were the first of four finalist bands to perform. I did watch the other three bands however, and they were all quite talented, nothing suitable for NMFT but the bands were impressively tight and skilled.
In the end the panel of judges unanimously chose Riceball as the winner. Elaborating on the verdict each judge criticized Riceball for their lack of skill but all of them clearly saw something uniquely special about the band and wanted to award Riceball with the opportunity to jumpstart their career performing in front of tens of thousands at Super Saitama Arena during EMI Rocks. (Pretty gutsy move if you ask me since I’d be more weary of the girls catching stage fright in such a situation).
On the day of EMI Rocks, Riceball who were a four-pc at the time with a member on keyboards, decided to change their name to: the peggies. The hilarious part was that they never told anyone at EMI about this so it was a huge shock to both EMI and the entire audience when ‘Riceball’ introduced themselves by saying “Hello everyone, we’re… the peggies!!”
I asked Kubota how the peggies were at EMI Rocks and in his opinion they were nothing special, just your average female rock band. He did say however that the peggies got a much better response from the audience than the opening act of the previous year: 股下89.
Based on my friend Kubota’s opinion who more or less understands my musical tastes, I figured the peggies/Riceball would be a dead end. However in Dec 2012 I had a chance to see the peggies perform at Shibuya LUSH and thought to myself “WTF Hiro?!!” (Hiro = Kubota) They’re not that bad! This band actually has a LOT of potential and they’re about the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a band successfully channeling the musical essence of Chatmonchy. They didn’t copy the band or rip off any melodies/chord progressions but they conveyed the same degree of emotion, charm and honesty. My only complaint was that the peggies’ music was lacking in edge, raw intensity compared to some of Chatmonchy’s more ‘aggressive’ songs. (Okay, none of Chatmonchy’s songs are all that aggressive but some are really powerful eg “Renai Spirits’ “Hitori Dake” “Donaru Denwa Doshaburi”)
I’m hoping that Yuho Kitazawa goes through a few really bad relationships and develops a bit of angst that will toughen the peggies’ sound a little. lol.
The peggies’ music undeniably has some cuteness/fluffiness to it and they’re still developing their chops. They may never write songs as great as Chatmonchy’s classics but so far they’re headed in the right trajectory. And if they ever develop a bit of 股下89′s no non-sense attitude that would be even sweeter.
The peggies have been offering their new mini-album for free download. Act super fast because they’re only making the download free until Oct 31 (and remember Japan is in a time-zone that’s hours ahead of N America).
If you feel like a wuss for actually liking the album then listen to some BORIS or Black Flag to regain some of your ‘manhood.’ lol. OR… take the stance that a real man listens to whatever the f*ck he wants and doesn’t care if Geoff Spence gives him a ton of flack for the next decade.
In spring 2011 when Stein’s Gate aired I remember watching the first episode and not liking it. The animation was washed out, the plot difficult to follow and most importantly the main character was overbearing and obnoxious. I decided not to watch the series based on this first impression. But blogs everywhere kept lauding it as one of the best animes of the season so 12 episodes later I started watching it again and… holy f*ck.. it ended up having a brilliant storyline gripping with tension, fantastic dialogue and filled with some of the most interesting, dynamic characters I can remember. After practically hating the series at first Stein’s Gate is now one of my all-time favorite TV series (live action or anime).
Happy!Mari are the Stein’s Gate of Japanese bands.
In Dec 2011 I showed up very late to a concert just in time to watch グーミ (goomi) close the show. グーミ was my favorite band at the time and during the uchiage (after-party) グーミ’s guitarist Kobata couldn’t shut up about how awesome one of the other bands, Happy!Mari, were that night. He called Happy!Mari the future of アングラポップ (underground pop music).
At the time I was checking out potential bands for NMFT3 and with Kobata’s high priase of Happy!Mari I immediately checked out any footage I could find of them on Youtube. This is what I found:
You have GOT to be kidding me.
Slow, boring emo with average musicianship and the most annoying high pitched whiny vocals. Whatever, Kobata… thanks for NOTHING!
For two years I had numerous opportunities to watch Happy!Mari but never did. I even went to a few shows to see other bands where Happy!Mari were coincidentally in the line-up but somehow I always ended up missing their set. In the meantime I actually became friends with Shinmen, Happy!Mari’s singer after bumping into him at shows and at Fuji Rock. In fact, Shinmen and Kotaro (デロッピードロッピー ‘s drummer who curates Kura Fes) were lined up behind me to enter an onsen at Fuji Rock. AWKWARD! So awkward I ended up leaving with Ikuko (Merpeoples) and my friend Lana to go to a different onsen where my junk wouldn’t have to be visible to guys I know. lol.
After becoming friends with Shinmen I figured I should give Happy!Mari the benefit of the doubt and actually watch his band perform live. Happy!Mari played a show with Kinoko Teikoku last year at Chiba LOOK, a venue I had never been to and had trouble finding. Of course by the time I finally found Chiba Look, Happy!Mari had just finished playing and soon after Kinoko Teikoku killed it and solidified their position for NMFT5′s roster.
In Dec 2012, at a show curated by goomi I finally watched Happy!Mari perform live and… F*CK ME VIOLENTLY WITH A RUSTY CHAINSAW because they were one of the best bands I had seen in a looooong time. I felt really stupid for not making it a priority to see this amazing band two years earlier. Sorry Kobata!!! You were right! These guys ARE the future of underground pop music.
So what’s so special about Happy!Mari? Why are they one of the best young bands in Japan today?
They’re ferociously original, creative and versatile. Overall the instrumentation, especially the guitarwork, is very simple but the drummer and bassist are top-shelf and all four members as a unit are Zazen Boys tight and play with unrelenting passion and energy.
A lot of the originality and versatility stems from Shinmen’s incredible vocal dexterity. I initially found his voice whiny and super-annoying and sometimes he sings off-key but after listening to more songs I discovered he has a huge range of singing styles giving each song depth and wildly different character. His singing maneuvers between many different modes: whisper, float, melt, rap, chat, moan, growl, attack, scream, explode.
The music also has multiple personalities with many songs sounding like they’re being played by a completely different band.
Within each song, especially the newer ones, there is lots of variability and unpredictability with unexpected stops/starts, tempo changes and shifts in tone. This is the same level of versatility that makes Akai Koen such a great band and since they’re both such young bands, I like to think of Happy!Mari as being a male version of Akai Koen. Shinmen (H!M) and Tsuno Maisa (AK) are definitely two of the most creative young songwriters in Japan today.
Apart from Shinmen’s vocals, Takaishi’s creative drumming style is another highlight that elevates them from most other bands.
In Happy!Mari’s songs you barely notice the guitar but the drumming definitely stands out either due to its power or its inventiveness with drumlines that sound original and fresh. Since Happy!Mari aren’t a math/prog rock band Takaishi’s drumming doesn’t have the freeform creativity of toe’s Kashikura but Takaishi does as much as possible to give Happy!Mari’s structured pop an unpredictable, enjoyable flair.
You really notice how imaginative, confident and crisp his drumming is in this Ustream video (3rd song “Berlin 1989″ f*cking RULES!)
(note: Takiishi plays in another band called Miracle Afro Public with former guitarist of female grindcore band VAV! and the bassist from deepslauter).
Although Happy!Mari’s music can be considered pop it has such quirkiness and volatility and coupled with Shinmen’s crazy “takes getting used to” vocals I thought it would be impossible for Happy!Mari’s music to have any kind of mainstream appeal.
But in fact Space Shower TV (Japan’s version of MTV, Muchmusic) has already developed major interest in this band. Each year SSTV holds a prestigious concert called Retsuden. Retsuden showcases 3-4 of what Space Shower TV considers the hottest up & coming Japanese bands. In 2008, group_inou, MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS and the Telephones were the line-up (here’s a classic clip of group_inou at Retsuden).
This year tricot, WHITE ASH, indigo la End, and グッドモーニングアメリカ represented the line-up. However, SSTV also held a contest for one more band to be the opening act. From more than 1000 applicants, Happy!Mari was chosen for auditions, made the final four and won the battle of the bands Grand Prix for a contract to be the opening act at Retsuden along with funding for a future music video.
Their new bassist, Aoki, is SICK! He also plays in another great band called しゃっく
Damnit! They cut off the song when the 2nd half is where it gets really good. Personally I like this clip better despite the feedback.
So despite the inherent weirdness, underground and seemingly inaccessible nature of Happy!Mari’s style of new wave/dream pop/emo/hardcore even Space Shower TV, its viewers, and audience members that were allowed to vote recognize the talent and potential for greatness in this band. To me they’re the most interesting and talented young band in Japan and unless something unforeseen and crazy happens they’re a sure bet to be on the roster for NMFT 6 in May 2014.
A frequent occurrence in my life is the discovery of a great band and the misfortune of having just missed seeing them play live in my backyard. (This sh*t happens to me a lot in Japan too when I find out about a band at the end of my trip.) The Para-Medics are a band from Chicago whom I serendipitously discovered yesterday on Youtube and it just so happens they were very recently in town playing the final ‘A Mountain Far Fest‘ at Soybomb HQ which is just a 7 min walk from where I live.
(Although in my defense I was having a kickass time playing full court bball at Moss Park so it wasn’t like I was sitting at home twiddling my thumbs wishing there were a dope show to check)
These guys will shred your favorite band’s skill set into superstring cheese to utilize as fodder for the seriously outclassed.
You can download their album for a measly $3 right here! (note: if you’re nice you can pay more than the minimum $3. I actually gave $5.)
And the side-project by the drummer and bassist is tongue-in-cheek slapstick but drops some subtly dope punchlines if you take the time to listen (beats are wack as 0七二 though!!)
Between Tad‘s ‘Burn Down the Capital‘ events and shows at Soybomb HQ, Toronto’s starting to develop a sweet underground music scene of its own. Who knows, maybe a few years from now I’ll be doing Next Music from Toronto in Sapporo, Tokyo and Osaka. hahaha.
Intro: I’m starting a new series of posts covering the best up and coming bands/artists in Japan (i.e. fresh blood). These bands will primarily be underground acts of the post-punk/noise/HC/weirdpop variety (i.e. no Kana-Boon).
Onodera (Gt, Vo) Kuso Mushi (Ba, Scream)
Kageyama Daijiro (Gt) Kikuchi (Dr)
逃亡くそタわけ (which I’ll shorten to Toubou) are a Tokyo quartet who play a heavy, emotional brand of punk with an old school vibe that feels like a throw back to bands like Cowpers and Bloodthirsty Butchers. However, they have quite a quirky sense of humor so add a little Weezer into the mix and shake well.
In fact the first time I saw this band perform, it wasn’t on stage but while performing a skit during NEXT POP 2012 for the year end festivities @ Shinjuku Motion. Onodera and Kuso Mushi (note: Kuso Mushi = sh*t insect… I’m not 100% positive… but I don’t think that’s his real name.) recited traditional Japanese folk stories/fairy tales while the drummer scribbled arbitrary and progressively sarcastic commentary on pieces of paper for added humor.
I finally saw Toubou perform on stage as a band this year in June when they played with Happy!Mari, ランランランズ and some other bands @ Shinjuku NINESpices. I went to the show primarily for Happy!Mari and ランランランズ while having low expectations of the other bands so I intentionally showed up a little late and Toubou were already partway through their set. But as soon as I entered the floorspace I was greeted with a blistering sonic assault:
Whoa! That kicked my ass. I definitely regretted not showing up at least 15min earlier to witness Toubou’s set from the beginning. The song they played above is called “Ototoi Kiyagare!!!” and it’s probably my favorite song by them on their lovely and badass CD “逃亡くそタわけの逃亡.”
The rest of their set was just as intense and what impressed me about Toubou is how much fun they have on stage playing as loud as they can with as much passion as humanly possible.
Here’s a clip someone else uploaded that exemplifies their ability to rock out on stage:
Toubou look like they should be in the chess club rather than playing hardcore punk and they have almost zero chance of CD sales taking off and becoming rich and famous but who the f*ck cares?! These guys rule and have developed a cult following and they will continue to melt faces with their emotionally powerful music and ferocious live performances.
Nothing is official yet but two of the four bands have more or less been determined and they are Happy!Mari and group_inou.
The third band will likely be jizue and I’ve already invited tricot to be the 4th band.
group_inou are a no brainer. They were part of NMFT4 and quite possibly the most popular and fun band to have participated in NMFT so far.
Happy!Mari have a girly band name but they are supremely badass and my favorite band at the moment. I’ll describe them more in a future post but they’re a unique band overflowing with character and originality who write great songs and are incredibly tight musicians. A lot of people may hate the singer’s voice and singing style (I did at first) as it’s very high pitched, occasionally whiny and out of tune but it’s grown on me and now I consider it a real strength and one of the reasons the band is so interesting. They’re very young and haven’t even released an album yet but are kicking everyone’s asses in Tokyo’s underground scene.
jizue are an instrumental band from Kyoto who have been around for a while but are just now starting to make some noise throughout Japan.
They’re similar to mouse on the keys with piano driven melodies however the addition of bass and guitar allow for less minimalism and more warmth.
Also similar to motk and toe, their performances crescendo with a ton of emotion and intensity since most of the members previously played in hardcore bands.
I went to their one-man concert in July and was completely blown away. Basically, the only reason they’re not already 100% on the roster is because they didn’t bother to put me on the guest list for their show. They REALLY want to take part in NMFT6 and it was probably just an honest mistake but we had been in contact through Facebook & Twitter and even though I didn’t explicitly say “please put me on the guest list” they should have known better. I’m going to see them again next month and will give them a 2nd chance since they are pretty f*cking awesome.
As many of you know, in 2011 tricot was the first band I confirmed for NMFT4 and for various reasons I ended up replacing them with Praha Depart.
tricot set aside time from their busy schedule for the tour, had their heart set on coming to Canada and I rudely took away their opportunity so they have every right to be pissed at me…. and they are… very much so, well at least the drummer and manager with whom I had discused the tour.
Last year, I invited them to NMFT5 but they declined (actually, they were so pissed they didn’t even respond back). Since then I’ve talked with the band and staff and things are a bit smoother but I think they still hold a grudge.
Anyhow, tricot has a spot on the tour if they decide to take it
Again, nothing’s set in stone but group_inou, Happy!Mari, jizue, tricot would be a KILLER line-up.
But in case tricot says no I need to be prepared with a substitute. Also, jizue are frontrunners but they don’t have the spot locked up just yet.
So these are the other bands I’m strongly considering for the two remaining spots on the NMFT6 roster:
Having hyacca and group_inou on the same bill would be… INSANE. Out of the past five NMFT tours, these two bands wreaked the most havoc by far. Especially because I go completely mental watching them and generate a lot of moshing and crowdsurfing on my own. hahaha.
Since hyacca have already participated before, I would prefer giving another band a chance and otori shares some of the raw power and ferociousness that hyacca has in spades. However, otori don’t have quite the same energy and stage presence as hyacca and they still need a couple more killer songs to put on a truly great 35-40 min set. What I do like about them is they have developed a signature sound quite unlike any other band and I really appreciate their originality.
股下89 (matashita 89)
Matashita89′s music fits a lot closer to the NMFT aesthetic than tricot’s. However, tricot are much better musicians/performers.
What I love about 股下89 is their no non-sense attitude and raw “I don’t give a f*ck” soulfullness that is unseen in any other female band save for nisennenmondai and maybe 鬼の右腕 (oni no migiude). Unfortunately, like otori they need to up their collection of standout songs but their attitude/aura alone leaves a lasting impression.
A Kansai band that was recommended to me years ago whom I had been following closely and finally saw live for the first time in July. The main guitarist is the 2nd coming of Hendrix and the drummer is also phenomenally good. They are essentially an instrumental band with world music meets carnival meets lullaby-esque hymns and chants thrown in for vocal effect rather than a traditional form of singing.
When I saw them play live for their record release they actually played twice the same night as the first and last bands up. I watched the show with my friend Martin and we thought the first set was decent but nothing spectacular. However, the second time up they KILLED it and Martin and I were picking our jaws up from the ground. It was like two completely different bands. And the weird thing is they played my favorite songs during the first set but the second set was way, WAY better. I really like this band but I’m not sure how well they’ll go over in Canada. What do you guys think?
They’re label mates of チーナ and I’ve mentioned them as candidates before. In fact, rega are one of the most skilled instrumental bands in Japan and have a much larger following than チーナ, so Takeo Hori who manages both bands has always wondered why チーナ and not rega?! Well, チーナ trumps rega by having a style that’s closer to being unique and for writing songs with more emotional impact. However, I was invited to rega’s one-man at Shelter in July and they were very impressive. A lot heavier and aggressive than I remember them being and the crowd went completely bananas the entire night. I’ll keep them in mind but with group_inou and Happy!Mari having all male members I’d prefer the other two bands to have at least some female content to balance things out a bit.
(The video gets progressively wilder and crazier esp after the 5:30 mark)
There are much more established bands like Rin Toshite Shigure and Clammbon that I’d love to bring but it would be way too expensive (triple the cost of a regular band).
Tokumaru Shugo is another option whom group_inou want to tour Canada with but he could tour the US & Canada easily on his own without my help.
Akai Koen want to come again but Universal Music want them to focus on gaining popularity in Japan first.
Other bands under consideration: mothercoat (from NMFT1), chouchou merged syrups, thai kick murph, Gekitetsu, tacobonds, skillkills, Solid Afro, viridian (although they’ve practically broken up), masadayomasa (also almost broken up), Toubou Kusotawake and some other important bands I can’t remember off the top of my head.
Feel free to offer criticisms, recommendations and advice in the comments section!!