Arama They Didn't

10:48 pm - 11/14/2012

Five J-music Scenes Not To Be Missed

By: Patrick St. Michel

Navigating the musical scenes in Japan today isn’t an easy task – Tokyo alone is bustling with a wide variety of sounds, and that’s just within the confines of one city. To make things a touch easier, we’ve compiled the five most influential musical communities in Japan today. Our criteria ranges from commercial success to artistic daring to pure intrigue, but each of the below are worth your time.

1. Idol Pop

Japan’s most popular domestic music also happens to be its most colorful and hyperactive. Idols have been the dominant face of J-pop since the 1970s, when young women saturated the media landscape as singers and actors. The following decade saw a rise in idol groups, collectives of spritely girls performing chirpy songs and choreography, and today the same model holds commercial dominance in the country. Idol singers and groups come in all forms, from school-uniform-clad units selling youth to fake-chainsaw-wielding outfits aimed at those into grislier fare (well, as grisly as up-tempo pop can get). AKB48, a 60-member-strong group based out of Tokyo’s Akhibara area, is the most popular pop act in the nation today, highlighted by their August album “1830m” being the first Japanese CD since 2010 to sell more than a million units. It isn’t just a girl’s game though – there is an equally vibrant male idol scene, topped by long-standing group Arashi, who were the last act to move more than a million albums.

2.Tokyo’s Alternative Rock Districts

Tokyo’s bustling rock ‘n’ roll community practically acts in opposition to bright idol pop. The music is often loud, feedback drenched and imperfect, perfection pushed aside in favor of an “anything can happen next” vibe. It’s centered in two parts of the city specifically – trendy Shimokitazawa and scuzzy Koenji, both locales packed with live houses on nearly every street. Bands playing regular gigs in these neighborhoods take inspiration from all sorts of styles – new wave, metal, punk (many consider Koenji ground zero for punk in Japan). It isn’t an off-the-beaten-path treasure however, as bands who make a name for themselves in these areas can be picked up by major Japanese labels and pushed into the mainstream.

3. Visual Kei

If idol pop got really into heavy metal as a teenager, it might mature into visual kei. This type of music is buzzy and dramatic, but the sound is only half of the equation, as visual kei group’s also dress in eye-grabbing costumes, complete with makeup. Extravagant bands like X Japan and Luna Sea established the style of visual kei while also turning it into a commercial success, helping groups like Malice Mizer and Dir En Grey (both of whom eventually edged away form visual kei) achieve nationwide attention. Visaul kei was at its commercial peak in the 1990s, but plenty of groups still demand attention today, from relative newcomers like the GazettE to old hands X Japan, who regularly perform to huge crowds overseas.

4. Kansai’s Electronic Scene

The Kansai region of Japan lies in the middle of Japan and includes major cities like Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. It also houses the most forward-thinking electronic music in the country, propelled forward by a handful of fledgling labels and parties scattered across the area. This new movement was spearheaded by an Osaka-based event called Innit, which urged local music makers to bring their own music to the club where it would get played (and earn them a discount on the front-door ticket). From those get togethers came labels like Osaka’s Day Tripper and more parties like Kyoto’s IdleMoments, which helped foster new talent. The actual music sometimes resembles the sounds coming out of American producer Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint – the founders of Innit admire his work great – but it also can go into headier directions all its own. Some highlights include the wonky Seiho, the gloopy beats of Avec Avec and the constricting creations of Eadonmm.

5. Vocaloid

The world of Vocaloid music is the most intimidating to approach because of how big it is – it’s not tied to one geographic location but rather spread all over the Internet. It’s also the most sonically varied of any scene in Japan – tracks can be pop, rock, techno, death metal, dubstep, whatever you want. The only unifying trait is the use of Vocaloid, a singing-synthesizer software that allows users to input vocals and then generate an electronic voice that drips “1s” and “0s” from each syllable. The avatar for Vocaloid has become Hatsune Miku, a character cooked up by Vocaloid-maker Crypton Future Media, who has become one of the most recognizable characters in Japan – she even promotes convenience stores and performs live as a hologram. Several artists, like kz and ryo (supercell), who make heavy use of Vocaloid have become mainstream music features, but the heart of the Vocaloid scene is online, where bedroom-based producers collaborate with artists and music-video makers to create their own digital pop wonderland.

Source: MTV81
Photocredit: Flickr/chipple

noir_shiroi 14th-Nov-2012 03:32 pm (UTC)
This person apparently did not check out Malice Mizer all the way up to their disbandment. They were rocking the heavy goth VK until the very end, Mana still hasn't let it go.
thewarpedmelody 14th-Nov-2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
He probably only followed the Malice Mizer Gackt Era.
kairigiu 14th-Nov-2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
lol this. Malice Mizer IS Visual kei
pervert_morning 15th-Nov-2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
Yeah! Even Gackt apparently hasn't let it go since he introduces himself as a V-rock artist even though I think he looks quite normal lol xD
ohprecioustime 14th-Nov-2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
lack of J-urban dissappoint me V__V
liime_arix 14th-Nov-2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
blovesit 14th-Nov-2012 05:33 pm (UTC)
glimmeringneon 14th-Nov-2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
I love me some J-urban but it is not really a major scene in Japan unfortunately, even Visual Kei and Vocaloid have more followers.
ohprecioustime 15th-Nov-2012 01:11 am (UTC)
it a major scene tho, Miliyah Kato,AK-69,KREVA,m-flo,AI,Minmi,lecca

are just the some of the big names that are from J-urban or came from that scene and there is a huge rap scene in Japan especially in big cities and R&B has always been popular in Japan for awhile

plus they are bigger than most VKEI bands (this whole genre is dead in the mainstream tbh) and J-tek (safe Capsule and co. the rest are flops like Oricon bottom 50 flops)

I will admit as far as international fans, J-urban has way less than VKEI,J-tek or Vocolaid

Edited at 2012-11-15 01:14 am (UTC)
okadarei 15th-Nov-2012 05:58 pm (UTC)

it is. Don't forget Queen Namie. She spent half of her career flirting and insisting on that scene. Is not something I am making up but something it's been even published (I have a Special Guide that was published on 2008 to celebrate Best Fiction's release), and she has several albums plus Suite Chick to certify it. Even Koda Kumi had done urban style, and to follow with the mainstream side that has always been connected to that, shall we not forget of Crystal Kay either. And I am sure that I am leaving people out.

There's also more indie or with minor success but yet popular people like Coma-chi, VERBAL, Hiromi, SOULHEAD, and the LDH family has always had urban sounds as their basics, except for a few of their musical acts, take it as JONTE, COLOR/DEEP, or EXILE.

Also, some of Vision Factory acts (Namie appart) could be included such as Daichi Miura or Da Pump.
fauxparadiso 14th-Nov-2012 11:58 pm (UTC)
nikkimattei 14th-Nov-2012 06:32 pm (UTC)
Though it is short I found this to be interesting.
urubaby21 14th-Nov-2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
nice read
atelierlune 14th-Nov-2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
I feel like the person who wrote this was targeting someone who doesn't keep up with Japanese "scenes" at all. Also, where's the love for J-indie? There's so much amazing stuff!
kamelover101 15th-Nov-2012 02:03 am (UTC)
“1830m” being the first Japanese CD since 2010 to sell more than a million units.

Mr. Children sold more than AKB this year tho.

morbid_lithe 15th-Nov-2012 05:53 am (UTC)
I'm disappointed that the doujin music scene wasn't included in this because 99.9% of the good electronic music that comes out of japan is from the doujin/underground DJs. This is just my personal taste, but the releases by j-tek artists (even capsule and the like) don't come near the greatness of albums like Lovestract, Unitone phase:01, and Etude (and that's just naming a few that came out this year). Not to mention the doujin edm scene is always experimenting and pushing the envelope with genres. The constant experimentation means there's always something new with each release and that's part of why I love the scene so much.

And that's not even taking the touhou arrange section of the scene into account and it's downright unbelievable. Even though they're just remixing the same tracks, circles like CYTOKINE/ZYTOKINE, Alstroemeria Records, Sound Online, Draw the Emotional (ok yuppe does a lot of vocaloid stuff, but Funny party in the Fog is easily the best DtE release and I don't even like EoSD), and Pizuya's Cell never fail to amaze.

Though to be honest, this scene probably wasn't included just due to obscurity (even though there is literally something for everyone within the scene). A lot of these releases are only available at comiket, m3, reitaisai, kouroumu, vom@s etc. and what's actually put up in shops are generally put up on sites like toranoana, d-stage, and melonbooks which makes them impossible to purchase without using a middleman (which can get really expensive). There are sites like Diverse System and j-core that ship overseas, but in general this stuff is really hard or impossible to get your hands on if you don't live in japan. There's also the fact that these releases are really only promoted online through the artist's twitter/soundcloud and the like, so unless you really keep an eye on those outlets you probably won't even know they're releasing anything.
whited_79 15th-Nov-2012 07:34 am (UTC)
AKB48, a 60-member-strong group based out of Tokyo’s Akhibara area, is the most popular pop act in the nation today, highlighted by their August album “1830m” being the first Japanese CD since 2010 to sell more than a million units.

Uhm, Mr.Children did it first before AKB? Maybe he meant original album instead.
placetohide 15th-Nov-2012 11:35 am (UTC)
trendy Shimokitazawa


Koenji is scuzzy but Shimokita's trendy? I think Shimokitazawa's scuzzier because it's nothing but pretentious hipsters.
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