January 03, 2014 via Pepsi
Artists You Should Know: Tokyo Rising
Space-age technology winds underneath and around centuries of tradition. Neon lights illuminate conveyor belts serving up sushi. Buildings loom over a city that is constantly expanding in every direction. In short, Tokyo presents the average visitor with a barrage of stimuli, and this hyper-saturated culture is reflected in the local music scene. Musicians in Tokyo seem to be expertly aware of the context of their music- whether it be ultra-produced synth-laden pop megagroups or too-cool-for-school garage rock. No matter if its J-pop, K-pop, hip-hop, rock, or dance music, Tokyo has one of the most vibrant and unique music scenes on the planet. Let’s take a closer look at the Tokyo musicians you should know.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention technicolor exploding heart-throb Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Her music and style (she’s a model and blogger too) reflect the “kawaii” or “cute” culture found in the stylish Tokyo neighborhood Harajuku. Often called the Lady Gaga of Japan for her wild fashion sense, Kyary’s style of ravey, synthesized J-pop is often served paired with color-saturated cartoonish visuals that are simultaneously cute and creepy; perfect combo.
Trippple Nippples are wild. Consisting of singers/dancers Qrea Nippple, Yuka Nippple and Nabe Nippple, this band is known for their explosive live shows, even getting them banned from a few venues for their more edgy performances. Pharrell was so blown away by Trippple Nippples that he actually featured the band in a doc he made with Palladium about Japanese culture. They even opened a tour for the forefathers of high-energy, self-aware quirk pop, Devo.
Boris are uncompromisingly cool. Holding down the heavy riffage for Tokyo since 1992, the trio has released an impressive eighteen studio albums since to cult and critical praise. They’re known for their insistence on pushing boundaries, taking musical influences from pysch-rock to sludge rock to experimental noise music. As with a lot of the best heavy music out there, Boris often have a tongue-in-cheek quality to their music, allowing them to shred in an appropriately profuse manner, while still making cheeky commentary on everything from popular culture to their own music.
Akin to the Beastie Boys of Japan, RIP SLYME are a Tokyo hip-hop crew that is heavily influenced by classic hip-hop; more Jurrassic 5 than Jay-Z, more Kool Herc than Kanye. The four MCs and one DJ have a colorful, over-the-top style that’s reflected in their endlessly entertaining cartoonish music videos. With six albums under their belt, Rip Slyme are continue to be one of the titans of the Tokyo music scene.
If Rip Slyme are the Beastie Boys of Tokyo, Verbal might be the Kanye. The outspoken rapper is a former member of the J-pop hip-hop groups m-flo and Teriyaki Boyz. Verbal actually grew up in Boston and after attending Boston College returned to Japan to pursue hip-hop. Recently entering the solo artist zone in 2011 with his album Visionair, which featured pop icons Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. If that weren’t enough, Verbal’s also a style icon with his own fashion line, just like his good buddy, Pharrell.
The Suzan are an all-female four-piece rock band that continues the Tokyo tradition of blending genres into something both familiar and out-there. There’s an element of punky garage Stooges-like kinetics, and the bubblegum sweetness of pop songwriters Peter Bjorn & John. So much so, that Peter Bjorn and John produced their debut album, which was released on both Fools Gold and Downtown records. With a recent move to NYC, the Suzan are sure to do their Tokyo friends proud stateside.
The Novembers, fronted by Kobayashi Yusuke, have been a mainstay in the Japanese alternative rock scene since their debut album in 2007. Since then the band have remained busy, releasing three full-length albums and four EPs, not to mention touring. Their sound takes cues from classic Brit Pop like The Cure, as well as the garage rock poets the Velvet Underground and masters of epic instrumentals Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Their recently released album, Zeitgeist, takes a darker turn while still reviving classic '80s and '90s rock sounds.
Tokyo’s intense cultural density lends itself well to the hazy soundscapes of dream pop, just take a look at the track list for the Lost In Translation soundtrack. And Tokyo label Flau has been a prolific purveyor of various forms of hushed, experimental music. While modern-day dreamy troubadour Cuushe now tours Asia and Europe and often resides in Berlin, her music is the type of intimate bedroom recording that is best soundtracking a blissful Tokyo daydream or a nocturnal train ride around the city, and perfectly represents what Flau and Tokyo’s alternative pop scene is about.
Naming themselves after a famous synthesizer and calling their sound, “technicolor pogo punk,” Polysics have been making their unique brand of new wave since 1997, while recording and touring around the world. Following in the footsteps of bands like Devo and Yellow Magic Orchestra, the band makes raw spazzy art rock, and aren’t afraid to sing in English as well as Japanese, and even in straight-up gibberish. If you have the chance, definitely catch them live for their high-energy shows.
Miho Hatori might be best known in the US and Europe for her endearing singing on records by the animated supergroup the Gorillaz, but by the time she was working with Damon Albarn, she’d already cut her teeth in the underground with her food-crazed Japanese trip-hop bossa nova project called Cibo Matto. The Tokyo-born artist has worked with everyone from Beck to Sean Lennon, and was signed to the Beastie Boys’ now defunct Grand Royal Label back in the day. With that kind of track record, we can’t wait to see what she does next.