No, the best bet for immersing oneself in Japanese audio goodness is traveling to the bands you want to see. And short of crossing an ocean, the best destinations for Japanese music is Austin, Texas during South By Southwest. In addition to a handful of day shows and performances, an annual SXSW showcase known as Japan Nite, scratches that itch for new Japanese music with a host of bands who otherwise might not see the light of day in the States.
Without further ado, here's a run down on the five bands from Japan we saw at South By who deserve a spot in your iPod's memory banks.
Hystoic Vein lead singer Inko hit the Japan Nite stage wearing a black infantry helmet covered in fur. There may not be a better symbol for the band's music. It's sexy, sweet, and brutal all at the same time; like a lingerie model caving your skull in.
Most rock outfits rely on a six string work horse to take the lead on music cues and melody. Hystoic Vein has it's guitar heavy moments (often while the lead guitarist gyrates or holds it behind her head) but it can not be denied that the bass reigns supreme in this band. Bass player Yukary lays it on thick and loud.
The result is a leather-clad, all-female rock group that will assault your ears until they bleed and smile as you suffer.
Japan's got soul and the Zukuna Sisters prove it. These four Japanese ladies decked out in glitzy, red and gold sequins opened Japan Nite at SXSW 2011 and got the crowd jumping.
Rhodes piano and a thumping rhythm section create a perfect platform for lead vocalist Emi to belt out the kind of soul sistah' vibrato that'd make Tina Turner take notice. Oh and they've got some serious moves too. We're talking tambourine shaking, hand-clapping, dance inducing moves that made it impossible to stand still.
White White Sisters
An sheet affixed to the back wall of The Elysium's stage with the words "White White Sisters" projected onto it signaled the band's entrance. Two unassuming youths took up their positions: one on guitar and vocals, the other stretching his arms and re-checking the position of his drums. What happened next was an audio/visual explosion; a supernova of teen angst with a biting, electronic edge.
White White Sisters have only been around for three or so years, but they've sculpted quite a reputation for themselves playing festivals like Summer Sonic in Tokyo. Seeing them live, it's not hard to understand why. Musically, they combine driving rock guitar and screaming vocals with brutal drum hits and pre-sequenced, electronic effects to create an infectiously frenetic sound.
Peelander - Z
"We are not human," says Peelander Yellow, lead singer and guitarist for Peelander-Z on stage at Austin's Spider House coffee bar. "We came from Peelander planet to make you smile!" An eruption of laughter and cheers pour fourth from an audience of children holding up Peelander signs scrawled in Crayola products on cardboard.
It's true that the self-proclaimed "Japanese action comic punk" trio that is Peelander-Z appeals to a younger demographic. Their latest album, P-TV-Z is actually intended for kids, but don't let that fool you. Peelander-Z is more fun than a mouthful of Pocky for punks of any age. Live, the band goes nuts with human bowling, random puppets, costume changes, and silly dance moves; and that same brand of zaniness is present in their music. Check out "So Many Mike" a song that pokes fun at our American predilection for naming a lot of blokes Mike (the second verse changes it to so many John).
Of all the Japanese bands we saw at SXSW, there is but one that deserves to be called unique: Sonoda Band. Like Peelander-Z, Sonoda Band did not play Japan Nite. Instead, they made their SXSW debut at the free Japan Preview Day Show in the parking lot of The Grackle; a neighborhood bar on the East side of Austin.
The Six members of Sonoda Band play instrumental music taking influences from classical music, latin music, jazz and pop. They engulf you in a string of melodies traded back and forth among their violin, cello, guitar and piano. Listeners are transported to a Zen-like state of musical enlightenment and contentment.