For many of us Japan’s electronic music scene is kind of like a black hole, we sure know of J-POP and the success western producers and artists have in exporting music to this far end corner of the world. Furthermore, if you are of age you should also be quite familiar with Japan’s number one electronic music export YMO, Japan’s own equivalent to bands like Kraftwerk. Even today the frontman Ryuichi Sakamoto is a well known artist, if you do not believe us check out the picture above from the Tokyo metro and the poster on the wall to the right. And as goes with tradition his daughter Miu has followed in his father’s footsteps. However, what is the current state of the Japan electronic music scene and as of the beginning of this year Tokyo’s main electronic music and underground techno temple, Air, has shut down, who are the upcoming stars and where should you go for clubbing? Are there more to it then Hatsune Miku appearing as a hologram?
Following the earthquake in 2011 and with the closure of Air, the past few years have been challenging in the development of Japan’s electronic music scene. The Great East Japan Earthquake delivered a blow to nightlife across the north, which extended to a drop in attendance at clubs in Tokyo and other parts of the country. That same year, police began to ramp up enforcement of the no-dancing-after-midnight provisions in the so-called fueihō law, particularly in Osaka and the Kansai region. The crackdown extended to Tokyo and some venues considered referring to themselves as “live spaces” instead of “clubs” to avoid scrutiny. A new dawn may be on the horizon for Japan’s electronic music community, but the uncertainty of the past few years means the scene will need to work hard to attract the attention of younger fans.
One things is for certain though and that is that if you are just able to dig a little deeper there is a plethora of new and innovative acts in the Tokyo underground electronic music scene. But even ignoring the language barrier, it can be remarkably difficult to find out information about certain strands of electronic music coming out of Japan. As befits an underground scene, the majority of house and techno producers here shy away from over-indulgent displays of self-promotion, taking a low-key attitude towards their releases, events, and the like. So if you do not settle for Miku, J-POP or even nostalgic trips to the mid-80’s to re-discover acts like YMO and Logic System, here are some fresh of the oven acts that’ll get you started on the dance floor.
Hailing from Sendai city, Itoh has been a driving force within a modest sized techno scene in the Tohoku region of Japan for just about two decades now, by running WOLS label, regular club nights, and has been consistently churning out punishing, visceral techno stompers year after year – meticulously honing his style whilst paying little attention to fleeting trends and fashions. His productions conjure up brutal industrialism.
Berlin-based Kyoka was one of the first Raster-Noton artists that really challenge the imprint’s sonic stereotype. Her 2014 album Is (Is Superpowered) featured an idiosyncratic and whimsical use of her own vocals, in contrast to the rather serious poly-rhythmic glitch that defined previous releases (aside perhaps from Atom™’s wickedly satirical muse on pop-culture, HD). Using her voice in an improvised and non-lyrical style, her vocal samples were spliced and resampled in a method that mirrors Dada-ist cut-up techniques.
Years before her affiliation with Raster-Noton however, Kyoka was already obsessed with machine-generated sound. In her early years she used tape recorders to manipulate audio and the obsession grew from there. Picked up by Mitte Musique sub-label Onpa))))) in 2008, her releases have evolved slowly; the chaotic, adrenaline-charged feel of her early tracks slowly refined, maturing in sound.
Steven Porter refers to the Japanese duo Yuji Kondo and Katsunori Sawa, who run the equally mysterious 10 Label imprint out of Kyoto. Both with the label and their own output, Kondo and Sawa appear to value quality over quantity. 10 Label’s releases have seen their productions as Steven Porter appear on wax alongside tracks by the likes of Ancient Methods, Perc, and Dalhous. Much like the aforementioned names, Steven Porter’s tracks incorporate noise and industrial influences, resulting in alarmingly visceral electronic body music.
Wata Igarashi has quickly emerged as one of Japan’s leading DJs and producers. He has been exploring the deeper side of techno through well-received EPs on Midgar, The Bunker NY, and DJ Nobu’s Bitta label, as well as standout tracks on compilations on Semantica and Time to Express. By day, Igarashi works as a sound producer and the skills he has developed through his work are reflected in his productions, which are distinguished by their subtle and carefully polished feel. Igarashi pursues a similar sound in his DJ sets, developing a distinctive take on the more trippy and psychedelic brand of techno Japan has become known for.
STEREOCiTI was first discovered by Mike Huckaby in 2007. The Detroit legend introduced the Japanese producer to the world on his radio show. Immediately after the broadcast of the program, STEREOCiTI released his debut EP “Citifunk EP” and joined a compilation “Up to the Surface” with producers such as Baaz and Scott Ferguson. Both records were released on Deep Explorer Music, a Spanish label owned by Dubbyman. These works led STEREOCiTI to sign to the Berlin based label Mojuba. “Early Light”, his first release on Mojuba, came out in 2009.
Mojuba has kept on supporting him and his work from this day and in 2011 STEREOCiTI released his first full-length album “Kawasaki” on Mojuba, recognized as a powerful deep-house and ambient album. STEREOCiTI’s influences come not only from House and Techno music from Chicago and Detroit, but also from Jazz, Fusion, Dub, Rare Grooves and Japanese pop music of the 80’s. His mother who is a player/composer of traditional Japanese musical instruments passed her passion for music on to him and was of major importance in his development as an artist. STEREOCITI himself plays guitar, bass, and percussion, which are often featured in his tracks and enhance the richness of his production.
Despite STEREOCiTI’s obvious talent as a producer, he had long been a DJ before becoming one. After starting his career at Maniac Love, a legendary club in Tokyo, he has rocked countless numbers of audiences around the world in such clubs as Panorama Bar, Tresor, Batofar… Groove, deepness and a very personal touch and sensitivity are the essences of STEREOCiTI’s djing and his tight, stoical style gives him a strong one-and-only presence in the world of dance music.
Sakiko Osawa is a music creator, producer and a DJ, based in Shibuya, Tokyo. She released her first EP “Tokyo Disco Beat” from 7Stars Music (Amsterdam) on 2014 and hit Top2 in the electronics chart on iTunes.
Sakiko played her live set at “Shibuya Oiran”, one of the famous warm-up bar in Shibuya and met with a DJ, lyricist, and producer of Shibuya Oiran, Venus Kawamura Yuki and scouted to play at her dance music specialized internet radio “block FM”, which is considered as a BBC radio1 in Japan. Sakiko’s thrilling and solid character has become one of the essences of new Japanese beauty and her one-of-a-kind sound is considered as the future for the next generation.
Takkyu Ishino is a japanese techno producer, composer and DJ. He is a member of the synthpop group Denki Groove. Listen to ‘Ghost in the Shell’, 1997 techno song composed by Takkyu Ishino
Ken Ishii is one of the historical Japanese Techno DJs and producers from Sapporo. Strongly influenced by Detroid techno, Ken had his first release on Plus 8 (Richie Hawtin’s label). Listen to his track ‘Let it all ride’, also been used in the PSP video game Lumines II.
You could say two worlds have developed in Japan: Listening to music through the Internet and listening to music in an actual live setting. No doubt, the younger generation is being influenced through music genres that develop on the Internet. But rather than suggest that the underground club music scene is dying, music industry guys suspects these new methods of music consumption have led to a distillation of smaller communities with ultra-specific interests.
After three years with Circus in Osaka and a 300-capacity space in Shibuya shut its doors in the fall, the team behind Circus jumped at the chance to launch a Circus franchise in Tokyo. They say that with a smaller space there is a greater degree of adaptability in booking underground acts from the traditional house and techno scenes, and they can also cater to the more eclectic and experimental electronic acts gaining popularity via the Internet. The venue’s schedule has included acts like Cologne-based DJ Lena Willikens, Tokyo hip-hop act Budamunk and Kyoka. With certain hurdles out of the way, 2016-17 looks like it could be a year of much-needed experimentation when it comes to the country’s electronic music scene. This could result in larger corporate events or an abundance of smaller spaces. One thing that’s clear, though, is that while the community seems fragmented, its passion is as deep as ever.