Japan Nite U.S. Tour | 03.17-24.16

This year, Japan Nite, Benten Tokyo, and SXSW Asia’s annual showcase of Japan’s finest musicians turn 21.

REATMO – The Human Beatbox

Everybody gather ’round for a birthday shot, because Japan Nite is finally legal: Yes, 2016 is the year that Japan Nite, Benten Tokyo, and SXSW Asia’s annual showcase of Japan’s finest musicians turn 21. And, in a moment that makes me feel really old, it is also the 10th year running that I’ve been previewing the festivities for you fine PLAYBACK:stl readers. Wild! Anyway, enough with the introduction; here’s a look at this year’s festivities.

Atomic Stooges

Pop culture is cyclical, but you’ll be getting a dose of double déjà vu with a listen to Atomic Stooges. Though their name features the word “Stooges,” this Osaka three-piece has more in common with the early-2000s garage rock revival than their protopunk forbears. Opening with a song called “Get Free” (its title perhaps a nod to the Vines, though the song itself sounds much more like Division of Laura Lee), the band’s debut EP Hang Loose is packed with four-on-the-floor beats, strutting bass licks, and raw guitars that swerve from angular to swingin’ to surfy to bluesy before giving way to a pair of acoustic Stones-y weepers to close out the mini-album. Add in the English sung lyrics and Atomic Stooges’ American appeal is obvious. No wonder their demo’s first major release was not in Japan, but in America…on cassette, no less.


When they were blowing minds on Japan Girls Nite 2009 and Japan Nite 2010, these self-proclaimed “monster girls from Japan” were known as Red Bacteria Vacuum. When they returned in 2014, however, their bassist had gone on maternity leave, and the remaining trio (with a new bassist in tow) hit Japan Nite as Jungles!!! Their debut album under the new name, 2014’sNice to eat you!!!, replaces RBV’s purposeful abrasiveness with a more traditional punk rock/riot grrrl edge. The album isn’t all buzzy guitars and Courtney Love-ish vocals: check out the loud-soft dynamics of the mostly softly spoken “oh oh oh,” the blipping electronics that buoy “UNDER LOVER,” or the Interpol-ish melancholy chug of “Last song.”


Modern and ancient Japan collide in the form of Kao=S, a four-piece that blends Tsugaru-shamisen—a form of traditional music from the island of Honshu played on the shamisen, a fretless, three-stringed banjo—with more modern influences. The band doesn’t just blend the traditional and the modern, they also blend the aural and the visual by pairing Shuji Yamagiri’s vocals and acoustic guitar and Jack’s shamisen with vocals and traditional Japanese sword dancing courtesy of Kaori Kawabuchi, a motion actor for the Final Fantasy video game franchise. The music of Kao=S has a melancholy, minor key beauty that gives the songs a very cinematic feel (one can easily imagine songs like “Saku” or “Taimatsu” playing over the final battle in a really great samurai film), and the dynamics of the music are only amplified by Kawabuchi’s theatrical vocals.


A cursory listen to REATMO’s icy electronic beats may leave you feeling they are untouched by human hands, but a quick visit to his YouTube page will reveal the answer to the question “How much of this was done by a human being” is “surprisingly, a lot.” The human beatbox champ (he won the Boston Beatbox Battle Championship at age 19) constructs his stage show like a hybrid between Andrew Bird and Robert DeLonge, crafting imminently danceable soundscapes on the stage by pitch-shifting his own vocals and looping it to carefully construct stand-ins for drum beats, bass grooves, synth melodies, and even horns, almost entirely out of the human voice. The five-track sampler made available for review showcases REATMO’s remixing skills as well, where he lays down new, mostly-manipulated-vocals-as-beats to back Beyoncé’s “End of Time” and Japanese rapper Shing02’s “Tiro Livre (Free Kick),” which replaces Mental Abstrato’s original swinging ‘60s French style groove with an all-vocals beat that sounds downright Kanye-esque.



It’s easy to form a wrong first impression about Rei, a guitar virtuoso hailing from Hyogo: a quick perusal of her YouTube channel finds covers of Johnny Winter, Robert Johnson, and “Rocket 88” while her bio claims similarly old school references like bluesmen Blind Blake and J.B. Lenoir. Said bio, however, reveals something else is afoot, namedropping Beck and tUnE-yArDs. And sure enough, while Rei’s blues-trained guitar chops can handle the classics, her own songs also have an alt-pop adventurousness. The song “Jump,” the first single off her second EP Uno, sets the tone: the song opens with an English-sung chorus with a Dressy Bessy-ish power pop kick that plays over two competing guitar licks—one all Sleater-Kinney-esque angles, the other a springing, sproinging Violent Femmes-ian freakout—before transitioning to motor-mouthed Japanese lyrics that Rei somehow manages while slipping out an impressively nimble-fingered solo. In case you can’t tell by her stretching my musical comparison powers to their breaking point, her sound is utterly original, and definitely worth arriving early for.


On their first full length, this year’s from JAPAN, Tempalay offer up ten spacy-yet-sunny tunes in the vein of Animal Collective, Tame Impala, or of Montreal at their least glitchy. The Saitama-based “psychedelic pop” trio aren’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of that genre: “made in JapanOA” features smooth jazz noodling and vocal melodies that are downright Daryl Hall-ian, the surf-rock-at-quarter-speed dirge “good time” dissolves into a shoegaze-y dreamscape in its final moments, and “LOVE MY CAR” slides on a beautifully Dean Wareham-ish guitar figure. Even when drummer Natsuki Fujimoto kicks up the tempo (as on the Dismemberment Plan-esque “Oh.My.God!!”), Ryoto Ohara’s laconic guitarwork keeps the mood fairly sedate, though one imagines with the sound kicked up in a live setting that this would make for great Music For Closing Your Eyes, Swaying, And Letting It All Wash Over You.

Chihiro Yamazaki & Route 14 Band

Saying the word “jazz” usually conjures up memories of eight-plus minute songs meandering through improvisations and lengthy solos or, in other words, music that would seem an odd fit for Japan Nite. If you’re afraid you’ll be checking your watch through their set, though, fear not: Chihiro Yamazaki prefers her jazz in three-to-four-minute blasts of pure pop energy. As her 2012 full-length with her Route 14 Band, Waltz of the Flowers, so elegantly (and energetically) illustrates, Yamazaki specializes in jazz fusion, the rock- and soul-informed hybrid made famous by bands like the Brecker Brothers and Weather Report, with maybe just a touch of early Chicago. As drummer Satoshi Yamashita and bassist Koji Yamamoto hold down a swinging, danceable backbeat, keyboardist Hana Takami provides the mood (be it slow and pretty or fast and fizzy) for Yamazaki’s virtuosic trumpet melodies. Yamazaki and the Route 14 Band have wasted no time making a name for themselves, selling over 20,000 albums as an independent act since forming in the summer of 2010, mostly on the strength of festival appearances, including back-to-back appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Kawasaki and the Park Sapporo festival before crowds of 70,000-plus. Having gone international with 2012’s Toronto Jazz Festival, the band is now ready to take on America. | Jason Green

Select dates also featuring DEXSTRINGs, Emufucka, The Roamers

SXSW Japan Preview Day | 03.17.16

13:00 Rei
14:00 Chihiro Yamazaki & Route 14 Band
14:30 Tempalay
15:00 Jungles!!!
15:30 Atomic Stooges
16:00 REATMO
16:30 Emufucka
17:00 KAO=S

SXSW Japan Nite | 03.18.16
7:15pm Atomic Stooges
9:00pm KAO=S
10:00pm Tempalay
11:00pm Rei
12:00pm REATMO
1:00am Jungles!!! from Red Bacteria Vacuum

Japan Nite U.S. Tour 2016

03.20.16 | The Knitting Factory Brooklyn
with REATMO, Tempalay, Atomic Stooges, THE ROAMERS

03.21.16 | The Crown, Baltimore
with REATMO, Tempalay, Atomic Stooges

03.22.16 | Double Door, Chicago
with REATMO, Tempalay, Atomic Stooges, THE ROAMERS

03.23.16 | The Federal Bar, Long Beach
with REATMO, Tempalay, Atomic Stooges, THE ROAMERS

03.24.16 | Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco
with Jungles, KAO=S, REATMO, Tempalay, Atomic Stooges, THE ROAMERS

About Laura Hamlett 438 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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