Japan Nite US Tour | 03.13-24.14

 A preview of this year’s edition of SXSW’s annual spotlight on Japan‘s best and brightest bands.


This year, just like the 18 before it, your friends and mine at Benten Tokyo and SXSW Asia have put together a collection of Japan’s best and brightest rock bands to bring to Austin’s annual South By Southwest festival as well as a few lucky points beyond. Read on to find out what’s in store for this year’s tour.
Happy [Website] [Facebook]
They may hail from remote Ayabe City and their average age may barely crack 20, but the five lads from Happy have clearly had their ears firmly planted in the post-British Invasion pop of the 1960s. “Time Will Go On” (from the band’s second demo CD, 2013’s Lucy) has a giddy shuffle that suggests the Kinks (or maybe the Turtles), while the slicing guitars, rubbery bass, and “Lust for Life” drums of the title track skip along with a joy that suggests what the Strokes might sound like if they worshipped the Beatles instead of the Velvet Underground. The newer material from the band’s first official single, this year’s Sun, has a more modern edge: the dancey drums and chiming synths of “Lift This Weight” wouldn’t seem out of place between Bear Heads and Capital Cities on the airwaves of Alt Nation, while the more spacious atmosphere of “Win Key Gun” shows why the Flaming Lips tapped Happy as the opener for their most recent tour of Japan.
Jungles!!! [Website]
They say idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and that saying must be doubly true for the self-proclaimed “monster girls from Japan” who promise to “give you nightmares” that call themselves Red Bacteria Vacuum. Lucky for us, when their bass player went on maternity leave this past August, the remaining three members of RBV decided to avoid idleness and form a new band in their spare time, Jungles!!! Japan Nite aficionados will be familiar with RBV from their appearances on the 2009 “Girls Nite” tour and 2010’s SXSW, and while understandably similar in style to RBV, this new side band leaves behind some of RBV’s more abrasive tendencies for a more straightforward blistering punk/riot grrrl sound. The tempos are fast, the guitars are buzzy, and the vocals are rendered in a throat-shredding shout. Jungles!!! may not give you nightmares, but they’ll definitely take you to mosh pit heaven.
Mothercoat [Website] [Facebook]
Mothercoat’s sound is a tough one to pin down. Their sixth album, 2012’s Allergies, is a study in dichotomy, where BRMC-style chug sits next to prettily plucked guitars, where the girl-boy vocals swing between sweetly sung and blankly chanted, where time signatures constantly shift with math-like precision. On “In Bathtub,” sheets of shoegaze-y guitars, stutter-stop synths, and smoothly crooned vocals pile upon one another like three separate songs played at once. “Happy Turn” is happy to just butt its two divergent halves together, with gorgeously folky verses that turn on a dime into the martial 4/4 march of the chorus. “Pillow Talk” may be the trippiest mishmash of the set, with pizzicato female vocals chirping out from behind a swaggering Kings of Leon-ish rocker and a bridge where the instruments drop out for 30 full seconds for a distantly recorded phonecall played over a cheap synthesizer rendition of (I kid you not) “Home on the Range.” Mothercoat’s music is challenging, yes, but also highly listenable and sure to appeal to American indie rock fans in search of something different. Good thing, too, because the band makes their international aspirations clear: Allergies was mixed by Fernando Lodeiro (Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys), and the front cover of the CD proudly proclaims “MIX&MASTER(ed) in N.Y.”, those last two letters printed twice as big as either the band or album’s names. America, here they come.
Sentimental City Romance [Website] [Facebook] [Reverb Nation]
When Japan’s love of American music is mentioned, it’s usually incredulously, with comments like “Can you believe Nelson is still popular in Japan?” or “Can you believe Mr. Big did the theme song to an anime…in 2001?!” I’m as guilty of it as anybody, which is why I was pleasantly shocked to discover Sentimental City Romance, a band who, while contemporaries of the Eagles at the height of their powers, outdid them in the country-rock game in every way. Formed in 1973, SCR are the longest-lived band in Japanese music today, with twelve albums and numerous singles, compilations, and live albums under their belt. Their sound, as exemplified on their delightful two-disc best-of Golden Best, is pure Seventies: soft rock that proudly wears its country and folk influences on its sleeve, all gently plucked acoustic guitars and richly layered vocal harmonies and peaceful easy feelings sure to appeal to fans of the Eagles, the Allman Brothers, and the Jayhawks.
Starmarie [Website] [Facebook] [YouTube]
Japanese idol groups are designed to provide cute, innocent playfulness and huge pop melodies in equal measure, and that’s most definitely what vocal trio Starmarie offer up as the Japan Nite opener. Singers Nozomi Kishita, Shino Takamori, and Shiori Aoki pair sweet smiles and Sweet Lolita fashion (frilly dresses with tiny hats lying perfectly askew on their foreheads) with sugary, lightning speed pop pulsating with energy. Starmarie’s sound echoes back to the style of song you’d hear as the theme for every anime of the 1990s: anachronistically ‘80s new wave pop filtered through ‘90s electronica arrangements, with pulsating beats, clean-as-crystal synths, and vocal hooks that make entire songs sound like fist-pumping choruses. The trio’s sophomore effort (2012’s Fantasy World 2) is packed from start-to-finish with drill-into-your-head pop—one song’s stabbing synth intro is a dead ringer for the Mortal Kombat theme, while others bring to mind the classic themes to Cutie Honey and Oh My Goddess!—accented by their three-singer attack, their similar-but-not-identical voices constantly dividing and harmonizing for maximum effect.
Vampillia [Website]
In the grand tradition of the Boredoms and Melt Banana, Osaka’s Vampillia represent the avant garde, noise rock side of the Japanese music scene. After forming, the band’s bleak soundscapes quickly caught the attention of plenty of indie rock tastemakers, including Animal Collective producer Rusty Santos (who produced the abortive sessions for the band’s first full-length album), Icelandic ambient musician Ben Frost, and, most notably, Swans vocalist Jarboe and fellow Japanese noise artist Merzbow, who both appeared on the band’s 2011 LP Alchemic Heart, which Pitchfork greeted with a generous 8.0 rating.  The band’s last Japan Nite appearance in 2012 was to support The Primitive World, a collaboration with Canadian husband-wife drone metal duo Nadja. The two newest songs offered up for review from this ten-member “brutal orchestra” play more toward Vampillia’s pretty side, the songs built mostly on icily pretty piano figures, though the first song of the pair does dissolve in walls of guitar squall and pounding drums from the band’s savage twin-drummer attack.
Zarigani$ [Website]
Who needs guitars? Certainly not Eri and Mizuki, the lone members of the bass/drums duo Zarigani$. (The name isn’t spelled that way to be precious; it’s actually pronounced “zarigani-dollar.”) One listen to the band’s latest EP, 2013’s Dead Birds, and you certainly won’t feel like anything’s missing among the brutal beats, crashing cymbals, and fuzzed-out bass riffs that rock with the fur of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The songs are uniformly fast, heavy, funny, and catchy as hell, from the Kim Deal-esque cooed vocals of “Finalize Please” to the ADHD bounce of “Supergirl,” with its cheeky lyrics (“I like you/ I like me/ I like money!”) and a chorus that chirps “We are supergirl, supergirl, supergirl!” with the insistence and insanity-inducing catchiness of the classic “Badger Badger Badger” internet meme. | Jason Green
Also appearing: Mayu Wakisaka (SXSW only), Peelander-Z (Athens, GA only), the touchies and DJ Heather Hard Xore (San Diego only). For more information, visit japan-nite.com.
03.13.14 | Japan Preview show At The GrackleAustin, Texas
~AFHC & BENTEN Label Presents~
1700 E 6th St Austin, TX 78702
Noon  to 7:00 pm Free/all ages
*Time table will be announced.
03.14.14 | Japan Nite SXSW, At the Elysium, Austin TX
705 Red River
Austin TX 78705
with: Starmarie/Jungles! from R.B.V./Mayu Wakisaka/HAPPY/Sentimental City Romance/ Mothercoat
8:00 pm      Starmarie
9:00 pm      Jungles
10:00 pm    Mayu Wakisaka
11:00 pm    HAPPY
Midnight      Sentimental City Romance
1:00 am      Mothercoat
03.16.14 | Japan Nite at Knitting FactoryBrooklyn, New York
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 529-6696
Doors: 7:30 PM / All Ages / $10 Advance $12 Day of Event
with: Starmarie/HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V.
03.17.14 | Japan Nite at Ruby Tuesday Live, Columbus, Ohio
1978 Summit Street
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 291-8313
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show : 8;00 pm / 18 and Up (All ages with guardian) / Tickets $10
with: HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V.
03.18.14 | Japan Nite at Double DoorChicago, IL
1572 N Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 489-3160
Doors: 7:30 / Show: 8:00 / 21+ / Tickets $10
with: HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V.
03.21.14 | Japan Nite at Athens Slingshot FestivalAthens, GA
New Earth Music Hall
227 W Dougherty St
Athens, GA 30601
Doors:7:30 / Show 8:00 – 2 AM
(706) 543-8283
with: HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V./ Peelander Z
03.22.14 | Japan Nite at Backstage Bar & BilliardsLas VegasNV
601 E. Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101
(702) 382-2227
NEW TIME! Doors: 8:00pm / Show: 8:30 pm / 21+/ Tickets: $10
with: HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V.
03.23.14 | Japan Nite at the Til-Two Club, San Diego, CA
4746 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 516-4746
with: HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V.
* opening band: the touchies  * DJ: DJ Heather hard Xore
03.24.14 | Japan Nite at The Independent, San Francisco, CA
628 Divisadero St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 771-1421
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm /  21+ / Tickets $15.00
with: HAPPY/ Zarigani$/ Vampillia/ Jungles! from R.B.V.

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