Japan Nite US Tour | 03.19-27.10

Once again, Japan’s best and brightest descend on SXSW (and a few other lucky cities along the way). We have your preview.


For 14 years running, Japan Nite has been bringing the best and brightest from Japan’s richly varied rock scene to Austin’s annual SXSW festival (and a few other lucky cities around the country), and the 2010 edition continues that fine tradition. This year’s festivities kick off on March 18th with a special free SXSW preview night featuring 25-minute mini-sets, while the main event commences the next day. With a lineup runs the gamut from punk to glam to house to straight up rawk, this is one showcase that offers a little something for everyone. Check below for a full list of tour dates and lineups.

CHATMONCHY [Website] [MySpace] 

If there’s one act on this year’s Japan Nite tour that defines “catchy,” it’s CHATMONCHY. The all-female trio’s fifth album Kokuhaku (or Confession, released in March of 2009) showcases their patented brand of infectious, high-energy power pop on tracks like the hit single “Hira Hira Hiraku Himitsu no Tobira,” a Walkmen-esque track powered by Kumiko Takahashi’s skittering drumbeat, and “Digression,” a song whose ringing guitar chords and anthemic chorus play like a de-emo-fied All American Rejects. “LOVE is SOUP,” meanwhile, is every bit as adorable as its title suggests, with its harmonized vocals, fingersnaps, and Akiko Fukuoka’s loping bassline. Singer/guitarist Eriko Hashimoto’s cute, energetic voice is the star here, but instrumentally CHATMONCHY are no slouches—their skill at writing hooks both musically and lyrically rivals that of their fellow countrymen the Pillows, whether its on jagged, Fugazi-ish punk (“Kaze Fukeba Koi,” or “Love Blows in the Wind”) or summery acoustic jams (“The Hibiscus Blooms in the Winter”). With that kind of skill and range, it’s easy to see why SPIN magazine gave the band a home on their list of “50 Must-Hear Bands at SXSW,” calling the band “the 21st-century Japanese version of the Runaways.”

Dolly [Website]
Formed in 2006, Tokyo-based four-piece Dolly (named after the infamous sheep that was the world’s first cloned mammal) are Japan Nite’s representatives from the school of visual kei, a glam-based offshoot where the band’s histrionic sound is accentuated with elaborate costuming, hair, and makeup. Dolly’s take on visual kei is sort of Final Fantasy by way of Victorian England: black tailcoats and cravats paired with spiky, flat-ironed hairdos. But of course, it’s the music that really matters, and the band’s latest three-track single Toki no Ressha shows that Dolly has ample sonic range. The title track might have you wondering how to say “Panic! At the Disco” in Japanese, with singer Mitsu’s high, clean vibrato cruising over somber emo verses and thrashing choruses propelled by Tsuguki’s four-on-the-floor drumbeat and a few symphonic touches (though the song’s nimble guitar solo is probably well out of most emo bands’ skill ranges). “Tentai Touhikou” counters with a chugging metal riff courtesy of guitarist Masa that slows to power ballad territory on the chorus. The third track (whose title Babelfish tells me translates as “As for Moonlight, Limelight”) keeps things downshifted, with Hachi’s slinking, vaguely lounge-y bass line and a guitar solo that mixes a little Spanish guitar in with the usual wankery. Given its inherent theatricality, visual kei is clearly best experienced via live performance, making Dolly’s closing set at the SXSW showcase (their only appearance on the Japan Nite tour) a can’t-miss.

JinnyOops! [Website] [MySpace]

Formed in the streets of Sakai City, Osaka, by a group of high school friends, JinnyOops! continues that city’s fine tradition of ska-punk bands like their neighbors (and 2007 Japan Nite alums) Oreskaband. If you think that means the band sounds like nothing more than an all-girl Reel Big Fish, though, think again: the music has a much heavier, punkier crunch, and guitarist Mitsuyo Ishibashi’s voice echoes the power and fury of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. That ferocity, when paired with the giddy blare of Manami’s trumpet and Shiho’s trombone, makes the band’s debut full-length Eat Your Brain (released in February of this year) a fascinating and unique listen. Even more fascinating, though, is where the band goes next: Manami and Shiho retired from JinnyOops! following the Eat Your Brain CD release tour, making SXSW and the Japan Nite US tour the band’s debut as strictly a power trio.

OKAMOTO’S [Website] [MySpace]

With their A Clockwork Orange-inspired matching uniforms and identical adopted last names, OKAMOTO’S have obviously taken a page from the Ramones’ stylebook. But if their new EP Count 1000 is any indication, this Shinjuku-based quartet have been taking more lessons from the snarling, garage-y Hives end of the punk rock spectrum than the Ramones’ bubblegum punk. The band is in full “Hail Hail Spit n’ Drool” mode on “The ‘M’ Song,” a careening punk rocker sung with a sneer by Shou Okamoto and highlighted with a wailing guitar solo that’d do the Stooges’ Ron Asheton proud. Guitarist Kouki Okamoto is the EP’s most valuable player, whether its his blistering, Hellacopters-style solo on the harmonica-fueled “Voodoo Lucky Charm” or the chugging blues riff on “Beek.” The latter really lets the band stretch its range, channeling the Rolling Stones with Hama Okamoto’s funky bassline, Reiji Okamoto’s jazzy drumwork, and “Woo-woo!” backing vocals straight out of “Sympathy for the Devil,” while “Run Run Run” works a bluesy riff that would sound at home on an early Who record. The band’s PR claims they’re “ready to fill the boots of the Ramones and become legends themselves,” and while I wouldn’t go that far, OKAMOTO’S are certainly off to a solid start.

Omodaka [Website] [YouTube]

The house/electronica music that Soichi Terada records under his nom de DJ Omodaka bears a passing resemblance to Daft Punk, but it’s the similarities in approach, not musical style, that really stand out. Like that famed French band, Terada first grabbed attention by pairing his beats with eye-catching videos, most notably the trippy clip for "Kokiriko Bushi" that has garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube. Terada’s beats are prone to go odd but interesting places, like his 8-bit version of Bach’s "Cantata No. 147" that plays like a blip-hop/classical hybrid. On his latest single Plum Song, Terada once again teams with “Kokiriko Bushi” singer Akiko Kanazawa, her Buddhist chant-style vocals buoyed with more blipping 8-bit beats. “Tankou Bushi” stirs things up with a funky bassline and a melody played by samples of clanging bells, while “Hohai Bushi” adds some pounding, Chemical Brothers-style breakbeats to the usual formula. (The title track, of course, has its own trippy video.) Terada and his “band” (an Apple Macbook Pro, a Nintendo DS Lite, a Sony PSP, a Gameboy Color, a Korg Kaossilator, and an LCD monitor) now have two years of touring under their belt, and given his penchant for mixing the worlds of audio and video, the results are undoubtedly something best experienced in person.

Red Bacteria Vacuum [Website] [MySpace] 

When they hit the stage for last year’s Japan Girls Nite tour they were just “monster girls from Japan,” but this time around Red Bacteria Vacuum have upped their game and promise to “give you nightmares.” The bookends of their third album (Dolly Dolly, make a epoch, released last October) definitely come through on that promise: the opener “Horror Samba” is a blistering screamer that explodes out of the gate like the opener to the Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde, while closer “ZERO” rocks a Pantera-esque heavy metal riff and some throat-shredding screams. But in between, the trio (formed in Osaka, but now calling Tokyo home) explore much wider territory. A few songs explore the same buzzsaw guitars and screamalong choruses of the band’s 2005 single Roller Coaster (“Power,” the thrashy Black Flag-ish “Freedom”). But things turn poppier on “Aurora,” with its Breeders-esque bopping bassline and chirped backing vocals, and “Color,” a Weezer-esque power pop nugget. Things only get weirder later in the album: the dark, menacing “Why?” sounds like an outtake from Nirvana’s Bleach, yet its followed two songs later with “Gerilonn,” whose synths, vocoders, and “Let’s get it on!” lyrics sound like they teleported in from a Daft Punk record. It’s that kind of range that makes Red Bacteria Vacuum such a compelling listen, and the mostly English lyrics (sung through fairly thick accents—the singing on “Electric” turns the title into a six-syllable word) ensure the melodies will be drilled deep into your subconscious. | Jason Green
Japan Nite US Tour
03.18 Free SXSW Japan Preview Show, Austin, TX @ Typewriter Museum
Geeks / JinnyOops! / Camisama / Dolly / Hystoic Vein / Gagakirise / CHATMONCHY / Maruosa / Maki Rinka / OKAMOTO’S / Red Bacteria Vacuum / Omodaka
03.19 SXSW, Austin, TX @ Elysium
with: CHATMONCHY / Dolly / Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops! / Riddim Saunter
03.21 New York, NY @ The Bowery Ballroom
with: CHATMONCHY / Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops!
03.22 Cambridge, MA @ T.T. the Bear’s
with: Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops!
03.23 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
with: Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops!
03.25 Seattle, WA @ High Dive
with: Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops!
03.26 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
with: CHATMONCHY / Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops!
03.27 Los Angeles, CA @ Viper Room
with: CHATMONCHY / Omodaka / Red Bacteria Vacuum / OKAMOTO’S / JinnyOops!

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