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A Guide to Japanese Shoegaze in 2016

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A Global Noise Magazine

A Guide to Japanese Shoegaze in 2016

Matthew Bedford

The first month of 2016 has come and gone and I'm finally getting around to posting about some of the year's potential story lines and some things that fans may want to keep their eyes and ears open for.  Fortunately, January didn't really see a whole lot of action on the Japanese shoegaze front, with the most noteworthy release being a full-length release from Tokyo's 7eyes40days.  It's been a slow start, but recent years have seen a significant growth of the Japanese scene and there's no reason to think that 2016 will be any exception.  

1.  New bands to watch out for in 2016...

One of last year's most impressive newcomers Plant Cell can hardly be considered a new band, but 2015 served as sort of a warm-up year during which the Chiba outfit recorded a bunch of music, solidified its lineup, and even squeezed in a couple gigs right before the end of the year.  They go into 2016 poised to do big things, and we can only assume that there will be a lot more music to be heard in the coming year.  Their sound is deep, thickly-layered, and raw and they're right at the forefront of new Japanese bands balancing out the country's pop-heavy scene with a heavy dose of swirling noise.

Citrus Nowhere is another band whose noisy approach to pop music is extremely welcome to the Japanese scene.  The mysterious Tokyo-based band released a self-titled EP just before Christmas after putting out some extremely unrefined - yet quite satisfying - demos throughout the year.  They'll be releasing some new material at a special Nagoya-only (yes!) event at the end of February alongside one of last year's 'bands to watch out for', Yukino Chaos.  

From Tokyo to nearby Kanagawa-prefecture, Kawasaki's Spicy Ground Floor are another new band that wasted no time getting to the studio and pumping out demo tracks.  They're still a bit raw, but it's early days for a band whose Soundcloud page has filled up quickly, and their swaying gently between bouncy pop-driven verses found in their single "Chili Chili" and the steadily marching, guitar driven style of "Flood".  It's not perfect just yet, but these guys are on the right track.  

As a resident of Nagoya, there are two local bands who got started last year whose progress I'll be monitoring closely in 2016.  The first loosely qualifies for this list, but The Skateboard Kids essentially do everything you could ask of a shoegaze band with bouts of thunderous guitar noise exploding out from their sweetly melancholic, occasionally playful pop verses.  The other is haguki, a three-piece shoegaze band hailing from Anjo-city, about a half hour outside Nagoya.  Their three-track EP tobira gets a bit math-y at times, and there's also a bit of a post rock influence that reminds me of prefecture-mates Aysula.  The EP was a short but sweet sampler of their music that has me really interested to see which direction they ultimately decide to head.  

A band that'll be getting things going this year, though one whose principle member needs no introduction is Tokyo's Flaria.  Kensei Ogata - who is perhaps best known among foreign shoegaze fans as the man behind Tatuki Seksu - announced late last year that his band, talk, would be going on an indefinite hiatus and his focus would be shifting to his new Tokyo-based project.  Flaria played its first gig on January 15th and it probably won't be too long before we get to hear what Mr. Ogata's new project sounds like.  

2.  New releases to watch out for in 2016...

Hands down the most exciting release of the year will come from Aomori's The Earth Earth, who promised us a new EP and then finally gave us some new music in the form of their single, "n e a r".  There's no real timetable for the release of the EP, but I'll just be really optimistic that the rest of the EP is in the production phase right now and will be out sooner or later.  

Something I've been waiting for for a while now is new music from another of Japan's best shoegaze bands, dive.  The band's activity has been pretty slow in recent years, but there was word that Sasaoka and company would be putting out some new music in the fall of 2015.  Here we are almost a month into 2016 and there's been no music, but one gig in the books so far this year and another coming up in March (a flurry of live activity by dive standards) might be an indication that they have the time to record some new music.  I'm not holding my breath, but if both dive and The Earth Earth were to put out new music in the same year there isn't much else I'd need.

I may not have been paying enough attention when the project was initially announced, but one release that makes this list based solely on reputation is the solo album from My Dead Girlfriend's Yuki Ishikawa.  The quirky frontman is currently recording the album which features a ton of guest musicians, including the aforementioned Kensei Ogata.  There's not a whole lot known about the direction of the album, but given the cast of contributors and the reputation of the man whose name will be on the cover, it's at least worth checking out.

The Florist, whose 2014 album Middle of Winter was one of the best of the year, have been writing a bunch of new material and now appear set to record a new album over the next two months.  With the band collectively drawing on such a wide range of influences, it will be interesting to see if they decide to approach the follow-up effort differently or if they ride the same formula that produced their memorable debut full-length.  

3.  The festivals!

2015 was a pretty spectacular year for gig-going shoegaze fans in Japan, with Astrobrite's Japan tour and all of the festivities surrounding it kicking off something of a flurry of resurgent 90s shoegaze acts touring the country.  This year probably won't be as intense in that respect - though I'm sure we can count on a Lush appearance at some point in 2016 - so the focus shifts back to Japan's domestic shoegaze events.  Since it's inception six years ago, the Japan Shoegazer Festival has been the country's most identifiable shoegaze showcase, and the Tokyo leg of what has mostly been a two-city event is generally more stacked and given more attention than its little brother counterpart in Osaka.  Tokyo is the shoegaze capital of Japan, as it seems to be for most genres, and events like the monthly Total Feedback at Koenji HIGH further solidify its reputation as such.  The first Japanese Shoegazer Festival of the year will be held in Tokyo in early March and while it looks like details won't be out for another week or so, what we currently know is that Cruyff in the Bedroom will be appearing and we can assume that Lemon's Chair will be joining them on the back end of the bill.  

The event that's been slowly overtaking the Japan Shoegazer Festival as the premier shoegaze fest in Japan is the Kyoto Shoegazer/Noisy Pop event run by AOQ (pronounced 'aoku') frontman Katayama.  2016 will see the fourth installment of the event, which will be expanding from its previous two-day format to three days spanning two weekends this April.  The first show will double as the first leg of the Japanese tour of Taiwan's Doodle, and the rest of the lineup should be excellent as the organizers have shown a tremendous ability to bring in talent from all over the country despite the not-so-prime location of the tour.  This show is also a great opportunity to get out to Japan's most attractive city, take in some of the sights in the early afternoon, and then hop over to Nano for a long but satisfying evening of music.  

4.  The genre outside of Tokyo

It's no secret that the Japanese shoegaze scene basically funnels its way to Tokyo, and understandably so.  There are a ton of people, a lot of great bands, and it's really the best place for bands to attach themselves to scene as run by the elder statesmen of the genre.  It's also no secret that I'd love to see the control of the shoegaze scene in Japan shift from the controlling hands of older bands in Tokyo and spread more evenly throughout the rest of the country.  I know this goes against the whole hierarchical nature of Japanese music as a microcosm of everyday social structure, but I also think it's best for development.  I like the Kyoto Shoegazer model, and while this year that is sort of the main story outside of Tokyo, efforts to expand the event to other cities such as Nagoya and Osaka appear to be in the works.  I'd just like to see the endgame much less defined by one group and more molded by a generation of cocky young bands with the freedom to create and mold the genre as they see fit.