Well the first month of 2015 has come and gone and I'm finally getting around to my first post of the year regarding Japanese shoegaze. I thought 2014 was a pretty good year in terms of releases, especially from the indie sector of the shoegaze scene, white some of the country's heavy hitters also put out some solid new material. Every year I comment on how shoegaze is continuing to grow here in Japan, but in 2014 the development was especially marked with the number of local bands releasing material and getting their music out there by means of digital releases. Unassuming upstart net label Kiiro Records in particular played a major role in spreading the word about the country's shoegaze scene and even the somewhat out of touch, but nevertheless influential, Japan Shoegazer Festival took applications for young bands interested in getting on the bill. What impact any of this has had on the scene's progress from here on out remains to be seen, and with that in mind here are some of the story lines to keep an eye out for in 2015:
1. Bands to watch out for in 2015...
Last weekend I headed up to Tokyo for the monthly Total Feedback event at Koenji High, the unofficial home of shoegaze music in Tokyo as far as venues are concerned. The main attractions were Cruyff in the Bedroom and dive, but the rest of the card was loaded with really impressive young artists. The opening act in particular is one that I've had my eye on for some time and had really been looking forward to seeing live: YUKINO CHAOS. Originally started as a solo project by the band's frontman Sickboy, YUKINO CHAOS started gigging last summer and have been getting some attention by way of a bunch of demo tracks uploaded to YouTube. Total Feedback was no doubt their biggest gig to date and they did not disappoint at all, blending screaming guitars, catchy vocal melodies, and an obvious 90s alt rock influence. Their debut album should be out at some point in March.
From Tokyo to Osaka we go, and one band that really caught my attention is Whisper Voice Riot. When I say they caught my attention it really means they have a song on their Soundcloud page that I really dug, but that's a start! The band, whose members are all high schoolers, have been praised by some of their fellow Osaka musicians, uploaded their first track "Stargaze" in January and are aiming to release a debut EP some time in the spring.
Staying in the Kansai area, this time in Kyoto, AOQ (pronounced "Aoku") is a band that has been on a steady rise over the last couple years but hasn't completely gotten going, fumbling through lineup changes and even once stopping band activities altogether for a short period of time. Last year, however, AOQ settled on a new lineup and took to the stage, appearing at the Osaka leg of the Japan Shoegazer Festival where they really were impressive. Lots of energy on stage, catchy pop melodies, and all the bending, reverb-soaked guitars you could ask for. We'll see if they can keep moving forward in 2015, and perhaps get together an EP or something.
This gem courtesy of Tokyo indie-rock/dreampop outfit Youthmemory was brought to my attention this week, and in very timely fashion as they are getting ready to release their debut EP Dreamin' on February 7th. The 4-track EP will be available for purchase on Bandcamp, and later in the month the band will start selling physical copies with a bonus track at their gigs.
2. Releases to look forward to in 2015.
Maybe the best moment at the Total Feedback event was when Dive frontman Takaharu Sasaoka announced to the audience that they are planning on releasing new music at some point this year. Until further notice that will be the most anticipated upcoming release of 2015. Not to be ignored however is new music from My Dead Girlfriend, who are in the process of recording their new album.
The band responsible for the best Japanese shoegaze EP in 2014, magic love has also promised us some new tunes. Their first mini album was originally slated for the end of the year, but got pushed back, and there's no real timetable regarding the release as of right now.
Finally, Nagoya's Tokenai Namae, who also appeared at the January Total Feedback, have been working hard on their debut full-length for which the kayou-kyoku shoegazers are targeting a summer release. A victim of mediocre recording quality thus far, a properly produced album will hopefully be able to show folks why they've been steadily gaining a following throughout Japan over the last couple years.
3. Who will build off an impressive 2014?
Last year's releases were highlighted by impressive debuts and emphatic comebacks. Juvenile Juvenile just wrapped up the release tour in support of their first full-length Our Great Escape - and my personal favorite album of the year - so that is one band whose progress I'll be watching eagerly this year. Oeil returned to action in 2014 with their first EP in 7 years and also toured alongside Aerofall and Vibragun on their Japanese tour last fall. Urban Twilight left people wanting more and with Myrtle Oeil came through in a big way. Hopefully we won't have to wait long for some more new material...or maybe a debut album?
The aforementioned magic love made a comeback in 2014 as well, though not as dramatic as that of Oeil. After roughtly a three year hiatus that began after the release of their debut EP, they got back around to gigging and released another killer 3-track EP. We know there's new music on the way, but will it be as good as the Dawn EP? We'll find that out soon.
Kiiro records, as mentioned above, was one of the big stories of the year. The three shoegaze comps organized by the net label aside, in its first year kiiro put out an astounding number of albums (all available for free on Bandcamp). It will be interesting to see if the upstart label, which is essentially run by one person, can maintain the heavy workload and if perhaps its catalog will start to include more and more shoegaze releases.
4. Happy 5th Anniversary!
The Japan Shoegazer Festival turns five this year, and though the details aren't really out there yet, we do know that the Tokyo leg of the event is being planned. Last year was the biggest year for the festival to date, and with this being the fifth anniversary it will be interesting to see if the growth continues into 2015 and beyond. While not necessarily the most representative shoegaze event in Japan (Total Feedback does a much better job of showcasing young shoegaze bands), it is the biggest, and a lot of good bands to find their way onto the stage. The recent efforts to infuse the lineup with up and coming talent have been encouraging.
5. Will shoegaze continue to grow outside of Tokyo and Osaka?
Tokyo basically has a stranglehold on most of Japan's musical talent, especially when it comes to shoegaze. Due to the city's sheer size this is really no surprise, and Koenji HIGH hosts a ton of worthwhile shoegaze events. In Osaka as well you can find some great new bands at the frequently held High Fader Night at Kitahorie's club vijion. Cities like Fukuoka and Nagoya have their fair share of musical history and impressive scenes themselves, but as far as shoegaze is concerned Tokyo and Osaka are where the events are to be found.
In 2013, Masashi Imanishi brought the Japan Shoegazer Festival to Nagoya and it was a big success, selling out the venue and prompting a second event later that year. Sadly the second time around wasn't as great and there's been no sign of a return since. Locally, the Day In Day Out event occasionally features shoegaze bands (most recently Juvenile Juvenile appeared), but there's usually a huge mix of sounds on the bill. Bands like Tokenai Namae, Aysula, miiia, mishca, and me in grasshopper might be the start of a growing Nagoya shoegaze scene but whether it will continue to grow or not in a city dominated by punk rock, rockabilly, and metal remains to be seen.
Kyoto is also a candidate for a third shoegaze city in Japan, with its third Kyoto Shoegaze event on the horizon. The two-day festival will once again be held at Annie's Cafe, and last year had a huge lineup featuring the likes of cruyff in the bedroom, cigarette in your bed, and MASH. The only thing lacking on the back end of the card was a good amount of local talent. As the June dates approach we will see what bands await shoegaze fans in Kyoto.