Standing on the Moon with Whisper Voice Riot

By 1996 the shoegaze genre had sort of peaked in terms of popularity in its first go-round and made way for grunge and Britpop, while slipping away into relative obscurity.  In Japan the so-called ‘first wave’ of shoegaze had already come and gone with the country’s founding fathers of the genre long disbanded or still working out a release.  1996 would be the year that Luminous Orange released its debut album Vivid Short Trip, and a mere two years before Supercar would release Three Out Change and effectively kick off a new wave of shoegaze bands in Japan.  That’s a very brief glimpse back at the year 1996, but one to just put things in perspective.

By 1996 the shoegaze genre had sort of peaked in terms of popularity in its first go-round and made way for grunge and Britpop, while slipping away into relative obscurity.  In Japan the so-called ‘first wave’ of shoegaze had already come and gone with the country’s founding fathers of the genre long disbanded or still working out a release.  1996 would be the year that Luminous Orange released its debut album Vivid Short Trip, and a mere two years before Supercar would release Three Out Change and effectively kick off a new wave of shoegaze bands in Japan.  That’s a very brief glimpse back at the year 1996, but one to just put things in perspective.

1996 was also the year that the first of Whisper Voice Riot’s members were born.  The Osaka shoegaze band’s lineup consists of members born in ’96 and ’97, prompting comments about how they’re the future of the Japanese scene and whatnot.  The concept isn’t just based on the fact that they’re all still in high school, though.  They’re actually really, really good.  Right around the end of last year they put out their first track “Stargaze” and prompted a whole bunch of Tweets by people who were surprised that it was made by teenagers.  Admittedly, I was a little curious, if not skeptical, about how things would go from there.  Having witnessed first-hand how little free time high schoolers have and experiencing how tedious arranging band practices can be, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they just fell victim to the pressures of university entrance exams and disappeared entirely.  

That wasn’t at all the case, however, and Whisper Voice Riot has had a great 2015, during which the band been a part of some pretty good gigs and put out some new material – the first of which was a danceable follow up single aptly titled “Let’s Dance and Sink Down”.  Their songwriting ability once again grabbed a lot of attention, resulting in an invitation to perform at Hata Yusuke’s monthly Total Feedback event at Koenji HIGH in Tokyo – something of a rite of passage for Japanese shoegaze bands.  However, it’s in the Kansai-area shoegaze scene that Whisper Voice Riot has quickly become a mainstay.  Their emphatic performance at the Kyoto Shoegazer vol. 3 event at Annie’s Cafe this summer showed a level of confidence and poise beyond their years that impressed the hell out of me and just about everyone else at the show.  

The highlight of the year for Whisper Voice Riot was undoubtedly this past weekend in Osaka where the band had a supporting slot at the Tokenai Namae album release party.  They had teased a release of their very own with a new track on their Soundcloud page, but the show in Osaka was where they officially put out their debut 3-track EP Before the Morning Cleaves Our Night.  As a further testament to their increased standing in the Osaka music scene, the maiden release was produced by Post Modern Team’s Kishida-san.  

With their first two singles being pretty different, I was a little curious whether Whisper Voice Riot would go the way of the first and choose the indie pop/shoegaze path or if they might just choose the pop route.  Naturally, as a fan of the former I had my own hopes, especially seeing how their aggressive live show would be an asset to a Japanese shoegaze landscape that could use a bit of a jolt.  Needless to say, I am pleased with the balance of the EP and the fact that they, along with Kishida-san, did not shy away from the loud side of things while still keeping the catchy pop melodies in tact.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said in terms of Whisper Voice Riot’s potential.  There’s still room for growth, but they’ve shown that they should be capable of filling out their sound even more as time goes by.  I still wonder about the effect that their formal education may have on their creative passion, but to this point it’s done nothing to slow them down.  I had them on my list of bands to keep an eye on in 2015, and it’s reasonable to extend that claim for the foreseeable future.

At the moment Whisper Voice Riot’s EP is only available at shows, but they’ve announced that it will be available via mail order in the near future.  Stay tuned by following the band on Facebook and Twitter.  

Tokenai Namae – “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni”

Two years ago the Japan Shoegazer Festival made its first trip to Nagoya in addition to regular stops in Tokyo and Osaka.  Despite being headlined by more nationally recognizable bands from the two larger citites – Lemon’s Chair and My Dead Girlfriend – the majority of the bill appropriately featured bands from Nagoya.  There was some question as to how the annual event would draw in a new city and one with very little association with shoegaze. 

Two years ago the Japan Shoegazer Festival made its first trip to Nagoya in addition to regular stops in Tokyo and Osaka.  Despite being headlined by more nationally recognizable bands from the two larger citites – Lemon’s Chair and My Dead Girlfriend – the majority of the bill appropriately featured bands from Nagoya.  There was some question as to how the annual event would draw in a new city and one with very little association with shoegaze.  The question was answered in the form of a sold out show that had Tsurumai’s Daytrip packed tight, prompting the show’s organizer to book a follow up event with the venue almost as soon as the gig ended.  Judging by the crowd’s reaction during the course of the night it became clear that they weren’t just there to see the bigger name acts.  The night belonged to one local act in particular:  Tokenai Namae.

As a resident of Nagoya who runs a blog centered around shoegaze music in Japan, it’s been a pleasure to see the kayou-shoegazers continuing to pick up steam both within their hometown and outside of it, and in the process putting Nagoya on the Japanese shoegaze map.  They’ve moved a ton of their first two CD-R EPs throughout the country and have gigged increasingly outside of Nagoya, highlighted by appearances at Total Feedback and Japan Shoegazer Festival events in Tokyo.  The band took the next big step in their development this year when they wrapped up their debut full-length effort “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni” earlier this year.

For those unfamiliar with Tokenai Namae’s signature blend of shoegaze and kayou-kyoku (a brand of Japanese pop music which originated in the Showa period and the foundation of modern pop music in Japan), the first two tracks on the album are basically an introduction to what they do.  “Koukotsu Kyoushitsu” (恍惚教室) and “Denki-shingou no Imooto” (電気信号の妹) are both catchy pop tracks showcasing the male and female twin vocals that ceaselessly shadow one another while bubbly synths bounce on top of subtle guitar noise.  One of the knocks on their previously released material is that the synths are a little too prominent in the mix, and while they’re still pretty high up there on the new record, it feels like everything else has been turned up and blended a little better.  One of my favorite aspects of the album is the filthy bass tone that contrasts the cheerful poppy vibe of the music really nicely, and they do well to showcase it from start to finish here.

The middle portion of “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae Ni” is where Tokenai Namae really shines.  Not surprisingly, this is where the two lead singles “√ni-hiki” (√2匹) and “Calpis-chan” (カルピスちゃん) sit in the track listing, but the song that follows them, “Shoujo no Kannouki” (少女の官能基), is probably my favorite on the album.  For me the three-track block really showcases the band’s ability to write good songs.  The general shoegaze formula is predicated on a balance between beauty and sheer noise, but in Tokenai Namae’s case there’s an element of ‘cute’ that is vital.  Sure, there’s a fairly sizeable section of the Japanese shoegaze scene that leans heavily toward cute indie pop, but there seems to be an inverse correlation between said “cuteness” and shoegaze’s requisite volume and noise.  Tokenai Namae manages to jam them all together really successfully.

The last three tracks on the album are a gradual come down from shoegaze back into a more pop-heavy finale.  “Toumei Tsuushin” (透明通信) is sort of a perfect transition track here, while “Kanjiru Keisanki, 21sai” (感じる計算機、二十一歳) and “Suimin Shou”(睡眠抄) ease you out of what has been a largely pleasant listening experience. 

For an overseas listener-base, Tokenai Namae’s new album, and their body of work in general, may take a little bit of getting used to.  However while western shoegaze was born from western pop and the genre rode into Japan as well on the back of a Madchester craze, Tokenai Namae takes the principles of the shoegaze sound and reconstructs them around a uniquely Japanese foundation.  It makes for some really intriguing music that, at very least, will latch onto your brain and not let go without a fight.

As an added bonus, their track listings are like a really, really difficult kanji quiz.

Click here to buy “Time Machine ga Kowareru Mae ni” at Tower Records (overseas shipping is available)