A Guide to Japanese Shoegaze in 2015

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:

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 bedroomcigarette 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.

Revolution – The Shoegaze Revival Compilation

Talk of a shoegaze “revival” tends to rub some folks the wrong way.  “Shoegaze never really went away” is what purists will say, while others cite the long-awaited release of My Bloody Valentine’s M B V in 2013 as the moment that the shoegaze ball got rolling at a steady pace again.  It’s a topic of debate, but whatever the case may be, one undeniable fact is that shoegaze is a thing and a lot of people are doing it really well all over the world.  To showcase that very fact, on February 11th North Wales-based indie label Ear to Ear Records in collaboration with Indonesia’s Gerpfast Kolektif will release Revolution – The Shoegaze Revival, a global compilation album including tracks from a whopping 30 shoegaze bands from 16 different countries.

Talk of a shoegaze “revival” tends to rub some folks the wrong way.  “Shoegaze never really went away” is what purists will say, while others cite the long-awaited release of My Bloody Valentine’s M B V in 2013 as the moment that the shoegaze ball got rolling at a steady pace again.  It’s a topic of debate, but whatever the case may be, one undeniable fact is that shoegaze is a thing and a lot of people are doing it really well all over the world.  To showcase that very fact, on February 11th North Wales-based indie label Ear to Ear Records in collaboration with Indonesia’s Gerpfast Kolektif will release Revolution – The Shoegaze Revival, a global compilation album including tracks from a whopping 30 shoegaze bands from 16 different countries.

The mammoth comp features some of the best bands the shoegaze world has to offer – including Japan’s very own Spool, Ether Feels, and Magao – and will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD via Ear to Ear’s Bandcamp page.  To whet your appetite until the actual release day, 15 tracks are currently available for a listen at said page.  Two hours of brilliant tunes in the form of one release await you in February and if you are a fan of the genre, new or old, you should probably start getting excited.

Here is a full list of the bands that will be taking part:

shoegazecomp2

Also there’s this neat teaser video put together by DKFM’s Greg Wilson:

Top 10 Japanese Shoegaze Albums and EPs of 2014

As you may notice, there are some big names missing from the list, namely Luminous Orange who released a really good album titled Soar, Kiss the Moon this year.  Though Luminous Orange is an important name in the history of Japanese shoegaze music, the new album simply isn’t a shoegaze record.

The Albums

As you may notice, there are some big names missing from the list, namely Luminous Orange who released a really good album titled Soar, Kiss the Moon this year.  Though Luminous Orange is an important name in the history of Japanese shoegaze music, the new album simply isn’t a shoegaze record.

Kinoko Teikoku, a band that has been on a massive roll over the past couple years, also distanced itself a bit from the genre with Fake World Wonderland.  The album itself is okay as a pop record, but lacks a certain intensity that I really came to appreciate from their first couple releases.

Finally, I’ve really enjoyed net label Kiiro Records‘ shoegaze compilations this year, but the large number of foreign artists included in the album disqualifies them from the list.  You should still download them though, which you can do here:  https://kiirorecords2.bandcamp.com/.

Enough about the records that didn’t make the list, though.  Here are my favorite ten shoegaze albums from Japan in 2014.

10.  The Novembers – Rhapsody in Beauty

Though The Novembers aren’t strictly a shoegaze band, the record isn’t as experimental nor as diverse as the Luminous Orange release and is chock full of the requisite “wall of sound” guitar noise of a good shoegaze album.  It’s loud as hell and the title track is extremely addictive.

9.  Origami – 113,197.73

This one made it in at the buzzer with a Christmas release.  Origami are a relatively unknown, brand new band based in England and thanks to a timely recommendation via Greg from DKFM I was able to hear this album.  Really nice ambient, textural stuff from the newcomers.

8.  Plastic Girl in Closet – Eye Cue Rew See

More sugary sweet pop music from Plastic Girl in Closet, whose album was their second release of the year (the first being their January mini-album White Loud).

7.  Aysula – Release Me

Another sort of under the radar release this year, Nagoya’s Aysula impressed at the 2013 Japan Shoegazer Festival in their hometown and were invited to this year’s event in Osaka as a result.  Their mini-album Release Me (seven tracks so I threw it on this list) shows off their intense blend of shoegaze and post rock with massive guitars and powerful vocals.

6.  Lemon’s Chair – My Favorite Reverb

As usual, Lemon’s Chair have put out a beautiful instrumental record.  Put on your headphones and jack up the volume, but be careful, as about halfway through the epic 12-minute final track “My Favorite” the band’s trademark guitar eruption kicks in and shit gets real.

5.  Shelling – Aquarium Sympathy

The textures on this album are beautiful, blending guitar noise, thickly layered synths and breathy, sunken vocals.  The electronic beats are super simple and do their job, pacing the listener through a sea of ambient fuzz.

4.  Cigarette in your Bed – Darkness

Cigarette in your Bed’s debut full-length album release marked their emergence from the High Fader ranks, and rightfully so.  They’re arguably the best band on the roster now and their gritty, somewhat grunge brand of shoegaze is a welcome addition to a pop-heavy Japanese shoegaze scene.  My only complaint is that the new version of lead single “Let Me Out” is significantly slower than the original.

3.  The Florist – Dark Entries

I’ve raved about this record a lot since it came out in April, and the replay value has hardly dimished since then.   The album is super “dreamy” and a bit melancholy, and the gently harmonized vocals throughout are a nice touch.  Lead single “Middle of Winter” has gotten a lot of love, and not just in Japan.  Dark Entries is a successful debut and it looks like a follow up is likely at some point in 2015.

2.  Boyish – Sketch for 8000 Days of Moratorium

Boyish entered the conversation a bit late with the November release of Sketch for 8000 Days of Moratorium, but made an emphatic statement with a killer record.  The album is a throwback to the jangly guitar-laden shoegaze sound reminiscent of early Ride and My Bloody Valentine, highlighted by my favorite track “Heartwarm Guitar” (which when translating the phoneticized Japanese reads alarmingly like “Heartworm Guitar”).

1.  Juvenile Juvenile – Our Great Escape

Our Great Escape is simply the best Japanese record this year.  Every song is good and the production is great thanks in large part to shoegaze producer extraordinaire Kensei Ogata’s hand in the mixing.  It’s hard to say much more, other than this album is excellent.

The EPs

10.  Suichuu Zukan – Nami

Though it’s just a single, Nami deserved a spot on this list as it’s one of the best tracks released in 2014.  I’m extremely hopeful that this is the first step toward a new album.

9.  Grinch/Cattle – Feel Flaw, Lost Girl (split)

Grinch’s “Digitalis” plays like a Coaltar of the Deepers track, and Cattle’s “fluff” is one of my favorite songs this year.  Two really good bands got together and released this split courtesy of Kiiro Records.  Sadly it’s only two tracks.

8.  Uchuu Neko-ko and Lovely Summer-chan – Hibi no Awa

Another project to which the aforementioned Lovely Summer lent her vocal talents.  It’s just two tracks but Hibi no Awa, released via Bandcamp a couple times, had quickly garnered interest from shoegaze communities and bloggers all over the place.

7.  Tokenai Namae – Osiete V Kankaku

While a lot of Japanese shoegaze bands draw on Western influences, Nagoya’s Tokenai Namae’s music goes back the the roots of modern J-Pop with a unique blend of guitar noise and “kayou kyoku”.  The self-proclaimed “kayou-shoegazers” released their second EP in March and gigged alongside Japanese shoegaze heavy hitters Plastic Girl in Closet and Shelling on their respective album release tours this year.

6.  For Tracy Hyde – In Fear of Love

The Tokyo-based indie pop group had a big year in its new incarnation.  Fronted by Lovely Summer – the same Lovely Summer mentioned above – For Tracy Hyde released two new EPs this year as well as a new single (a new version of an older track titled “Shady Lane Sherbet“).  In Fear of Love‘s opening track “First Regrets” is an ultra-catchy pop track, and the rest follows suit.

5.  the city – celebration – Another Osaka entry on the list, the city were newcomers in 2014.  The indie rock/dream pop foursome put out a really impressive, somewhat moody 3-track EP amidst a flurry of gigs in 2014.

4.  Ether Feels – Twilight Dreams 

One of my personal favorite bands and one that I’ve seen live countless times, Ether Feels have released a bunch of material previously, but Twilight Dreams marks the first time they’ve made their music readily available to an overseas audience.  Featuring fan favorite track “Raindrop Sparkle”, Ether Feels’ latest EP is a step up in production value from their previous works.

3.  Al Van She’s Coming – Drop* 

A nice introduction to how a persistent guitar noise attack and Japanese pop vocals work well together.  Hokkaido-based Al Van She’s Coming delivers the requisite loudness of shoegaze with uptempo pop beats while switching back and forth between male and female vocals.  “Mint” is one of the most addictive tracks I’d heard all year.

2.  Oeil – Myrtle 

Though Oeil has been hanging around and gigging sporadically over the last few years, Myrtle marked the band’s first proper release since 2007’s Urban Twilight EP.  Whereas their previous EP was more of an homage to My Bloody Valentine, the new one incorporates those same elements while also mixing in a bit of a new wave sound, namely on the extremely danceable title track.  The release of Myrtle coincided with Oeil’s support of Aerofall and Vibragun on their Japan tour this fall.

1.  Magic Love – Dawn

Magic Love came back from a roughly three-year hiatus and did so emphatically.  The band spent the latter half of 2014 gigging following the release of their Dawn EP, the reaction to which prompted a re-release of their 2011 EP Bright a Scene and a new two-track live sessions CD.  Magic Love’s harsh, screaming guitars contrast the jangly pop-infused sound that is generally more prevalent in the Japanese shoegaze scene these days.

[Japan] EUPHRATES

EUPHRATES
The 2014 Japan Shoegazer Festival kicks off in less than a week with the first event taking place in Osaka on September 7th.  Between the two shows – the latter on the 27th in Tokyo – the bill is loaded with well-known artists in Japan’s shoegaze scene:  Zeppet Store, cruyff in the bedroom, The Florist, cigarette in your bed, Plastic Girl in Closet, and of course Lemon’s Chair among others.  Though the most impressive lineup in the event’s history will attract attention thanks in large part to these names, the bill sports some perhaps lesser known talent that is well worth watching.

EUPHRATES is one such band, though Japan Shoegazer Festival devotees will certainly know the name.  The Osaka-based four piece and member of Japanese shoegaze label High Fader Records frequents the middle of the festival’s lineups and remains quite active within its local music scene, planning and performing at events like “EUPHRATES Presents High Fader NIGHT”.

Since forming in 2012, what name they may have made for themselves to date has been crafted with dreamy vocal melodies and explosive, at times danceable choruses.  “Come With Me” is the ultra-catchy fan favorite at gigs, drawing the largest applauses and eliciting about as much movement as you’ll see at the Japan Shoegazer Festival.  Having seen the growth of cigarette in your bed, another High Fader product, this year, it would seem that EUPHRATES are near the front of the line to emerge in the near future.  To date they have no proper released material, but perhaps their two most recognizable songs can both be heard on the band’s Soundcloud page.

Fore more info on a band that’s definitely worth keeping an eye on, follow EUPHRATES on Twitter.  Have a listen to their songs “Come With Me” and “Stargazer” below:

[kiirorecords & JAPAN SHOEGAZER FESTIVAL V.A]

Over the last month or so the anticipation of this year’s Japan Shoegazer Festival has been building.  This year’s edition of the event has reverted back to it’s previous two city format, with the first leg taking place in Osaka and the second in Tokyo.  This year’s Shoegazer Festival features a whopping thirty artists (twelve in Osaka and eighteen in Tokyo) and a ton of DJs, shaping up to be the biggest events in the fest’s history.
A couple months ago event organizer and guitarist of annual headliner Lemon’s Chair, Masashi Imanishi announced a that a special promotion with net label Kiiro Records would take place at this year’s festival.  Around that time Kiiro Records, whose catalog consists largely of free-to-download pop releases, put out its most recent shoegaze compilation titled Forever Shoegaze.  While details were completely unknown at the time, it was assumed that some sort of collaborative release was in the works.  Today the details were announced via Imanishi’s blog.

People who attend the event will receive a free copy of the Japan Shoegazer Festival-exclusive compilation, kiirorecords & JAPAN SHOEGAZER FESTIVAL V.A.  The full track list of the limited edition CD-R was released today as well.  Though it does include some songs that have appeared on previous Kiiro Records comps, it marks the first physical release by the label.  It’s a pretty nice bonus for folks who are able to attend what has to date been a really enjoyable day of music.  One can asuume that when the Japan Shoegazer Festival concludes, this release will make its way to Bandcamp as well.  The track listing for the CD is as folows:

01. SAPPY / 天国のフィーリング
02. adgreen. / mieko maiko 
03. The Feedback Radio’s / smile 
04. HUSH / Dumb
05. kazuma / I am waiting last summer 
06. penguin airways / heatdown
07. PARASOL/ Sometimes 
08. 17歳とベルリンの壁 / サーチライト 
09. Cuicks / warp to the next door 
10. daisyblue / early wing 
11. ヨシオテクニカ / 夜汽車で見た古い夢 Old dream takes somewhere 
12. magao / 海へ沈む
13. magu / 轟音少女はうつむかない 
14. なゆたのつぶて / 星座
15. the Jinn’s / din
16. nina likes light blue skirt / Wednesday
17. cosmos / 素晴らしい世界

To check out more of Kiiro Records’ releases visit their Bandcamp page.

 

[Japan] Aysula – “Release Me”

I took a trip to Sakae for some Saturday afternoon wandering around and stopped off on the way at Nagoya’s famed File Under Records where a copy of the debut from local shoegaze outfit Aysula was waiting for me.  I’d caught them last year at the Japan Shoegazer Festival in Nagoya and their abundance of what many Japanese shoegaze bands lack – a face blasting amount of guitar noise by way of their ridiculously loaded pedalboards – was one of the more impressive aspects of the evening.  At the time there was only a little of their music available at the time, and most of that was the series of live videos on Youtube I’ve come to be accustomed to.

In June, however, the band released their debut effort titled, in an almost beckoning way, Release Me.  I popped the CD in as soon as I got home and, while this is based on a mere couple listens through, it’s phenomenal.  It’s got the shoegaze guitar noise that distinguished them at the JSF event, and on the recording the somewhat whiny, moody vocals really stand out a lot moreso than on Tsurumai Daytrip’s PA (understandably).  The album has a really dark feel throughout.  That guitar sound produced by the more than 70 pedals in their arsenal is all I need.  Tracks like “Sphere” and “Remark” stuck out from their live performances, but “Lay Down Your Feathers”, the closest thing to a pure shoegaze track on the album, is the early favorite.

It’s a really impressive debut, and an important one for the city as Nagoya has started to produce its share of talent as the shoegaze scene in Japan continues to grow more and more.  The band has also been announced as a participant in the Osaka leg of this fall’s Japan Shoegazer Festival.  You can give them a follow on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to check out their homepage as well for info on how to purchase their CD.  There are some “trailers” available on Aysula’s Soundcloud page as well.

[Japan] Ether Feels – “Twilight Dreams”

Osaka shoegazers Ether Feels have released their new 3-track EP “Twilight Dreams” this week.  The EP, which features re-recorded versions of some of their earlier material, includes the fan favorite “Raindrop Sparkle” sandwiched between two other songs which feature regularly at the trio’s gigs – “Morning Star” and “Paddy”.  The improved recording quality does well to really capture the band’s light, somewhat melancholy brand of shoegaze capped by the dreamy vocal lines of frontman and principal songwriter TOMO which really carry well on this new EP.  Having released a bunch of material previously, “Twilight Dreams” is the most mature of their works thus far and with a new lineup in place it will be cool to see a new full length in the future.

Here’s a preview of “Raindrop Sparkle” from the album which is available on Amazon (JP).