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Turning Japanese

Trevor Baker
Trevor Baker 3 June 2007 at 19.14

The Music. Shampoo. InMe. Three UK acts that went 'big' in Japan. But is the land of the rising sun cruel enough to inflict such crimes on Blighty in retribution? Evidently, given the Japanese gems that have arrived at RSHQ of late, all is forgiven...

Until recently Japanese rock music was strictly a minority interest in the west. The few acts we knew about were either true outsiders like Merzbow, Boredoms or Guitar Wolf or else they were easily patronised purveyors of kitsch like Shonen Knife. But, in the last year or so, there have been signs that things are changing. That streak of uncompromising weirdness is still there in bands like Melt-Banana, but now people in the UK are starting to see beyond the J-Rock banner, picking up on long-established Japanese groups like Dir En Grey and Mucc without even thinking about where they come from. Tickets for both bands' UK gigs have been snapped up in minutes and it seems like the land of the rising sun is at last casting its light over here. Could it be that bands like these will one day be as big or bigger than their British or American counterparts?

Dir En Grey
Line-Up: Kyo (vocals), Kaoru (guitar), Die (guitar), Toshiya (bass), Shinya (drums)
Sounds Like: Classic ear-raping metal with occasional diversions into prog-rock and even a soulful croon.
The Story Goes Like This: Dir En Grey formed in 97 as part of the very flamboyant 'visual kei' scene. Since then they've become increasingly metal (not to mention mental), and they've released six full albums, playing alongside the likes of Korn on the Family Values Tour.
Sample Lyric: "I'll rape your daughter on your grave" (from 'Agitated Screams Of Maggots')
They Say: Kyo: "The worst thing about the Japanese rock scene is that there is no Japanese rock scene."
Kaoru: "The good side to that is the fact that we don't have a rival here in Japan as there are no rock bands that can stimulate us here."
Random Fact: Vocalist Kyo has been hospitalised more than once with rock-related injuries such as hearing problems and damage to his vocal cords.
Current Release: 'The Marrow Of A Bone' (album, Warcon. Out now)

Line-Up: Tatsurou Iwakami (vocals), Masaaki 'Miya' Yaguchi (guitar), Yuusuke 'Yukke' Fukuno (bass), Satoshi 'SatoChi' Takayasu (drums)
Sounds Like: To western ears there's something strangely Latin-sounding about Mucc's epic, ambitious high-tempo rock. Imagine a heavier Muse if they were Mexican.
The Story Goes Like This: Like Dir En Grey, Mucc formed in 97 and they've gone on to become big across Asia. With their enormous hooks it's certain they'd be massive over here, too, if they sang in English.
Sample Lyric: "The maternal moon colours the earth in a bluish light / The bare feet marching unerringly towards the traffic signs" (from 'Gokusai', translated from Japanese)
They Say: "More and more people all over the world are accepting us, even if we're not singing in English. We hope that the same thing will happen in England or the USA."
Random Fact: Mucc are also known as '69', which is pronounced 'muku' in Japanese.
Current Release: 'Gokusai' (album, Gan-Shin. Out now)

Asobi Seksu
Line-Up: Yuki Chikudate (vocals, keyboards), James Hanna (guitar, vocals), Haji (bass), Mitch Spivak (drums)
Sounds Like: A Japanese-American twist on one of those so-called 'shoegazing' bands of the early 90s. Think the Cocteau Twins with added pop and added rock.
The Story Goes Like This: Asobi Seksu aren't actually Japanese at all. Vocalist Yuki comes from LA and the band formed when she met James Hanna in New York. Still, she sings in Japanese occasionally, which is good enough for us.
Sample Lyric: "Put your tongue up to my battery" (from 'Nefi + Girly')
They Say: Yuki: "I prefer dreampop to 'shoegaze'. Dreampop doesn't sound as limiting and it actually sounds descriptive. James and I don't look at our shoes."
Random Fact: 'Asobi Seksu' means 'playful sex' in Japanese slang.
Current Release: 'Citrus' (album, One Little Indian. Out May 28)

Melt Banana
Line-Up: Yasuko Onuki (vocals) Ichirou Agata (guitar), Rika mm' (bass)
Sounds Like: A no wave Spice Girls jabbing you in the ear with violent blasts of high-frequency noisecore squeakpop.
The Story Goes Like This: Over their eight albums since they formed in 1992, Melt-Banana have come to sum up many people's idea of Japanese music as hyperactive and crazy. With fans including the likes of Mike Patton and the late John Peel, Melt-Banana have become, if anything, more successful abroad than in Japan.
Sample Lyric: "An earth-sized trashcan / Where can I get one?" (from 'Cracked Plaster Cast')
Random Fact: Vocalist Onuki occasionally screams so hard she gives herself a nose bleed.
Current Release: 'Bambi's Dilemma' (album, A-Zap, Out now)

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