We’ve made a playlist of all the bands featured in this article – listen on Spotify.
For UK bands, touring Japan is the Holy Grail of punk rock. Success in DIY music cannot be quantified by financial gains or commercial exposure, but it can be measured by how far you’ve travelled to share your music with excited fans.
With the assistance of dedicated organisations like RNR Tours, increasingly more UK and European bands are playing Japan. We’ve covered them in Tree’s Fair Do’s tour diary and Tom West’s Japan Tour Survival Guide. Although many tours have been cancelled recently as a result of COVID-19, PMX made it over just before the global travel restrictions.
As more UK and European bands are receiving attention from Japanese crowds, we thought it time to reciprocate and give column space to the Japanese bands making waves over here. No doubt a knock-on effect from Anarchistic Undertones promoter Ian ‘Tree’ Robinson’s trip to Tokyo with Fair Do’s last year, Manchester Punk Festival this year had booked four incredible Japanese gems: SHAMES, Stone Leek, Green Eyed Monster and Gibberish (who have one Japanese member). Although MPF’s fallen foul of the Corona catastrophe, there’s no doubt that the same bands will be invited again for a future event. Beyond these, there is a whole culture of uptempo, angry, exciting bands that many of us are yet to discover.
I asked UK artists who’ve toured Japan to recommend their favourite acts, to give you an trustworthy overview of what Japanese punk rock has to offer.
“I follow skate punk and fast melodic hardcore obsessively,” says Tom West, frontman of South Coast prog-hardcore legends Almeida. “I like nothing more than finding obscure bands that nobody’s ever heard of, especially when they bring something new to the table.
“Japan, for me, is 20 years in the future when it comes to musical diversity – both in terms of representation (who’s playing the music) and the comparative lack of boundaries the musicians adhere to.
“I have no idea how so many of these incredible bands are seemingly so successful over there, and yet even I haven’t heard of them! I tend to discover these acts on Spotify or when I’m several hours into a YouTube hole. I don’t know who’s funding the scene over there but it’s one I wish I was able to access far more regularly.”
Andrew Gabriel from Hoi-Poi Farplane Wind and Nasty Cut Records recommends that you listen to AND PROTECTOR: “I don’t really remember how I discovered these guys, but I haven’t stopped listening to everything they put out ever since. From music and videos to posters and merch, anything they’ll put out appeals so much to me. Even though I can’t understand what they are singing about, I always can feel all the emotions and energy that have been put into each of their songs. Great band, 11/10 would listen again, and again.”
“SHAMES is one of the best bands of fast punk,” says Adrian Jimenez from Spanish melodic hardcore band Main Line 10. “Apart from that, they are great people. I met them on tour, when they helped us. Musically they are so perfect – they play the live songs exactly as they were recorded. I think they have a lot of years on their backs. Their sound is somewhere between Adrenalized and Fact, and they have good communication with people at their shows.”
Adrian continues, “Green Eyed Monster are another group of great musicians. They’re a power trio, whose songs sound fresh, sometimes including different ‘anime music’. They’re cool: they have a female vocalist, and their bassist is a master ramen chef! Another important fact about this band is that they tour a lot out of Japan: Europe, Asia, USA.”
“We played with Green Eyed Monster at the Lady Luck in Canterbury and I just bloody loved them!” added Zandro Morreale from Triple Sundae. “So much fun! Nice to see a band look like they’re having so much fun.”
“I was on tour with Ten Foot Pole in Japan in 2015,” says TFP guitarist Scott Hallquist. “The band who was our direct support for the five or six dates was called Quickdead. They were the coolest bunch of dudes. A lot of fun to hang out and have beers with…
Their drummer Shun, blew me away when I found out he doesn’t even own his own kit. He’s a younger guy in his early 20’s and didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so he used a kick pedal he saved up for, a practice pad, and notebooks for a practice kit. He only had three or four drums sticks at the time. But you wouldn’t know any of this if you heard him play. He sounded like any other drummer who played on a regular kit… and was actually as good as a lot of drummers I’ve played with in far bigger bands over the years.
At the end of the tour, after hearing the story with me, LP (formerly of Yellowcard who was our drummer at the time) just gave him his stick bag with 30 some odd pairs of sticks in it. His face lit up. It was cool. Shun is fucking cool.”
Vanilla Pod‘s drummer Towie says, “I saw Five No Risk in Osaka (Shinsaibashi, Sinkagora/Hokage) during Vanilla Pod’s Japan mini-tour April 2018. There were several bands on that night and we didn’t really know what to expect. Then Five No Risk took to the stage.
“Five No Risk were, for want of a better word, incredible. Slipping seamlessly from high energy hardcore punk to a much, gentler driven sound; circa 1994 Crackle (Records) era British punk, throughout their whole set. Their energy was unmatched, as was their musicianship. One of those jaw dropping performances that makes you just stop, watch, listen.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of touring Japan twice, once with Blocko and once with Southport,” says Lloyd Chambers, currently of Misfortune Cookie, previously of Bear Trade and many others! “Best experiences ever. Going to an onsen and drinking street beers out of vending machines after roasting hot basement gigs… and the people, so friendly and welcoming. Food is always an adventure too.
“Bands? They were all seemingly effortlessly talented and brilliant. A few came here, notably Blew and Lovemen together, the evergreen Navel and also Minority Blues Band. We got to play with I Excuse who were incendiary.
“Scott McLaughlan (Brassneck Records) will tell you about his Snuffy Smiles record collection. Some faves were Three Minute Movie, Screaming Fat Rat, Nails of Hawaiian and International Jet Set but there are a raft of amazing bands to discover, especially in the split 7″ series Yoichi did. Sad I never got to see Cigaretteman as they are probably top of my Japanese pops.”
“Pretty much every band we played with when we went were incredible – just on a completely different level!” Sara Harrington toured Japan with Faintest Idea. “My stand out live faves were a band called Radio In Old Trash, we played with them in Tokyo and they blew my socks off. Their live set was so electric, it was incredible!
Gregory Legarand of Bare Teeth has toured Japan six times. “Most of the local bands are really amazing. Playing two shows with STONE LEEK was a highlight of our last tour and I was a bit stressed out to play after them.
“waterweed are definitely one of the best Japanese punk rock bands too. Osaka has a great punk scene and the first show I played there in 2010 with bands I’ve been following for a long time was a bit emotional to me (JT301, Now or Never, waterweed).
Dylan Timothy toured Japan with Southpawmeantime a couple of years ago. He says, “Amazing place, people and food. Fixing A Hole Records sorted it. All the bands across the week we were out there were great, really good musicians, well practised and professional.
“Die Communications, Navel and What A Nights stood out. Some gigs were in slick studios but the best were in dive bars where it would get pretty rowdy in the politest way. The weekday gigs were attended by people just leaving off work in suits and briefcases, but they’d still get down the front, wave their fists around, slam and buy loads of merch. Oh yeah and, as Lloyd mentions, the street booze vending machines are ace and the kind of novelty you cant stop using…”
Mark Boniface from Harker, says touring Japan is an amazing experience. “Music culture is totally different out there. You get there at doors open and stay until the end – and everyone is so supportive of each other. Great food and company too; one of my favourite things was just hanging out with the bands and fans afterwards and having some beer and food.
“Best bit was the bands though. Every band we played with were genuinely incredible and everyone should be checking out these bands and sharing their music… encouraging them to release their stuff to a bigger audience. Check out And Protector, Chippendale, Bows, Navel, The Guays, Ninja Boys, MiDDLE, Urchin and The Redemption.”
“When we set off to Japan, we pretty much knew waterweed a bit and that was kinda it, but seeing the cool scenes around each city really opened our eyes (ears?) to the breadth of cool stuff happening there.” Luke Antonik-Yates toured Japan with The Human Project.
“For me, Shames were a total win: uber-catchy and hyper-energetic, plus the guitarist had the same guitar as me so y’know… Oh, and one cool thing was playing with Stone Leek, and then playing the same venue as them at Pouzza Fest in Canada and meeting up for a beer and a chat.”
It’s not all about those who’ve had the good fortune to tour Japan either. Nathan Hawdon, drummer in Discover A Fire and occasional member of Call Me Malcolm, was keen to chime in.
“I remember going to see The Chinkees in Sheffield about 16/17 years ago and they toured with Potshot… that band were fucking insane! Looked like something out of generation x cops: mad hair, amazing horn hooks and just a generally batshit crazy stage presence! That lit the way for me as far as Japanese punk and ska is concerned. I’m now massively in love with bands like Dizzy Sunfist and Hey-Smith. For me it’s all about the beauty in chord progressions that turn around 8/16 chords, rather than a more common western four-chord vibe!”
Want to discover more? We’ve made a Spotify playlist of Japanese punk bands for you to enjoy.
Article by Sarah Williams.