I loathe the Japanese mainstream pop music scene. It’s the most insipid, heartless music to ever have passed through my ears, so utterly disposable and yet so intensely catchy, as if programmed to infiltrate my brain cortex and then melt it.
It creeps into your head like a virus. Songs hit your subconscious before you realize they exist. Before you know it, you’re bleeding from every orafice of your body. Death follows shortly thereafter. Survivors just become 5% stupider with each infection.
Japan took the America idea of corporate controled pop groups to some insane further end, meticulously crafting every little piece of a group in an assembly line of image creators, songwriters, producers, and studio musicians, all for the sake of moving product.
Band are written into movie scripts and their songs become TV show themes. They play in the background of every convenience store, push variety show pieces forward, and help sell Shiseido products all before you ever catch them on TV as an actual video or performance. By then, the first symptoms have already gripped your brain.
The way Japanese corporations have been able to harness and control the music sent out to the masses is something American corporations must have wet dreams about. They took the Josie and the Pussycats movie to heart.
This leaves little room for Japanese bands to control their own destiny. If you want to hit it big in Japan, you’ve got to let ‘the machine’ run the show. They’ll approve of your new identity and have Marty Friedman play guitar on your album sessions. They’ll get you on Music Station, lipsynching the night away with your new Sakura song:
After seeing that, why do I suddenly feel the need to drive as fast as possible to Nitori and buy a chair? Hmm, anyway….
Without ‘the machine’ on your side, you’re as good as nothing. The average Japanese citizen won’t know who you are, because they’ll be too busy shampooing their hair after buying Namie Amuro’s album (sponsored by Shiseido!).
Before I came here, I’d heard of bands like Boris and Boredoms and I was amazed by the unbridled creativity of the Japanese music scene. Unfortunately, beyond scenes in Osaka and Tokyo, your average Japanese citizen has never unhooked from the collective to experience anything beyond what their machine overlords offer them.
Bands try to fight against the machine, but they never get a piece of the action or they fail to generate enough cash to pay the bills, hanging up their instruments and falling in line with the hammer.
Some finally cave, signing the dreaded contract that instantaneously transforms them into a boy-band that dresses like gay pirates and sings songs about a lonely Christmas without you. But the rebels are out there, hiding and fighting the good fight…
“I am Hitler!” blasts through my speakers. Camisama (sic) sounds likes like the shitty band you created when you were eight as you dreamed of being in Jem and the Holograms and walked around the house banging on a pot (maybe that was only me).
I once had an art teacher who told me she was constantly striving to draw like a child again, but couldn’t overcome the weight of years to find their simplistic, value-free aesthetic and shrug off the adult indoctrination that had changed her art.
As Camisama blasts nonsensical lyrics and sloppy drumming, they’re that kid, banging away in the kitchen, pissing off the neighbors, they’ve found how to draw like children again.
While I write this, they’re in some bar in Austin, Texas at SXSW, having gotten there by god knows what means. They’re there with a bunch of other Japanese bands that have made the trip, in hopes of finding the eyes and ears that often elude them in Japan.
I found Camisama via NPR and slowly dug deeper to find information about some of the other Japanese Bands at SXSW. After the festival, they’ll be touring through America. You can download a free sampler of some of the bands’ songs at HearJapan and if you’re in America, can catch many of the bands as they host Japan Nite throughout the US.
‘I am Hitler’ might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not sure it’s even my cup of tea, but in a world where all the sakura songs from the last 20 years blend together into one giant commercial to convince me to buy products with pink flowers on them while sipping my Premium Malts and feeling nostalgic, the rebels are out there, breaking the mold.
Take some time to listen to or check out some of the bands. From there dig deeper, find those obscure and wacky acts, the guys that are playing weird shit in dark corners.
Without them out there, fighting, music in Japan is as good as lost.