by Nick LaBlanca
With the number of Jrock fans in North America growing every day, fans have to ask themselves,“When are we going to see some of these bands play overseas?”
Naturally, with the rise in popularity of Japanese bands, shows have been becoming more and more common in the United States and Canada. Anime conventions bring in bands like D’espairsRay, High and Mighty Color, the pillows, L’arc~en~Ciel, while other bands are touring on their own. Dir en Grey has several toured the U.S. Several times, including their expansive tour set for this year.
Despite the increase in tours and shows, many fans clamor for more, saying North America is still being ignored in the bigger picture. Maybe some of the sentiment has to do with the sting of fan-favorites playing only in Europe as part of a “world tour,” such as Versailles has done this year.
But what a lot of Jrock fans don’t know is that Japanese bands of all different kinds of genres have been playing right under their noses for over two decades all across the country from coast to coast and every where in between — even in places like Montana.
Starting to look as far back as the ’80s, it can be seen that lots of Jrockers had their gazes fixed on building foreign audiences by coming to American shores. Pop-punk girl rockers Shonen Knife has been touring and playing music constantly for almost thirty years, making their first appearance in the U.S. in the late ’80s. People who grew up in the ’90s may remember the band for lending their song “I’m a Super Girl” to the Cartoon Network show “The Powerpuff Girls,” as well as having the video for their song “Tomato Head” appear on MTV’s “Beavis & Butthead.”
Even before then the band made frequent trips to America and abroad, and still continue with their last tour in the US finishing up towards the end of 2009. They’ve have even gotten the chance to tour with many high profile Western bands in their time such as Sonic Youth and Nirvana—the latter band’s front man, Kurt Cobain, a self-admitted huge fan.
Another Japanese band that began touring the West in the early ’90s was noise rockers Melt-Banana. The band played its first show in the U.S. in 1994 around the Chicago area after recording their first album in the home studio of the highly regarded Steve Albini. Albini was most famous for producing Nirvana’s 1993 album “In Utero” and doing production work for many other bands such as The Stooges, Pixies, and The Breeders. Melt-Banana has opened for many bands here in the US as well, including The Melvins in 1995 and Tool in 2007. Melt-Banana is another constant touring machine and just finished up a tour in the U.S. in winter of 2009.
Garage metal trio Electric Eel Shock also have been touring the U.S. since the late ’90s, virtually since their inception. At the dawn of the new millennium, the members of Electric Eel Shock fully devoted themselves to touring in the U.S. by selling their homes in Japan and using the money to fund their trips across America, surviving basically on returns from shows and merchandise. Since then, the band has toured all over the world countless times and still regularly makes tour stops in the U.S.
Music festivals have also been a great place to find Japanese artists performing. Shonen Knife, for example, played Lollapalooza in 1994. SXSW, Texas music festival, has also been well known for bringing in many foreign artists. Some of the bands to be featured at the yearly event include schizophrenic pop/punk rockers Ketchup Mania in 2008, surf pop outfit GO!GO!7188 in 2007 and punk giants Ellegarden in 2006.
Shoegazers Luminous Orange also performed at the festival for two years in a row in 2006 and 2007. Luminous Orange has been building a small but strong and passionate following in America, stopping to tour in other cities on the West Coast as well. The band also released their 2008 album “Sakura Swirl” on a U.S. independent label, recognizing the market was ripe for people becoming more accepting to Japanese artists, and essentially getting even more in touch with their American fanbase.
Another lesser known touring festival throughout the U.S. is Japan Nite, sponsored by label director Audrey Kimura of Sister Benten Records. The yearly event tours through several major U.S. cities, bringing both more underground bands as well as higher profile acts. Many of the same Japanese artists who have performed at SXSW have also come along for the Japan Nite tour, but other bands have included alternative rockers Sparta Locals and detroit7 in 2009, fledgling visual kei band Dolly in 2010. This past March saw the first U.S. appearance for Oricon chart topping, all-girl power pop band Chatmonchy.
Chatmonchy isn’t alone in being one of the bands from the higher echelon to play in the U.S. Indie darlings Eastern Youth have been playing in the United States frequently since 2000, and have toured almost exclusively with American indie rockers Cursive, with whom they split an EP with in 2003.
Anime fan favorites Do As Infinity and Beat Crusaders, famous for producing the themes to series “InuYasha” and “Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad,” respectively, both made tour stops in the U.S. in the early parts of the 2000s. Arguably the biggest Japanese name to tour here thus far, however, are blues pop/rock duo B’z. With over 40 consecutive number one singles — and having the honor of becoming the first band from Asia to have their handprints displayed on Hollywood’s Rockwalk — it was a pretty big deal when B’z toured the West Coast and British Columbia during 2002 and 2003.
Lost in the shuffle sometimes are international Jrock bands who aren’t necessarily native to Japan. Grunge-rockers Oblivion Dust, for example, toured the U.S. often throughout the ’90s partially due to lead singer Ken Lloyd’s dual British and Japanese heritage, leading him to sing fluently in both languages. With the band reforming in 2007, Oblivion Dust will soon be returning to American shores. Lloyd’s side project, FAKE?, also performed in the U.S. at AnimeNEXT 2009 and are planning to do more shows as well in the near future. New York based dream pop duo Asobi Seksu is also active in touring the United States, with lead vocalist Yuki Chikudate singing her velvety vocals in fluent English and Japanese. They plan on hitting the road again in September.
You might be wondering if all these artists have toured here before, who’s coming this year? Obviously X Japan, but other Japanese artists coming to American shores this year include the loud, noisy punk trio that is Guitar Wolf. They’ve toured the US extensively since the early ’90s and perfrmed in New York City on Sept. 23 at Santo’s Party House.
Additionally, electronic and experimental rock two piece Boom Boom Satellites are currently embarked on an October 2010 tour of the U.S. in support of their newest album “To the Loveless.” The tour started Oct. 6 in Philadelphia with at least 13 more stops set for New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and more. The band has also been to the U.S. before, including an opening gig for Moby back in 1998, so they’re definitely no strangers to the West.
This is only a portion of the Japanese bands that have graced North America with their presence, and we hardly tipped the iceberg on visual kei bands, so it’s obvious to see that we really haven’t been cheated. The next time you think America is getting the short end of the stick, think about how lucky we’ve been already, and maybe check out some of these artists who have traveled here so far from home. Sometimes it just takes a little digging to find out who will be coming to town next. There’s been a big precedent for these bands visiting us in the U.S., and hopefully in the future even more bands will follow suit in bridging the two nations together through music.