Japan Nite @ Elysium in SXSW (Mar. 20th, 2015)

Two Decade Anniversary Show Finds Japanese Bands Keeping On
Live Report : “Two Decade Anniversary Show Finds Japanese Bands Keeping On” @ Elysium, Austin TX 2015.03.20

The Fin.

There wasn’t anything particularly eye-grabbing inside the Elysium nightclub in downtown Austin to indicate that Japan Nite was celebrating its 20th anniversary at this year’s South By Southwest music conference and festival. A few small signs proclaimed this fact, as did the special commemorative t-shirts draped over the merchandise table, but nothing too flashy. Rather, it was business as usual for Japan’s premier music showcase at the Texas event, a chance for fans of Japanese music to experience a wide variety of acts from the other side of the world.

In 1996, Japan Nite hosted the first Japanese bands to ever play at SXSW, and in the two decades since then they’ve highlighted major-label J-Pop artists to indie rock bands to novelty goofballs. What has been consistent, however, has been Japan Nite hosting a wide variety of different Japanese sounds, so fans who normally don’t fly out to Japan to catch shows have a chance to experience a lot of different sounds.

Opener Mahoshojo-ni-naritai set the 20th anniversary show off on a manic note — the group, standing in front of a white screen covered in projections of cutesy drawings, delivered frantic pop songs inspired by the sort of themes you’d hear in anime, interrupted by sudden bouts of heavy-metal screaming. It was a sonic and visual overload, but one that had the crowd bobbing along with every split-second change-up. Following act Samurai Dynamites were equally all over the place, but whereas Mahoshojo-ni-naritai relied on electronic touches and throat-destroying yelps, the Dynamites got by with accordion and traditional Japanese instrumentation. It was a fun, albeit slightly silly, set aimed at getting the crowd moving.

The mood shifted to something a bit more laid back with the next few acts. Bluegrass outfit Pirates Canoe mainly played soft country-tinged songs, though they weren’t afraid to get boots stomping via covers of American pop hits such as Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and The B-52’s “Love Shack.” Moody rock band The fin. followed with a darker set, featuring synth-heavy rock anchored by melancholy lyrics. It was a good fit for the darkened interior of Elysium.

J-Pop duo moumoon added a dash of light to the mood via breezy tunes such as “Sunshine Girl,” but as their set went on, they busted out hoppier numbers, featuring lots of synthesizers and lead singer Yuka jumping around the stage, much to the crowd’s delight. Afterwards, many people clutching moumoon CDs and other merchandise crowded around the group for autographs and photos, a rare chance to get close with a big-name J-Pop group.

Similarly high energy were QUORUM, a hard-rock group delivering throaty, jumpy rock numbers. It was a classic rock inspired set, full of guitar solos and a lot of sweat. One expecting something more Japanese would be a bit let down, as nearly everything was sung in Japanese and sounded like hair metal. It was, however, an interesting glance in how American pop culture is translated and then projected out by a Japanese group.

Text by Patrick St. Michel

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