World rockin’ to a Japan indie groove

The Lance>>Bee playing in a livehouse

TOKYO (majirox news) – Gothic rock band Lancer>>Bee’s music and endless jams are being heard on the Internet as well as by fans crammed into the dim and lively basement at Ryogoku Sunrize in Tokyo.

The band is connecting the capital’s underground music scene to fans of Japanese music in foreign countries through an event organized by JapanFiles, a Web site that introduces Japanese musicians, major and indies, to foreign audiences.

The site started in 2004 as an offshoot of an educational site ( for students learning Japanese who liked J-Pop entertainment, such as anime, TV dramas and movies, and who started requesting music from local artists.

Demand for Japanese indie music keeps growing, according to Dave Cirone, marketing and events director of JapanFiles. The site connects overseas fans by offering MP3 downloads, CDs, English interviews and reviews of musicians, music video streaming, and podcasts. Its current sales of Japanese tour merchandising from rock and idol artists are more than $10,000 a month.

“Indie is big in Tokyo,” says Tadashi Yoshikawa between singing and jumping along with Lancer>>Bee, his favorite band. “There are thousands of bars and live-houses that feature local music, including J-Rock, J-Punk, J-Space and J-Emo. Shibuya is a great place to start looking for them.”

Thanks also to live Japanese music performances at anime events in the U.S., Japan has hit above its weight on the global music scene.

“Anime events in the U.S. like Sakura-Con, Anime Boston, Tekkoshocon and FanimeCon have been supportive of Japanese music artists from different genres,” Cirone said. “These events are great opportunities for Japanese artists to reach new fans and have personal contact with them that can’t happen at a regular live show in Japan or the U.S.”

Sakura-Con 2011 in Seattle drew a whopping 3,000 fans and featured a show by Visual Kei band exist†trace, which lived up to their hype. More and more Japanese music performances are at these events such as J-Punk bands ketchup mania and Swinging Popsicle .

“Once fans discover Japanese music, they also want to explore other parts of Japanese culture, like language, fashion, movies, all of it, every genre,” Cirone said.

A band playing at Ryogoku Sunrize in Tokyo

Additionally, Japanese music has started making inroads into global markets and Japanese performers, including indie rock artists like Lancer>>Bee, are going to places they have never been before.

Niche Market

Though Japanese music is still a niche market in the U.S., the primary audience of high-school and college students are not afraid of hearing Japanese lyrics even if they don’t fully understand them, according to Cirone.

American Gemma is a case in point. She downloads 2 to 3 albums a month in the U.S. “I tried to buy J-Pop on iTunes, but then found other sites like JapanFiles have a phenomenal selection of music and artists,” she says.

One young fan noted that she couldn’t understand one word of the Japanese indie band’s raw vocalist, “But hey, his singing was great.”

Marsicano, a J-Pop fan in the U.S., agrees. “The language barrier doesn’t really matter and the interest in Japanese culture of all kinds is always there,” he says. “Many have gone on to search out Japanese pop artists for themselves. It’s a large cult audience that is listening to J-Pop and J-Rock.”

In the future maybe U.S. and Japan indie rock bands might tour together and belt out tunes bridging the two countries and cultures.

Indie rock is a term used for independent rock, and relates to a category of music in which many artists are on small independent labels or are unsigned, as opposed to being signed to major labels. Some artists are now signed to major labels, but are still considered to be indie rock artists. Indie rock can be used to mean a wide variety of different bands and musicians. Indie rock musicians mostly have a strong do-it-yourself ethic, and do not change their sound to fit popular trends.

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