Konichiwa Austin! In addition to showcasing six of the best Japanese artists playing everything from soul to punk to metal, SXSW's annual Japan Nite at Elysium had a bigger cause this year. All proceeds from ticket sales benefitted the Red Cross, making up the nearly 100,000 raised over the festival's six days.
The first of three, all-female bands, Zukunasisters got the crowd in a giddy mood with their good-vibey soul and R&B. They all wore sequin outfits, and singer Emi ended the band's set on even more positive note with covers of "What a Wonderful World" (complete with Louis Armstrong's raspy growl) and "One Love" sung in English.
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Next up was the White White Sisters duo of Yuya Matsumura (singer guitarist/programmer) and Kazumasa Ishii (drummer), who are actually two, barely-out-the-womb boys, and whose electro-rock would give Trent Reznor tinnitus. Matsurmara's shredding vocals sounded like unmitigated noise, and the band's nifty little laser show was as dizzying to watch as their music was to hear.
The night's show-stealers, however, were unquestionably Lolita No. 18, four badasses -- what else would you call an Asian female drummer with an honest-to-goodness afro? -- who were simultaneously rocking and humbling; their guitarist got the audience quiet long enough to inform us that her family in Sendai had survived the earthquake. They all wore Dr. Marten's and Sex Pistols-style lettering on their clothes, and some of the members are festival vets, going way back to 1996. Orange-haired singer Masayo Ishizaka -- who brought out the Japanese flag, spat water and even played harmonica -- looks like she can take on any English geezer and proved that you can have punk attitude without the snot.