See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery “Japan Nite with Mo'Some Tonebender, Lolita No. 18, Zukunasisters, Hystoic Vein and Josy.”Read more about Japan Nite in Siran Babayan's post “SXSW Recap: Japan Nite Raises Money for Earthquake Relief.”
For the past fifteen years, Audrey Kimura of Benten Records has been bringing an eclectic mix of alternative-minded Japanese bands to Austin for the Japan Nite event at South by Southwest. In 2000, she launched the Japan Nite tour, which follows the SXSW showcase.
Saturday night, we headed down to The Viper Room for the L.A. installment of Japan Nite 2011. Over the course of the night, five bands hit the stage and we can say with complete honesty that there was not a dud in the bunch. Yes, it was that rare night in Los Angeles where the bulk of the crowd showed up when the doors opened, stayed until well after the last band finished and hung out close to the stage for most of the night. In between sets, as the Tune in Tokyo pumped tunes from the DJ booth, the crowd briefly migrated from the dance floor to the area surrounding the merch booths.
There was no way we could pick a favorite band from Japan Nite. Instead, we left loving five bands– Mo'Some Tonebender, Lolita No. 18, Zukunasisters, Hystoic Vein and Josy– and humbly suggest you check out these artists too.
Of all five bands on the bill for Japan Nite in Los Angeles, Josy may have been the least familiar to fans of Japanese rock. They've been together for five months. Their discography consists of one single and their online presence is limited to a MySpace page with three songs and 23 friends. We think this will change soon.
Josy consists of four young women from Tokyo– Cumi, Non, Mami and Nanohana– none of whom play guitar in the band. Instead, the sound revolves on Non and Nanohana's tight rhythm section and Mami's psychedelic keyboards. The Japan Nite website notes that the band members are fans of the Doors and, while that probably does influence the keyboard sounds, Josy has much more of a punk rock feel. Singer Cumi is a star in the making. She performs with tons of energy and seems to be quite aware of cameras in the audience.
Despite being first on a bill for a show that started at 8 p.m., Josy played for a full house and the reaction from the crowd was enthusiastic.
Hystoic Vein has a dark '80s vibe to them. Their songs are bass driven, and bassist Yukary is an exceptional player. Lyn's drums are fast, but never sloppy, and Youkaku's style of guitar playing seems to draw at least a little bit from early goth bands. Singer Inko delivers a very rhythmic performance. She dances through the entire set, oftentimes clasping her hands in front of her as though she were moving through water.
For as dark as the sound of Hystoic Vein is, though, the band puts on a fun show. Inko jokes with the crowd in between songs. At some point in time during the set, they threw a bunch of signed paper plates into the audience.
Known as Zukunasi in Japan, Zukunasisters is a four-piece soul group.
Singer/guitarist Emi takes her vocal cues from the big names in '60s soul. Her voice is powerful and filled with gut-wrenching passion. Her between song banter comes with a preacher's style of delivery.
Spicy-Marico (bass), 238 (keyboards) and Akane (drums) keep it very funky during the set. You can't help but dance when Zukunasisters play. Dressed in vintage-looking sequins and fringe, the band members nodded to their retro roots, but played a set that even the most forward-thinking folks in the audience could enjoy.
Lolita No. 18
Lolita No. 18 has been around for over twenty years, though singer Masayo, who formed the band as a high school student, is the only original member remaining. They've had albums produced by Joey Ramone and Olga of the Toy Dolls respectively. They even played the first Japan Nite at SXSW. That said, if you follow punk rock, you are probably well aware of Lolita No. 18. and may have seen them live in Los Angeles before.
Lolita No. 18 won me over with a cover of Daisy Chainsaw's “Love Your Money,” but that wasn't even the highlight of the set. Mixing together covers (“Rockaway Beach” and “Video Killed the Radio Star” were also included in this performance) and originals, Lolita No. 18 is fun and clever live. Masayo's raspy vocals and knack for waving her microphone as though it were a phallic symbol worked the crowd into a frenzy. The rest of the band– bassist Takochi, guitarist Kick and drummer To-bu– kept the energy on high for the duration of the set.
There were some solemn moments in the set, particularly when Kick briefly spoke about how she was visiting family in Sendai when the devastating earthquake occurred. She was clearly putting her whole heart into this performance.
Like Lolita No. 18, Mo'Some Tonebender has been around for a while and are probably a familiar name to those who follow Japanese alternative music. The band has been playing live since the late '90s and played with some major rock acts, like The Libertines and The Pixies.
Mo'Some Tonebender– Kazuhiro Momo (guitar), Yasunori Takei (bass), Isamu Fujita (guitar, percussion) and Masaki Mizuno (drums)– boldly opened Saturday night's set with a rendition of Gang of Four's post-punk classic “To Hell with Poverty,” essentially turning it into something that was faithful to the original while still making it their own. Their style can't be described in one or two words. At times, they rip through guitar-heavy pieces with the frenzy of a metal band. Other times, they turn up the theremin and get a little space rock. They rarely pause long enough between songs for the audience to offer applause and, no matter what they are playing, the transitions are smooth. Watch out for the lightsaber portion of the show. It's pretty cool.
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