Back in 2004, Stephanie Yanez sang "Ningyo Hime" from the popular anime series Chobits as part of a karaoke contest at Southern California's mega-convention Anime Expo. The performance won her the title AX Idol and a collection of one hundred CDs. Shortly thereafter, anime company Geneon tapped her to sing on the compilation album Anime Karaoke Collection. Since then, Yanez has been traveling across the US to perform her original pieces, written in Japanese and English, at anime conventions and cultural festivals in addition to club gigs.
"I always wrote my own music and it was always inspired by anime and Japan and love and life and I was like, why don't I combine it?" she explains.
Like the other musicians and DJs represented at the inaugural Electric Cherry Blossom event, an "after-party" for Little Tokyo's Cherry Blossom Festival, Yanez has mined a good chunk of her fanbase from the American otaku community.
Rhianne Bergado, also known as DJ ¡Paz!, organized the event after her own convention experience.
"We were selling shirts and we would DJ at Anime Expo and we would gather big, huge crowds and the fire marshal would come and tell us to break up our crowd," she recalls, "so we thought, maybe we should do events."
Hosting the party inside the Japanese American National Museum after the Cherry Blossom Festival seemed like a natural choice for Bergado, as it has become a destination for cosplayers and followers of Japanese street fashion. Inside the venue, young people dressed in outfits recalling shows like Bleach mixed with those in the goth-meets-raver look known as cyber. The all-ages event, which also featured Nylon Pink, Akai Sky and USA Musume playing between DJs spinning electro house, shows potential, particularly as music is becoming increasingly important to the community, with Japanese and Korean artists like Hikaru Utada and BoA (both of whom had songs featured in anime and video games) coming to prominence in the American pop market and Jrock bands regularly touring the States.
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"Anime conventions made Jpop and Jrock really popular and it's starting this whole new generational trend of Jpop made by an American culture," says Bergado. "I think it's really awesome because it's a cool mish-mash of different genres."
L.A.-based outfit Nylon Pink, whose members describe their sound as "Hello Kitty on acid," is a good example of this hybrid. Their songs, think glam metal a la The Donnas with an electronic kick, are in English, but their gory-cute style is straight out of youth fashion bible Kera.
"We've been heavily influenced by anime and Japanese street fashion," says Nylon Pink singer Kaila Yu. Last year, the band opened for Jpop star Kaya at Pacific Media Expo in Los Angeles and Yu adds that such gigs have helped expose Nylon Pink to new fans hungry for all things otaku. And while playing to a roomful of cosplayers might not seem like the rock 'n' roll way to go, it's an opportunity for artists to plug directly into a blossoming community.