Emerging in March of this year promising to “challenge the limits of ‘independent,’ ” Kiwa Kiwa — a music website and promoter (and cafe, curiously) — launched in a flurry of activity including disc and live reviews as well as columns from a quartet of local Tokyo indie musicians. It was a bold move with the end of Snoozer magazine a year ago still hanging over a music scene in which indie-music journalism tends not to do a great job convincing fans of its value.
It was therefore a disappointment that the content on the website dried up to a trickle within little more than a month of launch, suggesting that it’s in the organizing and promotion side of the site’s operations that the team have been investing their best efforts. With their 12-hour-long music festival now imminent, it’s clear that in this at least they have been keeping themselves busy, and it is here that we must look to see our first real glimpse of Kiwa Kiwa’s vision for Japanese independent music’s direction.
While former Number Girl drummer Ahito Inazawa’s new wave-styled Vola & The Oriental Machine and drum and delay loop-powered hip hop/jazz/progressive duo Uhnellys are at least nominally topping the bill, it’s a look further down the list that gives a clearer idea of where Kiwa Kiwa’s organizers are coming from and what their idea of “independent mind and alternative style” (as their site’s slogan has it) actually is.
Most of the lineup is dominated by indie guitar bands, with some like Keytalk and The Arrows drawn from the distinctly Japanese tradition of whimsical, uplifting pop punk that also includes such luminaries as Beat Crusaders and Mongol800, and others including Buffalo’3 and Veni Vidi Vicious that sound like they’re pining for a kind of fantasy London where the streets are paved with skinny jeans and porkpie hats. While the results are occasionally a bit silly and pretentious, there are others like Thatta, recently returned from a tour in New Zealand, and funk-prog-rap hybrid Africaemo who are more assured, and regardless of image, nearly all the bands share an honest dedication to danceable beats and sweat-soaked, energetic performances.
The most enticing acts of the event are probably the more electronic-oriented bands. Orland have been pushing their brand of vocoder-abusing disco-funk for a couple of years now, and opening act Give Me Wallets, performing their own synth-based indie dance from behind a bank of MacBook Pros, are a more aggressive proposition, like underrated early-1990s Madchester bandwagoneers World of Twist sponsored by Apple. But perhaps the real ones to see are new band Nile Long, formed out of the ashes of the recently combusted The Brixton Academy, whose forthcoming debut single “See Your Eyes” is a truly striking piece of ’80s-influenced synthpop like something Vince Clarke might have produced in his Yazoo/Erasure-era pomp.
In the end, Kiwa Kiwa Festival 2012 is an event that doesn’t really threaten to push the boundaries of Japanese independent music, but as a celebration of its feel-good party-oriented center, it could be well worth a look.
Kiwa Kiwa Festival takes place at Clubasia in Shibuya, Tokyo, on June 24 (11 a.m.-11 p.m.; ¥3,300 plus ¥500 drink). For more information, visit www.kiwakiwa.jp.