Music | Sound Off

SXSW ramps up its Japan game

by William Archambeault

Contributing Writer

Every year, South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) draws musicians from around the world to Austin, Texas. Depending on your perspective, the event is either a hotbed for growth or an arena in which industry insiders watch musicians fight like gladiators.

Between March 16 and 22, 17 Japanese acts will perform at showcase events across the city in hopes of furthering their careers. Attendees can hear everything ranging from Tokyo singer Yayoi Daimon’s twerk anthem, “Ketsufure,” to the metal stylings of Aomori Prefecture’s Ningen Isu.

In recent years, some Japanese performers have been among the festival’s most discussed acts. That hype has helped foster larger audiences and more international opportunities for those performers. Chai, a dance-rock band from Nagoya, made its international debut at SXSW in 2017 and returned to the festival in 2018 and 2019. The band has gone on to work with overseas record labels and has performed in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Kyoto punk band Otoboke Beaver will make its third SXSW appearance this year. The band’s growth since its debut at the festival in 2017 resulted in an appearance at Coachella in 2018 and led to praise from the likes of Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.

One of the most prominent displays of Japanese talent is the annual Japan Nite event, marking its 25th anniversary this year. Since 1996, the showcase has had some decent names, such as Number Girl and Alexandros. X Japan drummer Yoshiki even made a surprise appearance in 2016, but Japan Nite’s biggest strength isn’t star power — it is the event’s musically diverse lineups that draw in curious attendees. This year’s features avant-garde group eX-Girl, poetic rapper Haru Nemuri and fiery jazz instrumentalists Tri4th, among others.

However, while Japan Nite was the highest-profile East Asian show at SXSW for most of its history, in recent years the South Korean government sponsored Korea Spotlight has taken away that title. But Japanese representation at SXSW hasn’t gotten weak.

ChihiroYamazaki+Route14Band will return for a horn-heavy seventh appearance at the festival. Meanwhile, chill indie-pop group The fin. will appear for the first time since 2017. The band has kept busy in the past three years with two well-received releases and successful tours of Europe and Asia.

In addition to returnees, up-and-coming acts will also fight to make their mark on attendees. Tokyo indie rockers Hazy Sour Cherry will perform alongside Otoboke Beaver in a showcase for the bands’ European record label, Damnably.

But it’s not all guitars. Tokyo rapper Wez Atlas will try to connect with audiences through his primarily English-language tracks. And while language barriers have often limited the international appeal of Japanese rappers, it didn’t stop Tokyo trio Dos Monos from releasing its debut album in the United States last March to positive reviews. The trio’s performance at SXSW this year will serve as a subtle but nonetheless vital testing ground to see how American audiences respond.

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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