Despite this diversity, only a small portion of local artists have made it into the music libraries of Western listeners, at the expense of a large majority of Japanese musicians who simply get lost in translation. But times are changing. Instead of only looking to their domestic pop markets, younger generations of artists have started to look indiscriminately overseas, and are encouraged by a growing interest in Japanese culture.
Tokyo is no exception. While mainstream media still focuses on J-pop, the indie scene is becoming more structured, with artists finding independence and a way to control their image and develop their audience the way that they want. Vaundy is a good example of this super fast growth. 20 years old, he posted his first video in June 2019 and saw very quickly that his music was generating tens of millions of streams and views.
Singer/songwriters like Kaneko Ayano, Kensuke Ide, and Yuta Orisaka already enjoyed solid local fan bases while nurturing their own style with a high level of creative discipline. Sakanaction, Kan Sano, Sirup, and Cero represent a quality synthetic pop-soul sound which is popular and fits in well with the atmosphere of Tokyo.
City Pop, who referred to early 80's pop/funk songs and projected a more ‘urban’ feel, appeared at the time of the economic boom in Japan. This specific synthetic sound has seen a resurgence lately both overseas and in Japan, with many newcomers producing in this style, such as Miida and The Department.
Respected names on the indie pop scene like Shintaro Sakamoto (ex-leader of Yura Yura Teikoku), Shugo Tokumaru, and Ogre You Asshole are doing very well, releasing albums and still getting interest from abroad. The world music scene is also active with bands like Ajate who mix Afrobeats with Japanese sounds, and Minyo Crusaders who perform traditional rural old Japanese songs to which they’ve even added a touch of cumbia!
Electro music is another side of the Tokyo scene that runs deep, which includes very good DJs and music producers such as Shinichi Osawa – better known by his stage name Mondo Grosso (whose track “Labyrinth” featured actress Hikari Mitsushima) – and Yasutaka Nakata (from electronic duet Capsule), who is also known for being the music producer for Japanese girl group Perfume and model-turned-singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. The indie electro-pop scene also deserves attention, driven as it is by female artists such as Zombie-Chang and Xiangyu. Ambient music is still here, another specifically Japanese sound. There are a myriad of artists producing in this style, such as Minguss who brings jazz into electronica.
Tokyo’s already strong hip hop scene is still growing. Surprisingly, the Japanese language can sound very sharp when performed by rappers such as STUTS, Awich, Akkogorilla, JP The Wavy, Campanella, Hunger, Kid Fresino, and JJJ. Last but not the least, garage rock and girl rock bands are cultures in themselves in Japan, mainly seen in the clubs of Shimokitazawa, Koenji, and Shinjuku, where tons of new bands are up and coming. On this scene, Samehada Shiriko & Dynamite give performances that truly merit their name!