Words by Patrick St. Michel
The EDM boom has been raging on for a few years now in many countries, but in Japan the thunderous electronic style is just hitting its stride. The bass-heavy sound has been seeping into J-Pop since late 2012, and established dance acts like m-flo and Fantastic Plastic Machine have embraced the tag in recent months. EDM festivals are even starting to pop up across the country, with the first Ultra Japan Festival scheduled for late in 2014 in Tokyo.
2014 might be the year dance genres really break nationally, but the EDM in community has been growing for a couple years now, spurred on by a handful of producers and DJs. Below are some of the best EDM music makers operating in Japan today.
As one would expect from any digital age genre, the Internet has served as the central hub for artists dabbling in EDM sounds. Tokyo producer Fazerock was one of the first to pop up online making tracks that could be classified as EDM, taking cues from the bass-drop fireworks created by American producer Skrillex. Not all of his sounds are super aggressive—one of Fazerock’s best qualities is his versatility—but some of his finest feature neck-snapping bass. He’s also one half of HyperJuice, a duo playing reggae-tinged EDM who have become popular live performers with party goers.
From Skrillex’s spaceship/robot live set-up to Deadmau5’ giant rodent noggin, striking visuals are a central theme in EDM. Dance-music trio CTS understand this, and are Japan’s first outfit to embrace it. They dress up as robots with geometric helmets (They’ve definitely been studying up on Daft Punk) and perform in said garb live. They don’t just dress the part either—their music is built for late-night club release.
Producer Banvox has created two of the best collections of EDM music to come out of Japan thus far, first with 2011’s Intense Electro Disco (available for free) and then the following year’s Instinct Dazzling Starlight. Besides coming into the world while the creator was still in his teens (Banvox was 19 when the latter came out), they are also strong collections of hands-in-the-air-before-heads-whip-around songs that still sound energetic as the day they appeared online.
One of the earliest places where the sonic hallmarks of EDM popped up in Japan was the remixes of J-pop songs. Megastar Ayumi Hamasaki’s 2012 mini-album Love is in her pop wheelhouse, but included were several remixes. One of the most attention-grabbing was producer Dubscribe’s intense mix of “Missing,” and it was also one of the first moments where J-pop and EDM crossed paths. Dubscribe has done even more work since, including releasing an EP late last year.
There are several schools of EDM to align with. There’s the anthemic likes of Zedd or the recently country-fried Avicii, or the bass-dropping mayhem of someone like Skrillex. Tokyo’s Miii dabbles in all sorts of sounds, and sometimes can get downright reflective, but he operates at his finest when he’s dealing with bass wobble. He’s also one of the most prolific artists working within the Japanese EDM community, frequently posting originals and offering up off-kilter remixes. He’s also part of the dance-leaning “post-rock” project The Wedding Mistakes.
DJ Wildparty gets all over the place. He has played at some of the biggest clubs in Tokyo and made an appearance at Electrox, an EDM-focused festival in January 2014. Yet he’s also a staple in Japan’s anime-dance music scene, a community where those who love clubbing and cartoons in equal measure bring the two together. Wherever he’s playing, DJ Wildparty’s works tend to be high-energy affairs, sometimes loaded up with wonky bass and others done in the style of Jersey Club music. Whether he’s weaving in anime samples or not, DJ Wildparty is great at getting the night going.
It isn’t just fresh faces rushing into the EDM fray. A lot of old hands from Japan’s dance music community are taking part in the EDM boom, whether they are making mixes, playing festivals around Asia or producing original songs. Daishi Dance has been active since 2006, and among the works he’s released was a full-length album of remixes of Studio Ghibli songs. As of late, he’s been more prominent in the EDM world, having released more anthemic material and playing at EDM festivals. For all the new names bubbling up in Japan’s EDM community, a lot of established artists are also coming over, which might be the clearest sign it’s taking off.