Over the past several years, my infatuation with music has exposed me to a variety of different cultures. I could care less if the continent of origin is North America, Africa, or Antarctica. If the music expresses a respectable amount of qualitative enjoyment, that is all that matters to me. In fact, I occasionally prefer music that reaches outside of the social norms that I have grown accustomed to in the United States. I have always been fascinated on the approaches to contemporary music all around the globe and that has pushed me to discover the latest and greatest acts, regardless of their initial location. It is a rare circumstance on this site when you will find the front page filled with artists who hail from the same country. While the United States, Europe, and Australia represent the most common output of band features on this site, I occasionally throw in artists from more exotic countries like Korea or Turkey, both of which have indie music scenes that are overshadowed in Western culture by baseless stereotypes and assumptions.
One country that has often made an appearance on this site has been Japan. From World’s End Girlfriend to Shiina Ringo, the “Land of the Rising Sun” has a lot to offer in terms of innovative artists who exceed creative boundaries known to both their native Japan and the influential West. Go ahead and try to find me an artist in any country who echos the experimentally haunting style of World’s End Girlfriend. Regardless of whether you search in Japan or any Western country, it will be extremely difficult and arguably impossible to find. It is ironic how the most respectable Japanese bands are actually the ones who do not attempt to mimic their Western counterparts. We see pop stars like Ayumi Hamasaki or Ami Suzuki enamour the Japanese public with generic pop songs that they do not even write. It is a similar style that which their Western counterpart, Britney Spears, used to fill her pockets before her breakdown, which was admittedly more entertaining than any of her music. Such artists represent the foolish ideal that all you need to succeed in the music business is a pretty face, a thin waist, and the ability to pull off a few dance moves. While it is unfortunately true for the general mainstream acts, it is those other artists who focus on creativity and self-righteousness who will be remembered as a lasting influence. While their sales will never equal the success of the Ayumi Hamasaki’s or the Britney Spears’ of the world, they will certainly provide a more memorable form of respect through evident musicianship.
The general idea is that the Japanese music market is slowly developing into a form of business very much like the United States. Superficially attractive performers who do not even know what a chord is reap economical benefits while individualized musicians who dare to defy the odds are often left in a financial struggle. If Supercar was an American band, they would be considered one of the underdogs that Western indie music fans love and cherish. They would have undoubtedly been blog favorites and underground publications would had given them glowing reviews. Why? The natives of Japan struggled with the commercialization of music during their eight memorable years in activity. Much like the United States, Japan was consumed in the late 90s with artificial pop music that dominated much of the public awareness concerning music. Instead of merely following the trend, Supercar’s 1998 debut, Three Out Change, demonstrated a form of ambitiousness that was deemed a risky expenditure at the time. Just out of high school, lead songwriter/vocalist Koji Nakamura, guitarist/lyricist Junji Ishiwatari, bassist Miki Furukawa, and drummer Kodai Tazawa almost immediately gained an underground following with Three Out Change. While the sound was structurally typical and dominated by simple guitar progressions, innovative elements were weaved through snippets of synth and unconventional production, mainly highlighted by excessive reverb. Considering their largest influences to be Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and fellow Japanese rockers B’z, Supercar presented the indie rock scene in Japan with addictive songs that were both creatively instantaneous and straightforwardly infectious.
Throughout their career, they expanded their sound progressively and matured in ways that most modern bands could only dream of. Beginning as a rather simplistic alternative band, the four-piece eventually bordered on atmospheric synth-pop with their later releases, always incorporating guitar and bass over Koji Nakamura’s impressive comprehension of synthesizers. When the band called it quits in 2005, they left behind seven albums, all of which I highly recommend. For fans of directly infectious Japanese indie-rock in the vein of The Pillows, I would recommend their first four releases, specifically their breakthrough sophomore album, Jump Up. Their emphasis on electronica truly began in 2000 with Futurama (no relation to the television show), with their next album in 2002, Highvision, truly establishing Supercar as a band who could effectively pull off both the styles of alternative rock and electronica. Supercar generally falls in somewhere between The Pillows and Cornelius, exhibiting in tracks like “Otogi Nation” and “Starline” the same form of electronic outwardness that Cornelius is reputable for, though Supercar presents the songs in a more structurally concise version for accessibility, much like The Pillows. Both of those tracks come off of the fantastic Highvision, representing their electronic growth in the finest view. “My Girl” was released in 1999 as a single off of Jump Up, offering the alternative perspective of the band. If you are looking to get into the hidden treasures of Japanese indie rock, Supercar is a great place to start.
wrong, wrong, wrong. Ayumi Hamasaki is writing ALL of her lyrics and even composing some of her music under the name “CREA”. Check you facts;)
do you honestly believe that she writes all of her music?
I recently went to Tokyo with a firm agenda of taking home with me pieces of Japanese culture, especially music. I got Supercar’s compilation album “A”. Good mix of songs although Starline, Otogi Nation, Storywriter were not present. I personally think Aoharu Youth is a staple for Supercar. Great music, even though I am only starting to understand Nihongo. Still, its worth the 3000 yen. Haha
Maxker is right, Ayumi Hamasaki writes all of her own lyrics. Hell, I’m pretty sure she was the only one to write the lyrics to the song she preformed for the 9/11 tribute, unlike the other artists that preformed *cough cough* Namie Amuro and Koda Kumi for example… There’s no doubt she writes her own lyrics, it was basically her saving grace.
Anyway, this was a great article, I love supercar and especially Miki Furukawa!! Her solo career is amazing and LAMA is awesome as well.
I think the irony of this article is that it is such a typical stance of the ‘indie’ music lover to jump straight to hating the pop industry as a means of being different, having more musical integrity or artistic tastes than the typical ‘mainstream’ music lover. As a writer you should seek to convey your points as honestly and objectively as possible, and although I absolutely agree that Miki is one of my all time favorite artists, I also am disappointed that you choose to slander a ‘pop’ star (Ayumi Hamasaki), just for the fact that you want to sound deep and counter-cultural. Do your research before you make claims that you obviously know nothing about (probably because you are too busy avoiding the mainstream to give credit where credit is due.) That being said, still a fantastic article about an artist that deserves a lot more recognition than she receives!
Supercar is the one band I’m genuinely sad to have missed due to my age and location. What a freaking beautiful run they had!