In the neighborhood Shimokitazawa in the Setagaya Ward of Tokyo, there is a Y-junction, the confluence of two narrow streets, with a little Shinto shrine. Despite the surrounding streetlights, solitary bicycles, handwritten restaurant signs and colorful storefronts, the shrine rests comfortably. It belongs there. There is a big, fashionable fern next to it. There is nowhere else in the world, I think, that combines old and new, foreign and domestic, so seamlessly. Shimokitazawa prides itself on being hip, with a glut of cafés, vintage clothing shops, record stores and live music venues. The same goes for other neighborhoods like Yoyogi. Tokyo is an ancient city, though, with remnants of the old bordering cleanlined coffee houses. As you walk around Shimokita or parts of Yoyogi, you’ll see butcher shops, fisheries and croquette-makers showing off their foodstuffs in bleary glass cases, ramen restaurants of old, and, of course, Shinto shrines. Combined with the newer, trendier spots and ridiculously narrow streets, coexistence defines these neighborhoods. The city is old but not static; it teems with life.Japan’s independent music scene, which thrives in neighborhoods like Shimokita (swarming with young people), is just as dynamic—and, just as nostalgic, respectful of its roots. Lately, independent Japanese record labels are cropping up outside the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka. The label Dead Funny Records, for example, started in Fukuoka in 2012. Acts hail from all over Japan, and they’ve even worked with people based in North America. This Oct., at a little venue called Shimokitazawa Three, the Jindie label Dead Funny presents several of their acts, including GeGeGe, Waater and Hearsays. Dead Funny has also signed Japanese indie artist moo. With similar sonic influences, they’re on par with Western indie, but hypnotizing Japanese lyrics and a rich domestic musical tradition (Haruomi Hosono, Shintaro Sakamoto) breathe life into Dead Funny. Following are four Dead Funny artists with sonic influences both domestic and offshore, who sing in both Japanese and English, who revere decades-old bands but look ever towards the future. Like Shimokita itself, familiar and foreign—old and new—live harmoniously in Dead Funny. Dead Funny artists are available on Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
Five-piece currently based in Tokyo. Influences include ’90s shoegaze and noise pop. In 2018, they digitally released a self-titled EP. They combine catchy riffs and euphonies with what they call “unconscious” sounds. Their second EP, “Escapes,” released this September, cements a characteristic noise. They sing in English and their tracks are warm, melody-driven and usually fast with easygoing, layered vocals. If you like surf pop (think Best Coast or Real Estate) and/or the Lo-fi sound of Brooklyn label Captured Tracks (DIIV, Wild Nothing), listen to “Escapes.”
Alias of one Ryouto Mizuno, a 24-year-old from Kanazawa. He documents his quests for “bizarre guitars” on Twitter. “Bizarre guitar” is an umbrella term for oddly shaped, retro-style guitars, coined by Hiroyuki Noguchi, editor of Guitar Magazine. He found a lefty bizarre guitar he saw on an online secondhand shop (a left-handed bizarre guitar, he says, is doubly bizarre). Currently, he’s on a quest for a lefty Fender Jag-Stang. Influences include Beach Fossils, Kevin Krauter, Supercar, Shintaro Sakamoto and Seiichi Yamamoto, as well as science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick; in fact, the title of his first full-length album “SF” means “science fiction” (as well as a host of other things). He sings all in Japanese, which he feels is a magical and cryptic language. His new album comes out this October or November.
Sapporo quartet. The music video for moo’s “All Day Long” looks as lovingly handcrafted as the song itself. Over shots of sunny streets, a planetarium and one of the members pick-ing at an orange guitar, moo croons about having nowhere to go and nothing to do. Then the guitarist wields his instrument like a rifle, stony-faced. Moo’s songs, even those English speakers can’t understand, are universally summery. The video for “Freak,” from their first mini-album “Kite Flying Society,” also looks analog, with home footage of the members eating parfaits and grinning. The first YouTube comment I see on “Freak” reads roughly in Japanese: “Loose and good.”
Two guys and two girls from Fukuoka. Like Waater, they sing in English. And like many of their label-mates, Hearsays are fans of ’90s alternative and indie. The female vocalists, whose Western influences resound in their delivery, sing dreamily. Their tones especially complement the instrumentals: generous high hat, creamy and simple guitar. In a 2018 single cut of “When I’m Wrong,” Hearsays laments about distant love. The album art is a crude drawing of an anthropomorphized zebra. Like a proud parent, Dead Funny boasts on their website that “When I’m Wrong” was featured in a Peach Airlines commercial.