At about the time that noise-rock bands started popping up in the USA, in the late 1970s, early 80s, the rock genre got to Japan, where it quickly found fertile ground. The term “japanoise” is actually more like an umbrella under which you can find all sorts of styles belonging to noise-rock, like free improve, tabletop electronics, psychedelic, and pretty much anything else you can think about.
That’s why some Japanese artists refuse the label “japanoise”: because they feel that being banded together under one single designation means ignoring the differences between musicians and their approach to music.
Just for the purpose of this article, lets just call it Japanoise because it’s noise-rock which is made in Japan. Also, I know it’s a list, but there’s no classification like “the best” or “top X”, I’ll leave it up to you to decide the order in which to rank the bands.
One of the first noise bands in Japan, Hijokaidan landed their style quite by accident: during their first concert the drummer failed to show up, leading Jojo Hiroshige to improvise the whole set. Boom! The Japanese noise scene was set. Throughout the years Hijokaidan has had many formation, with as many as 14 musicians at once on stage, and their sound, as well as their act, became cruder, wilder, and tougher until it reached its limits and that band formation dismantled. Hijokaidan is still very much active, but now, due to, among other factors, the constant change in formation, it’s more focused on their sound, rather than their performances.
Thanks to the Internet, nowadays it’s not as difficult to find Hijokaidan’s recordings, so you can enjoy both older and newer pieces from the band.
The complete opposite of Hijokaidan. Even though Merzbow has tried to distance himself from it, the influence of Dadaism and junk art aesthetic in his music is obvious. Plus, a wide range of musical influences from progressive rock, heavy metal, free jazz, and early electronic music as well as his obsession with bondage and hardcore sexual themes make the sound of Merzbow one of the most sophisticated in the noise-rock world.
That means that he cannot be approached without some preparation: like the purest forms of art, you simply can’t appreciate it unless you’re able to grasp the intricacies of the work.
Merzbow’s definitely not one to start with if you’re not familiar with Japanoise, but a must-have in your playlist as you get more into it.
There’s a good place to start, if you know next to nothing about Japanoise. A very prolific artist, KeijiHano has collaborated with almost all noise artists in Japan and another handful of gaijin (i.e., non-Japanese), meaning that there’s bound to be something you’ll like.
His most used instruments are guitars and voice, although he’s released an album of percussion instruments only, and his influences include troubadour music, Marlene Dietrich, IannisXenakis, Blue Cheer, Syd Barrett, Charlie Parker, and Les RallizesDénudés, aside from traditional Japanese music and dance, and other ethnic music instruments.
If you’re already into USA noise, then Boredoms maybe the best band to start with, since their sound much resembles the Western style. Describing themselves as noise, psychedelic, etc., etc., leaning more into the USA punk style, rather than free jazz, Boredoms are a prolific band with an ever-changing line-up which is always incredibly performative.
Well, there you have it. A short list, to be honest, but one I think will be very helpful in starting you into this crazy and confusing world that is known as Japanoise. There are a myriad of other great bands in Japan, all which owe something to the artists listed and waiting for you to discover them.