Many people flock to Naeba every July because of the chance to see biggie-sized international acts take the stage at the Fuji Rock Festival, and the 2018 installment promises to deliver on that front. Yet it’s also a great chance to catch young domestic artists get a first crack at big-stage fair, and a great performance at Fuji Rock can win over new fans and potentially push themselves up a few rungs as a result. Plenty more names are sure to be announced in the months leading up to the gathering, but here are some early highlights from the pool of up-and-coming Japanese acts making the trip out to Niigata this summer.
D.A.N. (official website)
Trio D.A.N. played Fuji Rock Festival 2016, but later at night. This year, they are ready to soak in the sun and share their hybrid rock-dance songs with an even wider audience. Formed in 2014, the band stood out almost right away for the way they blended disparate styles together — rock ‘n’ roll, electronic club music, just a smidge of nostalgia-baiting Japanese city pop — to create something all their own. Their numbers revel in detail, with the music they play often sounding like it was plotted out on graph paper before they hit record. Yet running through each song is human emotion provided by D.A.N.’s lyrics, featuring hushed vocals that add a sense of mystery and unease. Listen to “Native Dancer” here.
Obukuro Nariaki (official website)
Obukuro Nariaki went from an independent creator to one working closely with one of Japan’s most celebrated pop stars ever. The Tokyo artist first crept onto the radar with his electronic duo N.O.R.K, a project exploring the shadowy corners of modern dance music. But his biggest imprint on the Japanese music scene came in 2015, when he helped establish the label and production company Tokyo Recordings. That outlet first started to smuggle Obukuro’s vision of pop music — pitch-shifted mutations on R&B, his own soaring falsetto, strings strings and more strings — into a wider lane, and eventually he was invited to work with J-pop titan Utada Hikaru on her 2016 comeback album Fantome. This connection shot him up, and this year he released his solo full-length debut. It’s a staggering set of left-field pop music, somewhere between Frank Ocean and Claude Debussy, and one of the year’s early highlights. His Fuji Rock set will be one of his first big live shows post his album, making it one of the fest’s most compelling performances-to-be. Listen to “Selfish” here.
Awesome City Club (official website)
The past can be a hell of a weight to throw off. Awesome City Club channel the sounds of yesteryear frequently in their high-energy synth-pop, and clues can be found even in their name (that “city” brings to mind “city pop” when you listen to some of their more laid-back numbers…or read interviews with them, where it seems a little more thickly applied). So how do they manage to break free of too much nostalgia? Well, they just pound out hoppy, poppy dance-pop numbers that are easy to stick around in your cranium. Yeah, the funk and disco touches stick out, but the way Awesome City Club construct a number makes sure all the catchy parts go right to the front. Listen to “Don’t Think, Feel” here.
Photo of D.A.N. via D.A.N.’s official site