10 artists to watch in 2016

Don't let the year go by without catching these hot-right-now local acts


Words by Patrick St Michel 

Tired of the Biebs and Skrillex and that new Adele song and all the other overplayed radio hits out there? Want to get more in touch with what's happening on the local Japanese music scene? Here are 10 fresh upcoming bands or solo acts that have made us sit up and take notice recently, and that should be on your 2016 must-watch list.


The ones to watch



If the concept of musical genres seems outdated to you, Seiho Hayakawa’s frantic electronic sounds will probably be perfect for you. The Osaka artist, recording as Seiho, creates wonky tracks loaded up with pitch-shifted vocals and sudden changes in tempo, blending intimate R&B with raging techno with pop hooks to make something mind spinning. He’ll release a new album early in 2016, meaning there should be plenty of chances to see his wild live show in the coming months. soundcloud.com/seiho

Key track: 'Taboo' 



Formed in 2013 partially thanks to fashion designer and Lady Gaga collaborator Nicola Formichetti wanting to discover the Japanese version of Mother Monster, color code’s take on electro-pop is every bit as catchy as their clothes. The trio dropped their first single, the surging ‘I Like Dat’, in late 2014 and have followed it up with two more pulsing singles over the last year – not to mention eye-catching videos for each. Expect them to push further in the coming months. color-code.jp

Key track:  ‘I Like Dat’  



Pining for the glory days of UK 2-step? Or maybe you want to hear smething new and futuristic? Tokyo track maker Carpainter has you covered in either case, crafting garage-inspired movers given a shiny sheen. One of the central players on the burgeoning Trekkie Trax dance label, Carpainter has released a series of EPs over the last couple of years, highlighted by 2015’s forward-thinking ‘Out of Resistance’. He’s also been getting more looks from major labels to remix bigger stars. soundcloud.com/carpainter

Key track: ‘Out of Resistance’ 


Pelican Fanclub

Indie-pop tends to have a reputation for being sunny and simplistic. Pelican Fanclub, however, reminds that catchy guitar music can work well in the shadows too. The quartet formed in 2012 and have been making shoegaze-tinged rock since, the bulk of it taking on darker tones similar to fellow Japanese outfit The Novembers without sacrificing the earworm hooks at the centre of their songs. Last August’s ‘Pelican Fanclub’ album saw the group take further steps forward, resulting in some of their most immediate – but still brooding – material yet. pelicanfanclub.com

Key track: ‘Dali’ 


Turntable Films

This Kyoto trio crafts driving folk numbers that play out like short stories. They set out in 2008 as an outfit singing memorable songs in English, switching between tender acoustic guitar numbers and stomping pop songs. On 2015’s ‘Small Town Talk’, they switched over to their native Japanese to create more lyrically rich material, full of narratives with an author’s eye for detail. Despite the linguistic shift, Turntable Films’ music remains charming, in whatever tongue you speak. turntablefilms.com

Key track: ‘Cello’ 



A constant dilemma Japanese acts face is whether to sing in Japanese and focus on the domestic audience, or try out English vocals in an effort to court international ears. Tokyo’s DYGL opts to just write sticky, Brit-pop inspired fuzz rock and ignore those questions. On the strength of a few songs and one very strong EP released last June, they’ve become a live fixture in the capital and have played shows in the US. In whatever language, these guys know how to write a driving rock song. soundcloud.com/dayglotheband

Key track: ‘Let’s Get Into Your Car’ 


Tokyo Health Club

The four members of Tokyo Health Club have helped play an important role in the capital’s online rap scene in recent years, having helped establish the online imprint Omake Club which has put the spotlight on up-and-coming MCs from across the city. They deserve shine, too, as their tag-team approach to rapping works wonders over hard-hitting tracks or more melodic backdrops (see late-2015 cut ‘ASA’, featuring some sweet, sweet sax), and they put on one energetic, memorable live show. tokyohealthclub.com

Key track: ‘City Girl’ 


Lucky Kilimanjaro

Tokyo’s Lucky Kilimanjaro tends to be lumped in with the record-store-approved genre of ‘new city pop’, a 2015 invention building on of the glitzy sounds of ’80s Japan. Yet the tag does some disservice to the six-member unit, who create hyper-colourful synth-pop anchored by hands-in-the-air choruses that doesn’t really sound like the Bubble Era. Last year’s stupidly catchy ‘Fullcolor’ EP highlighted just how ‘of the moment’ Lucky Kilimanjaro is, and what makes them a unique group to keep an eye on. lucky-kilimanjaro.tumblr.com

Key track: ‘Super Star’ 



It’s a story that’s hard to resist: high-school student starts uploading her raps about what it's like being a teenage girl, and starts gaining attention for her mature lyrics (not to mention solid backing music). Tokyo’s Daoko used this very original story to springboard onto a wider platform, getting the chance to collaborate with long-running producers M-Flo and provide vocals to the viral animated short ‘Me! Me! Me!’ in 2014. She’s been moving in a more pop direction lately, but remains at her best when in rap mode. daoko.jp

Key track: ‘Kakete Ageru’



Owing to an upbringing in Hokkaido, electronic artist Qrion’s music strikes a balance between fidgety Internet-born touches and more rustic details. She’s a fan of contemporary EDM, yet her songs feature far more samples of natural sounds and space than blaring drops, though she’s also keen on creating floor-eyeing beats. Her meditative work has won over Canadian artist Ryan Hemsworth, and lead to Qrion putting her piano-centric spin on remixes for How To Dress Well and Giraffage, among others. qrion.net

Key track: ‘Sink’ 

    You may also like