Most people think Japan’s musical heritage lies in J-pop – those legions of young, manufactured idols and the fans that marvel over how “kawaii” the latest single from AKB0048 is. However, look beyond this candy-coated exterior and you’ll find an underground scene like no other, full of hard-hitting, experimental artists like these:

Catarrh Nisin

We touched on the emergence of Japanese grime before when we highlighted its unlikely ambassador PAKIN. However, the scene is bigger than just one artist, and Catarrh Nisin is another major player in grime’s small Japanese scene.

GUEVNNA

These metal aficionados have been tearing up the smoke-filled Live Houses of Tokyo since 2011 when they were formed “with no solid plans… only the understanding that the guys love BONGZILLA and IRON MONKEY.” Their vocals are a mix of English and Japanese, their sound resembling straightforward old-school rock bands like Black Sabbath with a “don’t give a fuck” attitude to match.

Utae

Utae runs with the electronic studio label/artist collective PURRE GOOHN, and her music captures the mix of upbeat energy and unsettling undertones that make up the rhythm of life in Tokyo. Check out the visually amazing video for Dystopia here.

Groundcover

Groundcover are as obscure as it gets while still existing. They have a single album release out there, but with this band it’s all about the live experience. Their performances hit you with a wall of noise that flits from metal to experimental to the occasional jazz interlude, all provided by an eclectic mix of electric guitars, DJ decks, keyboards and a f**king trumpet. The tracks bleed into one another, forming one musical rollercoaster.

Wednesday Campanella

Variously described as electronic, hip-hop and even J-pop, Wednesday Campanella is all these and more. She first came onto the live scene in 2013, but she’s already built up an impressive back catalogue of releases and a channel full of well-directed music videos shot in the capital. Watch out for lyrical references to video game touchstones such as Final Fantasy.

This list barely scratches the surface. Japan’s music scene is far more diverse than it first appears, with thousands of performances happening in apartment-sized Live Houses across the country on any given night.

Many artists have a low online presence because CDs are still a major business (unlike in the West), which means to find the truly obscure artists you need to go hunting for physical media – just like the good old days.

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