LIVE REVIEW | An Adrenaline-Pumping Matsuri For TIMM’s 20th Anniversary
For twenty years, the Japan Music Culture Export (JMCE) has showcased various J-POP acts through the Tokyo International Music Market (TIMM). Not only does this event give Japan the chance to show the music scene’s biggest strengths, it also aids in expanding those artists’ reach throughout the entire world. At Zepp Shinjuku, TIMM’s Matsuri in Tokyo 2023 proved to those in the venue that J-POP was not only stronger twenty years later; it’s also much wilder!
WRITER’S NOTE: Due to a previous engagement, only the first two nights of Matsuri in Tokyo 2023 were attended.
Matsuri in Tokyo 2023 kicked things off with an up-and-coming trio called SWEET REVENGE. Put together after eight worldwide auditions in 2018, Agnes, Asami, and Larissa spent the last five years working on their craft. On the verge of their debut, SWEET REVENGE performed a short three-song set that gave audience members a taste of what they can expect. Thankfully, the flavor they conjured up was one that matched with their name, with a special rendition of Maria Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love” and their catchy & club-worthy debut single “Might Just”.
SWEET REVENGE wish to aim for the top, so perhaps they should learn a thing or two from the other two Night One acts. Armed with a big band, a four-person dance troupe, and red boots that looked ready to stomp evil, Chanmina took to the stage with raw fury. Sometimes dancing in synch with her boys or standing still with glittery mic stand in hand, the South Korean-Japanese performer spewed fire and sexiness throughout her entire set. Be it the rage-filled TeddyLoid-produced “Daikirai”, the cutesy “Miso Soup”, or the powerful mental health anthem “I’m Not OK”, Chanmina proved to everyone that’s she’s no mere pop star or rapper; she’s a Goddamn rock star!
School was in session for Night One’s closer, as Atarashii Gakko! emerged with a flare that no one could either imitate or replicate. Starting off with “Seishun wo Kirisaku Hodo”, Mizyu, Rin, Suzuka, and Kanon showcased their singing, rapping, and dancing skills in ways that filled the audience with true Japanese spirit. That spirit continued throughout their set via the peppy “Tomei Boy”, the sexy “OTONABLUE”, and the bouncy “Giri Giri”, as Atarashii Gakko! segued flawlessly through various genres. Combined with some humorous banter and even a bit of crowdsurfing from Suzuka, Atarashii Gakko! proved to everyone in Zepp Shinjuku why they’re the hottest act in Japan right now.
If Night One belonged to pop, then rock & roll certainly took hold of Night Two. Opening the show was AGE, whose rock sounds bounced between funk, metal, and even a little soul. Vocalist Kyoichi Mikuriya demonstrated a foray of vocal styles, as he switched between hard and soft at the drop of a hat. AGE showed why it’s best to be eclectic with one’s music, as they played through one unpredictable song to the next. With sounds akin to Sublime and Faith No More, AGE’s profile within both Japan and the rest of the world has strong potential to reach great heights.
Things got a little jazzy when BREIMEN took to the stage. Bassist and vocalist Shota Takagi may have been in the center, but the band as a whole were shining in vibrant colors. Purple would certainly fit for guitarist Katsuhiro Sato, whose skills would’ve made Prince smirk with curiosity. Drummer SoKanno hit the skins with gorgeous rhythm, while saxophonist George Hayashi seemed to be possessed by the spirit of E Street Band member Clarence Clemons. All together, BREIMEN delivered a set filled with the sort of good feelings that anyone in the universe could easily vibe to.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Klang Ruler, who walked onto stage with cyberpunk energy. The synthwave band owned the night with neon power and space-ranged skills, with songs like “Chotto Matte” and “Maiden Voyage” going full intergalactic. “Generic Love” showcased pitch-perfect chill melodies, whereas “Set Me Free” felt like a high speed chase in an 80s action flick. As synthwave continues to rise in popularity, Klang Ruler has the opportunity to touch the stars and conquer the rock charts the same way they, well, conquered the klangs.
Headlining Night Two was Chilli Beans., whose pop rock styles went from lo-fi dreampop straight into high energy alternative. Vocalist Moto bounced all over the stage, in ways that would make Iggy Pop jealous of the stamina she had within her. Guitarist Lily and bassist Maika matched that moxie with their in-synch performance skills, which came to life in such songs as “duri-dade” and “shekilala”. Chilli Beans. filled with Zepp Shinjuku with a bountiful of cheerful zeal in their happy-go-lucky set, reminding all in attendance that the night was meant for partying until the sun came up!
Matsuri in Tokyo is meant to showcase the best that Japan has to offer, and TIMM managed to deliver that in spades. From established acts like Chanmina and Atarashii Gakko! to newcomers like AGE and Klang Ruler, the event cemented the fact that the Japanese music scene is both a vast and beautiful spectacle. Not every music act is going to become recognizable worldwide, but if both JMCE and TIMM continue to showcase acts as talented and unique as the 2023 roster, then Japan will finally be seen as the musical powerhouse it truly is.
Special thanks to Michiko Fujimura of Japan Music Culture Export and Yuka Amano of ASOBISYSTEMS Co., Ltd.