Kougou no Goraiko-z drummer, Great Hashimoto, performing in Next Music from Tokyo. Image courtesy of Next Music from Tokyo.

By: Kitty Cheung, Staff Writer

Dr. Steven Tanaka, a Toronto anaesthesiologist and UBC alumnus, spends his spare time organizing tours for underground Japanese bands to perform across Canada. Next Music from Tokyo is an annual (sometimes biannual!) tour that Tanaka has been paying out of pocket to organize since 2010. The purpose of the tour, according to Tanaka, is to “show fellow Canadians how fascinating and creative bands from Japan can be.

Intimate and charming, the show crosses the entire country with stops in Vancouver, Montréal, and Toronto. I was able to attend its 14th volume at the Biltmore Cabaret on May 20. This year, the line-up included five Japanese musical gems: imai, TAMTAM, Koutei Camera Girl Drei, Kougou no Goraiko-z, and Stereogirl.

Starting off the show, imai was a soft-spoken DJ who ended up blasting the Biltmore with his high-energy beats and vigorous stage persona. In the audience, I felt like I was witnessing an artist entirely in his element. The way imai moved to each of his carefully crafted melodies was dynamic and awe-inspiring.

TAMTAM was next, delivering groovy neo-soul. The audience went wild when the lead singer Kuro pulled out her trumpet and showered the Biltmore with smooth and powerful grace. They were my favourite band of the night, and I especially enjoyed how keyboardist Tomomin’s deep voice complemented Kuro’s delicate singing in a soothing euphony.

To preface the next performance, a friend beside me in the audience told me to get ready for an “anime rave.” I was still not prepared for the house beats, edgy coolness, and stoic-faced members of Koutei Camera Girl Drei. The all-female idol rap group was a far cry from any bubblegum J-pop groups I’d seen before, especially as they transformed the audience into a massive dance pit.

Kougou no Goraiko-z is a punk-rock and shoegaze band that may have actually torn down the Biltmore. This band would naturally transition from a cheeky and humorous bit to gloriously hard-hitting rock. The audience was immediately turned into an explosive mosh pit. Face. Melted.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the show early to catch the last SkyTrain (five bands in one night goes on late!) so I wasn’t able to see much of the last band, Stereogirl. However, this new wave alt-rock band of university students definitely had an edgy stage presence, with Tanaka even promising that they would “blitzkrieg NMFT14 with fun, energy, and passion in spades.

As most of the band members don’t speak English, it’s fascinating to see how these performers can reach beyond language barriers and shine through with their talent and creative performance styles. Because there isn’t a whole lot of space at the intimate venues that Tanaka chooses (like Vancouver’s Biltmore Cabaret), when the performers aren’t performing, they’re wandering around the venue, selling their own merchandise and enjoying the music of their fellow performers. Between shows, I actually had the opportunity to talk to the musicians in-person, fangirling in spite of our language barrier.

The show is absolutely something I would recommend to every music lover or really just any human being. Tanaka puts together an extremely unique and diverse line-up to put on a show unlike any other.

I reached out to Tanaka for an interview and was able to have all my burning questions answered over email. The full interview is online at the-peak.ca