The many faces of Japanese rock

todayNovember 16, 2023 49 3

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By Nayeli Esquilin

Music Journalist

Various aspects of Japanese culture have reached different parts of the world, especially music. Many are introduced to Japanese music from TV dramas and anime. Through this, J-Pop was rising in popularity for a moment in time here in the U.S. But J-Rock seems to have not had a chance yet. Like other parts of the world, Japanese rock (aka J-Rock) emerged in the 1950s through the introduction of Western artists like the Beatles. Now the genre has changed form a thousand times over. New subgenres of the country’s rock scene have transcended what rock music can and should be. From math rock and unfiltered punk to cyber metal and so much more, J-Rock has no limits.

Here’s a list of J-rockers you should have in your rotation if you’re a rock music connoisseur.

Defining Rock: 80s to 2000s 

J-Rock’s most defining periods have spanned over a few decades. If you want to hear something like 80s rock acts like Cyndi Lauper and Journey, RC Succession and TM NETWORK are a great start for the early shift in J-Rock. These groups mixed synth-pop with blues rock, making a new cinematic sound.

Next, groups in the 90s and 00s shifted their sounds to more isolated vocals and indie sounds. Groups like L’Arc~en~Ciel, Cocco and syrup16g defined this arrival for alternative J-Rock. L’Arc~en~Ciel’s music contained dramatic instrumentals mixed with a soft backing guitar to pair with frontman Hyde’s dreamy vocals. Cocco and syrup16g lead with kicking drum intros and shoegaze-like guitar riffs.

Metal, Metal, and More Metal

Japanese metal is not a linear genre. One of the most famous J-metal bands, BABYMETAL, is characterized as kawaii metal, which blends elements of metal music with J-pop. While Kawaii metal is on the softer side of the spectrum, this music style is part of a group of J-metal genres that incorporate theatrical elements in their costumes and performances. Two J-metal bands that fall into the category of V-Kei are Dir En Grey, The GazettE and lynch. V-Kei is a subset of the Japanese music scene that is influenced by 80s glam rock and incorporates elaborate (yet androgynous) clothes, hair, and makeup. Along with their elaborate appearances, Dir En Grey, The GazettE and lynch.’s music comprises screamo, black, doom, symphonic and cyber metal. 

For the Punks

Many artists within J-punk bands chose to sing in either English or Japanese. While not sticking to the same sound, J-punk once again transcends the punk genre. Emerging in the late 90s and 00s groups like 04 Limited Sazabys, GOING STEADY, Super Stupid, MONOEYES and Mo’some Tonebender have vastly different sounds. MONOEYES and GOING STEADY are groups with fresh pop-punk mixed with indie rock sounds, having some of their tracks featured in animated TV shows. Super Stupid has that classic crust punk structure joined with Rockabilly elements. 

Japanese Rock is one of the few genres that has kept to its unique sound over the decades. The bands and J-rockers I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg and will open a world of new sounds that have something for everyone. 

Written by: Danielle De Lucia

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