We turn our attention back to the burgeoning Japanese rock scene by exploring the music of RADWIMPS, whose well-grounded musical entourage and their knack for straying away slightly from the conventions of commercial rock music has placed them at the summit of successful, memorable and distinctive bands in Japan.

While listening to songs like 有心論 ‘Yuushinron’ (‘Yuushin’ meaning ‘Determination’ and ‘ron’ meaning ‘theory’), one would find difficult to capture RADWIMPS’ sound world under one neat phrase. What initially sounds like a gentle acoustic guitar ballad quickly turns into a stadium rock atmosphere, an energy that brings to mind the likes of U2. Instead of conveying the emotional depth and passion that defines stadium rock, Yojiro Noda (vocalist) diverts expectations and goes into a surprise verse that is subtly charged with rap and hip-hop nuances. In spite of such a complicated sonic atmosphere, this song shares their enthusiasm for groove-based rock, but at the same time showcases their musical dexterity in handling sudden mood swings and shifts in style.

‘DADA’ is the band’s signature number, and is perhaps revolutionary in two senses. With their fresh take on fusing the verbal dexterity of rap/hip-hop and the aggressive rhythms and aesthetics of punk rock, musically it has put rap-rock (a relatively underexplored genre in the country) on the geography of Japanese music. On the other hand, the subversive nature of this track also prevails from RADWIMPS’ to use music as a vehicle for political expression. The lyrics (written by Noda) comprise of several verses of negative issues about life; e.g. how the time between birth and death is just a period of procrastination and “killing time”, how we are seduced to modern technology and how we should think more about ecology and protecting the planet.

Their versatility is measured by their shift in stylistic idiom in their most recent track 実況中継 ‘Jikkyou Chuukei’ (‘Live Coverage’). This particular tune reveals RADWIMPS’ fascination towards experimental and noise musical language (conveyed immediately through the opening jarring distorted sample). The song benefits from these sporadic reversed guitar exchanges and discordant riffs as it brings vitality to the pulsating alt-rock groove (further intensified with exotic Indian melodic inflections penetrating the rock backdrop).

RADWIMPS’ willingness to push boundaries in the musical mainstream makes them much more distinctive than other regular rock bands in Japan. It’s a frame of mind that any musicians should immerse themselves into, if they want to capture the attention of listeners and audiences.

Other Listening:

  • おしゃかしゃま Oshakashama *a play on the word ‘Oshakasama’ (‘Buddha’)
  • いえない Ienai (‘Cannot Say’)
  • ふたりごと Futarigoto (‘Talk between each other’)

© Isaku Takahashi