As a rule, East-West musical crossovers used to be a one-way street, with Japanese bands typically absorbing Western influences and making the music their own. However, bit by bit, the flow of ideas and sounds has started to shift direction, and this month two releases come bearing the fruits of two-way traffic.
The single “Lightning Runaway” (part of Tower Records’ “No Music No Life” compilation), released on Sept. 2, 2009, is the product of cross-pollination between Japanese indie act The Pillows and U.S. singer/songwriter Ben Kweller (touring Japan this month). The other release, “Two Sunsets,” an album made by Scottish alternative act The Pastels and cult Japanese act Tenniscoats, came online on Sept. 7, 2009.
While The Pillows have long cited Kweller as an influence on their sweet shoe-gazing sound, the band’s fame in the West grew largely out the exposure the band received via the soundtrack of the groundbreaking anime series “FLCL.” This eventually led to tours of the U.S., appearances at SXSW and the collaboration with Kweller.
Thanks to the growing popularity of fan-subbed (literally, subtitles created by fans) anime on the Internet, anime fans overseas are skipping the wait for licensing agreements and, in the process, getting turned on to a lot more Japanese music. It’s only a matter of time before another band breaks the international scene in the same way as The Pillows.
Although the Tenniscoats/Pastels album was mostly recorded in Glasgow over a three-year period when the band was touring the country, overseas travel isn’t mandatory for transnational collaborations. Take Japanese singer Maki Nomiya, who is currently recording a mini album with Brazilian artists Pato Fu, exchanging sound files over the Internet. As Western muscians make more connections with their Asian soulmates through the Internet, we’re looking forward to hearing the fruits of many beautiful relationships.