As a genre, Japanese rock, or J-rock, has been going strong since the ‘70s. Mixing the pomp and theatrics of glam with brain-frying guitar solos at top speed, it’s not for the faint-hearted – but, as the Japan Night showcase at London’s IndigO2 shows, today’s Japanese rockers are experimenting with other sounds, too.
The show provides the musical element of the Hyper Japan festival, an annual celebration of all the best bits of Japanese culture. A sea of colourfully dressed fans, some in full Lolita garb, fill the venue as the first band, Ling Tosite Sigure 6 take to the stage. The math-rock trio – consisting of vocalist and guitarist Toru Kitajima, bassist Miyoko Nakamura and drummer Masatoshi Nakano – are tight as hell, expertly mixing speedy solos and tempo changes with melodic, poppy verses. Vocally, they’re stylised and squeaky, and some of their harmonies are uncomfortably shrill, but they’re a lively bunch, and the crowd bellow their single Who What Who What right back at them.
Second act [Alexandros]  – yes, with the square brackets – are obviously big pop-punk fans. Their sound unashamedly borrows from the likes of Billy Talent and Yellowcard, with upbeat, sing-along verses, spiky guitar breakdowns and rich harmonies. Vocalist Youhei Kawamaki is clearly enamoured to be in London, declaring his love for the city repeatedly, throwing a seemingly impromptu cover of Blur’s Song 2 in the set, and thanking his favourite bands – Queen and Oasis, apparently – for inspiring him.
Their new track Dog 3 is faster and more complex than their pop-tinged opening songs, and has guitarist Masaki Shirai showing off his technical skills. Kawamaki leaps into the crowd as he finishes the set, and is immediately groped by the excitable, towel-waving fans on the front row. This is a band worth paying attention to – as well as being a promising force on the Japanese scene, they’re brilliant pop-punksters in their own right.
Closing the proceedings are glam heavyweights Vamps , and they don’t hold back. The volume is cranked up to ear-splitting levels as they unleash a set that’s determined to stuff as many glam-rock tropes into one place as possible. Topless and draped in a sheer robe? Check. Voluptuous, semi-naked woman on the bass drum skin? Check. Writhing on the floor in a display of awkward enforced sexiness? You get the idea. When Vamps are having their Bon Jovi or Guns N’ Roses moments, like in the epic ballad Vampire’s Love, they’re great, but their forays into metal – Evil and the repetitive Bloodsuckers – feel a little contrived. They’re clearly consummate musicians; vocalist Hyde and guitarist K.A.Z have made their way through some of Japan’s most prominent rock bands, but Vamps doesn’t always show them at their best. Even so, their energy is undeniable, and every act that took the stage at Japan Night made a valiant case for J-rock deserving far more overseas attention.