Over the last decade America has been binging on Japanese pop culture. Judging by the Pokemon craze of the late 90s to the more recent video game wars between the Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii, it appears that pop culture is evenly exchanged between both countries. Unfortunately that is not the case; you see, while America embraces Japanese baseball players (Hideki Matsui), food (sushi), anime (Dragon Ball Z), and horror films (The Ring) it has yet to properly acknowledge Japan's bustling music industry. On the flip side of the coin, Japan is obsessed American music; and if you don't believe me, watch how fast a Metallica show sells out in Tokyo at $150 per person. Japan is the second largest music market in the world, just under America, and up to this point no Japanese artists have enjoyed success in the U.S. like import bands from Australia (Wolfmother) and Europe (Radiohead).
There are a few reasons for America's lackluster response to Japanese artists. One significant detractor is the language barrier. American audiences place just as much importance on the lyrics as they do to the music, which is why Japan's most successful Hip Hop artist, Zeebra, is unable to make a crossover album despite collaborating with American superstars in Japan. If the artist can sing in English then he or she must find a unique concept that separates themselves from all the other up and coming artists. In 2003, J-pop star Utada Hikaru released Exodus, a crossover album she recorded entirely in English; but despite an all English effort, and a little help from renowned producer Timbaland, American sales were low because people couldn't tell her apart from all the other female singers vying for the spotlight.
Although language and concept have blocked most J-artists from conquering America's music market there are some recent additions who have slipped through the cracks. Thanks to movies, anime, and commercials groups like the Teriyaki Boys (Tokyo Drift), Puffy-AmiYumi (Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi), and The Yoshida Brothers (Nintendo Wii) have all found their way into American homes; but, how would American audiences react to a Japanese band that sang in English and possessed an unparalleled vision of rock music? They would resemble the thousands of screaming fans who filled Tokyo's Studio Coast earlier this year to watch Boom Boom Satellites ("BBS") perform live.
BBS has spent the past decade creating music that fuses the fast-paced rave sound with hardcore electro-rock. Fueled by a barrage of stunning visuals and lighting, the intensity of a BBS' concert can only be described as a combination of The Chemical Brothers and Nine Inch Nails, both of whom have had long and successful careers in America; which is why, for the first time in their illustrious 15 year career, Boom Boom Satellites decided to digitally release their most recent album, Exposed, in America. "What Goes Round Comes Around," off Exposed has already been featured in a commercial for Dodge, and two other songs, "Easy Action" and "Shut Up And Explode" have also appeared in separate Japanese anime productions.
With Japanamania still rampant, America is ready for a J-music hero to emerge. A band with enough talent to show the international community that Japan not only imports music from around the world, but a country that cultivates and exports its own, unique sound; and no group is more ready to carry that torch than Boom Boom Satellites.
Sam Frank (SF): Good evening. Thank you for speaking with me tonight. Before we begin I wanted to congratulate you on winning Japanese Magazine's best album of 2006 award for ON. I bought that album before leaving Japan in 2006 and rocked out to it the entire 14 hour flight home. Coming off the success of ON was there any particular sound you were striving for while recording your most recent album, Exposed?
Masayuki Nakano (MN): We were trying to go for a more metal sound. Something heavier. We used a lot more guitars and drums on Exposed than on any of our prior records.
SF: Who were some of the artists that originally got you into electronic music?
MN: I was very influenced by the Detroit techno sound of the early 90s. One group I remember listening to a lot early on was 808 State. While club-hopping around Tokyo in the early 90s I would see these revolutionary DJs perform and talk to them after their sets. It was an exciting time.
SF: It's great that you were able to have such personal experiences with these pioneers of the game. Security is so tight now that it would probably be harder to have those kinds of moments. Although Exposed is being released "digitally" in America it actually hit stores in Japan exactly a year ago, do you think it's being embraced more by Japanese fans or international fans?
MN: I'm not sure if fans outside Japan are receiving it well because the album has only been released in Japan, and we haven't toured outside Japan.
Michiyuki Kawashima (MK): We have opened up for many artists like The Chemical Brothers, Moby, and Fatboy Slim, but have yet to headline anything major outside the country. That's about to change as we prepare for our first Australian tour. We digitally released Exposed in Australia a short time ago and since then we've been receiving positive feedback.
SF: Would you like to tour America sometime in the future?
MK: Of course, the American audience is great. They really understand our style of music and are extremely enthusiastic about it. I remember opening a show for Moby in Minneapolis a few years ago and the crowd was really into it. Everyone was dancing and having a great time. We can't wait to perform in America again.
SF: Is there anything you would like to say to the Americans who are read this article?
MK: Yes, please come out and see us. We have a really great show planned for you. For every album written, we record two different mixes. The first mix is the one everybody hears on the album, but the second mix can only be heard during the live show because we synchronize the music with a series of complex visuals that are also mixed live. Another reason for the two recordings is to make everything more exciting for the crowd, and they get to hear something new.
SF: At what age did you start getting serious about becoming a musician?
MK: While I was in middle school. We [Nakano & I] originally met in college while I was in another band, but it was during those middle school days that I got serious about music.
SF: What sparked your interest to work together?
MK: Well, I wanted to create a rock band that incorporated aspects of the nightlife scene in its music, something similar to what was going on in the U.K. Unfortunately, though, we were short a drummer so I asked Nakano to lend a hand. From that point we started recording demos and performing at small, local venues.
SF: What did your parents think when you told them your dreams?
MK: There were times when we had support from our parents, and others when we didn't.
SF: The times without that support must have been difficult.
MK: We were going to quit Boom Boom Satellites after our third year, but inside we knew that giving up our dream was not the answer. Soon after the decision to continue songwriting our music began generating buzz. It wasn't until we started doing remixes and movie soundtracks that our sound got a major push.
SF: The movie soundtracks your music is featured on appears to be mostly animations. Are you into Anime?
MK: I grew up on anime, and still watch it today. Two songs from Exposed have already been used on various soundtracks. "Shut Up And Explode," is the opening theme to Xam'd: Lost Memories (亡念のザムド) and "Easy Action" is featured in the film Vexille. It was truly a wonderful experience to be involved so early into production. We plan on writing more music for soundtracks in the future because we know how much audio manipulation impacts the visuals.
SF: Just watching the video for "Moment I Can" off 2005's Full Of Elevating Pleasures I can tell you guys take visuals very seriously.
MK: Music videos are part of the creation process so its important to work closely with the video director. After a few meetings we decide on the concept, and move forward with production.
SF: Are your live gigs just as intense as the videos?
MK: More. With the inclusion of drummer Naoki Hirai we become a three piece ensemble that drops you somewhere between a heavy metal concert and a warehouse rave party. The combination of audio and visual stimulation magnifies the live show's potency.
SF: It appears that 2008 has been a pivotal year for the Boom Boom Satellites. So what's next for guys?
MK: We just released a new Live DVD set that was recorded in 2008 while touring, and are already in the studio recording a follow-up to Exposed. After that we'd like to focus on getting our music to more people around the world.
SF: Has the past success changed the way Boom Boom Satellites music is created?
MK: Not really. For this new album we basically locked ourselves in the studio and began writing, which is what we've done in the past, but this time the only pressure we have comes from our own desire for perfection.