J-rock is the abbreviation of “Japanese rock” which was influenced by the American and British rock of the 1960s. J-rock has become a cult worldwide sensation since its origins.
The first wave J-rock to perform were called Group Sounds. They took inspiration from Western bands like Beatles, The Rolling Stones. Group Sounds also took influence from psychedelic rock, folk music and other sub-genres of rock.
During the mid-60s Group Sounds’ popularity grew, bringing a spate of new talent with it. One of the first widely recognizable singer-songwriters was Nobuyasu Okabayashi, who became known as Japan’s Bob Dylan. The Tigers, however, were the most popular band of the Group Sound era.
Although, this was all set to change, thanks to the rise of musicians like Jimi Hendrix. In 1967, Yuya Uchida returned home after seeing Hendrix during a visit to Europe. They were so inspired by his sound that they formed Yuya Uchida & the Flowers back in Japan.
A few years down the line and they released debut album Challenge! which featured covers of psychedelic rock acts from the US and UK.
Shift to Heavy Metal
In the West during the 70s, rock music started to lean to the heavier side. Black Sabbath led the way of influential bands. Yuya having been influenced by Hendrix a few years earlier replaced every member except the drummer and renamed his band, Flower Travellin’ Band.
They released their first album of original material since moving to Canada. Their debut album Satori (1971) is now considered a progenitor of heavy metal.
During the 70s and 80s Japan saw a rise in metal bands gaining mainstream success, both in and outside Japan. Most notably, Bow Wow supported both Aerosmith and KISS, and went on to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Reading Festival in England.
J-rock bands managed to find success both in Japan and overseas over the next few decades. However, that was going to come to an end at the start of the 2000s with the rise of pop music. Most J-rock bands found most of their success in Japan but remained unknown to other countries.
In 2010 Japan saw a rise in female-fronted and all-female heavy metal bands gaining mainstream success. The most prolific during this time are Aldious, whose debut topped the indie chart and reached number 15 on the main chart.
They led the movement that saw bands like Cyntia who joined major record label, Victor Entertainment in 2013. In 2016 J-rock gained international attention after Band-Maid signed with Crown Stones and later JPU Records in the UK for international releases.
2014 however, was the year J-rock exploded in the west with Kawaii metal act Babymetal. (Kawaii metal is genre that blends elements of heavy metal and J-pop and was pioneered in early 2010.) Babymetal have gained the most success outside of Japan, becoming a viral YouTube hit and opening for acts like Lady Gaga. The band have the highest ever entry by a Japanese act in the UK chart. They reached number 15 with ‘Metal Resistance’.
J-rock is the future of rock music with bands like Babymetal, Band-maid, and Aldious leading the way.
Words: Tom Guilfoyle | @covenantofarca