Indie rockers Radwimps stand out in Japan's sugary music scene

(Yokohama, Japan) - In a Japanese music scene flooded with helium-voiced teen bands chirping about candy, fluffy bunnies and all things "kawaii" or cute, indie rockers Radwimps offer a potent vaccine for sugar-poisoning.

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The platinum-selling Yokohama foursome have released seven albums to date since forming at school in 2001 after vocalist Yojiro Noda first picked up a guitar and began strumming along to songs by Britpop giants Oasis.

"I learned to play guitar listening to Oasis when I was 13 or 14, just remembering the chords," Noda told AFP after the band's return from their first European tour.

A recent homecoming gig triggered crowd mania at Yokohama Arena as Radwimps belted out smash hits such as the number one "Dada" with its savage guitar riff, the reggae-inspired "Iindesuka" and the English-language "05410" -- which sounds rather like Taylor Swift bumping heads with Green Day, but still poptastic.

Asked to define their post-punk style, Noda let out a sigh.

"Basically it's a rock band," said the 30-year-old songwriter, switching seamlessly from Japanese into a fluent American West-Coast drawl. "It's not 'pop' pop and people who listen to rock, half of them think our music is a little complicated -- the arrangement and stuff. But we don't want to be categorised by a genre."

The floppy-fringed Noda, who went to elementary school in Tennessee and Los Angeles from the age of six to 10, exudes a slightly androgynous sex appeal on stage in floppy hat, off-the-shoulder white top and black sarong.

With a sound not dissimilar to British rockers Bloc Party, punctuated by spiky guitars and an electronic edge but without the uber-serious lyrics, Radwimps recently played in London, Berlin and Paris.

"Yojiro really has a wide range of expertise and lays down lots of different melodies and rhythms so it's easy to listen to," said guitarist Akira Kuwahara of the band's heavily layered sound. "But the songs are really quite difficult to play."

Lip-synching idols

Which puts Radwimps on the opposite end of the scale to the lip-synching idols of the ubiquitous J-pop scene, dominated by the bubblegum fashions and powder-puff tunes of AKB48 and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, princesses of kawaii (cute) with an apparent fetish for singing about confectionary treats.

Noda and his band-mates, often pigeon-holed alongside alternative rock rivals 9mm Parabellum Bullet, Bump of Chicken and Asian Kung-Fu Generation, take their cue from 1990s Japanese acts such as Mr. Children and Spitz, who have supported Radwimps on their current nationwide tour.

Finding a balance between commercial success and staying true to their indie roots remains the challenge.

"If you run away from what is mainstream, it's easy to make music, to make excuses," said Noda, unafraid of turning into a Japanese Coldplay. "The fun part is having both sides. We wanted to have a deal with a major label, but we didn't want to be defined by that."

Noda is the glue that holds the band together, writing the tunes which the four jam together before making a demo -- "if we're in the studio too long we start getting on each other's nerves," he deadpans.

After playing to huge crowds in Japan, where they are regulars at Summer Sonic -- Asia's biggest festival -- Radwimps felt their shows had gone down well at intimate venues in Europe, even if their nostalgia-tinged lyrics were lost on audiences.

"They screamed the loudest in London," grinned Noda. "You really felt that connection. But you do have to put more into the shows to make up for the language gap. They don't understand the words, so you have to reach people with emotion."


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