It’s all about lo fi! Joanna Tocher, the F-Word’s music correspondent in Japan, introduces us to the delights of Puffyshoes who hail from Chiba
A quick glance at any Japanese music show or a listen to the music pumped out in shops and cafés and you could be forgiven for thinking that Japan’s music scene is populated solely by fresh faced girls and boys singing impossibly perky songs about having crushes, or wailing melodramatic songs about breaking up. When it comes to female singers and girl bands, the prevalence of groups such as teen girl behemoth AKB48 and its sister groups SKE48 and NMB48, more overtly sexy acts like Korea’s Girls Generation and the seemingly endless parade of ballad singers all point towards an industry that often appears to favour insipid tunes, slick dance routines and the willingness to advertise just about any product imaginable. (Sweets? Check! Beer? Check! Nintendo DS? Check! Every single mobile phone available? Why not!)
A less cursory look however will reveal that even within this pop template there is no shortage of interesting acts. All girl electropop trio Perfume, for example, have, with the help of producer Yasutaka Nakata’s techno pop productions and their nifty, slightly offbeat dance routines, turned from a somewhat goofy teen pop trio into a chart conquering electronic phenomenon. (Advertisments now include Pepsi and clothing chain Natural Beauty Basic, a sure sign of success!) Other mainstream female singers such as Kimura Kaela or guitar strumming Yui prove there is definitely room for more than just girls dressed in school uniforms singing “I want you, I need you, I love you” (AKB48’s inescapable ‘Heavy Rotation’). Yet go a little further still, beyond the kind of music that features on TV or soundtracks to popular anime series, and there is no end to the number of fascinating bands you will stumble across.
One of these is Chiba’s intriguingly named Puffyshoes.
Lo-fi guitar and drum duos with fabulously sweet vocals are not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when pondering the Japanese music scene but Puffyshoes, consisting of Neko Meows and Usagi Hops (real names Azumi Nakajima and Natsuko Watanabe) have been steadily garnering a following since their formation in 2009. I saw a picture of Neko and Usagi before I ever heard their music and the first time I heard them my brain did a little double take for a few seconds. The fuzzy guitar sounds didn’t quite sound like what I expected to hear from such an adorable looking duo!