Japan Takes Sled Island: An Unprecedented, Coincidental Surge of Nippon Artists in Calgary

Monday 12th, June 2017 / 20:51


By Colin Gallant

Pop-punk, post-rock, garage-rock, ambient and club music. That’s Japan at Sled Island.

CALGARY – An emerging theme of Sled Island 2017 is Japanese artists on the lineup. Real talk: that means at least five acts, and that’s just the ones that BeatRoute is aware of. It’s more Japanese bands than you’d ever see in a landlocked, Canadian, prairie city during any other given week.

We’ll start by taking a brief look at the artists with the longest careers and then hone in on the young, emerging Japanese talent at Sled.

Three of these artists speak for themselves: our cover story on Shonen Knife was a no-brainer based on their idiosyncratic infamy, MONO belong as high in the post-rock canon as past performers Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Guitar Wolf are simply one of the most caustic live bands on Earth.

Yet there’s more than an exciting listening experience to be explored by these veteran artists. Each of these three exemplify how Japanese artists both respond to and deviate from genres incubated in western countries.

Pop-punk’s angsty self-importance is skewered by Shonen Knife’s giddy approach. MONO actually earns a sublime atmosphere without resorting to the primordial contrast of the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic of post-rock. Guitar Wolf will literally light your ears on fire with their energy rather than posture and aestheticize destruction.


Because we were unable to interview Guitar Wolf, here are a few key points that should let you know what you’re in for. Guitar Wolf sit at the intersection of garage-rock, punk and noise music, using distortion and blistering tempos as tactile weapons upon the senses. Self-describing as “jet rock ‘n’ roll,” the band is celebrating three decades of existence this year. They’ve produced 11 studio albums, with the most recent (the amusingly titled T-Rex from a Tiny Space Yojouhan) having been released in 2016. Their brand of no-holds-barred rock and roll has long been complemented by imagery like machine guns, the roar of jet engines and the timelessly cool combination of black sunglasses, leather jackets and motorcycles. Perhaps that’s what led the band to one of their most-cited pieces of trivia: they’ve starred in two completely bonkers sci-fi B-movies. As a band that’s notorious for brutalist simplicity, they must be doing something right to capture this level of fascination.

As for the remaining two artists, we must pivot to the world of electronic composition: polar opposite ends of it, in fact.

Maria Takeuchi is a Brooklyn-based composer of synthaestic ambient works. Her compositions crest upon the shores of visualization, a place where you can hear the smell of low tide, smell the sound of dawn breaking on sand dunes. An avant-garde, minimalist composer with a background in playing bass, Takeuchi is also a visual artist of note. Ambient works are hard to put into verbiage, but a shorthand for her stature might be her contribution to the work As•phyx•i•a, where she applied her multi-sensory instinct to a piece involving music, film, choreography and 3D rendering. With media arts (EMMEDIA, PARTICLE + WAVE) and ambient music (Shaking Box recordings, musicians like Valiska and Yankee Yankee) being a focus point in Calgary, it’ll be interesting to see how Takeuchi co-mingles during the festival.

Then there’s starRo, who definitely knows how to turn a fucking club up. Currently based in San Francisco, the Dirty Bird-signee is a welcome comfort of club prowess at the Hifi Club. Dealing primarily in the funky, bass-driven productions, he’s one of the most party-ready acts of the festival, let alone among the biggest club killers hailing from Japan.

Whether you’re looking for talent from the world of rock or electronic music, there’s something available for you at this year’s Sled Island.

Shonen Knife, MONO, Guitar Wolf, Maria Takeuchi and starRo are performing on various dates throughout the festival. Sled Island runs June 21 until June 25.


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