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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012

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Dropping out: Mizuki Wada, aka Miii, performs at a party in Tokyo last month.

Miii, Fazerock push a new school of dubstep in Tokyo's clubs


Special to The Japan Times

One of Tokyo's most anticipated shows of this month is American producer Skrillex's first gig in the city on Nov. 14. The Studio Coast gig — which follows a trip to Osaka the night before — sold out several weeks ago (as of publication, the Osaka show had not sold out), but Tokyo-based music maker Mizuki Wada secured his tickets well in advance.

"I'm definitely going! I'm excited to experience the dubstep legend's performance," says Wada, who records under the name Miii. "I love his music and I'm totally influenced by him."

This month's visit will be Japan's first brush with Skrillex, but for Wada and a small-but-dedicated music scene it will be an important moment for their brand of dance music called dubstep or, more cynically, "brostep," a bass-centric, aggressive twist on the genre. It has become a commercial juggernaut in America, but for now remains a somewhat underground sound in Japan, championed by people such as Wada.

The 20-year-old says he first noticed dubstep during a period when he was focused on rock, but he was quickly drawn to the style's trademark "drop." In most dubstep songs, the producer builds the music up to a peak before plunging the track into a sonic mosh pit of distorted wobbly bass. This has helped artists such as Skrillex win over fans in the American music press (Spin and Rolling Stone magazines featured him on their covers).

"The drop has a strong impact just like with rock music," Wada says. Much of his own recorded output — mostly available on music-sharing website Bandcamp — features similarly raucous drops. His best release as Miii has an EP released on netlabel Maltine Records called "Rabbitbass," and the first two songs sum up the appeal of this aggressive dubstep — both the title track and "The Hardware Anthem" lure the listener in with bright electronics, only to plunge him or her into a whiplash-inducing swirl of distorted bass. It's an approach also favored by Japanese producers Dubscribe, JaQwa and 3dNow, artists who Wada says, are at "the forefront of the local scene."

Dubstep purists, however, tend to dislike this strain of the genre, sometimes passionately. One reason for its dismissal is because it isn't the first genre called "dubstep" to grab attention — the term originally referred to a British style born last decade that was quieter and more intricate. In an interview with Japanese dubstep pioneer Goth-Trad earlier this year, Japan Times writer Arni Kristjansson described brostep as a "compressed and simplified version of the sonic qualities of early dubstep."

Wada disagrees and stresses this style of dubstep isn't simplistic. He takes inspiration not only from Skrillex, but also headier electronic acts such as Britain's Squarepusher and Canadian artist Venetian Snares. He also points out that many of his Miii's songs explore other electronic styles. He says Japanese DJs take elements of dubstep and other genres to create their own unique identity from myriad electronic scenes.

Ryota Kanabuchi, who records dubstep under the moniker Fazerock, says another draw of dubstep is the live event, especially the massive dubstep festivals popular in America. "Those look really fun, and it seems more like a live performance — like watching a rock concert."

Kanabuchi's music as Fazerock tends to be even more aggressive than Wada's — his tracks are louder, and often move at a faster BPM. At a Maltine Records event this summer, he also added a Japanese touch to his heavy-hitting songs — vocal samples from anime shows.

Even though the music is far from well-known in Japan, Kanabuchi says dubstep's fortunes here might be picking up.

"Vocaloid culture and J-pop are being influenced by dubstep, and starting to use components like wobble bass," he says. "Koda Kumi's recent release 'Go to the Top' is directly influenced by dubstep, and it's awesome." Even more exciting for the dubstep scene — Kumi's song hit the No. 1 position on the Oricon Charts last month. That, along with Skrillex's sold-out show later this month, might signal that Japan will be thrashing out with the rest of the world in no time.

Fazerock plays Neutralnation at Shin-Kiba Studio Coast in Koto-ku, Tokyo, on Nov. 11 (the event starts at 1 p.m., Fazerock plays at 4 p.m.). Tickets cost ¥5,000 in advance (¥6,000 at the door; ¥2,000 for those under 18). For more information, visit www.neutralnation.net or www.fazerock.xii.jp . Skrillex plays Namba Hatch in Osaka on Nov. 13 (7 p.m. start; ¥6,500; [06] 4397-0572). For more information, visit www.skrillex.com .

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