The music industry and the music scene in America are completely different from what it was even just ten years ago, and it is continually changing. Napster of course led to the upheaval of the music business. There is still conjecture about the result of this occurrence and whether it’s effects were beneficial or detrimental to the music world. One side insists that it was blatant piracy, a crime that deserves severe punishment. Others state that this “anarchy” leveled the playing field which led to a resurgence in the artists taking control from music industry executives and the birth of the DIY movement in the US. For quite some time now, the Japanese have been attracted to American bands and artists, taking careful note of it. One person who has done this is Japanese artist Kenji Usui. Usui is a prevalent part of the Japanese music scene who has also pioneered much of the ever growing Japanese independent music terrain. As an established Japanese artist, Kenji has made it his mission to increase visibility for the less established Japanese musicians as well as visiting foreign artists and bands.
With a long list of band credits and recordings that include; Blackjack, SPOON, Allies and Aces, Pororocks, and An Atomic Whirl, Usui has become weaved into the Japanese musical tapestry. He is highly recognized for his talent on multiple instruments (Vocals, Bass, Drums). As someone who climbed up from obscurity to become one of the most recognizable faces in the Japanese music world, Kenji understands how difficult a job it can be to simply gain a platform from which to express one’s own artistry. With that in mind, he set about to establish the opportunities for other artists to accomplish this.
One of the most direct and successful means of Kenji helping to expose artists to the scene was as cofounder of Noise Union Japan Records. This label has been a way to connect bands from Japan and surrounding countries. Noise Union Japan Records is a way to promote bands and develop a network that will allow artists to grow and expand. Founded by Kenji Usui and Chikashi Gushiken, this label seeks to showcase the best artists from not only Japan, but also Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, and other countries in the region. Gushiken (Noise Union Japan Records co-founder) gives credit to Usui’s affable nature as well as his love of music for enabling the success of this record label, commenting, “Kenji has a knack for meeting people and finding a way to incorporate them into Noise Union Japan. Every time he goes to a show in Tokyo or travels to a different country, he comes back with multiple new contacts and new ideas for booking events or festivals. He is highly motivated and productive, driven by a genuine passion for growing the music scene.”
As a member of Anit-Clockwise Productions, Kenji helps to organize events around Tokyo. Whether it is a local band or an international artist touring Japan, Usui understands the necessity of having an experienced hand on deck. As a member of many different bands over the years (Anti-Clockwise Productions recently produced and shot the music video for “Sanlitun” by Kenji’s band An Atomic Whirl) Usui is particularly empowered to make the process much less cumbersome for bands from any location in the world. It has afforded him the chance to gain knowledge and insight, as he reveals, “The best thing about working with bands from other countries is the inspiration and new perspective it gives. For me, working and touring with bands from other countries has been the most rewarding part of playing music over the past several years and I look forward to doing more of this in the future. It seems that US musicians are very interested in Japanese music and culture. I am always impressed by the level of creativity and experimentation coming from US bands, and I think that there is very fertile ground for cooperation and collaboration between these cultures in the future.
The Tsuruginomai Festival in the mountains of Japan, showcases the deep underground of Tokyo’s music scene. Kenji has aided founder Kohei Noda with this festival every year since 2010, assisting with the production and booking, as well as performing with various acts each year. As an artist who has toured playing international festivals, Usui has been an essential part of helping to coordinate this festival and others to increasing success and attendance since its inception. Kenji confirms, “I regularly perform at the Tsuruginomai Festival with Pororocks, An Atomic Whirl, and Kissaco, as well as playing onstage with various friends’ bands. Being a performer gives me an immediate understanding of what the artists on the bill are experiencing. It’s important that I keep in touch with this to give both the bands and the audience a better concert experience. It is often difficult, but it’s also rewarding. Some of the best bands are the bands you never hear about; being a part of an event like this, you are exposed to these bands. There is always someone knew who is bringing a new idea or style to the music community. It’s exciting when you witness that.”