As one of the last countries to reopen its borders, the Japanese music scene has seen a lot of change since tourists were last allowed in. A new generation of DJs have come into their own and started taking over, inspiring a rise in styles such as deconstructed club music and an increased presence of live acts at club events, with hyperpop singers including Yoyou and rappers such as Tohji touring late-night venues.
Elsewhere, bass music and dancehall is definitely on the up - once a scarce breed, dancehall and amapiano DJs now play across the country. Events in Tokyo and Kyoto are still are varied as ever, joined by clubs such as Shaft in Sendai and Sound Space α in Fukuoka.
Read this next: Festivals in Asia to look forward to in 2023
Women are also becoming increasingly prominent behind the decks, battling against the obstacles of a nation that consistently ranks poorly for gender equality. Last year the organisers of one of Japan's most reputed techno festivals were rightly called out for initially including zero women on their line-up, despite the wealth of available talent within the country — as this list will attest.
From 4ngel Kidz, the ambient trance sister duo, through to FELINE, who at the age of 27 has already been playing out for 10 years, to Japanese gqom’s youngest advocate K8, each DJ on the list brings something different to the table.
Any event these selectors are playing at is guaranteed to go off, so bookmark this list to refer to for seeking out a next-level nightlife experience in Japan.
Akie works as a buyer for Newtone Records and is one of the younger generation's most versatile DJs. Confident on a turntable and just as comfortable with a USB, Akie is known for her unpredictable, leftfield dance selections and wide-ranging listening sets.
She displays a musical knowledge beyond her years, having played at events for the likes of Technics and being one of the few female DJs to play at Tokyo’s audiophile listening bar, Shelter. 2022 saw her invited by senpai Lil Mofo to release a split side mixtape on Bristol-based label do you have peace?, which sold out so quickly it saw a repress two months later.
Circus Osaka mainstay SAMO has shot to the forefront of the Japanese underground dance music scene with her dizzying, bass-heavy sets which fire up any dancefloor. With an ear for bassweight and an eye on the dance, SAMO has become just as popular in Japan’s capital as in her base of Osaka.
A key member of FULLHOUSE, a party crew based at Osakan club Circus, SAMO has built a name for herself by showcasing a side of her New York roots in her DJing: giving some of that jackin’ bass.
Read this next: The Sounds of Seoul in 10 tracks — curated by Balming Tiger
A prolific DJ - often known to play in two or more places a night - who has an incredible understanding of rhythm, FELINE’s selections draw from a base of UK bass music and building from there. Her wide-ranging sets bring drum 'n' bass and dub to the Tokyo dancefloors, and have seen her support artists from Tokyo veteran DJ Yogurt to overseas artists such as Loraine James.
Fantastically diverse, FELINE is equally at home with beatless sets as on the dancefloor, digging deep to pull out an interesting, varied trip each time. January 2023 saw her debut all-night set at Tokyo club Spread.
Ever wondered what Japanese amapiano sounds like? Meet K8 aka Cana Yang, the youngest member of party unit TYO GQOM (a Tokyo gqom party which has branched into amapiano). Embraced by the global amapiano culture, the crew played at East African festival Nyege Nyege in 2022, performing a raucous set in the blazing sun.
Back in Japan, K8 is known to keep the party going, playing at after-hours parties until the break of day. She has also made her inaugural release as a producer via TYO GQOM’s label USI KUVO, contributing a track to the 2020 compilation 'TYO GQOM Compilation Vol.1''. Her hard-hitting, multi-layered 'Dance with Devils' builds steadily to a headfirst drop into monumental sub-bass, with wordless war chanting adding to the mania.
Sister duo Hikam and Hana Watanabe had already been making waves as audio-visual experimental act Tamanaramen before kickstarting their DJ career in 2021 under the moniker 4ngel Kidz. The sisters describe their style as ‘ambient techno,’ but in reality it is far more varied, with selections ranging from deconstructed club to dancehall, straight-up techno to drill. Their debut mix shows the pair’s diverse taste succinctly. They have already played across Japan, from Sendai to Okinawa, and supported international artists including Mor Elian. Undoubtedly one of the most exciting acts in Tokyo right now.
Tokyo-raised, Beijing-born DJ Loci, who uses she/they pronouns, is a fixture in the Japanese capital's clubbing community. Loci’s selections aim to move the dancefloor while drawing from their Chinese roots — one set may see anything from Cantonese rock through to ghetto house featuring.
Loci co-runs the party series Ether, which recently brought project Evanora:unlimited to Japan for their inaugural Japanese performance. Ether are residents on Hong Kong Community Radio, inviting guests both local and from further afield, resulting in an engaging snapshot of the global underground experimental community.
Kyoto-based Chanaz began DJing in 2020 and has already made picked up a solid following in the Kyoto scene with her wonky house selections. She is a core member of the PAL.Sounds collective, a hotly-tipped label and club night she's a member of alongside the likes of E.O.U. and Pee J Anderson.
She’s supported the likes of Two Shell and Fit Seigel and started her bi-monthly mix series वेदः vedaḥ in 2022. January 2023 also saw her release her first track on the 'PAL.Sounds2' compilation, the anxious, rhythmic workout 'Unyo'. We’re looking forward to seeing where the rest of 2023 takes this floor-focused DJ and producer.
Jamaican-Japanese DJ Nasthug has been DJing in clubs since the age of 19, cutting her teeth at Tokyo’s club Circus, where she worked at the time. Influenced by her father’s reggae roots, Nasthug mixes dancehall, juke, jersey club and footwork with hip hop to make the crowd move. She's earning her rep as Tokyo underground’s hip hop DJ to watch, with support slots including Bad Gyal and Tohji.
Kim Kahan is a freelance writer, check out their website