Dreams of the Year 2010: A This Side of Japan Playlist
A Spotify playlist exploring Asian bands inspired by nostalgic indie rock acts of the early 2010s
This feature is part of This Side of Japan issue #33. You can return to the main newsletter here.
Here and there, I come across East and Southeast Asian rock bands whose music gives me strong, vivid flashbacks to a time around the year 2010—Dreams of the Year 2010, I’ve began to call it, and now I made a playlist collecting some of them. That summer about a decade ago was when I first began trawling the internet for new indie rock tracks—a perfect time with songs of many beach-perfect vibes—but the up-and-coming bands from that window of time also defined my early understanding of indie rock as a codified sound. This new crop of Asian bands brings my journey full circle, showing off influences also close to my own roots with the scene.
A lot of indie rock acts of 2010 in the West were already driven by nostalgia with aesthetics that echoed a variety of past decades. Many played with the pop melodies, jangling riffs and garage-rock roughness of the ‘60s. Others shaped their guitars to resemble liquid or steely post-punk textures of the ‘80s, or they shrouded their instruments with woozy feedback like the ‘90s. Rookie bands in 2021 styling their songs with these touchstones feels uniquely surreal, their throwback to a throwback further warping its own place within rock chronology.
The layering of indie rock’s past might obscure what exact influence each band is referencing. But bands influenced by albums put out from the early parts of the 2010s should not be shocking at this point. Debut albums by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Yuck are now 10 years old—can you believe it?—and chances are, these young musicians may have got in touch with indie rock through even later records, like Alvvays’ self-titled album or Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days. (I wish I can pick apart domestic rock influences, but I simply lack that knowledge. Besides, Pitchfork-friendly indie rock makes up a good portion of the listening diet for at least Japan’s young musicians today.)
I can’t quite say the music collected in this playlist hints at a revival when these aesthetics never truly went away. Sure, many bands prefer more glossy textures nowadays than the rough, blown-out music compiled here, but those acts still tap into this similar desire to recreate a vintage feel. Reverb generally has yet to fall out of fashion either as observed through the recent celebration of ‘90s nostalgia as well as the infallible popularity of shoegaze. Lo-fi hasn’t went away but rather evolved into something else.
The music in this playlist also represents not a dominant sound in a scene but just a slice of what’s available in a diverse pie. A separate playlist can be made of emo bands in Asia killing the indie circuit right now. There are a lot of other bands who prefer cleaner production while incorporating less post-punk influences. The chosen focus here stems more from a personal observation, the curation based on what sparks a flashback to my very early days as an indie rock fan.
I sequenced the playlist in a way to look at new tracks by Japanese bands side by side with a track from Western bands from the early half of the 2010s, so you can see what exact echo I hear from the former. I also included a few selections by Asian bands from countries outside of Japan just as further recommendations for cool music.
You can check out the playlist above or through this link here. Below are more in-depth discussions on some choice tracks from the playlist.
“Teddy Bear” by Subway Daydream [Rainbow, 2021]
I made a brief mention to the idea of the Dreams of the Year 2010 when I wrote about Subway Daydream in issue #31, and the band’s new Born EP remains a fine example of the sound and aesthetics. The bashful, slightly gossamer strums set up an almost twee vibe before the roaring, reverb-shot riff cracks the dreamy song open. The drums restlessly thump along, keeping alive the wide-eyed enthusiasm permeating the track. It’s tailor-made to soundtrack teenage romance and adventure as they do in the single’s music video, with a boy sneaking out to meet with his best friend and explore the late night.
Born EP is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Mado” by Hamabe [self-released, 2020]
While the heat-warped guitars of Hamabe’s “Mado” recall Mac DeMarco’s sun-damaged jangles in the Canadian rocker’s II LP, frontman Yuji Tsukamoto’s wallowing voice points to the suburban ennui of Real Estate or the country’s own Mitsume. The mellow drift naturally invites laid-back introspection with melancholy gradually setting into Tsukamoto’s lyrics. “In the skies of a future yet to be seen / I think about when I was so naive,” he sighs in the chorus, lamenting about how he measures up against his significant other. Regardless of which decade or side of the border, this type of stoner indie-rock seems to bring about a rather bittersweet reflection.
“Sunny Day Highway” by My Lucky Day [Testcard, 2021]
The indie label Slumberland casts a big shadow on this playlist when it comes to its defining styles and tastes. The Pains of Being Pure Heart’s first two albums, the self-titled and Belong, for example, stands tall as the source of inspiration for a number of bands, including My Lucky Day. Hearing the sparkling clear production of “Sunny Day Highway” as well as its twee jangling, the band also nods at the more noise-free acts of the label like Veronica Falls or Allo Darlin’. That said, the chorus expands far wider and more exuberant than either acts, high on life as the best of these songs driven by youth can be.
“Teenage Romance” by fish in water project [self-released, 2021]
For proof that shoegaze remains immortal in Japan, look no further than Azusa Suga and his myriad of bands such as For Tracy Hyde and AprilBlue. He also produced the tracks in fish in water project’s new DREAMS EP that undeniably has his fingerprints on it. The reverb-shot production signature to shoegaze makes the songs a natural fit alongside their producer’s own dream-pop releases or the British greats like Ride, but it’s really the high-speed rush of fish in water project’s songs that shares kinship with Suga’s best works.
Dreaming of: “Summer Holiday” by Wild Nothing (2010)
“ก็…รู้ดี ” by Sherry [self-released, 2021]
Thailand’s Sherry played plenty of loud, buzzing indie rock for their Without Theory EP a couple years back, but now they sing a more broken-hearted song in “ก็…รู้ดี.” The duo reach for a more twangy, laid-back riff that gives off a bit of a wistful twinkle. As if the lyrics weren’t already doomed, following a protagonist who breaks off a precious relationship for their partner’s own good, the organ plays one forlorn riff after the chorus to invite some tears. The aged warmth memorializes their relationship before they even bid farewell, creating a nostalgia for what has yet to become the past. Though Sherry’s take is more clean and chromatic than their post-punk peers from Japan, they answer to a similar kind of impulse.
Listen to it on Spotify.
Dreaming of: “Laura” by Girls (2009)
“Wifiboy” by HOA [self-released, 2021]
From the looks of their new album, Flower, South Korea’s HOA seem like a band searching for the simplest of pleasures. The titles scan as self-explanatory: “High Tide,” “Dance” and, yes, “Nostalgia.” The music of “Wifiboy” revels in as-obvious thrills from the salt-washed guitars, the garage-rock drum beat to the slacker moans. The chorus in particular deploys an almost too-easy trick, letting the titular hook of “Wifi girl / Wifi boy” swish around until it has wriggled in your ear for the rest of the day. Sometimes that’s all you really need to get through the day.
Flower is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
“Friday Love” by The Fur. [self-released, 2020]
Taiwan’s The Fur. exemplify what I mean when I say this supposed wave doesn’t exactly point to a revival as much as a step in its evolution cycling back to its roots. The interest hasn’t left; the references just have been re-purposed. If you observed indie rock throughout the 2010s, you can hear in “Friday Love” echoes of its direct predecessors in the light surf-rock jangles as well as the thick, woozy fuzz bursting out in the chorus. But the whole package is glossier, more manicured and acknowledging of “indie” as a commercial sound rather than politics—an idea already solidified by when the band broke through in 2018.
The Fur. cater more to a younger crowd where this thought of “indie” is an understood norm as well as a pop genre rather than a point of stylistic progression. They remind me in intent of the U.K.’s Pale Waves1 during their first album and its presentation of indie aesthetics collaging post-punk, goth and new wave. Regardless of how polished the look, though, it’s undeniable that the once-small records from a decade prior have now become a vital reference point for the cool, hip and youthful, if not a canon of its own—just like the old bands they adored and dreamed about.
Serene Reminder is out now. Listen to it on Spotify.
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For a long time, I’ve entertained the idea of creating another playlist based on this vibe-as-genre I like to call “Dirty Hit-core” that basically compiles Asian bands playing with aesthetics aligned with the U.K. label Dirty Hit. Pretty much bands running with The 1975’s sound and reference points. FAITH would be in there. I Don’t Like Mondays too. Maybe you will see it for a future issue.