Scene Report: Osaka Extreme

Noah White

Japan Japanese music Osaka

Our little family here at Kaala grows whether we want it to or not; our newest member showed up on our office doorstep with some loose papers clutched in his filthy hands and refused to leave no matter how viciously I beat him with a mop handle. Eventually I was able to understand that he wanted to publish his report on the Osaka underground extreme music scene and so I beat him even more viciously, but this did nothing to dissuade him and I, bastion of tolerance, eventually relented and agreed to do as he wished. The mop handle had already broken anyway.

- Jim Broadly, editor-in-chief

My involvement in the Osaka/Kansai heavy music scene, like every other weird turn of fortune in my life, was a product of dumb luck. I had been in Japan a little over a year and a half at this point, and while I was enjoying myself I felt like my social life here was becoming stale. I was bored to tears of the foreigner bubble and the “international party” scene was full of corny people I wanted nothing to do with. I knew a little about the Japanese music scene, but my knowledge didn’t extend much further than Church of Misery, Boris, and Sigh, and I had been to about three shows in the past five years.

On a Saturday in April following a particularly shitty night out I was downing Strong Zero at a cherry blossom party at Osaka Castle Park, not getting a text back, maxing and relaxing with friends while I enjoyed that fleeting period in spring before the oppressive Kansai humidity kicks in. The time came to head out, and our group split according to which restaurant we wanted to have dinner at. I went with pizza, and this small decision changed the direction of my night from “go home at 10pm” to something way more interesting.

As I was tearing into my large pepperoni pizza I noticed a long-haired foreign dude across from us with what I assumed to be a band hoodie on (it was James from Sk8niks/Zen Lunatics/Terrible Joke). I went over to inquire, and he explained that the band was Palm, and that they were going to play with Weekend Nachos and Full of Hell in an hour. Needless to say I ditched my group, and found myself at my first hardcore show in years. Weekend Nachos are a personal favorite so this was a welcome development to the evening, but I was equally impressed with the Japanese supporting bands (who at this show were She luv it, Runner, THRH, Palm, and Fight It Out). This was the best night out I’d had all year, despite getting my glasses broken and going to work with a cut near my eye the following Monday.

Now that I knew where to look, I started going to more and more shows, and eventually started my own band Handsome Bob, which has led to cool opportunities like playing with Graf Orlock last summer and having complete strangers think my name is Bob. Almost 3 years since that first show and this weird little subculture has ended up becoming an integral part of my experience here. As most of the Kaala crew is based in Kanto (poor bastards), I’ll give a rundown of the scene here in Kansai.

While the surrounding prefectures do have their own scenes, Osaka is where most of the action is and many bands from the surrounding area will play most of their shows there. Though the scene is very active, it is no doubt smaller than that of Tokyo, so mixed bills are almost standard. I don’t just mean a few bands playing slightly different sub-genres of metal or hardcore punk, either. One bill that stands out was a bunch of youth crew hardcore bands, plus Birushanah and Swarrrm. Another was a mix of noise, shoegaze, doom metal and hardcore though other than Fucho I can’t remember the lineup for the life of me. Even the first show of my band, which included us, Murdiena, Terrible Joke, Babylon Breakers, and Sk8niks. This is by no means a complaint; I’d much rather see this than a lineup full of bands who are essentially just a slight variation of each other. It’s just a reality of a (comparatively) smaller scene.

While I haven’t been to any shows in Tokyo/Kanto, I have heard the Osaka/Kansai scene described by Kanto visitors as more homely. I can’t vouch for that from my own experience, but I would say that Osaka sensibilities are reflected in the heavy music scene; shows are raucous but friendly, the stage banter frequently humorous, and the people chatty.

I’ll go ahead and list some cool bands in the Kansai scene, both long-running groups and up-and-comers. This is definitely reflective of my own tastes however, and I’m gonna limit this to bands that play live regularly. I don’t want to see any angry comments from pasty beardos who are mad that I listed a bunch of hardcore bands and didn’t include Corrupted.

  • Palm

    One of the undisputed best bands in the scene. Incredibly hard working, highly proficient musicians, and they’re always sick no matter how many times I see them. Like a darker, heavier Converge. It’s always funny seeing the pit get taken over by hardcore kids when they play metal shows. Dunno about that smelly white guy they have on bass though…

  • What’s the Harm?

    Playing a mix of grind, stoner doom, and noise dubbed “Dopegrind,” this Kyoto band are another heavy-hitter in the Kansai underground. They also put on a lot of their own shows in this venue in Kyoto called Socrates that always have killer lineups, so check one of those out.

  • EAT

    Formerly W.D.L.K, I’ve been a fan of these guys since seeing them open for Despise You. They play a heavy-ass mix of sludge and industrial. They do shows with WTH quite a bit, also being from Kyoto, so you can easily catch them on the same bill.

  • Warhead

    Legendary Kyoto punk band. They’ve been around almost 30 years and still tear it up live.

  • Birushanah

    Osaka band that plays metal with traditional Japanese scale and metal percussion. Go see them live and enjoy Sano’s Cronos-level stage banter.

  • Wrong State

    Newly formed youth crew hardcore band; keep an eye out for these guys, and give that “False Justice” tape a listen while moshing a hole into your wall.

  • Runner

    Gnarly metallic hardcore, with members of Palm and Burning Sign. If hardcore kids in the USA had listened to Morior Invictus they’d be jocking it like there’s no tomorrow. Props to Jukucho for cheering me on during the SMD Fest hotdog eating contest.

  • Completed Exposition

    Powerviolence with 2 bassists. Seeing them cover “Lets Fucking Go” by Spazz with Chris Dodge on vocals was a moment akin to when I first saw Todaiji.

  • Hemipenis

    Highly underrated doom; these guys don’t get a ton of press but I’d easily put them up there with Funeral Moth, Nepenthes, etc. Vocalist Jun lives a stone’s throw away from me and has some wild stories about the Osaka metal and punk scenes in the 80s.

  • She luv it

    Sludgy metallic hardcore. They don’t play live as much as I’d like but when they do they fucking bring it.

Now, onto where you can actually see these bands. Osaka has a number of mid-sized to large venues and no shortage of small livehouses, but for heavy music specifically most shows are held at a few particular spots, most of which are in the same neighborhood. I’m deliberately going to leave out places like Club Quattro and Namba Hatch here because everyone knows them and fuck paying 8000¥ for a ticket.

  • Hokage

    My personal favorite, both for watching shows and for playing them. Located in a basement down the street from Timebomb Records in Amerikamura, this is where a significant amount of metal and hardcore bands, both domestic and international, perform. The B1 floor is where the bands perform, in an intimate, stageless setting. The room can get extremely cramped if the crowd is large enough (Integrity, holy shit) but it if you aren’t approaching a heat stroke you just aren’t experiencing Hokage to the fullest. Go down further to the B2 level and you’ll find the bar, along with couches, tables, and an eclectic assortment of decorations including insect display cases and a ram skull. Drinks are cheap and the atmosphere is unique.

  • Namba Bears

    This famous basement venue has been putting on punk, metal, noise, and all manner of shows since 1986. Though not quite as conveniently located as Hokage, this is also a must-visit in Osaka. To get here you’ll need to walk a bit past Namba Parks, and keep an eye out for the sign. It does a lack a bar, so you’ll probably need to head to the 7-11 down the street if you plan to imbibe. Leans a bit avant-garde.

  • Sengoku Daitōryō

    Located in Midoribashi subway station (yes, you read that right) this venue is an absolute dive. Admittedly I’ve not been here much since it’s a bit out of the way, but coming to a show here is definitely an interesting experience due to both the location and its rough, truly underground vibe. While it leans more towards punk they also host metal, grind, etc.

  • Socore Factory

    This one is a good bit bigger than the aforementioned venues, though the stage is much smaller than the rest of the place. With a high ceiling and more floor space it definitely doesn’t feel cramped, and can handle a bigger crowd. Located in the Kita-Horie area.


    Near the Shinsaibashi Uniqlo, CONPASS regularly hosts metal shows. I’ll get this out of the way; this place is definitely pricier than the aforementioned establishments, both in terms of ticket prices and drinks. On the other hand it’s non-smoking, which I don’t mind one bit, and the sound is quite good. Like Bears it leans a bit avant-garde.


    Similar in size (and price) to CONPASS, this one is located directly across the street from Big Step. PANGEA is definitely not exclusive to heavy bands, but it’s a common stop for “bigger” hardcore bands.

  • Sun Hall

    On the same side of the street as Hokage, this place hosts the odd hardcore show. The night I saw Boris at CONPASS, my buddy mentioned that Doggy Hood$ were playing here the same night. Man, I picked the wrong show.

  • King Cobra

    Unfortunately this one will be closing down soon, which is why I put it at the end. Located in Triangle Park in Amerikamura, it has two venues contained in one, the smaller King Cobra Squat on the second floor and the larger King Cobra on the third (which has a really sweet backstage area that looks like a punk treehouse). Definitely the place to be for punk, though metal bands perform here as well. I met J Mascis at a hardcore show at the squat once and he’s exactly like you would expect in person.

This list is all dedicated venues; I didn’t even bother touching studio shows but those are also fairly common. Venues can be found in other Kansai cities but I would say the aforementioned Socrates in Kyoto is the most reliable one for heavy music. Interesting lighting, and when I was there last they had Basket Case on repeat on the TV for the entire duration of the show.

While record stores for this stuff aren’t huge in number, there are still a couple I’d recommend checking out. The first is obviously Timebomb Records in Amerikamura, which has stocked things that I’d never actually seen a physical copy of. The selection here is A+, but it tends to be pricey. Bands play in the shop often as well. A smaller shop that really deserves some love is Egypt Records in Higashi Osaka. A short walk from Fuse station, this is a great place to check out if you’re into Japanese hardcore punk.

And that is my quick-ish rundown of the Osaka/Kansai heavy music scene. There are tons of other sick bands I could talk about like Second To None, Masterpeace, Seek, etc. but I have already gone on for longer than I intended. Bottom line, come to Osaka, have some takoyaki, see Palm and catch an elbow from some dude in a bucket hat.