East Asian Studies: Highlighting eMusic labels from Japan, China, & Korea

I’m going to wager that at least China & Korea are geographic holes in the collections of music lovers gathered here.  In today’s edition of searching for lemons to make lemonade of eMusic’s remaining selection, I want to highlight some labels from East Asia I’m really excited to explore.  The two main ones that prompted this list I just discovered yesterday:  StreetVoice from Taiwan and Magic StrawBerry Sound from Korea.  Together, they’re over 800 titles worth of well produced pop, rock, electronic, folk, and just about every genre and will probably never show up on the site’s highly constrained “recommended for you” section.

From days of yore hosting a Sino-Japanese alternative music show on KUCI, I can recommend good albums and bands from StreetVoice, but the rest beckon starts from scratch.  My Chinese/Korean/Japanese alternative music subsites are works in progress but I hope helpful for exploring beyond the confines of eMusic.

Chinese - StreetVoice; WinGo Music Media; Icing Culture.  http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/Alternative%20Chinese.html  

(Recommended Mainland entry points:  Second Hand Roses - either the “Used Rose” LP if you’re feeling frisky or the 99-cent “Lover” EP offer rock that has been compared to Frank Zappa (if only b/c it’s wild and crazy in a way that doesn’t lend itself to easy comparison.  It’s not far off.)  Kawa - “The Route Out of Yunnan” offers a take on reggae that’s worth trying.  Wang Wen albums (there’s several on eMusic) are serviceable post-rock.  Not sure what Zhaoze (The Swamp) are doing on their live album, but their studio work alternates between alt. rock with synths to post-rock on traditional instruments.  The three albums by ITSOGOO are the Mainland’s finest in jazzy hip-hop.  I’ve got a loooong way to go before I can recommend stuff from Taiwan but it’s nice not to have to cross an ocean for the time being.  I at least can say Cicada of Taiwan could be called light new classical.)

Korean - Magic StrawBerry Sound; YOUNG,GIFTED&WACK; dingn\dnts; Greater Fools; Studio Broccoli; SUGARRECORDS; The Valiant; d3ip; Ruby Record; STEEL FACE; illoYlo; 2story; Cosmos Hippie; MODERNBOY ENT.; vomrecords; tearliner; ttoc; Casker; peripericompany; NHJO HYENRO; Diatology; YG Entertainment; Jarip; In the endless zanhyang we are; GMM; Cogason; B-Records; Oh Hee Jung; Night Riding; WISUE Music; Smalltown; Bluestream; LEEXLEE; Woozus    (Typing random HanGul yields results, though most are just one or two artists.)

Japanese - Chimera Music; Takeo; NATURE BLISS; Space Dog! ; S.C.S; Hypnotic Room Japan; DiY Gang Entertainment; White Paddy Mountain.  (Typing random katakana only seems to yield trash comps.  Japanese artists seem to be much better integrated into the catalogs of Western labels.  It could be because there’s no noticeable drop-off in quality, whereas I’d still give Korean and Chinese bands a bit of a handicap for rocking in hard places.)  http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/DSAonKUCI/Links%20Japanalt.html

If anyone knows more like these above on eMusic, please let me know!

Chinese pop singles labels (not recommended, but hear for yourself) - 酝星文化; 嗨库文化; 北京咚吧嗒文化有限公司; 成都塔堡文化传播有限公司


  • Just picked up Second Hand Roses, Lover, based on "sounds like Zappa." just listened through it, some moments are in fact Zappa-esque.

    What do you think of Gol Dolan? I picked up their Constantine Summons album; tagged
    new age," sometimes described as "dark ambient" although it did not seem that dark to me.

  • @Plong42 I'd only sampled their Pino album, but anything that's crosslisted as Ambient/New Age/Hard Rock/Alt. Rock at the same time deserves a listen just for the apparent contradictions.  I'll wishlist the one you mention and try to pick it up when the month's credit kicks in.
  • @omnifoo to a large degree thanks to you, I now have more than a year's worth of downloads on my Wish List. Please do keep it up!
  • @peterfrederics always appreciate your encouragement and receptiveness.  If the site can hang on to what it's got now, I think we and hopefully more folks can too.
  • One of the happiest surprises from thoroughly exploring StreetVoice was finding several nice, varied jazz 爵士 (jué shì) albums.  Before this spring, I hadn’t heard anything but cheesy, easy listening come out of the old country.  All of these listed here are from after 2015, so I wonder if an expert on jazz or an actual Chinese person can confirm that this is a relatively new and budding musical style, whereas Chinese folks have been rocking at least since Cui Jian in the 1980s, and jazz has a long history in neighboring Japan.

    The most impressive group and spark for this post uses several traditional instruments, most prominently what sounds like the sheng 笙, and I doubt you’ve heard any jazz like 2018’s “Rooty Mental” album from A Root.  Half the album would better be categorized as world music, but it’s still pretty nifty, IMO.

    Ying-Da Chen’s 2015 album “R.E.M Moods” gives the saxophone a good workout and is recommended for any fan of the instrument.  I don’t imagine it’s much better than average for jazz overall, but again, calling Taiwan’s jazz scene anything more than nascent would probably be a stretch.

    The third album is from 2016, and watching them play in someone’s living room on Youtube might be more stimulating:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enD1w10yd2M Featuring a guzheng 古筝 in the lead probably isn’t even all that novel, as countless PRC easy listening albums try to spice up traditional folk music for the modern age, in the despicable tradition of “hooked on classics” (for all you vinyl crate diggers out there).  I’d almost call it a showcase for the instrument rather than a cohesive album, as the others mostly seem to provide pretty simple accompaniment.  Fans of the guzheng should also check out Xie Tianxiao’s hard rock music if all this jazz business is too soft.

    There are at least a few more jazz albums on StreetVoice, but the last one already toes the line of my tolerance of easy listening.  Tokyo Chuo-Line is in fact Japanese guitar jazz but also my second favorite on StreetVoice.

    Two you’ll probably have to go to Beijing to find on CD are Jazz Roller and 刘玥.  They share a guitarist and maybe another member, if I recall the Drum Tower area’s Indie Music sales attendant’s description, as I can imagine jazz musicians on the Mainland are in short supply for recording sessions.  In the case of the former, you’ll probably have an easier time searching for their 2017 album, “Flash Beats Bone” (闪鼓派) or just watch a short video of them in the studio:  https://www.bilibili.com/video/av20096289/?redirectFrom=h5  Both feature longer songs and the occasional reminder that what you’re listening to is not from the West. It’s possible that iTunes has the group and album names mixed up, and that’s what I’m going on.  

    The latter’s album is from 2018, entitled 闻竹 or “Bamboo’s Murmurs.”  Watching their 12-minute concert video here requires you to sit through half a minute of ads, but please do:  https://v.qq.com/x/page/e0561yplv2d.html

    If you’d like to read more, this article gives a fair introduction:  http://theconversation.com/can-jazz-thrive-in-china-43903

  • edited September 2019


    Clicking on every non-single album in the catalogs of StreetVoice, Magic StrawBerry Sound, and other labels mentioned in the OP turned out to be more arduous than exciting.  There was a lot more junk than I thought, but I don’t regret recommending or having done a thorough sampling.  I already mentioned the Chinese jazz and a few Chinese examples in the OP.  Here’s the rest of what I think is worthwhile…

    The biggest find was one I should be embarrassed for allowing to become more than a year old, given the due hype: 2018’s “MOBIUS OMEGA” by Spice.  The quick comparison that comes to mind is what The Heliosequence might have sounded like if they were Chinese and had stuck to the mix of rock and electronica.  A bio written by someone whose first language probably isn’t English is here:  https://www.kkbox.com/my/en/artist/lLxYKMLKWwFMWN0F0d8JK08K-index-1.html  Really top notch, though only half Chinese.

    The two albums from Prune Deer offer nice instrumental rock.  The earlier one aims to be uplifting, but I prefer the later one.

    The album “You Got Me When I Stare At You” by TuT is rather sparkling, shimmering rock, maybe upbeat shoegaze, and an unwarned listener might not realize they’re Chinese.  Lots of more average Chinese rock bands strive for this sound and fall short.  They alternate male and female vocalists, English and Chinese lyrics, and are not afraid of guitar noise to an entrancing effect on slower numbers.

    CHEF and ACTOR also have Chinese rock EPs on the harder side.

    Duanger’s short EP “Vapor Wet” is a very interesting take on electronica, mixing traditional instruments with vocal samples and spoken word themes that match the cover. 

    My Skin on Your Skin is as sensual as her name, switching quickly between Chinese and English singing over pop rock surprisingly on the harder side.

    Fans of post-punk simply must try the self-entitled LP by THE WAiiT.  Alternating charmingly obtuse male and female vocals all in English with Chinese accents that really fit the angular guitar work, they’ve definitely got a fresh, new take on rock & roll.

    Two that turned out a little cheesier than I hoped are KillerBlood, which is all over the map from classical to electronic, and TzChien, whose use of unusual acoustic accompaniment lured me in, only to be put off by English singing.

    On the Korean side, the albums might be a little more cohesive and the quality more consistent.  

    “Vorab and Tesoro” by Flash Flood Darlings is a definite favorite.  Although much of the singing is in English, the mellow flow of the album never lets silly lyrics get in the way of good electronic pop.

    The collaboration between Rainbow99 and NWIT, “Telekid” is somewhat similar in its mellow electronica, but with a female vocalist.  Many tracks are instrumental, too, giving the album an overall calming feel.

    “feels too letter” by SARAM12SARAM turns the balance a little more towards rock than those two above, but their sound is no less atmospheric.  Layering breathy female vocals over an acoustic guitar is a simple formula, but it works well to set up later tracks with more electronics.

    For actual rock, turn to “No More Encore” by Broccoli you too.   Light rock with synths, lyrics in Korean, and an alternation of female and male vocals.  Quite harmless.

    “Love Is in the Ear” by Unisexasaurus is understated synth-pop sung in English, about as close to pop as I will tolerate.  

    Finally, I have mixed feelings about “Half Grown” by Ears, as it’s well produced and varied but maybe trying too many styles (dubstep briefly?!) for one album, usually building from a slow piano bed and becoming more electronic and rhythmically complex.  As always, I wish he’d sing in Korean more, as second-language lyrics tend to sound less than poetic to native ears.  The 2017 EP has more Korean singing and focus; definitely check it out!

    The most distinctly Korean album of what I downloaded turned out to be the very alternative rock of Jeong Cha Sik.  I started with 2015’s “The Executor” and am once again exited to work my way back through his three other albums on eMusic (although one is a film soundtrack).

    If these labels stick around, I’ll certainly download more.  This was just the first round of exploration for stuff that jumped out from sampling.  

  • @omnifoo again congratulations on your excellent research!
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