From left: Ryo Takagi Producer of EMI Rocks; EMI Japan President & CEO San-e Ichii; EMI Group CEO Roger Faxon backstage at EMI Rocks 2012 at the Saitama Super Arena outside of Tokyo. (Photo: Rob Schwartz)
Despite its unclear situation due to the international sale of its parent label, EMI Music Japan is continuing to expand its business in the country and adding management and live promotion to its umbrella of activity.
Over 16,000 fans streamed into Saitama Super Arena, about 20 miles from Tokyo, for EMI Rocks 2012, a full day of rock bands and festival-like atmosphere. The show featured mainly Japanese rock acts with former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha providing an international presence.
This is the second time the event has been held but EMI is now positioning it as an annual celebration.
Roger Faxon, CEO of the EMI Group, a Billboard's Power 100 honoree, attended the event with many from EMI's US and UK offices, including Adrian Cheesley EVP, Emerging Markets, Europe & ROW, Mark Piibe, EVP, Global Business Development and Caryn Tomlinson, SVP, Artist Relations, Global. Faxon watched intently and observed, "What this event demonstrates is that rock is alive and well and living in Japan."
Straightener performing at the EMI Rocks 2012 concert. (Photo: Courtesy EMI Japan)
Several up-and-coming acts helping to build EMI Japan's brand at EMI Rocks included hard-rock band The Salovers (pronounced 'Sal-o-vArs') who debuted at the legendary Fuji Rock Festival in 2010, while lesser-known band Straightener brought a dance edge to their rock-driven tunes with Underworld-esque electronics and funky bass slapping. In contrast, James Iha, six-string in hand, played an acoustic set that consisted of five songs from his new album Look to the Sky.
After the show Iha referenced the accomplished EMI manager Yuria Shio in explaining to Billboard why he chose to first release his long awaited second solo album in Japan. "Shio from EMI (Japan) has always been a big champion of my music and she has followed my career. She's a big supporter and she happens to work at EMI (Japan). I was getting close to finishing my record and she was like 'let's do it!' so I was like 'OK!''
Iha noted he is working on deals for the album's release in other territories. He was also visibly enthusiastic about the Japanese scene. "I think a lot bands could learn something from Japanese bands and style of music. Just watching the bands today, they are 110% into it, the good parts about rock music, having fun and playing good songs…"
James Iha, former Smashing Pumpkin, who just released Look to the Sky, his second solo album currently only available in Japan. (Photo: Courtesy EMI Japan)
One of performers that epitomized Iha's appraisal is the dynamic funk-rock guitarist Miyavi. He appeared with only his electric guitar and a drummer at first and was joined by pianist H Zett M on the hook-filled "Pleasure," and by well-known Japanese rapper Kreva on "Strong." Miyavi completed a 12-city American tour last fall and noted: "I had a great reaction from the audience so I'm eager to work in the US and Europe."
Faxon has had a close relationship with the English-speaking Miyavi since 2010 and noted, "The virtuosity of the guitar playing at EMI Rocks is astounding. Miyavi is the most spectacular but not the only star in that respect."
He added that while the expanding of EMI Japan's business was a great thing, it shouldn't be mistaken for a "360 degree" concept. "The concept of 360 as people talk about it doesn't work because it basically is 'we'll give you a record deal if you give us a piece of everything else you do' and that is taking. We're a service business. We're supposed to be in the business of helping our artists be successful. So if we help them become successful in a concert venue then we should get paid for that…but we shouldn't just get paid because we put a record in place. If you start with the idea: 'I'm entitled with a piece of the action'… well, not really. So this event is a recognition that we are creating a platform."
Roger Faxon, CEO of the EMI Group (left) with virtuoso guitarist Miyavi. (Photo: Rob Schwartz)
Ryo Takagi, producer of the EMI Rocks and Preident of EMI Entertainment Japan, the management arm of EMI Music Japan, explained the origin of the event. "We consider ourselves the leading rock label in Japan so we thought we'd do a rock festival to celebrate our 50th anniversary, in 2010." After a break due to the earthquake and tsunami disasters of 2011, EMI Rocks 2012 is the continuation of the idea, now set to become an annual fest.
Takagi noted, "In Japan we are expanding our business beyond a record label and thought this kind of event would help build our brand."