For the bulk of the 2010s, the ATOMIC BOMB COMPILATION has been the strongest set of political music consistently coming out of Japan. It’s not a crowded field — Japanese artists and audiences, in general, separate art and entertainment from what would be perceived as real-world happenings better than most places on Earth. Still, even in a country where protest music is a rare happening, this series of compilations collecting juke and juke-adjacent dance tracks from artists all over the globe with an anti-nuclear power still does it so well.
Released every year around the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this series aims to remind listeners of the danger nuclear energy carries, initially being inspired by the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The seventh edition continues on with this tradition, while also arriving at a particularly chaotic time in human history. Get it here, or listen below.
Hiroshima juke creator CRZKNY and Kyoto’s Gnyonpix spearheaded this project back in 2012, and listening to their contributions to Vol. 7 offers a good summary of what makes this compilation so affecting. CRZKNY’s “Voices From The Past” opens with slightly distorted vocal samples before giving way to an icy beat pattern and more pointed voices that come together to create a suffocating musical track that refuses to let any good vibes in. Gnyonpix’s “Futari No Tame” is more fractured, with more intimidating walls of sound raining down on the main percussive beat as the song moves forward, with only a light keyboard melody sneaking in to offer any respite. What both numbers share is a dark, downright apocalyptic mood meant to reflect life in the nuclear age.
This has always been the Atomic Bomb Compilation’s strong point. The risk of politically charged music is that the focus on getting a specific message across to the listener can result in a song that ages terribly — sure, Green Day telling you how bad George W. Bush was in 2004 was relevant, but today it’s just outdated pop-punk. The artists contributing to this compilation series, though, aim at capturing the bleak atmosphere that nuclear power and nuclear energy generate in the world today, using the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a reference point for how catastrophic this technology can be. Songs on Vol. 7 are at times cold and on the verge of collapse (Chuck Bettis’ “Cesium-137”), marked by cacophonous sonic details (Oyubi and Comoc’s “Photos”) or outright pummeling in how much noise they throw at the listener to convey the sense of impending doom (lililL’s “Atomic Destruction” and Asohgi’s “ikatzchi” making for as intense a back-to-back listen as you’ll find on any album this year).
The genesis of this series came from the Fukushima crisis back in 2011, a moment where the entire country of Japan generally had zero idea what was going to happen, and the government wasn’t helping whatsoever in making anyone feel better. Yet the world has only gotten more dizzying since then, and an accidental reason why this series of dance tracks with a political bent sound every bit as urgent in 2019 is…because they are every bit as urgent. Nuclear weapons continue to pile up around the world, and nuclear power remains one of the stickier points of discussion in Japan. Vol. 7 even alludes to other major societal issues, with one song here being the particularly discombobulating (and beatless) “STOP SHOOTING PEOPLE,” featuring an overall feeling I’d compare to turning on the news and being confronted with non-stop bad news.
(One quick aside — while the political themes take center stage here, this series of compilation is also just a flat-out great collection of Japanese and non-Japanese electronic artists. The mood might be heavy, but this also works as a great jumping off point into discovering great artists who can also make party-starting tunes.)
It’s a heavy listen, but seven editions deep and ATOMIC BOMB COMPILATION remains one of the most vital musical collections coming out of Japan in the 21st century. Given the way the world is bending, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.