British acts step up the battle to make it big in Japan

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The Independent Culture

It has been a typically volatile week in the Japanese music charts. Straight in at number one is the empress of J-pop herself, Ayumi Hamasaki, with her new single, Glitter, followed by four new, home-grown, entries to make up the top five.

If the bands making it big in Japan - such as Porno Graffiti and Orange Range - are unfamiliar to you, it is because there is little evidence of British acts making any impression in Japan's Oricon charts, which are dominated by pubescent female singers and clean-cut boy bands.

But a delegation representing some of the biggest names in the independent British music scene is hoping to change all that. Led by the BPI, an umbrella organisation representing the British music industry, the heads of British record labels and companies offering expertise in everything from recording to marketing are going on a high-powered trade mission to Tokyo, backed by the British Council and the Government, where they will be banging the drum for British talent.

"Being big in Japan might have been a bit of a rock 'n' roll joke in the 1970s, but it was always a big and lucrative market," said Matt Phillips of the BPI. "Today, there is a real anglophile tendency there and bands that have traction in the market tend to be quirky and different. That said, the Japanese market is one of the most complex in the world and one of the hardest to break into," he added.

They will be hoping to build on the recent success of bands such as Oasis and Coldplay, who command loyal, if niche, followings.

Japan is a vital target for global music industry chiefs in the light of declining CD sales and the challenge posed by the digital music revolution. Behind the United States it is the second biggest market in the world and a key staging post for the mega-markets opening up across Asia, including China and its hundreds of millions of increasingly fashion-conscious young people.

Meanwhile, the British music scene is riding a wave of optimism, buoyed by marketable new talent from the Arctic Monkeys to Lily Allen and enjoying a much needed lift in sales volumes.

A quick glance at last weekend's Fuji Rock festival reveals that even if it is not reflected in the charts, there is a huge appetite for British music in Japan. Among the acts playing to a sell-out audience of 100,000 fans were The Cure, Muse, the Chemical Brothers and Ash.

Among those taking part in the five-day BPI mission are Liam Walsh of Manchester's Red Alert, who worked with Oasis and the Smiths, and Pete Gardiner of ZTT records.

Despite experiencing declining physical sales - down 9 per cent in the first half of this year to 129.6 million - the sheer scale of the Japanese market remains a massive lure.

Top-selling acts such as Mr Children have sold 50 million records, clocking up 26 consecutive number-one singles. EMI recently claimed that Utada Hikaru's "Flavor of Life" had become the biggest-selling digital single of all time, with sales in excess of seven million.

The Japanese music industry is a past master in multi-platform marketing. "Flavor of Life" was first launched as a ringtone tied in with a television series. It then sold as a ring video and a blog tag - allowing fans to paste it to their personal blogs - before being released as a physical single, by which time it had already sold two million copies.

Top 10 selling UK acts in Japan

* Oasis

* Coldplay

* Eric Clapton

* Craig David

* Chemical Brothers

* Gorillaz

* The Rolling Stones

* Queen

* Franz Ferdinand

* Rooster

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