A nice chat with JPU Records

I talk a lot about Japanese music here at Rice Digital, especially on the rock side of things. Whether you fall in love with this music through anime or by branching out in genres you already know and love, there are so many great bands from Japan to catch. But for English-speaking listeners, getting your hands on music can be a bit tough. Fortunately, that is where the good folks at JPU Records come in.

If you’ve been paying attention to some of my previous articles, you’ll know that plenty of the bands I love are represented in the west by JPU Records. And so, in my ongoing quest to find out more about the bands I love, I went straight to the source. The good folks at JPU Records were kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few of my burning questions, all so I can share that knowledge with you here.

Our Chat with JPU Records

JPU Records artist The GazettE
Image via JPU Records

Rice Digital: Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of JPU Records? How did you get started, and why specialise in Japanese artists?

JPU Records: Because I fell in love with music from Japan, and that passion hasn’t changed since! JPU Records as a limited company has been around for ten years this year, but its spirit has been around for closer to 15 or more years – I’ve actually lost count. I used to work at a film and record label; they were one of the biggest independent ones in the UK at the time and I’d use my lunch break to write articles for magazines and websites about anime and video games.

I pitched an idea for a sublabel for the company to focus on Japanese music. It made sense to me that they’d say yes as we had labels for films that focused on things like Bollywood and Asian extreme films, so it’s not like they were afraid of things from other cultures or in other languages, but the manager I pitched the plan to wasn’t sure about it. Anyway, he used to run club nights of his own, so to show him, I decided to make my own club night and focus on music from Japan only.

I knew there was an audience here hungry for it, I’d been writing about bands such as Dir en grey, the GazettE and An Cafe in magazines here, and editors were so impressed with the feedback from readers that I managed to get a regular feature spotlighting and interviewing Japanese bands — one which is still going now, over 15 years later!

Anyway, the first club night sold out; we played just rock tracks from Japan, and had some bands from Japan perform too. Namco gave us some new games people could try at the event, and we had karaoke rooms too, a company who did purikura [photo sticker booths] in the corner, and some friends from a retro video game event setting up in another corner so people could play classic games if they wanted to chill from the music and what not.

It was crazy, I think I charged like £3, and had already put that on the poster and all the flyers for it, and at the time it was just me and a laptop with no bands or anything else so £3 made sense. In the end I added all these things, including accommodation and travel for the bands, and was wondering how on earth I was ever going to get my money back on £3 tickets, but I managed to sell out beyond capacity (there was a queue to get in, one-out-one-in) and managed to break even!

Anyway, it was awesome; I met so many cool people and bands, that I just kept doing this and writing about music. To cut a long story short, in the end labels in Japan were asking me if I’d release their music overseas and handle their promotion. So of course, I said yes! I never expected it would lead to working with the likes of X Japan, Yoshiki and the GazettE!

RD: What do you look for in an artist before you sign them and can you walk us through a little bit of the process of bringing their music to the English speaking world?

JPU: I don’t mean to sound like Marie Kondo, but the music has to spark joy within me. If it doesn’t spark something inside, then it’s a no. I remember that feeling when I first heard ‘Filth in the beauty’ by the GazettE, and I rushed to hit the back button to play it again. That’s what I’m looking for. The next step is finding a way to make others listen. And that’s it. If I’m right with the first step, the second step is easy. Of course, there’s more to it than that but I’m not sharing my secrets!

JPU Records artist Band-Maid
Image via JPU Records

RD: Since 2022 started, you’ve announced a new act in Man with a Mission, helped Band-Maid get onto the soundtrack for the HBO series Peacemaker, and have the Scandal album launch coming shortly. Is this going to be indicative of how busy this year is going to be for you or are you going to catch your breath at some point?

JPU: I haven’t taken my Christmas/New Year break yet, I worked through both! I’m hoping I can finish enough work to take a break for the release of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection on PS5, as Uncharted 4 is one of my most favourite games ever, but we’ll see. I’m working on subtitles now for Scandal’s video on demand content of the new album MIRROR, so if “Nate” or “Pirate Treasure” pops up in the subtitles while you’re watching, I’m very sorry!

RD: This year marks JPU’s tenth birthday in June. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the music industry in that time? Also, any plans to celebrate the milestone?

JPU: I plan to celebrate it by keeping on releasing quality music from Japan and hoping you guys keep engaging with it! That’s the biggest thing I can ever ask for. As for changes in the industry, I’ve never really felt part of the music industry to start with. While the music industry proclaimed CD is dead, I had healthy CD sales.

One change I guess is they’re trying to be more inclusive recently, which sounds great on paper but I don’t believe it’s genuine at all – they still ignore Asian voices unless its tied to something else that’s going on. I recently had a major magazine within its field say they couldn’t cover one of our bands who had a massive sold-out tour over here because they weren’t doing a piece on this particular genre at the moment. What?

RD: If you could go back in time and sign one act that you didn’t get the chance to work with, who would it be?

JPU: BABYMETAL. I had a chance. They were the very first band I had a meeting with. I was an idiot and said no to the Fox God and have forever lived with the shame.

I made this label with every penny I had. I’m a poor kid from a council estate in the arse end of North London. I didn’t have the luxury of having money to mess around with. I had to make every penny count, and as such I only had the budget for one band — and my dream band wanted to release on the label, so I had to go with them and make sure I could do a solid job on that, rather than risk spreading myself and finances too thin and ruining both bands’ chances.

Considering that first band was visual kei superstars, the GazettE, we can see how it would have been a tough choice. Big thanks to our friends at JPU Records for taking the time to chat with us. If you are looking for a bit of band merch or to see what they have coming out soon – like the impending release of Scandal’s new album – check out their website.

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