JAPANESE MUSIC – Evening Standard, 31 Oct 2014

In the sinister basement laboratory where they concoct new musical genres, they really hit the motherlode this year when they came up with “Cute Metal”. This demonic fusion of devil horns and candy floss is exemplified by Japanese trio Babymetal — three school-age girls in black and red who chirp merrily over grinding, thrashing guitars. You’ve probably been directed to their YouTube clip Gimme Chocolate!!, whose boiling riffs and chipmunk chorus are now approaching 17 million views. Slayer must be kicking themselves.

It would be all too easy to dismiss them as a woeful novelty (after you’ve clicked replay and grinned your face off just one more time) but it looks like this is something more significant than this year’s Gangnam Style. Babymetal are coming to the 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy this month, and they’re not the only Japanese band making inroads beyond their usually insular music scene. Last week the music festival Japan Night held a showcase event in Tokyo and announced plans to bring Japanese rock bands to Europe and the US in 2016, building international interest in their nation’s music culture ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Meanwhile, over the rest of this year, there’s going to be a great deal of Japanese action in London. While the language and musical styles are far more likely to be lost in translation than the pop output of, say, Sweden, there might just be something that succeeds in real terms this time. Whether you’re into heavy metal sung by children or brain-crunching acid rock, there are currently far more opportunities than usual to have a taste. Here’s where to find it.


The Cute Metal of Babymetal

The girls who front the viral hit of the year call themselves Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal on stage, where they’re surrounded by skeleton musicians and skip through synchronised dance routines accompanied by hellish guitars. This unholy marriage has already been a hit at the Sonisphere festival in Knebworth Park this summer, where they appeared on the main stage beside Anthrax and Iron Maiden.

Even so, they’re not credible in the metal world. They’ve said that they didn’t know what metal was until they were drafted into the band (“I still don’t completely understand it, but I’m interested,” said Su-metal, real name Suzuka Nakamoto, recently) but they have shaken up Japan’s “idol” system of creating pop stars. Usually innocent-looking young girls are interchangeable in large groups with ever-shifting line-ups. Some, like AKB48, have dozens of members — not even the Sugababes have gone that far. Babymetal have more personality than the standard fodder and, of course, they’re also seriously loud.

Nov 8, O2 Academy Brixton, SW9 (0844 477 2000,O2academybrixton.co.uk)


The J-pop of Perfume

Although their sound is pure pop, Perfume are another female trio who’ve stuck around longer than the Japanese way usually allows. Ayano Omoto, Yuka Kashino and Ayaka Nishiwaki have worked together since 2001 and began to be noticed internationally when they had a song on the Cars 2 soundtrack in 2011.

An appearance in the latest viral video from LA indie pop band OK Go should also help their global profile. They’re managed by the same company as Babymetal, and in concert offer a lightshow that’s as spectacular as that of any western arena star, including digital projections onto their dresses. “It’s not quite a club, and it’s not exactly a concert either. It’s a whole new category,” says Nishiwaki. The music is lively, danceable techno pop, with lots of robotic effects on their vocals. Their catchy fourth album, Level3, had a full release here this week.

Nov 12, Eventim Apollo, W6 (0844 249 1000,eventimapollo.com)


The stadium rock of One OK Rock

You might not guess that these boys are Japanese until you watch their energetic videos, for which they’ve won several MTV Awards in their homeland. Over the course of six albums they’ve increasingly sung in English, and their style — loud, polished guitars and gruff vocals from former boyband member Takahiro Morita — is the same mainstream sound that’s all over US radio. He’s done a song with big Canadian rock band Simple Plan, and his band have found a fanbase here too. Their show at the 1,000-capacity Electric Ballroom is already sold out six weeks ahead.

Dec 16, Electric Ballroom, NW1 (020 7485 9006,electricballroom.co.uk)


The art rock of Bo Ningen

Bo Ningen might be horrified to be on this page with their poppy fellow countrymen. The band are all Japanese, long-haired and skinny but formed in London and have become known on our indie rock scene before making any progress over there. They support Southampton’s Band of Skulls here next month.

The music is epic, heavy and psychedelic, with yelping, impenetrable vocals and dense layers of guitars. It’s arty and difficult, especially on a new collaboration with Mercury nominees Savages. Words to the Blind, released on Nov 17, is one wide-ranging, 37-minute track, with vocals in English, French and Japanese. It makes little girls singing heavy metal seem positively normal.

Nov 14, Eventim Apollo, W6 (0844 249 1000,eventimapollo.com)


The cultural overload of Hyper Japan


The Hyper Japan weekend at Olympia is the place to be for Japanese immersion in London, with anime and manga stores, shopping and cosplay (dressing up as a fantasy character) and sushi and karaoke. The live music on show sadly doesn’t look too interesting — congrats to Diana Garnet for being an English teacher from Washington DC who has somehow become a pop star singing in Japanese, but the tunes are pretty schmaltzy.

More exciting is the chance to see Hatsune Miku, a green-haired 3D-animated girl programmed to sing using Vocaloid synthesizer software. “It’s like being on Willie Nelson’s bus,” said chat show host David Letterman of the character’s trippy appearance on his show this month.

Nov 14-16, Olympia, SW5 (0844 477 1000, hyperjapan.co.uk)

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