So far in the UK we’ve mostly made do with Roy Orbison for our holographic musical entertainment, though Whitney Houston will be rematerialising on stage here soon. Meanwhile in Japan, Hatsune Miku has been pioneering this kind of thing.
Miku is a cartoon character in the manga style, perpetually 16 years old, with turquoise hair to the floor and a computerised singing voice that makes Alvin and the Chipmunks sound like Leonard Cohen. You can find her in PlayStation’s Project Diva dancing games, but she’s also an arena-filling pop icon in her home country, where she’s projected onto a wide clear screen while a human quartet performs her backing music.
Her overseas influence is growing. She supported Lady Gaga on a US tour and has just made a surprise appearance on the line-up for California’s huge Coachella festival.
She’s not like our own Gorillaz, where the cartoons have increasingly become peripheral to the songs, or the growing number of hologram tours, where deceased legends perform their hits just as they used to be. Miku is an ever-evolving Vocaloid – a piece of software that anyone can buy, write songs for and program her skipping, spinning dance moves. Supposedly there are over 100,000 tracks in her name.
The name means “first sound of the future”, and looking around Brixton Academy it was easy to believe that many audience members had arrived by spaceship. They sported long wigs or kooky hats, and thrust their official glowstick lights towards the stage in constant synchronization.
They did well to keep up, for the songs were uniformly exhausting, from the saccharine speed metal of Raspberry Monster to the chintzy salsa of MikuFiesta, on which she sang in Spanish. It was hard to conceive of any of them becoming hits outside this cultish world, though the English language song simply titled Miku came closest to the melodic dance pop of UK acts such as Charli XCX and PC Music.
Miku herself, and other characters including spiky-haired Kagamine Len and dashing Kaito, were cute novelties to watch. The charm of the music, however, was frequently lost in translation.