Paranoia Girls launched a few weeks ago and we are three pages in. English and Japanese versions are available. All hail artist Yunico Uchiyama for making my psychedelic suburban surrealist daydreams a semi-reality.
I fulfilled a freelance fantasy of mine and started writing for MTV81. My latest piece for them is on THE BLOCK PARADE's epic all night club event. Read here.
Fun fact: I barely go out at all when I’m here in San Francisco. I like my Xbox and HDTV waaaaay too much. But when in Tokyo – which is where I spent most of June this summer – I’m continually running around, bugging people if they “know of any events”, and hightailing it to whatever weird scene or place makes itself available. Case in point: Heavy Pop Vol. 16, a head spinning mix of crazy outfits, Anison delights, packed with assorted jpop and techno highlights.
Heavy Pop, organized by Ray Ochiai, is a regular club party event with strong ties to the Harajuku scene. To wit: a typical Heavy Pop event will see lolitas getting down with cyber kids, goths, decora, and other varieties of fashion monsters. While the event was open to the public, my invitation to Heavy Pop Vol. 16 came from a girl named Merupan I’d met a few months earlier at a gallery opening where artist Hiroyuki Takahashi’s work was on display. Turned out Merupan was an Anison DJ and was going to be spinning at Heavy Pop while I was in town. I looked at the flier below and figured I had to go…
Some other friends and acquaintances were on the bill, including Raveman, he of dark wave duo Aural Vampire, and The Lady Spade who have performed at Anime Maturi and whom I’ve interviewed before. So I shotgunned a sugar free Red Bull and made for a tiny dark club called HELL’S BAR in Tokyo’s Sangenjaya ward. Below is my video report on what when down….
My first impressions were: practically everyone seemed to know each other. Despite the various fashion and music tribes present at Heavy Pop, it was still a very tightly knit scene. This inclusive vibe is pretty rare. Subcultures can be extremely exclusive in Tokyo sometimes, and you’ll often know right away from glares and stares if you’ve strayed too far outside your boundaries, which tend to be even thicker than normal if you’re a wacky foreigner. But the denizens of Heavy Pop were totally open to whoever, or whatever, wandered in the door.
With a lot of mingling going on, the dancing and DJ-ing sometimes felt secondary to surreal socializing among the attendees and shop stall staff that filled the floor with spooky handmade goods for sale. The proceedings could be stop-start. Just as the music threatened to fully take over, the scene would switch to a fashion show, a live performance, a mini-birthday celebration complete with candles and cake. The vibe was slightly bittersweet throughout: the HELL’S BAR venue was set to close down for good after this event, even though Heavy Pop continues to be a thing, the vibe of something changing and coming to an end was palpable. The family feel reached its apex when everyone gathered together to take a group portrait to commemorate this installment of Heavy Pop. And hey, what do you know, I wound up in the picture as well…
So yeah, while Anison and otaku culture didn’t play a central part in the proceeding – aside from Merupan’s spirited DJ set – experiencing the underground eco-system of Heavy Pop was totally worth the trip.
Glowstick trails… anime themes at warp speed bpms… legions of cosplayers dancing and laughing in the dark… My heads-spinning summer of Anison (otaku-speak for “anime songs”) began last month in Tokyo with a visit to a club event called AniLOVE!!, which you can read about here.
And it was at AniLOVE!! that the gang there suggested that we check out another regular anison event that’s been active in Japan for nearly 4 years now… Anison Disco, a name which conjured up images of big afros, funky platform heels, and wide lapel shirts. While there was a giant mirror ball involved, it was a bit different from the Saturday Night Fever-like experience I was half expecting. For starters, Anison Disco is funny. Deliberately so. A pair of comedians from the famed Yoshimoto talent agency – most notably BAN BAN BAN Yamamoto who certainly cuts a striking figure in his tail swinging Frieza cosplay - are the main organizers of the event, and are backed up on stage by a gaggle of up-and-coming aspiring comedians. You’ll probably get some sense of what Anison Disco’s agenda is simply by looking at the quite intriguing staff pic below…
The Anison Disco event I went to was held on a Sunday afternoon at club WOMB in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward: a massive venue that’s a ground zero of sorts for music and DJ events of all genres (it is also home to “Asia’s largest mirror ball” according to some rumors / reports). I had seen the anison groove work its strange magic at the small club where AniLOVE!! was held… how would things turn out in a much bigger place? Watch the video below to find out!
First things first: the place was PACKED with attendees, as in “no place to move”. Most folks (both sexes equally represented, early to mid-20s seems about right) were in cosplay. Pretty much everyone had at least one glowstick to wave around wildly. All attention was centered on the stage where the Anison organizers held court, leading the wota dance moves, and putting on short “cosplay masquerade” skits based on whatever anime theme the DJ spun. People from the audience were welcome to jump on stage and do their thing as well, although groups of similar cosplayers tended to travel in packs, like the Madoka glowstick gang seen in the video, or the air swimmers from Free! in the pics below.
The result was controlled chaos; some degree of planning and professionalism was clearly at work behind the scenes. This was not a free-for-all: everyone was encouraged (in a very Japanese way) to follow the leaders, unify, and have fun together, resulting in a feeling not entirely dissimilar to the exercise portion of a particularly crazy morning kids show.
The one major goof in the Anison Disco experience was the near total lack of actual anime itself. As BANBANBAN Yamamoto explained to us, since this event was also being livestreamed to the internet, they opted to just spring for generic VJ visuals (other smaller Anison Disco events do include anime video though). Too bad… I can only image how much more crazier the event would have been with some opening and ending title sequences layered on top of the mayhem. Still, I emerged from WOMB sweaty and half-crazed by what I had experienced, wondering (as I am increasingly these days) why aren't more anime fans doing this kind of stuff outside of Japan. But no answers were to be found...my Anison summer still wasn’t over by a long shot…
Ok, so I spent last month running around being a maniac in Tokyo. Since time is valuable (it’s all we have, really...) I will spare you the dull details, like the flight, the hotel, the rain, the heat and just get to the good stuff. Expect more such reports in the days ahead as I sift through the wreckage of 30+ days and nights in the land of the rising FUN. And first up on the hit list is… AniLOVE!!
AniLOVE!! is all-night club event held monthly in Tokyo. Nope, I had never gone to an AniLOVE!! session, let alone been to the club where the event was held: a funky dark space called Ikebukuro mismash. All I knew before dipping in was that the DJs there spin nothing but anime theme songs and Vocaloid tracks. Cosplay dress code is (of course) preferred, but not mandatory … I found out about AniLOVE!! from friend, artist, and collaborator Hiroyuki Takahashi who routinely creates the characters on the AniLOVE!! fliers (see below) and seems about plugged into the Anison (anime song…) club scene as much as anyone I know.
I’d been to a few Anison events before in Japan, notably at club mogra in Akihabara which is pretty much purely dedicated to getting nerds to shake it to anime themes both old and new, idol music, and other otaku-friendly sounds. But I’d never seen anyone lose their mind there. By contrast, AniLOVE!! felt like a serious trip to the cutting edge of Japanese otaku culture. Although all the elements you would expect to find - even at a mediocre US con rave - were on display like DJs, anime freaks, cosplayers, and big screens playing anime footage – the dynamics were different enough to make me think that there’s something going on here. But before we go any further, watch my illuminating little video report! I shot it and edited it myself!
Although the clip is a little under the two minute mark, keep in mind that the level of manic energy stayed at exactly that frantic pace all-night long, from last train to dawn’s first light. When you get enough fans together in one place with enough music and enough glowsticks (I lost count at about a million), the anison groove is incredibly strong.
Traditionally, otaku culture can be a little segregated: cute cosplay girls occupy one side of the room, socially awkward guys habitate on the other, and rarely do the two meet in the middle (except for when the dudes bug the girls for photos). But at AniLOVE!!, both sexes appeared to freely mingled, socialized, boogied, and just plain got down on the same level without it being weird or anything. Good for everyone: the club, the event, the human race.
Most dance club events – even non-anime one – seem to have a vaguely pyramidal structure, with the DJ placed front and center where they are worshipped like a living god of sorts for the act of playing back pre-recorded music. Meanwhile, AniLOVE!! did things a little differently. They had the turntables, along with DJs (most of whom came in cosplay), placed off to the left of the stage. The main view was instead dominated by a big screen onto which non-stop anime videos were projected (usually opening titles). The stage was open: a free-zone. Anyone could jump on stage and act like a headless chicken, or create glowstick trails with their carefully memorized wota dances, or do whatever the heck they wanted. More places should do this! Why don't more places do this already?
Looking back, I can’t think of a single downside or bum note to the AniLOVE!! experience. They've got it all figured out. If someone outside of Japan could figure out a way to replicate this head spinning mix of anime, music, and people mingling with each other, they might actually find the makings of a bona fide global youth culture movement here. But for now a tiny underground club event somewhere in Tokyo has got the goods. Here are some links to help you follow the fun in real time:
Totally extreme and truly outrageous Japanese idols group BiS don’t hold back at all when it comes to their music videos (see here and here for previous examples). And for their latest clip, “STUPiG”, to be featured on a new maxi single slated for release in early 2014, the girls – who together comprise the “Brand New Idol Society” – appear to have travelled to a bizarre biomechanical dimension made of pure crazy, a million laser lights, and very ear-bleeding sounds...sort of the like Tokyo Robot Restaurant as filtered through bath salts and a terrible fever.
No matter if you find “STUPiG” and BiS fascinating or just nightmare inducing, you have to admit, when it comes to idols, it sure is different from AKB48!
Bonus! Official visual and covers for the STUPiG maxi-single (produced by AA= of the The Mad Capsule Markets)
As the current Era of Warring Idols gathers momentum in
Japan, it seeks out new hosts around the world, mutating and evolving like a
hungry virus in order to survive. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the bizarre
“B-pop” inspired shenanigans of Brazilian-Japanese idol unit Linda III Sei.
Now, the girls of hy4_4yh (pronounced “Hyper Yoyo”) have set sail for Indonesia
and a new frontier in hyperactive sound.
Safeguarding their passage into these strange lands is DJ Jet
Baron, aka Mandokoro Takano, formerly of pioneering Japanese nerdcore group Leopaldon.
Ever on the hunt for bad taste and Asian trash culture, DJ Jet Baron
eventually tuned into the obscure Funkot (“funky kota”) scene happening in
Indonesia based around terrifying 180 bpm music that some house music pundits have compared
to Happy Hardcore. Back in Japan, Jet Baron became a prophet of sorts, holding
sweaty Funkot parties at his Acid Panda Cafe club in Tokyo and getting the
music out to the masses via appearances on TBS Radio. Funkot became something
of an underground sensation and took up roots in Japan, which have now borne strange
fruit and even stranger outfits...
Formed in 2005, Idol unit hy4_4yh (above) were already a crazy and
borderline uncontrollable bunch of zany girls to begin with (their live gigs are particularly exhausting), but now they have sold
their souls to Funkot in their new song and video “Ticckkeee Operation ~ YAVAY”, arranged by Jet Baron, and the results may just have you thrashing about on the floor and frothing at the mouth.
The song makes much use of the word YAVAY (which most people just
Romanize as “yabai”, but whatever… ), which the official hy4_4yh ministry of propaganda claims, “is a new Japanese slang. It's an adjective which means more than
CRAZY, COOL and ILL.” The video makes use of the only three known locations
that can visually match the fury of the wild Funkot beat: the synapse frying Tokyo
Robot Restaurant, the streets of Shibuya, and the Acid Panda Café itself.
Where Japan will go next in search of new sounds and gimmicks
to mine is anyone's guess, but know this: the Era of Warring Idols has gone
global and the prognosis is YAVAY.