Sunday Shout-Out: WTF Japan Seriously

[Most Sundays, we give a little hype to a fellow blog, website or other source for all things related to weird music and the people who love it. Check the tag “Sunday Shout-Out” for other recommendations.]

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I think it’s probably fair to say that without Japan, our blog would not be half as entertaining. From metal to pop to experimental noise, the Japanese have an uncanny knack for taking virtually any genre of music and turning the weirdness factor up to 11. But music, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. All of Japanese culture is—to us Westerners, at least—pretty bizarre. And one of the most entertaining ways to consume it is via WTF Japan Seriously.

Since 2010, WTF Japan Seriously has been chronicling the “WTFery” of the Land of the Rising Sun in all its glory—everything from TV commercials to game shows to whatever the hell this is. They offer it all with virtually no commentary, because really, no commentary is required—I mean, when you’ve just seen Tommy Lee Jones shooting lasers out of his eyes to sell coffee in a can, what more is there to add?

If memory serves, we first encountered Kyary Pamyu Pamyu when a reader sent us a link to one of her videos on WTF Japan Seriously. And I’ll never forget the day I was surfing their site instead of doing yard work when I stumbled upon this priceless video artifact. For that alone, I feel forever indebted to the folks behind this treasure trove of Japanese pop culture ephemera (Japhemera?)

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Weird Live Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at Club Nokia Los Angeles February 16 2014
This and all other non-sucky photos by Hernan Perez

I gotta be honest: I have no frame of reference for reviewing a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert. I had never been to a J-pop show before, unless you count Trippple Nippples, which I don’t. Where the Trippp Nippps are clearly trying to be a little edgier and more “arty,” KPP is gleefully, blissfully, unironically out to sweep her audience away under a raging torrent of cuteness. It was quite possibly the most ridiculous show I have ever been to, and definitely one of the happiest. If you walk out of a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert wearing a frowny face, you need to adjust your meds.

So is KPP fairly typical of a J-pop show? I have no idea. All I know is not since the ’90s heyday of candy raving have my eyeballs been bombarded with such a colorful display. Oh, and the music was pretty good, too. Even though it was all just a pre-recorded backing track, including most (all?) of the vocals. You don’t go to a KPP show because you want to hear an extended version of the piano solo on “Mottai Night Land.”

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There was a set that looked like the bedroom of a giant toddler. There were Oompa-Loompa-like backup dancers. There was a dancing rabbit and a dancing bear. There was an inexplicably bizarre video interlude, to cover for one of Kyary’s many costume changes, that featured her playing poker with a bunch of scary-looking Americans and posing next to a motor scooter like a kawaii James Dean. There were not, sadly, any of the dancing fuzz-monsters from the “Invader Invader” video, but they did throw in that song’s dope-ass dubstep breakdown—and in case you’re wondering, yes, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is still totally adorable, even when dancing to dubstep. Her adorableness defies all logic and the basic laws of the space-time continuum. All the kitten videos on YouTube contain less cumulative adorableness than a single KPP dance move. I can’t explain it, but it is so.

The crowd was almost as much fun as the show, full of elaborately costumed J-pop fans of all ages, races and even styles—there were more than a few goth/steampunk dolls in attendance, sprinkled amidst the expected packs of girls in frilly pink princess dresses. I tried to snap a few pics but when you’re a middle-aged guy at a J-pop show, you have to be careful about who you point your camera at. Fortunately, others with more balls and better cameras were there, too.

My arms are still tired from doing the “Fashion Monster” dance, so I’m going to stop typing now and just leave you with a couple more photos. As you can see, we got there late and our seats weren’t the best. I did try to capture the energy of the crowd in that one shot, though. Yeah, people were really into it.

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Babymetal are all grown up and releasing their first album

Babymetal

Question for all you young’ns out there: Do you guys even still buy albums anymore? Isn’t it all just YouTube and Spotify and the occasional one-off Katy Perry download? If that’s the case, then I guess the forthcoming debut album from “cute metal” future legends Babymetal is specifically aimed at the creepy-old-dudes-who-like-gothed-out-Japanese-schoolgirls demographic. To which I say: Thanks for thinking of us, Babymetal!

I just assumed that Babymetal had already released an album by now, since they’ve been around for at least a couple years and put out about half a dozen singles and a concert DVD. Turns out I was wrong. Their debut album, BABYMETAL (in all caps, cuz it’s gonna be LOUD AS FUCK), comes out later this month. So far it looks like it’ll be a Japan-only release, but hopefully us American creepy old dudes can score us a legit copy soon, too. [Update: A kindly reader just informed us that the album will be available to non-Japanese buyers via CDJapan.co.jp.]

Ready for the staggeringly epic album trailer? No, you’re not. You just think you are.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu world tour is coming to North America

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

As much as I sometimes wish Americans were into better pop music, our bad taste does have its benefits. If nothing else, it often means that when cool superstars from overseas come to our Black-Eyed-Peas-afflicted land, they play much smaller venues than they do back home. Case in point: Harajuku J-pop icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who can fill arenas in Japan but will hit comparatively intimate theaters when she tours here next month. God bless America and our isolationist monoculture!

We’ll be going to see Kyary when she plays the small-ish (2,300 capacity) Club Nokia here in L.A. on Feb. 16th. And I gotta be honest, I have no idea what to expect. It’ll be our first real J-pop show, unless you count Trippple Nippples, which I don’t. The crowd at that show was a hipster-palooza. The crowd at Kyary’s all-ages show is likely to be a lot younger and screamier.

KPP WORLD TOUR 2014

Feb 13 Seattle / Showbox at the Market
Feb 15 San Francisco / The Regency Ballroom
Feb 16 Los Angeles / Club Nokia LA Live
Mar 5 Chicago / House of Blues
Mar 7 Toronto / Sound Academy
Mar 8 New York / Best Buy Theater

We’ll leave you with Kyary’s latest eye-popping video, for the track “Mottai Night Land.” In this one, she dresses up like a giant fluffy cat, dances with skeletons and plays a spastic piano solo. It’s one of her more restrained efforts.

Babymetal

Babymetal

Look, Japan, I get it, OK? You’re a strange country. You don’t have to keep proving it to me. I know all about your jam bands who dress like giant shrimp and creepy singing robots and game shows where you have to play a harmonica inside a dead fish’s mouth. So you can relax already. You got this weird shit on lock.

But no…every time I open my inbox, I’m greeted with more “what the fuck is going on?” moments from the Land of the Rising Sun. The latest is a band called Babymetal that is, in fact, made up of babies who sing metal. Well, OK, they’re not babies; I think the oldest one is like 14 or something. But the point is, they’re sweet little Japanese schoolgirls who should probably not be allowed to watch any Dir En Grey videos for at least another four years…and yet, they kinda sound like Dir En Grey. Japan strikes again!

Apparently Babymetal is the metal-themed spinoff of another kiddie J-pop group called Sakura Gakuin. They call their music “kawaii metal,” which sounds like metal for surfers but actually translates to “cute metal,” which actually sums this stuff up pretty well. There are definite elements of pop and EDM and even the occasional hip-hop and dubstep…but it all comes back to the double kick drums and drop-D guitar riffs, which are played by a scary-looking masked backing band while the girls dance around in their Hot Topic finery. Never before has the devil’s music been this adorable.

Do I even need to tell you that this shit is huge in Japan? Here’s a link (embedding disabled…fuckers) to a video of them playing a song called “Headbanger!!” for approximately one zillion people at the Inazuma Rock Festival this past September. I believe this is part of a DVD they released last month called Babymetal Apocalypse, which I guess if you’re a metal purist is probably the most accurately named concert DVD of all time. Personally I can’t get enough of this shit, though. It’s like watching a Metallica show inside a Hello Kitty store.

I’ll leave you with one last video because it’s awesome. Spoiler alert: Her microphone houses a tiny samurai sword. In your face, Marilyn Manson!

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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks here at Weird Band HQ, so we were in dire need of some cheering up. And what better way to cheer up than with a little candy-colored, hyper-caffeinated J-pop? In J-Pop-Land, no one ever gets stuck in traffic, the serotonin flows like tap water and fluorescent is the new black. You know your favorite adorable kitten video on YouTube? Cram all five minutes of it down into a three-second animated GIF and you have the perfect visual accompaniment to most J-pop.

All J-pop looks and sounds pretty strange to us Westerners, but the genre’s most freshly minted superstar, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, takes things to a whole new level. She’s sometimes described as Japan’s answer to Lady Gaga, but it would probably be more fair to describe her as the majokko lovechild of Katy Perry and Psy. Like those two, her music tends to be polarizing (you either think it’s adorably catchy pop or annoyingly repetitive drivel), her dance moves tend to be varying degrees of ridiculous, and most importantly, her costumes and music videos tend to be garish eye candy explosions in which the cute, the comical and the grotesque intermingle in all sorts of head-scratchingly unexpected ways. You may prefer to watch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s videos with the sound turned down, but I bet you’ll watch them all the way through.

Kyary, who’s only 20, got her start as a fashion blogger and model associated with Harajuku, the youthful Japanese clothing style known for its bright colors and obsession with all things “kawaii” (cute). Kyary’s unique spin on Harajuku has always been to inject it with a touch of the bizarre: a rubber shark hat, a demonic painted-on mouth, hair clips with eyeballs on them. “I love grotesque things,” she told one interviewer. “There are so many ‘just cute’ things in the world, so I add grotesque, scary and even shocking materials like eyeballs and brains to balance out the cuteness.”

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a bona fide superstar in Japan; her first video, “PONPONPON,” has racked up over 50 million views on YouTube, which I’m pretty sure makes her the most popular artist we’ve ever blogged about (sorry, Flaming Lips; you had a good run). But popularity and weirdness are not mutually exclusive; over the course of “PONPONPON,” Kyary dances with a giant floating eyeball, pterodactyls and what appears to be a fat dude in blackface and a pink princess dress. And “PONPONPON” is probably her least eccentric video. In her most recent clip, “Ninjya Re Bang Bang,” she rides a giant carp, dances with cartoon robot mice and vanquishes an evil floating head by turning her arm into a laser cannon, all while wearing what we’re gonna describe as ninja sleepwear. Here, check it out, but be warned: This song will lodge itself in your head for days.

We’ll leave you with “Invader Invader,” which both visually and sonically gets our vote Kyary’s for greatest and weirdest achievement to date. The finger-mustache dance moves, the breakdancing fur monsters, the TV-headed DJ, the completely gratuitous and totally awesome dubstep breakdown…why can’t American pop music be this much fun?

Kyary’s latest album, Nanda Collection—which features “Ninjya Re Bang Bang” and “Invader Invader”—just came out in Japan and the States (not sure about the rest of the world). You can buy the digital U.S. version here.

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Räuberhöhle

Krawalla and Barchin of Rauberhohle

I don’t know about you, but after all the shit that went down in April, I could use a little happy action in May. So let’s start the month off on a candy-colored electro-punk note, shall we? Meet Räuberhöhle, the happiest band ever to emerge from Berlin. (Sorry, Einstürzende Neubauten.)

Räuberhöhle, which is German for “Robber’s Cave,” is the brainchild of a tattooed, J-pop-obsessed Kirsten Dunst lookalike called Krawalla Chan. Since 1999, Krawalla has been turning out bleepy, hyper-caffeinated electro-pop over which she sing-shouts like a cross between Kathleen Hanna and an army of rioting Japanese schoolgirls. There are elements of punk, disco,  electroclash, chiptune and Japanese synth-pop, none of which would be weird in and of itself, but all of which Krawalla combines in some highly quirky and occasionally brilliant ways. Add to that a live show that often features puppets and a guy in a bear suit (named Bärchin) and you got yourself one unique bundle of ausgezeichnet.

Given Krawalla’s candy-raver/My Little Pony cosplay aesthetic and the fact that many of her songs have titles like “Shake Yr Anus” and “My Heart Bleeps Noisy Beeps,” you’d be forgiven for assuming that Räuberhöhle is just a feelgood party band. But she’s also written an anti-Pope song and has another one titled “The Collective Face Of German Volkszorn” which we’re pretty sure is political even though we’re not actually sure what it’s about. It has lots of spoken-word samples of German people sounding angry, so it must be about something.

Mostly, though, Krawalla writes songs about having fun and feeling good about yourself—especially if you’re a girl or, as she charmingly puts it on her website in broken English, “Gays, women, handicapped. These whole fringe groups… I am down with them as long as the personal level is okay.” Take this awesome video for the song “I’m not part of the shit,” which is all about letting your freak flag fly and not being, well, part of the shit.

But perhaps no video better sums up the fearless wackadoodlery of Räuberhöhle than this clip for “Shake Yr Anus,” in which Krawalla and her furry friends torment mall security and (no, really) fart glitter. Many thanks to reader Irrealidad for sharing this with us a few weeks back. It’s the best thing to happen to anuses since…no, that’s a sentence better left unfinished.

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