The early part of 2012 saw the return of the UK’s biggest J-Culture event HYPER JAPAN as they moved to their new home at Earl’s Court. Once again, a fantastic line-up of events included the Sake Award Show, World Cosplay Summit Ceremony, Sushi Awards 2012 and Third Window Films Showcase.
HYPER JAPAN also brought over a musical guest from Japan, which this year was NATSUKO ASO. Best know for anime themes, such as Brand New World and Perfect Area Complete, for Hyper Japan she put on an energetic performance over two days. The highlight was a performance of the completely bonkers More More Lovers.
Also on the live bill was the UK’s own export to Japan – BECKII CRUEL who made a few interesting choices for her performance, such as opting for dance routines to old school J-Pop outfit Pink Lady.
2012 also saw the return of TOMMY FEBRUARY6 & TOMMY HEAVENLY6 with the release of joint album February & Heavenly. The album had all the trademark elements of earlier Tommy material, such as squelchy synths, catchy melodies and random English lyrics. Stand out tracks included Hot Chocolat and My Future Boy for the February selection, while the driving melodies of You Hurt Me and monochrome rainbow were perfect tracks for the Heavenly side of the album.
One of the more interesting and intriguing acts to emerge from the Japanese electronic music scene came courtesy of the ethereal soundscapes of SAPPHIRE SLOWS. Composing tunes in her bedroom on her trusty laptop this Tokyo-based musician has also made impressions in the West with the release of the True Breath EP – a collection of evocative tunes employing minimal beats and dream-like vocals. Delicate melodies are picked out over dense rhythm beds providing an immersive sea of sound.
Meanwhile, J-Pop Go decided to set up its own musical department titled PROJECT MARSHMALLOW. The first fruits of this venture was the wonderful MARSHMALLOW LLAMA TIME, featuring FINNY ATTRIDGE on vocal duties.
K-ON! inspired a generation of girls to take up music as a hobby and with the release of the collected series, J-Pop Go decided to use this as an excuse to stage K-ON! WEEK – a collection of features and articles looking at the influential anime series. We gave an overview of the series, while also looking at the music. We examined the musical talent behind the scenes and Kat Kourbetti looked at the misconceptions of the series as merely pandering to a male audience as a moe series.
April saw legendary J-Rock outfit L’ARC~EN~CIEL make their long-awaited UK debut (as part of their 20th Anniversary ) when they staged a concert at London’s O2 Indigo venue. If there was a sign that Japanese music was finally establishing a foothold on UK shores, this was it. We used the 1st April as an excuse to suggest that idol popsters AKB48 would be providing support on the night – causing the news to go viral!
We continued to explore the electronic landscape of the underground Tokyo scene with a feature on JESSE RUINS. As well as managing to establish a global profile through releases on both UK and US labels, JESSE RUINS demonstrated a talent for tunes with the remarkable Dream Analysis.
Meanwhile, K-Pop was beginning to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. 2012 saw several notable live debuts in the UK from the likes of CNBLUE and BIGBANG. Meanwhile PSY scored a phenomenal result with Gangnam Style, which saw the South Korean star invited to guest on TV shows around the world as the video racked up over one billion views via YouTube.
One of our favourite discoveries of 2012 was the ‘anti-idol’ outfit Brand-New Idol Society. This irreverent J-Pop entry had grown from the ambitions of former solo idol artist Pour Lui. Amongst the antics clocked up by the BiS team was a controversial ‘naked’ video for debut release My Ixxx, staging a fake retirement speech, allegedly attacking fellow idol outfit Momoiro Clover Z and kissing each other in the video for Paprika.
Legendary pop-rock combo SHONEN KNIFE celebrated the 30th Anniversary of their formation in 2011 (with 2012 being the 30th Anniversary of their first live performance). They launched new album Pop Tune, a confident collection of songs showing the popular trio at their best, particularly for the title track. J-Pop Go dedicated a special SHONEN KNIFE Week in response with features on the band’s long career, a brief discography, an interview with founder-member NAOKO YAMANO and other features exploring the band’s impact on the music world.
Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya star AYA HIRANO returned with new album Fragments, which featured the superb Stargaze Love.
In July, electronic music pioneer TOMITA resurfaced with an interview. To further bridge the gap between classic Japanese electronic music and the contemporary scene, TOMITA also featured HATSUNE MIKU as guest singer for his orchestra concert in Tokyo in November.
Our favourite technopop trio PERFUME were also in the news in 2012. Their plans to establish a more global presence was launched with details of a new compilation album LOVE THE WORLD. October saw PERFUME make their Fan Club go global. All of this appeared to win the approval of the blogosphere – until the release of Perfume’s next single Spending All My Time when everyone lost the plot.
Meanwhile, KYARY PAMYU PAMYU shared the bill with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA (featuring CORNELIUS as guest guitarist) for the WORLD HAPPINESS 2012 event – an annual concert that was conceived by YMO’s Yukihiro Takahasi. Kyary also released new single Fashion Monster in September.
August saw HATSUNE MIKU celebrating her 5th Anniversary. The vocaloid star has swiftly become something of a musical ambassador for Japan, demonstrating the use of modern technology weaved seamlessly with modern pop.
Later in the year, the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation staged a special seminar which featured Crypton Future Media CEO HIROYUKI ITOH who discussed the creation of HATSUNE MIKU and how the opening up of licensing issues allowed her and the vocaloid concept to become so successful. We also had an exclusive interview with HIROYUKI ITOH to discuss vocaloid technology and also to explore the possibility of a UK concert for Hatsune Miku.
J-POP GO staged a special summer show in July which saw the debut of MARSHMALLOW LLAMA TIME as well as performances from PERFUME tribute act FUME.
The 2012 Olympics were staged in the UK and brought with them some entertaining stories with J-Pop and Japanese cultural themes
The UK’s largest anime convention AMECON took place in August – and J-Pop Go were there to cover the event and use the opportunity to interview some of the guest DJs for their thoughts on conventions and J-Pop in general.
Mary Groutage explored the world of Idol Music in a special feature for J-Pop Go. The article was a serious exploration of the role played by popular idol outfits such as AKB48 and the contrast with the anime equivalent of idol music.
With Halloween looming on the horizon L’ARC~EN~CIEL side project VAMPS announced special Halloween plans, including a supergroup titled HALLOWEEN JUNKY ORCHESTRA. And this was a particularly impressive supergroup as the lineup featured: HYDE, K.A.Z., Kanon Wakeshima, Tommy February6, Tommy Heavenly6, Acid Black Cherry, DAIGO (BREAKERZ), Tatsuro (MUCC), kyo (D’ERLANGER), Anna Tsuchiya, Aoki Ryuji, Hitsugi (Nightmare), Aki (SID) and RINA (SCANDAL).
We interviewed COPPÉ. Referred to as the ‘Godmother of Japanese Electronica’, Coppé has paved her own unique creative path over the years and was back in the UK for some special performances.
We also interviewed NAOMI SUZUKI following her performance at the Japan Matsuri, which had now switched to London’s Trafalgar Square and which also featured THE FRANK CHICKENS on the bill.
October also saw AKB48 make a rapid gear change in their music to produce the gothic electropop wonder of UZA and also contributed to new Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph with the superb Sugar Rush.
Gothic pop appeared to be a bit of a theme for 2012 as MOMOIRO CLOVER’s latest offering (a collaboration with the legendary TOMOYASU HOTEI) was a much more hard-edged pop number, complete with a dark and spooky video.
October also saw us focus on eclectic electronic artist JULIE WATAI. A photographer, model and multimedia artists, Julie also guests with musical outfit mishmash* and has an interest in classic electronic toy Furby (currently undergoing something of a revival) – including dismantling and rebuilding them to create Furby mod variations.
November saw the return of HYPER JAPAN as they staged their first Winter event. We used the opportunity to interview their musical guests, including HOTEI, NINJAMAN JAPAN, TOMOCA, BECKI CRUEL, OSIHII! ICHIGO and AKARI MOCHIZUKI.
November also saw another J-Pop Go event featuring NAOMI SUZUKI and SONIA LEONG alongside MARSHMALLOW LLAMA TIME. We also explored the odd connection between pioneering Russian space dog Laika and Japanese musician AKINO ARAI.
Thanks to everyone for their support and comments for J-Pop Go throughout 2012. Special thanks to Amy, Finny Attridge, Mary Groutage, Kat Kourbeti and Chi Lai.
Text by Paul Browne
31st December 2012