2016 has been an eventful year for J-Pop, particularly here in the UK which hosted both some big names and small names for live performances. Along the way we saw the return of old favourites and also some shocks for the future of some outfits. Here’s J-Pop Go’s review of the year…
One of 2016’s most significant events was the fact that it marked Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s 5th Anniversary which was marked by the release of a compilation album KPP Best and also new single ‘Sai & Co’. KPP also announced her third world tour titled KPP 5iVE YEARS MONSTER WORLD TOUR 2016 with plans got visit Singapore, Sydney, New York City and also London.
In February, veteran idol outfit Momoiro Clover Z released their two new albums, Hakkin no Yoake and Amaranthus, at the same time. It was an ambitious idea but both albums shared some fine Momoclo moments, with Hakkin no Yoake offering the percussive pop of ‘Rock The Boat’. Meanwhile, Amaranthus had the energetic ‘We Are Born’ and the dramatic tones of ‘Naitemo Iin da yo’. The albums struck a chord with domestic audiences with Hakkin no Yoake debuting at No.1 and Hakkin no Yoake landing at No.2 respectively in the Oricon weekly albums chart.
Not to be left out, electropop duo FEMM scored their first international release via JPU Records with a double CD release for PoW! / L.C.S. and Femm-Isation.
Meanwhile, March saw the UK debut of 4-piece rock outfit The Tomboys. Formerly known as NoName, the newly re-christened Tomboys originally laid their musical foundations as a SCANDAL covers band before embarking on their own adventures. While the band had a definite SCANDAL influence combined with the garage punk aesthetic of Shonen Knife, the songs had a fresh dynamic quality to them.
Elsewhere, J-Pop Go’s very own DJ Yamada took up the J-Pop baton to present a series of special club nights in Leeds. From Sushi Rock to Genki Beats, Yamada brought the audience tunes from UVERworld, Orange Range, FLOW, BABYMETAL, Abingdon Boy’s School, ViViD, Miyavi, Gackt and more!
Meanwhile, Roxy Simons penned a special article for J-Pop Go showcasing Galileo Galilei, the 3-piece rock group who had also contributed their music to various anime titles, including Mobile Suit Gundam and Terror in Resonance.
The 11th March marked the tragic 5th Anniversary of the devastating earthquake/tsunami that had struck Japan in 2011. As a result, several events were organised to commemorate the anniversary. Naomi Suzuki hosted the Kakehashi Concert in London which featured the musical talents of Hibiki Ichikawa, Diana Yukawa and Joji Hirota. While UK-based charity Aid For Japan staged a special presentation to remember the day.
April brought with it the return of veteran rock outfit Shonen Knife, who issued new studio album Adventure ahead of their 35th Anniversary Tour.
BABYMETAL continued their unrelenting path to world domination with the release of their second album Metal Resistance. Boasting strong songs such as ‘KARATE’, J-Pop Go’s review of the album suggested “…a seamless continuation from their debut release, yet also manages to push the envelope of what the outfit are capable of. While there may not be any direct contenders for follow-ups to the likes of ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’ on Metal Resistance… there’s an energetic quality to the album that will certainly deliver rewards for those willing to invest time”. BABYMETAL also sweetened the deal by staging a headlong concert at London’s Wembley Arena in April.
May was the month of BAND-MAID, the 5-member rock outfit that combined maid outfits with a talent for powerful rock anthems. The band made their UK debut at an MCM Expo event and their first international album Brand New MAID was released via JPU Records the same month.
The idol scene was a particularly busy world throughout 2016 with underground acts scrabbling for exposure, while the top tier of acts were continuing a steady pace. In between were outfits like Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku, often referred to as the “little sister” group to Momoiro Clover Z (both are managed by the Stardust Promotion agency).
Ebichu’s album Anarchy was an engaging collection of songs, including the ‘punk idol’ aesthetic of lead single ‘Zette Anarchy’. But the album zipped around a variety of genres, from the pop appeal of ‘Nikibi’ to the ‘Marmite moment’ of bombastic rock opera ‘Ponpara Pecoruna Papiyotta’ (a song actually composed by the legendary Yoko Kanno).
Elsewhere, the innovative video for lyrical school’s ‘RUN and RUN’ captured everyone’s attention as it was scaled in the same aspect ratio as your typical smartphone. The song was also a lot of fun with an energetic handclap-driven melody.
Dempagumi.inc continued their own idol pop ascension with the release of their 4th studio album GOGO DEMPA. The album continued Dempa’s knack for kinetic J-pop and also featured the seasonly thematic ‘Otsukare Summer!’. Meanwhile, J-Pop Go explored some of the Dempagumi.inc member’s thoughts when we posted up an exclusive interview with the idol outfit.
Technopop trio Perfume, meanwhile, released their new album Cosmic Explorer which resulted in J-Pop Go giving a thumbs-up review: “Perfume are playing to their strengths, while not being afraid to mix up their musical palette. At the same time, the trio retain the electropop elements that make Perfume so special…”. The album also featured in Rolling Stone as one of the Best Pop albums of 2016.
The legacy of underground idol outfit Brand-New Idol Society continued, despite the group disbanding in 2014. BiSH released their album FAKE METAL JACKET in January and followed this up with Killer BiSH in October which featured the raucous rock-pop of single ‘DEADMAN’.
But July brought with it the announcement that BiS would be brought back to life. Former BiS leader Pour Lui would be back leading the charge and details for auditions were announced.
As summer rolled around, London audiences were exposed to the bonkers mayhem that is Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker. An immersive theatre experience managed by Toco Nikaido, the Idol Berserker show was staged at the Barbican. Attendees were advised to be equipped with a rain poncho and earplugs as 25 performers swarmed the stage at breakneck speed, armed with an abundance of disposable props and proceeded to toss water, tofu and other ‘interesting’ items over the crowd. Designed as a frenzied homage to otagei, this event was certainly one of the more unforgettable events of 2016.
Idol outfit Cheeky Parade returned with the wonder that was Cheeky Parade II. Following on from their debut album release, the new album continued the 7-strong group’s penchant for energetic pop tunes. There was a particularly cinematic pop appeal to the tunes on Cheeky Parade II that made this album one of the stand-out J-pop releases of the year.
July saw MAN WITH A MISSION return to the UK with a performance at London’s 02 Academy Islington. As ever, the wild wolves of Japanese music brought their powerful and unique music to a growing global fanbase.
Iconic rock outfit X Japan entered 2016 with a new documentary We Are X receiving screenings. A planned Wembley performance however was rescheduled for March 2017. X Japan’s Yoshiki was also interviewed for a special feature by the BBC.
The London Anime & Gaming Convention returned – with J-Pop Go once again on DJ duties. But the event also showcased performances from Scarlett Young, rising stars Furi Furi and J-idol group SUSUME☆STAR. The event also featured a Dempagumi.inc Tribute Hour, hosted by Tomemon & Emianox. K-Pop/J-Pop dance group SDNX (Sardonyx) were also a standout act.
The design genius of Sebastian Masuda and 6%DOKIDOKI made a rare UK appearance by staging a special workshop in London’s Camden.
Meanwhile, Hyper Japan returned with its usual host of special guests and events. Among the stars at this summer’s event were Studio Ghibli singer Azumi Inoue and indie pop-punk outfit Broken Doll. But making their UK debut, electronic duo Charisma.com won over new fans with some engaging performances. J-Pop Go managed to secure an interview with Charisma.com’s Itsuka and Gonchi at the event to get some insight into the duo’s music.
As part of her anniversary activities, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu made a UK stop during her KPP 5iVE YEARS MONSTER WORLD TOUR 2016. Marking Kyary’s 5th year anniversary since 2011’s ‘Pon Pon Pon’ put her on the map, she’s built an impressive catalogue of songs in subsequent years. As ever, she also put on an visually dazzling performance for London audiences at Camden’s Koko venue. J-Pop Go were on hand to pen a review, while fellow attendees included Abi Pop and Kelsy Ellison, who provided her own vlog on proceedings.
Although LADYBABY’s star was in the ascendent, particularly on the back of new release ‘Renge Chance!’, the J-Pop world was shocked when Ladybeard announced that he was parting with the outfit. Although details of the split were unclear, Rie Kaneko and Rei Kuromiya continued under the new name The Idol Formerly Known As LADYBABY. But Rei Kuromiya herself made it clear that she would never be content as merely being part of LADYBABY as later in the year brought the welcome return of her rock combo BRATS.
Perfume kept paying it back to UK audiences with the unveiling of a special exhibition in London. Announced as a tie-in event to celebrate the issue of their new vinyl and blu-ray releases, a special gallery exhibition was organised which featured some of the dresses the trio had worn during previous tours along with other memorabilia and a pop-up shop selling a range of Perfume goodies. It was a poor replacement for a no-show in the UK for Perfume’s global tour, but J-Pop Go reviewed the gallery show and came away impressed.
Perhaps one of the best surprises that 2016 brought was the return of Utada Hikaru. Having announced an indefinite hiatus back in 2010, Utada had also to contend with the tragedy of her mother passing in 2013. There were rumours that she was returning to recording, later confirmed when details of new album Fantôme broke. Utada’s first album since 2008’s Heart Station presented more of an emphasis on stripped-down arrangements for many of the songs, whose themes appeared to have a focus on reflection, love and grief. Fantôme, received an enthusiastic response from both her fans and the music-buying public generally with the album making No. 1 in the Oricon Albums Chart
September also brought with it the annual Japan Matsuri event staged in London’s Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, the Newcastle-based anime event scene staged Geek-Con 3 with special guest Scarlett Young. That was later followed by their annual Anime Attacks convention, with special guests including dance outfit Sardonyx.
SCANDAL marked their 10th Anniversary with a new album YELLOW, which was prefaced by new singles ‘Sisters’ and ‘Stamp!’. In October, they embarked on a European tour which included a concert at London’s O2 venue in Islington as part of the band’s European tour. As venues go, the O2 is certainly an intimate one. It was a far cry from the likes of the Budokan in their native Japan, but equally the confines of the venue offer up an enthusiastic crowd which was a big contribution to the energy of the evening.
November saw the annual Hyper Japan Christmas Market, which this year featured guests including The Tomboys, The Hoopers, NeoBallad, Ekotumi, Shohjyotai, Fuki, Nao Masaoka and former AKB48 member Misaki Iwasa. The Tomboys also played a special pre-Hyper Japan show in London which saw J-Pop Go DJing once again.
A brief teaser of Nakata Yasutaka’s new song ‘Crazy Crazy’ (featuring Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Charli XCX) also appeared before the year was out. The track is due for release in January.
Seeing out 2016, French J-Pop fans were treated to Airly Momoco staging a special New Years concert in Paris on the 31st December. Meanwhile, the annual Kohaku Uta Gassen show in Japan featured musical guests including Utada Hikaru and Puffy among others.