“It was like chaos and insanity…”
For those attending any of the recent UK Necronomidol shows, a few familiar faces were always there to ensure a smooth process for both performances as well as the post-show cheki sessions. The Orion Live team of Chris and Dave has already been established through a series of other underground idol shows (including 2018’s Indie, Idol & Infamous tour). Orion’s team dovetails quite neatly with the Necroma team of idol guru Ricky Wilson as well as Derek Vasconi, international tour coordinator for Necronomidol, who could often be spotted wielding cameras for Necroma’s performances or liaising with fans on the merchandise stall among his many roles.
Derek (the be-hatted gent seen above next to Orion’s Dave and Chris), has an intriguing story predating his idol work. Like many of the players in the underground idol scene, there’s a strong connection to the world of metal. As well as being on hand for Necroma’s shows, Derek also looks after the recently-launched online site Idol Underworld which serves to deliver idol merch directly to western fans.
The most striking aspect of Derek Vasconi is his general enthusiasm and energy, particularly for the idol fans that patiently line-up for chekis and merchandise. But it’s also an enthusiasm that extends to the world of blogging and idol coverage (“We’re big fans of J-Pop Go!”) and a keen desire to spread the word.
Taking time out from his busy schedule at Hyper Japan, Derek spoke to J-Pop Go about his background, his work with Necronomidol and plans for Idol Underworld…
What was your background prior to getting involved in the idol business?
Basically, I used to be in a band called From The Second Storey Window. It was a hardcore metal band. We toured the world a couple of times and I played guitar and I wrote a good majority of the songs for the first two albums. Then after that, I gravitated into more of a Japanese cultural thing. I was coming to Japan because I was writing a novel, it was a horror novel. I have this motto when it comes to writing, it’s like “Write what you know, but live what you don’t.”
So, I didn’t know anything about Japan and I always wanted to go. Ever since I was a little kid, I had an interest in Japanese culture. I went over and that’s when I discovered the music world and then, little by little, I started getting into the idol world. First it was via AKB48, they were a major idol group – and still are. I didn’t really understand it, but it was cool – it was different.
Then I read on a blog a couple of years after about an underground idol group. This one girl in the group would swing a baseball bat with barbed wire at her fans and I was like “What is this??” And the group was so heavy, they were called Guso Drop – now they’re known as Bakuretsu Joshi (Burst Girl) and I went to one of their shows.
On my next trip to Japan (again I was going to Japan to do research for my books and stuff) I went and it was some show I found and they got on stage and as soon as I saw them, one girl Yura smiled at me – and then I got crushed by all the fans! (laughs) It was like chaos and insanity. I was hooked – and from that point on, their fans started to accept me because I’d go to their shows. Then, once their fans accepted me, I just fell down the idol hole (laughs) and from there, I was like “Oh I like this group, I like this group, I like this group!” and eventually ran into Necroma.
What is it about the idol scene that engages your interest?
Well again, because my background is hardcore and metal, the world that I came from is very community-based, meaning every show we went to we knew everybody, everybody knew us. My group particularly, we were known as the party group. We’d show up, you’d have a case of beer, we’d get drunk and have a good time. That’s what we were known for, especially me. I just knew all of our fans.
So, in the idol world, there’s a similar thing going on. In Tokyo, we all know each other. I know a huge majority of the foreign fans, because there’s not that many, but the ones that are there, I know them. So, that community element is a big reason why I like it, because we all know each other, we all support each other. If you want to go crazy for a group, no one is going to make fun of you for that – in fact, it’s encouraged. And fans are like, if you want to be lifted up and pushed to the stage, you just have to tap someone on the shoulder and they’ll lift you up. It’s very friendly. Also, what I love about the idol performances, it’s like… say you’re at a taiban – a taiban is like where many idol groups are? And let’s say your group is like second and the first group has all their fans here. That group, their fans will step back and you can go up. Then you do the same for the next group or whoever else. So, the community component is the biggest reason there – and the second is the music. The music is just really fascinating, different. I’ve never heard anything like it.
How did you get involved with Necronomidol?
I was going to see Guso Drop every chance I could and Necronomidol were really good friends of Guso Drop. To this day, we’re good friends with their latest incarnation Bakeretsu Joshi. They played a show with Guso Drop and I didn’t know who they were at the time. I’d heard that there was this Idol group with this white guy producing them, which is just unheard of. I mean Ricky, their producer, he’s the only guy in the whole scene – he and I are the only two foreigners in the entire industry. So, I was curious and then they played, and the first song was ‘Sarnath’ and Himari had just joined the group and that’s her song and she went nuts. I’ve never seen such passion such intensity in a group like that outside of Guso Drop and so I was like “Woooah!” It blew my mind. So, then I listened, and I saw Sari with the white shironuri makeup and I’m like “This shit is crazy!”.
Then, a year later I worked up the courage to go approach them and to talk to Ricky – a big metal-looking guy. They played a show with Hanako-san at Earthdom. It was raining that day and Ricky, being the nice guy that he was, had all the girls go out and do a Meet and Greet with all the fans before the show because he felt really grateful. We were all drenched with rain and so I was like “This guy’s cool.”
I went to talk to him and I had an idea for a tour with one of my friend’s groups called Zeroshiki (They’re going to be on the Metal Matsuri show in October). They wanted to do an American tour and I saw Necroma and I heard that they wanted to go to America. When I saw Ricky at that moment, it was like “Lightbulb!” I just asked him “Ricky, I know you don’t know me, I know you’ve never met me. We have common friends; we have common interests – Do you want to do a tour with me?” And he was like “Yeah!”.
So, I set up their first American tour with Zeroshiki being their back-up band and they get Yuji, who’s actually the drummer for the Necroma band, to fill in because Zeroshiki didn’t have a full-time drummer. So, we put them all together and we went on tour. And after that, that tour was very successful, Ricky asked me if I wanted to work for Necroma and I moved to Japan three months after that and here I am!
How did Idol Underworld get started?
Idol Underworld was an idea that I came up with months ago. I’d worked with several idol groups outside of Necroma and a lot of other idol groups just know me from being a fan of idol for the past four and a half years. The one thing I notice is there’s no consistent way to reach foreign fans with their music. You can’t buy merchandise. It’s very hard, like, come to Tokyo or you go on CD Japan or Amazon and you’re lucky if you find something. Or you risk ordering from the idol group’s websites. Many of them don’t even have their merchandise up for sale and you have to buy it at the venue.
I thought there’s got to be a better way. We know everybody, so me and Ricky were thinking why don’t we float this idea to some of the groups – and there’s a lot of groups that are interested in this.
We were thinking we’ll use Necroma as our test, see how it works. It’s been overwhelmingly successful. I’ve made more money on that in terms of sales than I think anything I’ve made in my life – and that’s only the first month. It’s just very good. It flows. There’s still a lot of bugs, I’m still working out kinks. It’s a work-in-progress, but all the fans have been really supportive, like they really understand it.
Idol Underworld is based on an idea: I wanted to create a bridge to foreign fans who don’t have access to this, who maybe want to hear a group, but they don’t want to go to Tokyo and go to a show or they just can’t for any reason. They can at least get that music and not go through all these weird channels to do it . I feel I have a trusted name and I’ve never screwed anyone over, ever. People know me and I’m not saying that in a bragging capacity or anything, they just know who I am in this world. I’ve done all these tours with these groups, the groups trust me, so it just makes sense.
The challenge for this though has been getting the Japanese fans onboard. Because it’s all in English, so right now I’m working on a Japanese mirror site and then also getting them to do this without having to go to the shows and buying the merchandise. Because I want to get a lot of more the Japanese fans in. But so far we’re doing good. I still have a decent amount of Japanese fans and they buy a lot of merch. So, the ones that I do have, and they trust it, they keep buying.
How do you see Idol Underworld expanding in the future?
So, Idol Underworld, basically the idea is to do three things: One is we’ll get more groups obviously. So, in August when I get home we’re going to start adding groups straight away. It was just that we were going to do before touring, but we didn’t have enough time. Plus, they’re going to sit there and do nothing from July as I can’t fulfil orders.
Once we get enough orders: get our own office, get staff, because I want this to become the central hub for every idol group to give me their merch. Eventually I’d like to get these groups to sell to both Japanese and foreign fans. So that’s the other idea, to become a hub for all these groups and also to become more of a central place for idol fans to go, maybe include news. But everything being foreign-friendly too.
The other thing is to get exclusive stuff – the Himari photobook for example, that’s our first exclusive item. I’d love to do a whole series of photobooks for all these idols that I like. I have a couple of other ideas for exclusive ideas, it’s just we want to scale this, and my goal right now is by December this year to have 20 to 30 groups, maybe by this time next year to have triple that. So, we’ll see how I do, but a little at a time.
Obviously, you’ve been touring around with Necromomidol for quite a while. Are there are any funny stories from the road?
Oh God yes, I mean there’s so much crazy stuff happens all the time. It’s touring, you know. I mean, Yuji, our drummer on the very first tour, he would just get really wild and in the van he’d do this thing where he’s pretending he’s a DJ and it was like “Dah-dah-dah-daaah!!!” And he would just keep doing it over and over again to the point where we’d all just burst out laughing. He’s just got this really interesting way of looking at the world.
The girls are all pretty chilled. None of them are big comedians or anything, but every once in a while like, you know, faux pas where they don’t understand something. I swear a lot on tour. I just swear in general. So lately the girls have been mimicking me. So, I would be like “Fuck!!”, I’d be like “Fuck it!!!” and like Michelle or Kunogi would be like “Ah, fuck!!! Fuck it!!” And they just keep repeating! And now the other girls have started doing it, like Okaki would go “Ah, fuck it!!” And it’s just like “Oh shit…” and they’re like “Shit!” And it just gets bad, but it’s funny as hell! (laughs) Because the girls don’t care, they’re just being themselves. I’ve been teaching them bad words and it’s probably not a good thing, but they’re funny about it.
So, there’s that and sometimes the food can be very interesting. The girls won’t. know what they’re eating and they eat it and they freak out or they want to try stuff, but they’re not sure what it is. But thinking of any specific anecdotes is hard because I usually write everything down and then just store it, just silly things.
More and more on tour though, it’s more serious, because we have more to lose if we don’t do our jobs here. So, there is that sense of pressure that keeps us on a level of sorts. It’s early, but it’s been easy and smooth and we’re all relaxed and happy. I thought Kunogi would have a little bit of a problem at first outside of Japan, but she’s been great. So, everything’s been scarily smooth – we’re just waiting for the shoe to drop! Hopefully it doesn’t!
J-Pop Go expresses its thanks to Derek Vasconi and the Necronomidol team.
Metal Matsuri takes place 4th-5th October 2019 at the O2 Academy, London. More details: https://www.metalmatsuri.com/