With the demise of the Earl’s Court venue, Hyper Japan have been shopping around for new premises – which for their summer event saw them landing at the O2. Situated on the Greenwich peninsula, the former Millennium Dome would appear to be a smart choice for an event the size of Hyper Japan.
For J-pop fans, this Hyper Japan was a must. Although the event had entertained a variety of musical guests in previous years, the 2015 event saw not only the likes of TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE and Eir Aoi performing, but also the mighty Dempagumi.inc. Along for the ride were a combo of rock acts, including the iconic X JAPAN, plus a host of assorted J-pop, anisong and idol acts, including Hitomi Kurioishi, HoneySpice and Rio Hiiragi.
But our own UK performer scene also had a few tricks up its sleeve with the brightest and best performing over the weekend individually, but also coming together in a special collaborative effort. Masterminded by Andy “Kleptopenguin” Lee, the Natsu Master stage show was an attempt to combine the likes of Kelsey Ellison, Cinnamon Purin, Scarlett Young, MK and MOE.
Taking place on the HYPER LIVE Stage, Kelsey Ellison performed her song ‘Pom Pom’ with the combined talents of both MK and Cinnamon Purin providing the dance backup. Meanwhile, the vocal talents of Scarlett Young and Andy Lee did a star turn on a rendition of classic Sailor Moon opener ‘Moonlight Densetsu’. The pair were then joined by Kelsey for a Disney medley with a definite Japanese twist.
MK returned to do an energetic dance routine to Momoiro Clover ’s ‘Ikuze! Kaito Shojo’ while Scarlett Young and MoE later returned to the stage to do a busy routine to AKB48’s ‘Everyday, Katyusha’. The performance closed with Andy doing a take on Flow’s ‘GO!!!’, joined at the end by all the performers who then went on to do a group rendition of popular vocaloid tune ‘Happy Synthesizer’.
Meanwhile, Japanese baroque pop outfit Die Milch were making their Hyper Japan debut over the weekend. With new album Imperial in hand, Die Milch’s line-up featured the talents OF Mocha on violin accompanying DM founder Coco for a captivating set on the Festival stage.
Clad in visually complementary Lolita outfits, Die Milch were greeted by a packed audience. The pair won over a lot of new fans with a barrage of gothic pop tunes, including ‘MaMa’, ‘Operette’ and the always-stunning ‘Rosaria’.
Eir Aoi has made her mark with an impressive resume of anime contributions; in particular ‘Sirius’ from the madness that is cult hit Kill la Kill. Aoi-san was one of a selection of artists that had also been performing at the Japan Expo in Paris the previous week.
Striding across the stage with surprising confidence for her UK debut, Aoi-san offered up a commanding stage presence. Opening with Sword Art Online II’s ‘Ignite’, Aoi swiftly moved through a setlist of bangers, including ‘Kasumi’ and ‘Lapis Lazuli’. But perhaps the biggest cheer was reserved for the intense energy of the Kill la Kill opener (read J-Pop Go’s interview with Eir Aoi here).
Friday night was rounded out by the late arrival of the biggest J-pop draw of Hyper Japan as Dempagumi.inc rocked up to the Festival Stage for a brief talk ahead of their performances on the weekend. The packed audience were clearly eager to see the idol outfit in action, but would have to wait for Saturday to enjoy the colourful delights of the Akihabara team.
Saturday brought with it some glorious weather and also some glorious crowds for day 2 of the summer Hyper Japan. Time then for Dempagumi.inc to finally make their UK performance debut (which took place at the ungodly hour of 10:45am). The Dempa faithful had already taken their places stage front in anticipation and once the girls took to the stage, the crowd erupted into cheers and a sea of colours as glowsticks were waved into action.
If there’s one thing that Dempagumi manage to excel at, it’s energy. Their sheer exuberance managed to wake up whatever cobwebs remained amongst any sleepyheads in the audience. After the tones of ‘Dempana Sekai’ heralded their entrance, Dempagumi filed onto the stage and launched into the powerful ‘DenDen Passion’, their 2013 single and one of the reliable bangers in their live shows. Ribbons in hand, the Dempa outfit whipped the audience into life.
After a brief MC piece, it was then straight into ‘WWD’ – the self-referential song that, for many people, was the tune that brought the idol outfit to broader attention. Meanwhile, a huge cheer goes up as the girls jump into an energetic performance of ‘ChururiChururira’. Without a break, they’re straight into the frenetic melodies of ‘NEO JAPONISM’ which sees them shuffling from one side of the stage to the other in an inspired clash of choreography.
Stepping down a gear, the colourful outfit then begin the more sedate tones of ‘Kuchiduke Kibonnu’, one of their earliest songs dating back to their 2011 debut album. Possibly saving the best for last however, the girls first take time to guide the audience through a series of moves requiring towels that ends, as Nemu helpfully demonstrates, with casually throwing your towel over your shoulder and adopting a “Cool Face!” Yes, it’s the manic ‘Otsukare Summer’ – and the towel-carrying wota in the audience are only too happy to join in.
There’s a few points to be made about Dempagumi’s debut here. Firstly, it’s likely to be one of the few occasions when we’re lucky to have seen these J-pop powerhouses in such an intimate setting. Plus, the condensed setlist gave us a perfect banger-filled performance. It was also an occasion to witness a large group of hardcore Dempa fans unleashing their own particular brand of wotagei. While Babymetal’s audiences reflected a similar passion and a similar physically intense presence (Hello Wall Of Death!), there was something much more focussed about the Dempa fans, clad in their stylised clothing and brandishing their glowsticks (each colour reflecting a particular member).
It was going to be a tough task for any of the other musical acts that weekend to outdo Dempagumi, but TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE were certainly going to give it a go. Continuing in the footsteps of Avex idol outfits, the 5-piece group were actually down to 4 for their UK debut as Ayano Konishi was taking time out to focus on treatment for back pain. But the remaining members still managed to present a stylish performance with perky numbers such as ‘Kodou no Himitsu’
Clad in fetching black outfits, the foursome delivered a particularly muscular version of ‘Never ever’, their most recent release (which also doubles up as the latest ending theme to popular anime series Fairy Tail) and got their groove on for ‘Limited addiction’. Despite a slightly mis-timed intro, the girls also powered through a breezy ‘Count Three’ (which was actually the first vinyl release from the idol group).
The HYPER LIVE Stage also saw singer and TV star (care of J-Melo) May J receive a warm welcome. May J gave a selection of engaging numbers, including new song ‘Sparkle’. This widescreen pop ballad (part of a collaboration with Disney) slotted in perfectly into a set that also included ‘ReBirth’ and contemporary classic ‘Let It Go’.
One of the bonus musical guests for Hyper Japan this time around was Hitomi Kurioshi. Best known for her ‘Angel Feather Voice’ – a distinctive soprano style that’s been carefully honed and perfected within the studio – Hitomi has chalked up a number of memorable anime song contributions. As well as contributions to popular titles such as Planetes and Code Geass, Hitomi probably made her biggest impact by working on the classic series LAST EXILE.
Hitomi’s Hyper Japan appearance was bolstered by guest musicians, including a percussionist utilising a handheld square instrument to beat out rhythms. Meanwhile, Hitomi delivered a series of favourites, including ‘Over The Clouds’, the striking end theme to LAST EXILE and the wistful ‘Innocent Days’ from Code Geass. Hitomi also returned to the world of LAST EXILE to deliver an effective rendition of ‘Starboard’ from the sequel series Fam, The Silver Wing.
Outside of the performances by the various guest artists, there were also meet and greet sessions organised. A good opportunity for the eager fans to meet the likes of Dempagumi.Inc and get CDs and merchandise signed.
As Sunday rolled around, it was time to make the most of the last day of Hyper Japan – a good opportunity to do the rounds amongst the many stalls and tables selling everything from fashion to unusual Japanese snacks. The food court (always a popular feature) had a few choice items, including Chicken Katsu Burgers (which sold out ridiculously early) as well as the delights of a miso soup dispenser.
Meanwhile, Teatime Treasures had their own stall selling a variety of Atelier Pierrot fashion items, as well as a good range of Die Milch merchandise. It would be tough to find a harder work ethic that could match DM’s Coco and Mocha who tirelessly paraded in front of the Teatime Treasures stall in all their Lolita finery. Mocha drew the crowds with her impromptu violin performances while Coco patiently posed for photos with the passers by.
Sunday also saw the final Dempagumi performance – a show which appeared to draw a much bigger and much more enthusiastic crowd than their Saturday show. There were a few changes to the setlist with the inclusion of songs such as ‘Dempari Night’ and ‘Bali 3 Kyouwakoku’ (both culled from the current WWDD album). Their final show also had an additional special occasion – the impending birthday of Nemu, who seemed genuinely touched by the outpouring of birthday greetings while on stage.
Hyper Japan continues to be a major draw on the UK Japanese pop culture calendar, despite its current search for a new permanent home. Certainly the musical part of its events are providing J-Pop fans with a much-needed showcase for many popular acts, as well as many new ones. With a consistent quality of Japanese music outfits, it’s going to be intriguing to see how Hyper Japan raise the bar for future events.
J-Pop Go expresses its thanks to the Hyper Japan press team and staff. Special thanks also to Keiichi Itoh and Karen Kemp.
HYPER JAPAN returns on 27-29th November 2015 at Tobacco Dock, London.