2011 was an interesting year for J-Pop here in the UK as well as Japanese Pop Culture in general. January saw L’Arc-en-Ciel celebrating their 20th Anniversary with a New Year’s performance followed by the release of the compilation album Twenity.
Sadly, 2011 was also a year for tragedy. In March Japan was devastated by an undersea earthquake (the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan) which resulted in a tsunami that struck the Eastern part of Japan. As well as widespread damage and loss of life, the tsunami caused a nuclear accident at the Fukushima power plant.
Over 15,000 people are known to have died in the tragedy with over 5,000 injured and more than 3,000 people missing. Relief efforts went into immediate action including UK-based efforts to raise funds to help. Akemi Solloway, who had for a long time helped to promote Japanese culture in the UK, made plans for an event called Aid For Japan which took place at Conway Hall, London in May. The event featured stage performances, demonstrations, cultural talks, kimono fashion show as well as live music from iMMa, Dobly and Saara Takase alongside AKB48 tribute act LDN48 supported by J-Pop Go.
As well as Aid For Japan, J-Pop Go helped out at another fundraiser Heart Japan which took place in April. Heart Japan featured a Lolita Fashion Show, an exclusive artwork from Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and live performances from LDN48, Johnny Lazer and Zonic.
The Summer saw the return of Hyper Japan which had expanded from its 2010 event to its new home of the Olympia Two in London. Amongst the attractions was the UK debut of Baroque Pop superstar Kanon Wakeshima. J-Pop Go interviewed Kanon following her performance to get her views on playing the UK for the first time.
One of the most catchy releases of 2011 came from blogger-turned-singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu with her debut single PonPonPon. The song also came with some inspired credentials as it was produced by Yasutaka Nakata of Technopop outfit capsule and also producer of power pop trio Perfume.
August also saw J-Pop Go looking at the influence of Yellow Magic Orchestra on the Western music scene. One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK, YMO became well-known via their instrumental hit Firecracker, also known Computer Game (Theme From The Invader).
The Anime Convention scene continued to expand with bigger and better events. AyaCon put on a performance by Unicorn Table – a boisterous pop rock outfit that had carved their way via a series of top notch Anime themes including Fly Away from Jinki:Extend and a variety of tunes from School Rumble. Also performing at Aya, Unshin were promoting their debut album Waltz for Broken Dolls, telling the story of a young girl battling against the restraints of society. J-Pop Go interviewed the band and discussed stage performances, conventions and playing abroad.
October saw the UK debut of Japanese band Lo-Fi as part of HAA – TO BII – TO which was another fundraising event for Aid For Japan. Lo-Fi are a Japanese music trio that utilise a range of genres, including breakbeats, hip-hop and soul. J-Pop Go interviewed lead singer 5 about the band and his thoughts on the Japan tragedy.
Perfume returned with a new single Spice in November followed by new album JPN proving the Technopop trio can still deliver top notch J-Pop. Perfume are enjoying an increase in attention from the West, especially since their classic track Polyrhythm featured in the soundtrack for the film Cars 2 earlier in 2011.
Kanon Wakeshima returned to the UK as part of kanon x kanon – a collaboration with An Cafe’s bassist Kanon. The tour had crossed Europe with dates in Russia, Germany, France and the Netherlands. The concerts have received a great response from fans demonstrating that there is an enthusiastic audience outside of Japan.
December saw more K-Pop coming to the UK in the shape of a special event scheduled by Cube Entertainment featuring performances from 4minute, B2ST, and G.NA as part of a rescheduled performance (originally cancelled due to the riots earlier in the year).
Another band that celebrating their Anniversary was guitar pop outfit Shonen Knife. The band had their 30th Anniversary at the end of December and had also released new album Osaka Ramones, their tribute to The Ramones.
Although the year was marked by the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami, there was also a clear effort by people to pull together. 2011 was also a year in which both J-Pop and K-Pop were making larger efforts to secure a UK audience. Let’s hope 2012 will build on that.
Text by Paul Browne
1st January 2012