HYPER JAPAN 2023 Review

Summer culture thrills

Hyper Japan returned once again with a summer event packed with three days of food, fashion, gaming, cosplay, anime and music all connected with a Japanese theme.

As ever, for this year’s event, Hyper Japan had a broad variety of music acts designed to appeal to both casual attendees and dedicated J-pop fans. Among those guests at this year’s event was Naomi Suzuki, returning after her appearance at Hyper Japan back in 2019 (see previous review). A popular figure on London’s busy Japanese culture and music scene, Naomi is probably best-known for her MC work at London’s annual Japan Matsuri (see J-Pop Go’s previous interview). Naomi put on an engaging music performance on the opening Friday, which included the breezy pop of ‘I Don’t Want To Let You Go’. At the same time, she was on double-duties as a presenter for Hyper Japan’s hectic stage schedule. But her enthusiasm and energy made her the perfect choice to occupy both roles.

As ever with Hyper Japan, the organising team are always keen to link up with other projects with a Japanese cultural angle that may be coinciding with Hyper Japan’s dates. In this case, they managed to link up with the producers of a stage show based on Matoko Shinkai’s classic Garden of Worlds who put on a sampler for the Hyper Japan audiences. The project had first been floated about nine years ago according to the theatre team (“Everything had to be run by the production company”). Some of the cast were also involved with the earlier successful My Neighbour Totoro stage show

The brief preview here was captivating, particularly for its inventivness which included a technique for creating rain on stage using plastic sheeting (Plus, the charm of a lively crow puppet). The theatrical adapation apparently also includes elements of the later novel as well as the anime, giving the stage show a little more depth.

Continuing her musical journey post-Necronomidol, Isiliel (aka Himari Tsukishiro) straddles several genres combining black metal, atmospheric metal and doom metal with the soft voice of J-pop. Isiliel was showcasing her debut album Moonbow Genesis and carrying on the flag in the abscence of the much-loved occult idols.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Isiliel appears a little isolated on stage without fellow members to bounce her clear chemistry off. Equally, the choreography is a much simpler affair as she has to now carry the entire performance on her own shoulders. Musically, Isiliel’s material feels heavier than Necronomidol and perhaps lacks the more gothic element of her former outfit. Yet, she’s always demonstrated that she’s got a powerful voice and there’s no arguing about her stage presence. Meanwhile, the fans are definitely out today for Isiliel and it’s clear she’s getting a lift from the love and enthusiasm in the audience.

Friday was also bookended with a special after-show affair organised by the Japanese Meetup team. Relocating ourselves to Notting Hill Arts Club, we were entertained by the guitar skills of Hide Takamoto and the performance art of Mioenergy. The latter certainly had energy on stage and her harder rap approach to vocals brought the likes of FEMM to mind. A solid cover of Utada Hikaru’s ‘One More Kiss’ (“Does anyone like Neon Genesis Evangelion?”) was a definite high point.

Saturday felt a little quieter, although spirits were certainly dampened by the torrential rain that plagued people travelling to the venue. This didn’t stop large crowds on the day however which included a very popular FEMM Meet and Greet (an event slightly marred by an over-enthusiastic photographer who decided to take over FEMM’s booth to take shots of their own charges).

Meanwhile, the main stage was home to a curious combo of manga and soft rock care of Rinch. The performance was certainly lively and angsty, although without much context on the manga’s story it doesn’t quite land with the impact you would expect.

Conversely, French pop/electronic singer Danasirene has a dynamic stage presence and knows instinctively how to create a chemistry with the crowd. Her tunes revolve around airy, ethereal beats and choral vocals (which she describes as “Electro-Angel” music). She’s also briefly joined by a guitar player, which gives her performance a little more weight. Definitely one of this Hyper Japan’s musical highlights.

Sunday saw the appearance of Ready Singer One, an intriguing singing group whose strength is in their choral approach backed by a simple piano backing. Their appeal, however, is through the choice of songs which dip into a variety of anime, video game and general nerd interests. This included the likes of Pokemon, ‘Jump Up Superstar’ from Super Mario, Princess Monoke’s ‘No One Knows Your Heart’ and ‘Rivers In The Desert’ from Persona 5. They finish up with a stirring rendition of the Attack On Titan theme with some additional box-led percussion to drive things along.

Elsewhere, Mion also won over hearts and minds with her stage performance. An award-winning singer-songwriter from Nagoya, Aichi, who has ranked No.1 on the Oricon Singles Charts with her hit single ‘Summer Magic’. She opens with a brief MC before launching into some perky pop moments. This includes some choice anime tune selections including Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan and Flow’s classic ‘Go!!!’ from Naruto. Mion is soft spoken, but has a vocal punch when she’s singing. Plus, her towel twirls bring to mind Dempagumi’s Hyper Japan appearance from some years ago.

The later stage shows also include the theatrical appeal of Colorpointe, which trades more on sophisticated choreography and a visual dazzle. There’s also singer/song-writer Mika Kobyashi (an established anime theme singer) who boasts a powerful vocal presence and a strong stage chemistry.

Yet there’s probably little argument regarding which act carries the entire weekend. Electronic dance music duo FEMM (Far East Mention Mannequins) aka RiRi and LuLa round things out for the Saturday. FEMM have been a J-Pop Go favourite for some time and they originally made their mark with the phenomenal success of 2014 song ‘Fxxk Boyz Get Money’. Since then, they’ve not really put a foot wrong with a solid catalogue of tunes. Plus, they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, which made their appearance that more special.

As ever, any FEMM stage show sees our two mannequin performers carried bodily onto the stage to be positioned just-so. Everything after that is just a perfect showcase of FEMM finesse. ‘We Flood The Night’ provides a suitable opener with RiRi and LuLa striking robotic poses against the song’s urgent dance beats. Similarly, the muscular ‘Kill The DJ’ sits in contrast to FEMM’s restrained choreography.

The choppy technopop of ‘L.C.S.’ keeps that energy going, while there’s a smoother approach on the sweeping pop of ‘Falling For A Lullaby’. Equally, ‘Outta the Clouds’ sees the duo loosen up a bit; busting some moves that allows them to relax their more rigid choreography. The choppy rhythms of ‘Peach’ sees the pair encouraging some clapping from an enthusiastic audience. There’s a harder edge here which is also present in tunes such as the electropop banger of ‘Party All Night’ and the dynamic ‘PoW!’ (“I’ma bad bitch chick outta Marvel flick”).

As ever though, it’s the sheer energy and attitude of ‘Fxxk Boyz Get Money’ that steals the scene with the crowd clapping along. FEMM’s raucous signature tune still remains effective ten years after its debut.

Hyper Japan continues to occupy an important position as both an event that caters for enthusiasts of Japanese culture, as well as fans of grassroots Japanese music acts. As long as the music schedule offers up a varied selection, it’s going to be a fixed staple on the event calendar every year.


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