HYPER JAPAN Xmas Market 2015

With the winter chill bearing down, HYPER JAPAN warmed crowds up with a diverse variety of musical entertainment…

The Christmas Market version of Hyper Japan can often feel like a scaled down version of its summer event – particularly following on from the spectacle of showcasing Dempagumi.inc. With the bar raised, could Hyper Japan still draw the crowds in with their announcements for their November event?

Securing a visit by idol pop trio LADYBABY was certainly a coup, particularly as the fledgling outfit are already winning acclaim. The response from the attendees at Hyper Japan for the stage performances by the hirsute Ladybeard and chums appeared to take the Hyper Japan team by surprise and the idol outfit managed to leave a significant impression on London before jetting off to Germany.
The choices of musical guests were fresh and intriguing and the same can be said for the venue that the Christmas Market took place in. With its regular home of Earl’s Court no more, Hyper Japan zeroed in on Tobacco Dock – a venue that had also housed the FestivalAsia event earlier in the year.

Tobacco Dock had some advantages over the O2 with everything more centralised (and didn’t involve long treks back and forth to get places). If there was a disadvantage it was the fact that with all of the open spaces and courtyards, it was definitely a summer venue rather than a winter one (some people had literally covered their bodies in hand warmers to fight off the chilly English weather…).

Friday’s musical adventures began with the UK debut performance of WING WORKS which took place in the roomy stage area of the venue. Billed as a visual kei outfit, we weren’t quite sure what to expect on stage. As a showcase performance the audience were in fact presented with a solo singer in the form of Ryo:suke augmented by video elements.
Despite the fact that it was Friday and the audience was still yet to get into the swing of things, Ryo:suke expressed an enthusiasm and energy on stage that made up for everything. “Everybody stand up!!!” he insisted, which surprisingly got a got portion of the crowd doing just that.

WING WORKS material seems to lean more towards an electronic influence than what passes for classic visual kei. But at the same time, Ryo:suke wasn’t afraid to mix it up, such as the death screams on ‘Burn Your Soul’ and the European club sounds of ‘Fly’. ‘Ikaros’, meanwhile, was a much more laid back number, yet also featured Ryo:suke encouraging everyone to put their hands up, “We are one!” he announced – and for a moment, we certainly were.

Keeping the visual kei theme going, LACROIX DESPHERES later took to the stage with their own sense of theatre and spectacle. The 6-piece outfit managed to fill out the stage looking visually arresting in a variety of stylish outfits.

The Japanese outfit, making both their debut in the UK – and their first performance outside of Japan – weave together a curious combination of instrumentation. Lead singers Sho and Saya compliment each other with the former’s deep vocal delivery and Saya’s own soprano range. Meanwhile, the musicians parry a mix of guitars and wind instruments which shouldn’t quite work, yet somehow the group manage to pull it off.
The music alternates between elements of rock, pop and operatic bombast as the members of Lacroix Despheres add in their own sense of theatre – Sho chasing the other musicians or dragging them across the stage. Back home, the stage shows are obviously much more orientated towards this combination of spectacle and music, but even in its reduced form here it’s still engaging stuff.

Pausing for a brief MC segment, Sho wanders back and forth introducing the band and doing brief chats with them for the benefit of the audience. Asking flautist Mizuki how she’s feeling, the musician wastes little time in stating “I am very cold!”, to which Sho exclaims “Really? I am very hot!” suppressing a laugh and tugging at his collar for effect. Meanwhile, what appears to be a lengthy exchange between Sho and guitarist Pegeot results in Sho translating it as a much more brief commentary: “er.. he is very happy!”

It’s incidents like this that help Lacroix Despheres convey a warmth and chemistry on stage – a welcome break from outfits who can take things a bit too seriously on stage.

There’s a soaring ballad element to ‘Symphonia’ which is balanced between Sho and Saya alternating between singing duties before the song builds to an impressive percussive climax. Equally, the closing song opens with an engaging strings-driven melody before opening into a very catchy pop tune.

2015 packed in some fine moments in J-pop debuts and performances, but one outfit in particular has captured the imagination more than most. LADYBABY managed to combine good tunes with a strong visual image that resulted in the kinetic ‘Nippon Manju’ and stole everyone’s hearts in the process.
The enthusiasm to catch the mighty LADYBABY in performance was tempered somewhat by the news that Rie Kaneko would not be joining the outfit for their global adventures. Unfortunately a personal issue had cropped up prior to their plans to fly to the UK meaning that only Ladybeard and Rei Kuromiya would be carrying the LADYBABY flag forward.

As a reciprocal gesture, a ‘stunt Rie’ was wheeled out – and then just as swiftly wheeled off again so the show could kick off.

Despite being reduced to a duo, the truncated LADYBABY generated an energy on stage that other more established acts would struggle to emulate. ‘Nippon Manju’ takes on a power and euphoria that’s reflected in the eager crowd – of which a sizeable portion of dedicated LADYBABY fans are front and centre.

Ladybeard prowls the stage, at times leaping onto a speaker stack, and gives his best growling vocal delivery to whip the audience up even further. “Here’s a song about how I turned into a robot” declares Ladybeard before kicking off ‘Beard-chan Roboto’. Meanwhile, Rei delivers a casual confidence and attitude that gives her a magnetic presence on stage.

The soon to be released single ‘Age-Age Money’ completes the set, its imploring chorus of “Give me money!” has the audience jumping up and down. In fact, such is the demand of the crowd that LADYBABY feel obliged to give ‘Nippon Manju’ a well-received encore.

With Saturday winding down, the J-Pop Go team were magically whisked off to London’s O2 for the evening. While LADYBABY and co were entertaining crowds at Hyper Japan, MAN WITH A MISSION were set to rock O2 audiences on a coincidental date the same weekend.

While this welcome diversion proved entertaining, it provoked a completely different reaction from LADYBABY’s Rei Kuromiya who was somewhat miffed that she’d missed the wolf pack performing in town. While you might expect Rei to lean towards more of an interest in idol pop, she’s actually drawn more towards rock acts (as evidenced by the harder edge of her work as part of BRATS).

A frantic plan to get Rei to the band’s final stop in Oxford unfortunately failed to coalesce. Trying to coordinate both Hyper Japan performances and press duties with out of town gigs was perhaps too tricky to pull off on this visit.
Another UK debut performance came in the form of IA, the virtual artist whose creation owes a lot to the vocaloid technology that brought us the likes of Hatsune Miku. IA, whose voice was based on Japanese singer Lia, has enjoyed considerable success in her native Japan and looked set to win over new fans this weekend.

Creating an immersive experience for a live show with a virtual artist presents a number of challenges. IA surmounts many of these issues with elaborate video projections and guest performers on stage. While those large-scale elements of a typical IA show couldn’t be replicated faithfully for her UK showcase, the introduction of two additional dancers helped give the stage performance more of an impact.

The show powered through a selection of choice IA tunes, which tend to blur the lines between rock and pop more effectively than other vocaloid acts. The results were an energetic ‘Shooting Star’, a rock-infused ‘Setsuna Star’ and the percussive pop of ‘Outer Science’ amongst others.

Along the way, some judicious costume changes for both IA and her dancers kept the visual elements interesting.
The regular COSParade event at Hyper Japan featured some strong entries for the winter outing. But the show was also augmented with a special set from LADYBABY. To add to the fun, it was Rei’s 15th birthday the same day and an entourage from the LADYBABY fan club were there to present the genuinely surprised teenager with cake, flowers and a special book of good wishes and comments.

Overwhelmed with the gesture, Rei did what any teenager would do and burst into tears. However, after a much-needed hug from Ladybeard, she switched on her professional head and the pair delivered another sterling performance to round things out.

The summer can seem to be the perfect season to stage festival events. However, despite the often biting cold, November’s Hyper Japan delivered a wealth of culture, entertainment and music which also saw some fine debuts, particularly from LADYBABY, IA and Lacroix Despheres.

Hyper Japan returns between 15th – 17th July 2016 at Olympia, London.