J-Pop Go Summer Event Review

Summer proved to be a hectic schedule for J-Pop Go with guest slots at the London Anime Club and also at Amecon (the UK’s largest anime convention). But the main event was our own evening of J-Pop goodness which took place in July at the Vibe Bar in East London.

It also marked a change of approach for J-Pop Go as the preceding months had been spent developing our new musical venture Project MARSHMALLOW and its first offering: Marshmallow Llama Time. The concept of developing our own in-house band had already gone through many changes but the idea started to take a much more robust profile once Finny Attridge had been drafted in as lead singer. Finny had all the right qualifications: a background in drama and performance, a keen interest in cosplay and also a talent for singing. Finny had also already made a name for herself through exposure via the likes of Hyper Japan and Neo. Once the line-up for Marshmallow Llama Time had been established, it was time for rehearsals and also song choices. Hot on the heels of our K-On! Week, it was a natural choice to select a few tunes from the popular anime, but the final setlist was eventually pruned down from a much larger selection of songs (the original longer setlist featured a Tommy February6 cover, Pink Lady’s UFO and Kanon Wakeshima’s ‘Kajitsu no Keikoku’).

Fume had also been on our shortlist for the J-Pop Go line-up for a while. This Brighton-based Perfume tribute trio had already wowed the crowds at the Brighton Matsuri event and the skills involved in adapting Perfume’s incredibly complicated dance routines were something that was perfect for J-Pop Go.

Photo: Pat Lyttle

To round things out, we also arranged for a special appearance of the Japanese Maid Café girls who, aside from staging the regular Maid Cafe event in London, specialised in large group dance and singing performances.

Our new choice of venue was also quite appropriate. The Vibe Bar had been the location for last year’s Heart Japan event (designed to raise funds in the wake of the Japan tragedy), but the arrangement of the stage plus a projection screen were perfect for our plans for the performances.

The various elements of Marshmallow Llama Time’s appearance had to be pulled together in a very short timeframe and featured the talents of some of the best people on the resident J-Pop/Manga scene. So noted illustrator Wing was tasked with providing the breakdown of elements that would be used for an animated version of our mascot Eva. Meanwhile, Kat Kourbetti (who had already made a name for herself as compere and stage announcer for events such as Hyper Japan) had the necessary vocal talents to be the voice of Eva.

During the early planning for the new J-Pop Go events, the original idea for Eva was to act as a virtual compere. It was a sort of twist on the Hatsune Miku/Vocaloid idea of having a projection that interacted with the audience. There were a few disasters along the way though as a lot of the voice recording done with Kat was lost due to a corrupted flash drive. Luckily, there was enough to provide an intro to the live performances – plus it provided the foundations for expanding the idea further at future shows.

The event was also designed to help raise awareness for the Aid For Japan charity, who had a table selling tasty cakes on the night. The disaster in Japan last year had a huge impact, but possibly the most tragic aspect was the number of children who had been orphaned as a result of the earthquake/tsunami. As a result, Akemi Solloway (already a well-known figure on the UK’s Japanese cultural scene) decided to take action to raise funds for these orphans, hence the creation of the Aid For Japan charity.

But the evening’s events would also be enhanced by another collaboration, this time with the girls from the Japanese Maid Café. Their own event was taking place during the day time over in Camden and the maids would later be joining us under the guise of GreenTea Bon Bon.

Meanwhile, our J-Pop Go night was preceded by a number of logistics problems – namely arranging to have all the equipment at the venue on time. Meeting the wonderful Finny Attridge in town during the day we proceeded to the Top Secret J-Pop Go storage area in West London. From there we took a cab direct to the Vibe Bar and began the process of setting the venue up with the team and running through the soundcheck. Our team was also augmented by the kind assistance of some Anime League helpers.

After running J-Pop Go events for so many years it becomes apparent that we have a regular number of faces that attend the shows – and it’s always nice to see familiar friends. What was interesting about tonight’s show though was the number of Japanese people attending. Some of which would be giving the evening an extra boost later on…

In fact the evening had started out as a fairly quiet affair. Mary, who was on DJ duties for the early part of the evening, built up a nice atmosphere with a fine selection of J-Pop tunes. By the time that Fume were ready to make their appearance though the venue had filled out very nicely.

Our animated Eva jumped onto the screen to talk a little about the evening ahead before Inko stepped forward on stage to explain about Fume before she took her place alongside the girls to perform. It’s remarkable how the trio have managed to capture the complicated choreography of Perfume, particularly for a track like Laser Beam (complete with actual lasers!). It was also clear that the audience loved the show and it was a great start for the evening’s performances.

So the time had arrived for Marshmallow Llama Time to finally take to the stage. The opening number had been a deliberate choice (it was ‘Virtual Love’ from the K-On! soundtrack) and designed to cheekily mislead the audience as only Chi and myself were on stage for this segment. But as the bars of ‘Virtual Love’ faded, our star singer Finny Attridge stepped forth in all her frilly Gothic Lolita glory ably assisted by our Japanese backing singers. Kanon Wakeshima has been an obvious choice of cover material and Finny kicked off with her rendition of ‘Still Doll’ while displaying a carefully choreographed routine with her parasol.

Photo: Wing

It was a good start and we had also luckily avoided any technical problems so far (MLT’s performances rely on the video projections which have to run in tandem with the music). Classic song ‘Tsubasa wo Kudasai’ came next which stepped the tempo up a notch. But what was becoming clear was that an audience who were initially bemused by what they were seeing were warming up to the idea – and they were being led by some of our Japanese attendees who had pitched up to the side of the stage to lead their own wotagei routine during our set.

The set took a reflective turn with a very minimalist rendition of the AKB48 song ‘RIVER’ which replaced the boisterous original arrangement for a much more wistful take on the song. Then it was onto the grand finale in the shape of ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’ – the classic K-On! song that had everyone jumping up and down.

As we left the stage to pose for a few pics it looked like the first Marshmallow Llama Time gig had been a success!

Our final performance of the evening was GreenTea Bon Bon aka the Japanese Maid Café girls. This was probably the most nail-biting section of the event as the girls were conducting the Maid Café over in Camden that day and had to rush across town to get to J-Pop Go in time for the performance. The Maid Café girls had spent many hours carefully learning and practicing dance routines – and all that hard work was clearly obvious from their stage performance.

Photo: Pat Lyttle

The girls opened with a gentle rendition of ‘Aimo~ Tori no Hito’ taken from the Macross Frontier soundtrack. From there they did a piano performance with choices from Sailor Moon and also the classic ‘Tonari no Totoro’. But the highlight had to be the Kyary Kyary Pamyu medley featuring ‘Cherry Bon Bon’ and ‘Tsukematsukeru’.

Judging by how busy the venue was and also the feedback of the audience, it was clear that the evening was getting a definite thumbs up. It had involved a lot of hard work to get there, but all that was left now was to start planning for the next event…

J-Pop Go extends its grateful thanks to Finny Attridge, Wing, Kat Kourbetti, Mike Towers and Anime League, Pat Lyttle, The Japanese Maid Cafe, Mary Groutage and all those that helped and assisted along the way. Main photo: Wing

Aid For Japan:
Marshmallow Llama Time:
GreenTea Bon Bon/Japanese Maids Cafe London: