HONDALADY, GalapagosS, Tokyo Pinsalocks - Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, London
In the couple of weeks leading up to tonight’s event, there had been some uncertainty around who would be headlining at the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Organisers Japan Underground set up a poll asking for ticket holders to vote for their fave act, and it was certainly touch and go up until the last minute, when Tokyo Pinsalocks just snatched victory. In all honesty though, such things seemed trivial on the night. Here we had three electro-pop powerhouses who were equals in every respect; almost as if they were made for touring together, their off-stage rapport was as engaging as their on-stage presence. These people really did seem like good friends.
Selling out to a 200+ crowd of mainly young anime and J-rock/pop fans - some of whom did more than dress for the occasion - HONDALADY kicked off proceedings, and indeed they were to be a tough act to follow. During soundchecks I managed to share a few quick words with the duo: Maru was polite and very humble, while DJ Die’s moniker was betrayed by a simply lovely personality of non-stop smiles and gratitude. It was a tad surprising, then, that once 20:10 ticked around the crowd was treated to a performance of such raw, hard-hitting energy.
You can tell when a band truly loves what they do; I’ve seen my share of stoic performers who prefer to stay way further back than arm’s length, but HONDALADY was all about interacting with the crowd. They didn’t speak much English but DJ Die charmed with his repeated gestures of “We love UK!”, with his horn blows generating raucous applause. Yep, tonight was all about the international language of music, with the band mixing together a delicious cocktail of techno beats and electric drum and bass. Maru’s an unstoppable ball of energy: rarely pausing for breath he jumps around, leaps onto the drum kit (it’s not like anyone was using it anyway) and befriends the crowd in the most effortless manner. His antics were very entertaining throughout most of the set. Like a curious monkey he borrowed selected apparel from the front - from shades and hats, to sampling some of the fine wine, and going onto the main floor to momentarily serenade one or two fans. But throughout all this his passion for the music constantly burned. If HONDALADY had been the only band performing this evening I don’t think anyone would have gone home disappointed. This is what gigging is all about.
And yet there was more to come.
Three-piece GalapagosS, donned with their Virtual Boy-style shades, may appear like they came off the Polysics production line, but theirs is a distinctly edgier sound, born from a seemingly deep infatuation of space-laser disco funk. Masahiko Ueda’s vocoder-ed lyrics are met with chiptune greetings from a tucked away laptop, while drummer Shintaro hammers some heavy beats. Bassist Kumihiro Goto draws much attention, not just for his distinctive blonde bob, but also on account of his inviting personality, constantly encouraging onlookers to raise their hands in the air. Trying to express themselves away from the music was met with some difficulty: Goto, as damn hard as he tried, ended up settling on telling everyone that he loved the UK, and as with HONDALADY before them that’s all anybody really needed, or cared, to hear.
The heat was also telling. Masahiko was visibly tired, and he uttered as much in his native tongue, but he plugged away and proved to be a great front man, who would also greet his fans and share smiles with them. Well, a picture tells a thousand words really.
Finally it was the girls’ turn to rock the beats. I had met the trio earlier in the day, and decided that despite a Pinsalock having supposedly bad-girl connotations, they really were quite an adorable bunch. Adorned in attire designed by front woman Naoko, Tokyo Pinsalocks brought with them an aesthetic which likens them to new-age hippies; a trend which is rapidly growing in Japan, with big names like Superfly’s Shiho Ochi leading the way. Marked by a carefree attitude they certainly come across as being unstoppable through their forging of retro fashions and New Wave sensibilities.
As they jumped on stage at around 22:00 the buzz was high. Naoko paraded the band’s latest face towel (incidentally also on sale) as she greeted the UK for the fourth time. The girls were more than ready and they were gonna make damn sure with their opening song ‘Kimono Japonaise’ that their message left a mark. The track perfectly encapsulates what the Tokyo Pinsalocks are all about, with touching ‘like it or leave it’ sentiments, backed by an incredibly catchy chiptune ditty. Naoko’s the most outward member on stage, bouncing around like a very bouncy thing and clapping her hands in reminder that there’s plenty of joy in the big wide world. In contrast bassist Hisayo is the steely antithesis; she’ll give you a sly look if you’re lucky, and she’ll laugh if caught off guard, but she clearly means business and remained rather stalwart and focused throughout. And don’t let Reiko throw you off either - she’s a petite but extremely formidable drummer, who has multitasking down to a science.
The girls even had an extra surprise for us. As the show approached its end they introduced their label manager, Shunichi Miura, from Kimono Records (also producing GalapagosS), who popped on stage to wow everybody with his guitar skills. And of course they too had words of love to spread.
For sure, there was a lot of love in the air tonight, and you couldn’t really ask for three better acts to make it stir. Come back soon, ya’ll.