The steadily expanding global presence of Hiroshima technopop trio PERFUME hit London in glamourous style. Much was anticipated for this debut appearance of Japan’s best known girl group who have played 50,000 capacity arenas in their home country.
Ticket demand for the original O2 Academy Islington gig was so overwhelming that the event was switched to the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Such was the prestige of playing a concert in the capital that the show was being streamed live to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia. Fans travelled from all over the UK and some had even made the trip from Japan including several cosplaying threesomes clothed in the matching outfits of their idols. Indeed, many were excitedly queuing to acquire the best vantage points some five hours before doors opening.
But just who are PERFUME? The girls took their name from the Japanese character for ‘fragrance’ which was present in the names of its original members. Now comprising of Aa-CHAN, KASHIYUKA and NOCCHi, the girls came to the attention of producer Yasutaka Nakata, best known for his work with Japanese electronica duo CAPSULE. Together they have been exponents of the technopop sub-genre which has its origins in the pioneering Japanese band YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in perhaps the same way that GIRLS ALOUD are rooted to PET SHOP BOYS, ATOMIC KITTEN to OMD and THE SATURDAYS to YAZOO…
Very much a theatrical presentation as opposed to a traditional rock’n’roll concert, PERFUME’s performance entertained courtesy of a meaty electronic club soundtrack to striking laser and computer assisted video projections. For the overture of ‘Spending All My Time’, the girls’ dresses acted as the screens for the various visuals before they launched proper with chirpy pop of their most recent single ‘Magic Of Love’. TEC’s resident PERFUME enthusiast Amy Bernheit watched with interest: “It was an electric performance. The sound quality was excellent with a pumping bass. The costumes lived up to their usual high standard, starting off first of all with angelic white dresses and capes that seemed to transform before your eyes into large Japanese fan shapes, with coloured lights and images projected upon them”.
The song that finally illustrated PERFUME’s potential for success ‘Polyrhythm’ was met with roars of approval. It appeared on the soundtrack for Pixar’s animated film ‘Cars 2’ and has become so popular now that former MEGADEATH guitarist Marty Friedman even released his own version of ‘Polyrhythm’ for his 2009 album ‘Tokyo Jukebox’! And with songs such as ‘Spring Of Life’ and ‘Electro World’, if the occasionally squeaky auto-tuned voices were replaced with the tones of a dead pan middle-aged Englishman, they wouldn’t be that far off the material on the forthcoming PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Electric’!
Grappling with newly learnt English, the girls bantered with the crowd about how happy they were to be in Europe and hectored the various sections with shouts of “FISH” and “CHIPS”! To some, this was all part of the stereotypical giggly girly charm expected from Japanese idol singers. But to others, this served as an irritating filler that detracted from the music. “An MC session was to be expected as with all previous performances” said Amy, “but PERFUME’s seemed to drag on longer than was needed. A lot of the dialogue was in Japanese, leaving some audience members baffled as to what was going on. At one point, a member of the audience was given a microphone to translate but unfortunately it was very difficult to hear him. It would have worked a lot better if they had an official translator on site, or text translations displayed on the screen behind!”
But the music did continue eventually with the girls singing a song about brushing their teeth (in Japanese) and as well as covering QUEEN’s ‘We Will Rock You’ (in English) which went down well before a costume change video interlude accompanied by the stomping instrumental take of ‘Handy Man’. “Their second outfits were the same shapes as their previous dresses but were red, white and blue triangular stripes resembling the Union Jack flag… this was a nice touch, coincidental or not!” recalled Amy.
At the end, the girls polled the audience to choose one of three songs for the encore with ‘Glitter’ winning out. Amy’s final thoughts were enthusiastic: “Overall the show was fantastic. Their choreography was polished and absolutely flawless, given the complexity of their routines, it was very impressive to watch. The visuals of the show were breathtaking and the stunning laser light display filled the entire venue. The screen behind the girls’ showed a constant stream of futuristic style videos featuring the girls’ silhouettes, a favourite part being a hypnotic kaleidoscope effect. At the end of the show the girls bid a teary farewell to the audience; they were obviously overwhelmed and touched by the immense support of their European fans. It was an unforgettable evening for all”
So what does this all mean for Japanese music in Europe and particularly the UK? In a nation dominated by a hipster rock scene that is still hungover from the legacy of SHONEN KNIFE, PERFUME’s sold out performance will possibly open doors for other Japanese pop acts to visit these shores including ARASHI who TEC’s very own Paul Boddy worked with to co-write the song ‘Rock This’ on their million selling album ‘Beautiful World’.
It is an exciting and progressive time for the country that gave the world affordable synthesizers and changed the course of popular music. “If this is anything to go by” concluded Amy, “PERFUME will be back again to see us in the (hopefully) not so distant future and perhaps in an even large venue next time!”
PERFUME’s back catalogue is available now on iTunes
Issue 03 of iPad magazine ELECTRONIC SOUND features an interview and article on PERFUME entitled ‘The Sweet Smell Of Success’ by TEC’s Paul Browne. It will be available soon as a PDF. More info at http://electronicsound.co.uk/
For further articles on PERFUME, please visit The Electricity Club’s sister site J-Pop Go
Text by Chi Ming Lai with Amy Bernheit
Photos by Amy Bernheit
11th July 2013