I spent a long time earlier this year talking about what makes some punk and experimental musicians so obsessed with idol music, and to a limited degree how a few idol singers have at least partially reciprocated that love. Primarily that seems to work via producers with indie backgrounds who have helped mould idols into more interesting musical shapes, although since appearing submissive and doll-like is such an essential part of an idol’s image, it’s hard to know and even harder to trust precisely what they say about themselves without the nagging image of some team of micromanaging handlers feeding them the lines.
One group I was able to talk to and gain firsthand answers from was Dempa Gumi inc., an otaku idol group apparently formed of former hikikomoris (social shut-ins) who had done a collaboration with UK-based psych-noise band Bo Ningen. Among their answers were a couple of pretty interesting points, but given that their main musical output was so firmly entrenched in a fairly predictable cheap-sounding, mid-range idol groove, it’s hard to know how seriously to take it. They seemed a bit wiser and sharper than the typical idol fare, but Bo Ningen aside, their musical output did little to live up to what their personalities hinted at.
Kira Kira Tune (or “Killer Killer Tune”, pun fans) isn’t going to change that for anyone. It’s a down-the-line idol pop confection with little to add musically to the conversation. It makes its mark rather more interestingly through the video, which spends half the song lingering over soft-focus images of the girls sleeping. This is almost certainly part of the moe-otaku habit of recycling and fetishising imagery of childish femininity at its most vulnerable, but it’s quite a bold and perhaps even original move for a music video given how dramatically at odds the placid images are with the peppy music. Perhaps less intentionally (although I don’t presume to know), the disconnect between the visual and audio messages being received creates an eerie, almost apocalyptic atmosphere. Are they sleeping or are they dead? Drugged? In particular the image midway through the video of all six girls sleeping in a circle on the grass is curiously similar to the disconcerting closing image of Satoshi Kon’s anime Paranoia Agent.
It’s really the other side of the single that’s got something to say musically, and it’s no surprise that it’s producer Hyadain of Momoiro Clover (Z) fame who’s behind it. As you might have gathered from the title, it’s a cover of The Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, and it’s the first thing I’ve really heard from this group that really goes for the guts.
As we should have come to expect from Hyadain’s work now, the arrangement is all over the place, with frantic 90s pachinkotronica beats trading places with fruit pastel rainbow synths, vocals popping out at you from all angles in a variety of registers, and running right through all this chaos, the rock solid original song with all its energy and power recognisable and undiminished. The almighty scream at bang on two minutes, such an important part of the original arrangement, is here and then some just in case anyone still disagrees with me that idol music’s anarchic childishness can rival almost anything that punk can throw at it for self-centred, shrieking energy — it’s a shame the version on YouTube cuts off so soon after, but even the short amount you can hear is enough to remind us that in the right hands, and apparently with the right cast, idol music can be radical.
It’s also an interesting step from Hyadain himself, whose earlier work with Dempa Gumi inc., Tsuyoi Kimochi, Tsuyou Ai, was pretty low key by his standards and whose work with Momoiro Clover Z was starting to, if not exactly get stale, at least to have settled into a familiar pattern, and it provides a good demonstration of his skill at finding the right music into which to channel the particular energy of a certain group or performer.
One last quick note on the cover image, featuring the group in the same pastel school uniforms but with added 70s shades and moustaches. Firstly, this is obviously a tribute to the original Beasties video, but it also locks in interestingly on another trend in Japanese girls’ fashion and pop culture. It’s hard to know exactly where it comes from, but Hazel Nuts Chocolate (HNC) played about with a fake moustache in the video for Hello from 2005, and the fake ‘tash is by now a pretty firmly established accessory in the arsenal of twee-cutester girls as a digital augmentation for Twitter profile pictures or similar. I could now get excited about its role in subverting both traditional notions of femininity and male notions of cuteness while retaining the punkish desire to remain a child by rejecting seriousness and embracing make-believe, or perhaps its place in the otaku/Harajuku playbook of taking jarring, oppositional images and finding cuteness in the disconnect, but I think that’s for someone else to get into. I’ll just end by stating that Dempa Gumi inc.’s Sabotage is a fantastic piece of work and that if the love affair between the punk/experimental and idol scenes is going to result in them going steady, on the evidence of this, the idols might be wearing the trousers.
EDIT: Full version of Sabotage here: