Idol music is now so deeply embedded in indie and alternative culture in Japan that it’s not really making any kind of statement by combining the two worlds. Whatever alternative music could have learned from idol music in terms of not taking itself too seriously has now either been learned or not learned, and the novelty is played out. Where Sutekiss are interesting is in how they’re the first band I’ve seen who take the whole concept and performance style of idol music but the progressive, alternative and funk musicians in the band approach it from an entirely serious musical perspective. The result is music that integrates alternative and idol styles in a way I haven’t seen anyone else manage, and it certainly shows up the faux-alternative pose of groups like BiS as the gimmick that it is.
There’s something jarring about the front line of three extremely young female singers and the six extremely technically adept alternative musicians backing them, and yet it’s also strangely appropriate, recalling the classic era of the 70s, where groups like the Candies would routinely appear on TV backed by ultra-professional session musicians, and honestly, the more idol music makes use of proper musicians, the better it will be for pop music. The question with Sutekiss is whether they really are an idol group or whether they’re an alternative band masquerading as one. As it stands now, they exist predominantly in the live house scene, playing with punk and alternative groups, where their pop sensibility makes them stand out from their peers.
It’s really in their behaviour that their idol-ish tendencies come across most strongly. Talking between songs at the show headlined by postpunk/dub merchants Bossston Cruizing Mania, drummer Harie (formerly of prog rock crazies Mahiruno) repeatedly refers to his “sempai” Esuhiro Kashima, ladling respect onto the older musician. There’s an edge of irony to it, as if he’s somehow playing the part of a member of an idol group, where exaggerated gestures of respect to all and sundry are par for the course, but again, there’s some truth to it and despite the element of performance, it reveals something about the way these social dynamics between younger and older musicians are still embedded in alternative music culture.
If there’s a problem with Sutekiss, I think it’s that they don’t go far enough. The melodies are solid 90s-style J-pop, but they tend to rely a little too much on the arms-in-the-air “live your dreams” schtick. Really good idol pop like Aya Matsuura, on-form Kyary Pamyupamyu, or Momoiro Clover Z is far more aggressively pop, although it’s hard to see how something that bubblegum would integrate into the mid-paced funk and latin-influenced back line. They’ve found a way to integrate the stylistic elements of idol music with a greater level of artistic proficiency in the music, and there are moments in the performance where it’s quite thrilling, but if they’re going to take the concept to the next level though, I’d say the pop aspects are the areas they now need to concentrate on.