CD/vinyl, Reveil, 2016
After emerging as a distinct genre in the 1980s and ‘90s, with all the codification and dangers of stagnation that entails, noise seems to have gained a second lease of life more recently as less a genre in itself than a filter applied to something else, or an element in a mix with another genre. Idol music is similar in a way. Despite having its own history and surrounding culture, it has in recent years increasingly played free and easy with many of the genre signifiers it appropriates. It’s not completely surprising, then, that idols and noise artists have found their way towards collaborations, with the likes of Jojo Hiroshige and and Toshiba Mikawa from Hijokaidan/Incapacitants collaborating with acts like “anti-idol” group BiS and avant-grade-themed idol trio Avandoned.
Jun Togawa, meanwhile, is a singer from a punk background who has toyed with idol imagery as far back as its heyday in the 1980s, often twisting idol culture’s ideology back on itself in socially critical ways. When Hijokaidan collaborated with BiS on their “BiS-Kaidan” project a couple of years back, it was a natural choice for them to lead with a cover of Togawa’s 1980s classic Suki Suki Daisuki, a song which turned the simpering neediness of the idol love song into something deranged and violent. Now, with this Togawa Kaidan album, the circle is complete with Hijokaidan teaming up with Togawa herself for forty minutes of ferocious discordant lunacy.
Given that the BiS collaboration was at least part of the impetus for this project and that both feature versions of Suki Suki Daisuki, comparisons are inevitable. The problem with the BiS-Kaidan album was that the songs were essentially just idol songs with a bit of noise over them — there was no real collaboration going on: it was just a gimmick. Here, the degree of integration between the pop and noise aspects of the album varies from track to track, but the album is basically in a way that alternates between the pop songs and pure noise tracks. Tellingly, though, Togawa carries herself quite convincingly on both the pop songs and those noise tracks on which she participates, her raw, tortured, twisted vocal utterances helping to bridge the gap between the melodic and discordant poles.
Some tracks are essentially solo noise outings for each member, with Junko to Junko is two minutes of Togawa screaming, God Hand Jojo is Hiroshige in full Metal Machine Music horrorshow mode and Mikawa the Mikawa is relentless, Incapacitants-style raw harsh noise, while the opening and closing Togawa Kaidan no Theme features all three members contributing to a cacophony of chaos.
In Suki Suki Daisuki, Togawa’s voice is ragged and raw, unlike the clear, crisp vocals of her original, with their forays into operatic melodrama, or the relatively flat BiS cover (if rather lost in the mix). In this way, the noise works from the outside and Togawa from the inside to sabotage the song’s clean pop facade. Whether this really makes a convincing case for the necessity of noise over something that already effectively conveyed a violence of its own is questionable, but it at least provides an interesting alternative take.
In Virus the elements come together more comprehensively, with the vocals finding their place in the mix and the sequencer treading the line between trance and industrial, the music and noise working towards the same goal. Ijime and Hysteria, on the other hand, use noise to play up the contrast between the superficially sweet melodies and the darker subtexts, presenting them as tattered, degraded facsimiles of pop.
Awkward and untidy, both conceptually and aesthetically, Togawa Kaidan nonetheless manages to make a virtue of its violence and mess, not least through the sheer power and force of personality of Togawa herself.