Tag Archives: Hijokaidan

Top 20 Releases of 2016: No.10 – Hijokaidan x Jun Togawa – Togawa Kaidan

Hijokaidan x Jun Togawa - Togawa Kaidan

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.

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Guardian Song of the Week: BiS-Kaidan “Suki SukiDaisuki”

British newspaper The Guardian is starting a bloggers’ network introducing new music from around the world weekly. Ian and Ryotaro already do the “Quit Your Band!” Japanese indie zine together in addition to their pop culture blogging exploits, and they have teamed up to push Japan’s corner in this new project. Ryotaro has taken the lead with this first post, revisiting BiS-Kaidan’s ‘Suki Suki Daisuki’:BiS-Kaidan:

Suki Suki Daisuki Japan is currently in an “idol” boom, and they’re seemingly creating groups catering to every type of subculture imaginable. In the midst of it all is BiS. Branding themselves as the “anti-idol”, they’re the group tailor-made for fans of 80s hardcore punk, Einstürzende Neubauten, and David Lynch films. Here,
with Japanese noise rock legends Hijokaidan, they’re covering “Suki Suki Daisuki”, a song originally by 80s new wave icon Jun Togawa.

The track is another example of BiS’s recurring juxtaposition between underground aesthetics and a cute, “school girl” idol image. While the song choice and collaborator give BiS a lot of underground cred, the song loses the original’s subversive punk feminist message when an “idol group” sings it. Listening to the two back to back is a good look into how subculture — and society — in Japan has changed in the last 20 years.
Jun Togawa: Suki Suki Daisuki

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BiS-kaidan: Suki Suki Daisuki

I honestly don’t know what to make of this. In a way, it’s a dream come true and a thrilling, joyous example of the kind of thing idol music, at least in its more nominally alternative fringes should be doing, but on another level, it’s just yet another in a long line of examples, from Dempagumi Inc. doing The Beastie Boys to Negicco working with Yasuharu Konishi, of alternative or alternative-ish music (and in particular alternative culture nostalgia) being co-opted by the idol marketing format.

Because for all the undoubted fun there is to be had with BiS, despite their superficial sheen of trance and metal influences, their every move is so transparently calculated that one can’t help feeling a bit dirtied by contact with it. Which of course then loops back into part of what makes them so interesting: what they reveal about the process of idol manufacture and their shamelessness about wearing it on their sleeves — not so much heavy metal as heavy meta (thanks, I’m here all week).

So what is this that we’re looking at? Well, basically it’s idol quintet BiS shrieking along in their heavily autotuned voices to an old Jun Togawa song while legendary noiseniks and all-round bodily fluid fans Hijokaidan create the most horrendous sounds they possibly can around it. These elements together should basically be a good thing. In my blog earlier in the year where I picked apart the influence of idol music on the alternative and underground scenes, I pointed out that any truly subversive idol would look more like Jun Togawa than any of the stuff currently on display, although the fact that BiS have even gone as far as to dress up as Togawa in the video suggests that they may be missing the point a little.BiS-kaidan: Suki Suki Daisuki

More than that, I think what we’re seeing here is the application of otaku “database” principles to music. Each of these three elements — the idol group, the noise band, the off-kilter pop artist — are combined here in a basically two-dimensional database fashion, like an otaku fan-product mixing and matching fetish elements to create a new character for maximum moé appeal.

The result of this is that each element exists independently within the work: there is no sum of the parts that is greater than its individual elements. Hijokaidan bring the sense of danger and violence, Togawa brings a fucking great song (both bring a bunch of old punk/new wave dudes going, “Wow, that’s so coooool!”), and BiS bring… well, they bring five young girls and the marketing power of a major label.

So what does it mean? Well, I’m still not convinced BiS mean anything apart from making money for Avex. As a pop group, they can always retort with, “It’s pop music: it’s not supposed to mean anything!” but the more they adopt the external trappings of alternative music, the more questions like that start to matter, not just for idol music but for the alternative scene that seems so happy to have been suddenly colonised by all these sweet, charming and pliant young girls. When the sounds of underground and alternative music can be so easily co-opted by idol production machines, what is it that alternative music offers that actually makes it an alternative? Is it really just a sound that can be picked up and used by anyone, or is there still an ethos that runs deeper than that?

So to go back to my opening remarks, I still don’t know what to make of this. It’s doing something extreme within idol music, for which I applaud it, but it’s doing so by applying quite a superficial, otaku-ish “combine-the-elements” approach and playing off the back of a certain type of punk/new wave nostalgia, which is a scene whose ethos has perhaps fossilised to the point where I suspect it might have more in common with idol music these days than any kind of living, breathing underground/alternative scene. Perhaps a metaphor I used back in my post in February is the closest to describing the effect this track has on me: It’s a thrill, but it’s the thrill you get from a sugar rush and gone in a second. I enjoy the fact of its existence, but it also makes me uncomfortable, and i think it leaves both the idol and underground scenes with a lot of unanswered questions.Jun Togawa: Suki Suki Daisuki

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