A little backstory: I am an idol music fan. Morning Musume, BABYMETAL, etc. I like when talented young women are skilled at dancing, singing and looking cute all at the same time. If the tempo is something I can get pumped up by at the gym, all the better.
A while back, I started a Japanese blog as a way to practice my Japanese and interact with Japanese people. One person I interacted with was Risa, a member of a group called PPP! PiXiON. We exchanged comments from time to time, and then her group happened to be performing in Osaka on my day off. Sweet!
So that’s why I was in a deep basement of an Osaka concert hall on a “Golden Week” Friday, having no clue what I was in for. I had preregistered to maybe save a couple bucks, but was unsure if it worked. Sure enough, at the ticket counter, I said I was here to see PPP! PiXiON, and they knew my name immediately. See, I wrote it in katakana, which is an alphabet used for only foreign words.
The venue itself is a low-ceiling, dark place. They normally have like reggae and hip-hop acts here, it seems. But not long after noon, KissBeeWEST took the stage – a five-piece of girls in schoolgirl plaids with studded leather vests. I’ve been to a few idol concerts before, but only national acts. This was about what I expected: Maybe a little light on the production value and wow factor, but still pretty pleasant. Of course, no live band accompanying them.
After 15 minutes – maybe three songs and a quick introduction – KissBeeWEST left, to be immediately replaced by solo artist Nozomi Kimoto. She was dressed more pink and puffy than state-fair cotton candy. She upped the cute factor, and it fun to see the difference in dynamic between a group and a lone artist.
The crowd at this show, while smaller, was no less dedicated than for Morning Musume. And they weren’t relegated to seats; it was standing-room only. They didn’t crowd the front, but the more enthusiastic ones took up residence in the center for their favorite acts. They would pump their arms and shout “Oi!” and even get into more complicated choreography. They really knew these acts. Others of us stayed on the periphery, though I was fine kind of at the edge of the enthusiastic fans. It was a lot of fun watching them, and joining in where I could.
Loop was next. Another five-piece, they wore flamenco-style skirts but had small green camouflage vests on. The crowd loved their center (main member), though I was more for the one whose color was green; they wore glowing bracelets with their member colors on them. I thought I noticed a “shoot myself in the head” move in their dancing, and then they each pulled out replica guns for their talking section (called an MC). In Japan, fake guns don’t need any orange barrels or anything. It was quite a sight.
Yumi Suzuhara was another solo act. She wore a glittery tubetop and demin overalls with only one side fastened. And little else. And she liked to jump a lot. The crowd liked her jumping a lot. I don’t remember much about her set for obvious reasons. I do remember the active fans rushing the barricade, to bounce off it, but the barricade kind of breaking. There was no security visible. The crowd kind of put it back into place.
PiGU was two girls in blue. I liked that they kind of prepped the audience for choreography, so I knew when to jump or when to “oi.” They weren’t piggish in any way. I think a good chunk of people left before their set to go out to the lobby, where acts would hang out to sell goods at one of 3 tables. Everyone must have wanted a picture with jumpy girl. I don’t blame them, for obvious reasons. Oddly, looking at PiGU’s page, they have 4 girls, 3 of which are holding guitars. That ain’t the PiGU I saw.
Obento Idole is named after bento, Japanese lunchboxes. They wore pretty traditional but colorful costumes. One girl had pink hair. Another girl was introduced as being a gravure model (meaning posing for more sexualized photos though no nudity – which I later found out jumpy tube-top does as well). They didn’t impress me a lot, to be honest, but then stuff was about to get real.
Some booming hardcore electronic music came on. This girl in all black with hair over her eyes started guttural screaming. She was joined by a girl in all white – themes of good/evil, obviously. Called sugartrap, their set was an ass-kicker. First, they danced to a heavy track. Then they launched into a more melodic, sung song. Then they picked the tempo back up.
It was during this group that the mosh pit started. Previously, there had been a few sporadic circle pits; but everyone in the center looked at each other and launched into a pinball frenzy for a short while. Then they did it again. The third time, I jumped in. I honestly think my presence threw them off a bit. I was one of the bigger guys, and the only non-Japanese in attendance. It was fun and respectful.
The heaviness stayed for Malcolm Mask McLaren, a trio who came out to a cover of Anarchy in the UK. They wore the popular white masks people wear when they’re under the weather. On their black t-shirts was a creepy face also wearing a mask, with the caption “I don’t give a fxxk” underneath (their xs, not mine).
They had a frenzied pace, and I really enjoyed them as well – getting more active and trying to keep up with what their more ardent supporters were doing. Lots of dudes in those “I don’t give a fxxk” shirts. One of the guys for some reason sat on the barricade, facing away from the band. He lost his balance, and went back-of-head first onto the stage – feet straight up, hands still holding the barricade. Nobody was doing much, so I rushed over to help him up. He seemed okay.
Then, it was PPP PiXiON’s turn. Tough acts to follow, especially as they’re a more traditional idol group. Still, the crowd was into them; I had gone right up to the front. And their stuff was good. I joined the hardcore fans doing a strange fire chant and ritual in the middle of the crowd. It’s odd to do something that turns your back to the act. It made more sense when we all linked arms and then jumped toward the stage to throw invisible…somethings to the members.
PPP PiXiON got off stage around 2:15, so I’d spent over 2 hours watching 9 groups perform. I got a water and checked out the lobby. Obento Idole was doing handshakes and photos with fans. I hung out, then dipped back into the stage area in time to watch 963, two girls in traditional school uniforms rapping. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pined for that – since Blade had a fictional schoolgirl rap group in a Japanese vampire businessman bar. I’ll have to look them up, because I only caught half their 3-song set.
I went into the lobby again, and got to meet and take a picture with Risa from PPP PiXiON. I also bought one of their CDs. She recognized me (hi, only white guy!), and we had a decent talk (her English isn’t very good). She was flattered and happy I came; I’m glad I did, too. Not just to see her group, but all the acts.
I then bought a CD from sugartrap (the hardcore group) and had good chats with both of their members. It’s funny how even the “evil” girl was a total sweetheart offstage. A dude I recognized from the mosh pit facilitated the talks. He seemed pretty fascinated by me.
I wanted to maybe get a CD from Malcolm Mask McLaren or even a shirt, but that ship sailed. They were each busy signing pictures and stuff. I talked more with the mosh pit guy, who heard of GWAR and works for New Japan Pro Wrestling. We exchanged Twitter handles, and I later read his trepidation at being in the pit with a foreigner! Later, he gave me props for being nice. Phew!
After, I headed to Le Coccole for food. It was well before dinner service, but the owner/proprietor made me a great set consisting of soup, salad, potato salad, a kind of cole slaw, and brown rice. It was just what I needed, and cheap too! It helps that I’m becoming a regular there.
So yeah. I’m super glad I went to the show, and I had a great time. The positive attitude here is just unreal. Almost everybody is being cool to everybody else. The performers go out of their way to make you feel special and important. Those are all things I need to do as a performer myself, and as a citizen of Japan. And I’m definitely trying. I don’t know that I’ve ever carried myself in a more positive way. How permanent that is remains to be seen, but right now things are excellent and keep getting better. I’m trying not to get too high on life, though, so any evening-out won’t bum me out.