With their chaotic live sets, eccentric sound and organic upward trajectory, Shinsei Kamattechan are the must-see Japanese act this year at the eastern leg of Summer Sonic — which takes place, after all, in their home prefecture of Chiba.
Alongside acts such as Ling Toshite Sigure, Electric Eel Shock and Soutaiseiriron, Kamattechan are part of a new generation of Japanese artists whose popularity has grown by word of mouth, relying on amazing live performances and online activity rather than media saturation and marketing yen.
“We were playing live shows like any other band, but the venues were empty,” recalls keyboardist/guitarist Mono as we sit in a family restaurant in a far-flung corner of Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood. Also present is drummer Misako, who was the last to join the band (in 2007); bassist Chibagin is absent due to illness, while vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Noko avoids interviews altogether. The members each go by one name and they all turn 25 this year.
“We figured that people were spending their time online rather than going out to watch bands live,” continues Mono. “And if that was the case, we thought we should go online too.”
Noko and his bandmates started out by shooting a series of surreal homemade videos around their hometown of Kashiwa City and uploading them to video sites Nico Nico Douga and YouTube. The compelling, weird clips feature exactly the sort of antics you’d expect of bored youngsters living in the middle of nowhere — meaningless destruction, black humor and, more often than not, Noko’s bare bottom — and kept viewers glued to the screen as the songs that soundtracked them naturally seeped in.
Ah yes, the songs. Imagine if Pixies had a lovechild with a happy-clappy Christian pop group and then dropped it heavily on its head, and you’ll get the picture. Over a warped blend of punk rhythms and cheesy pop piano, Noko sings in an off-key drawl that explodes into furious screams; his voice is often mangled beyond all recognition by pitchshifters and delay. March’s debut album “Tomodachi wo Koroshite Made” (“To Kill a Friend”) was a work of restless brilliance that quickly got them snapped up by Warner. Its followup is due early next year.
Noko’s bandmates are supportive of his aversion to interviews. “He thinks people should listen to his lyrics and then draw their own conclusions,” says Mono. “He’s not interested in discussing the nuances behind them. He never used to say anything in interviews, so we agreed that he may as well not come.”
While the band obviously play plenty of shows in Japan, their performance at the Chiba leg of Summer Sonic should prove particularly exciting. It’s their first major festival appearance (they won a contest to play a minor stage at Summer Sonic last year, but technical trouble meant they only managed one song), and it’s on their home turf; plus, the recent buzz around them should mean plenty of new faces in the crowd.
“Our shows are quite different every time,” says Misako. “But the audience always gives us a warm reception, despite us always turning up late and being a bit shambolic. Our fans are too kind.”