Casiokids won’t waste a second while in Japan

by Matthew Holmes

Staff Writer

With saucepans, a bowl, a wine-glass high-hat and some chopsticks to playfully clink them with, a cover version was born. Thinking it “too tricky to work out the chords to a Shiina Ringo song,” it was with a cover of Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” that Norwegian synth-pop four-piece Casiokids introduced themselves ahead of their Japan tour.

Updating the 1961 classic with crockery beats was smart, but it’s the haunting harmonies in their native tongue that really make an impression.

“I truly believe one of our main goals as artists and musicians must be to create something unique and original, and the Norwegian language was, for us, a natural part in achieving that,” says vocalist Ketil Kinden Endresen. “(The band) had a great time in Omar (Johnsen)’s living room coming up with the video.”

Endresen also explains that, “by referencing other songs and polishing our most original and best tricks, we work hard to make our sound more pure and special for each performance.”

Casiokids should have no trouble getting crowds dancing in Tokyo (including a headline set at “Nordic Music Night”), Nagoya and Osaka. From pumped-up favorite “Fot i Hose,” to the deep-swaying pop of “Verdens Storste Land,” plus tunes from new album “Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen,” it’ll be a treat — if a little rushed.

“In April, we did shows in Russia, Norway and Mexico the same weekend, and after that everything seemed fairly easy,” Endresen says. But with five Japan shows this week, and dates in five European countries over the next two weeks, there’s not much room to forget your watch and miss a flight.

“Well, hectic schedules are our thing, really, and our tours seldom have a logical routing,” Endresen says. “The trick is to schedule some days off now and again, and luckily these have come in Tokyo, so we can explore, and feast on Japanese food.”

Endresen calls Nordic Music Night “a brilliant concept,” and says the band is proud to represent Norway at the Northern European music showcase. However, he is also looking forward to playing with local acts throughout the weekend. Japanese support will come in the form of Sawagi and Nokies! at the Marz, Shangri-La, Party’z dates, and The Brixton Academy will join them at a Tokyo Indie gig after the Nordic showcase — the latter’s organizers hope to “strengthen fan-bases in Tokyo by giving bands of different nationalities a chance to share a stage.” Endresen sees mutual benefits in events like these, noting: “When lots of musicians are together, everyone steals, everyone is influenced.”

Endresen counts Scottish humorist and musician Ivor Cutler among his lyrical influences; though often surrealist stuff, it tells stories as well as complementing the band’s lively beats. With Casiokids’ work including workshops and art installations in Norway aimed at schools and theater groups, they are just as at home telling those stories to children as clubbers.

Surreal too, is the video work of “beloved member of the extended Casiokids family,” Kristoffer Borgli. From personified and beaten-up soft toys, to fairy tale-like creatures dancing in the woods, Endresen says “his idea of having one’s own universe, a collection of imagery to pick and choose from, has many similarities to how we work with our music.” He makes “strange, and sometimes disturbing videos, and we collaborate on the sound and feel,” he says.

Casiokids’ multimedia live performances — expect anything from shadow puppetry to light- and video-shows — and work with grass-roots music in Norway impressed compatriates A-ha and their fans so much that the supergroup awarded them 1 million Norwegian kroner (about ¥14 million). The famous pop trio had set up a “talent grant” competion, and Casiokids won. Endresen says the money, from one of four prizes, “opened up a lot of possibilities for us, such as an extensive world tour and the funds to build our own studio.”

As that tour hits Japan, Endresen promises lyrics with a “bombastic simplicity,” beats featuring an “afro-techno” vibe, and playful melodies “worth shouting hooray to.” Hopefully, they’ll save “Sukiyaki” for the encore.

Casiokids play at Marz in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on Nov. 10 (www.marz.jp); Nordic Music Night at Unit in Daikanyama, Tokyo, on Nov. 11 (www.creativeman.co.jp/artist/2011/11nordic/); Tokyo Indie at Chelsea Hotel in Shibuya, Tokyo (www.tokyoindie.com), on Nov. 11; at Party’z in Nagoya on Nov. 12 (partyz.radcreation.jp); and at Shangri La in Osaka on Nov. 13 (www.shan-gri-la.jp). For more information, visit www.casiokids.com.