These are a couple of collaborative releases to come of Japan featuring Japanoise heavyweights Hijokaidan. Both tap into particular and divergent currents of Japanese music and culture in surprising ways, and the results are delightfully strange. 初音階段 (that is “Hatsune Kaidan”) is a collaboration between Hijokaidan and Hatsune Miku, the vocaloid. That is to say that Miku is not a real person, but rather the blue-haired, anime-eyed, computer animated “face” for a japanese voice synthesis program (think autotune without anyone human having to sing the notes). Hatsune Miku may not be “real” in a physical sense, but her fans certainly are, and she has even charted in Japan. She has actual concerts with her dancing/”singing” image projected as a hologram, a la that wierd Tupac thing last year. Miku’s sound is typical J-Pop, but with an uncanny robo-timbre. That the noise/free improv giants (well, giants for noise) Hijokaidan collaborate with (umm) Ms. Miku brings together two of the strangest but also divergent strands of Japanese music: commercial and underground, pop and noise, human beings and digital. The result is as bizarre and beautiful as you might expect. The first two tracks of the EP tracks are typical Hatsune Miku, glossy digital production, poppy with her signature casio-meets-human-voice “singing,” but with Hijokaidans snarl and feedback laid underneath, like a monster creeping behind the smoke and mirrors of Miku’s hologram. The last two tracks are dominated more by Hijokaidan, and one could mistake them for any other of Hijokaidan’s work. I think, however, that these tracks are using the vocaloid software to the breaking point, seemingly processed into feedback-freakout through amps and electronics. The effect of the transition, from J-Pop-meets-noise to 16-min noise assault, is quite subversive. It’s like Hijokaidan, by breaking the vocaloid software and image down to their harsh style of noise, show the artifice of the Hatsune Miku phenomenon, and by extension the artifice of celebrity, in general. Miku is a distilled, pure form of celebrity, pure image, only persona, no pesky human being behind the anime mask. Hijokaidan smashes this image, her music, into harsh, squeally bits, and we are allowed to see Hatsune Miku as “she” really is, digital illusion. Much to my excitement, there is a full Hatsune Kaidan album coming out in Japan on September 18th.
With BiS階段 (that is, BiSKaidan), Hijokaidan and collaborators Brand-new Idol Society deconstruct another particularly Japanese form of celebrity: Idol Culture. Idols represent another kind of celebrity that seems distilled down to a pure essence, even compared to celebrity culture here in the States. Idols are young, attractive women that can be celebrities in an array of cultural products from music to movies to television to porn. What matters most is not the real person behind the idol, but the idealized idol persona and image. Idol bands will often switch out different people to play the same role within the band; the images and personae are more important than the real person. I could go on about the different particulars of idol culture, but it suffices to say that they drive a huge part of the Japanese mainstream culture industry. An idol band is about as mainstream as you can get. Brand-new Idol Society, or BiS, are marketed as an “alternative” idol band, and their image is darker and somewhat more subversive than your average idol band. However, they still work very much within the idol industry; think of the early-2000s pop-punk bands for an analogous mix of “rebellious” image and corporate control. Collaborating with Hijokaidan, we get something again pleasantly strange. The album consists of songs from BiS’s catalogue now remixed with Hijokaidan’s backing. The result, like the first two tracks of Hatsune Kaidan, feel like a basic sum of the two components. Punk-/Rock-inflected J-Pop with an undertow of gritty harsh noise and feedback squeals. Unfortunately, there aren’t any extended noise tracks, like on Hatsune Kaidan, but there is still something infinitely satisfying about hearing Hijokaidan’s harshness juxtaposed with nice, female, Japanese vocals. Again, it feels like a specter is hanging just below the overly-produced corporatized surface. There is a video for the track 好き好き大好き(Suki Suki Daisuki, or I Like I Like I Love You), a cover of a 1985 Jun Togawa song. It features BiS in bloody Japanese schoolgirl uniforms, fake intestines hanging out, destroying a generic-looking music video set with their noisy cohorts playing along with them. The imagery, it seems and again much like the Hatsune Kaidan EP, subverts the underpinnings of Idol Culture. The school uniforms evoke the simultaneous infantilization and sexualization of the female idol image (most idols are marketed as being teenage, though they are typically several years older), and the blood and the destruction of the set evoke the violence inherent in Idol Culture, the violence against the individual in favor of an idealized female image.
The CDs are import only, so it’s difficult to find a way to listen to these, but they really are extraordinary, at least in their novelty. They are beautifully strange diversions for any Japanoise fan, and perhaps an entry point to underground Japanese music for the J-Pop crowd. Great stuff.