With only a handful of albums by Gito Gito Hustler and Spookey in my collection, I can hardly claim to be any sort of expert but in recent months it would seem that the phenomenon of J-punk / J-pop is resurfacing here in the UK.
Of course, everyone knows of Shonen Knife, who were one of the first to establish a presence outwith the Japan homeland. But that was probably the limit of my knowledge until recently, in a chat with Taigen, front man of Japanese psych band Bo Ningen, the ‘Idol’ band Denpagumi were revealed as a sort of ‘guilty pleasure’ of the enigmatic bass player. Indeed, he has apparently collaborated with them on one particular track – an alliance you would never envisage in a month of Sundays.
The same may then be said of The Wedding Present leader, David Gedge who, having seen TOQUIWA play live, immediately signed them to his band’s Scopitones label (the only band without a Wedding Present affiliation to be offered such a deal) and brought them as the main support for their recent UK and European tour.
“Of all the support bands we’ve ever had, I’ve never seen an audience blown away by the support act quite like TOQUIWA,” says David.
The eponymous album (eleven tracks covering thirty-seven minutes) is certainly energetic and fun – and even offers us a glimpse of a band not afraid to diversify a little from the sort of music most would say epitomises the J-punk sound.
Opening track ‘Tokyo Merry-Go-Round’ crashes in with catchy, off-kilter guitar riffs and chugging bass-lines. The vocals are kind of ‘cutsie,’ but at the same time sort of spat out with a bit of attitude. This is the band’s debut album, I believe, but this song is from the group’s previous incarnation as The Pinky Piglets, so is probably the oldest of the eleven.
‘Roll The Dice!!’ has a kind of Strokes (‘Last Night’) rhythm to it while the vocals are, as always, delightfully discordant but softened by some really catchy backing harmonies on the infectious chorus.
‘Japanese Girl,’ takes us away from the pre-conceived notion of J-punk and into an altogether more ‘funky’ mood. Think along the lines of Tom Tom Club combining with CSS. ‘To The Right, To The Left,’ has a great chugging drive to it. It’s not as shrill as some of the other songs and has a slightly harder edge to it, but still retains that distinctive J-punk feel.
‘U.S.O.’ keeps within that vein, combining a rocking riff with a funky vibe and chanted vocals before ‘Brain Party’ opens with some synth and electro effects, and showing that there is more to TOQUIWA than simply just routine J-punk. This is a great pop song in its own right and maybe highlights what we can expect in future recordings?
‘Listen,’ is brilliantly kitsch and twee, with a snappy little ‘rap’ and boppy beat. Cheesy as hell .. but superb in a strange kind of way! ‘The Rain Song’ is another diversion from the J-punk theme – an acoustic ballad none less! It’s a lovely little song, quite out of place on the album, but again highlighting that here we have a band that can and are not afraid to, mix things up.
‘1999’ has the girls’ light vocals dancing atop a jangly guitar and infectious beat. It’s a bit more subdued and relaxed in its delivery compared to most of the other songs and I would say more Euro-pop inspired than anything else.
But then we have ‘Give Me A Chocolate!!’ If you were to describe the sound of J-punk / J-pop, then this is how you would do it. Opening with a cheer-leader, Toni Basil-esque chant and breaking into a Beatles type riff (‘Daytripper’ anyone?) the song rocks along nicely for almost four minutes with a whispered intermission and catchy, hooky sing-a-long choruses.
I’m not sure what came first – the recording of the final track on this album or David Gedge signing TOQUIWA to his label. Whatever; whether it’s a ‘thank you’ tribute or the song that initially caught David’s attention, this version of The Wedding Present’s ‘Kennedy’ is quite inspired! It sounds so wrong …. But so good at the same time!
Originally formed as The Pinky Piglets back in 1998 these three girls have been around a while. They have hosted their own radio show on one of Tokyo’s biggest stations; they have written a TV theme tune and supported such punk luminaries as Bad Religion, Guttermouth, Regurgitator and now of course The Wedding Present.
With their ability to bend the shape of J-punk and break the stereotypical view of that genre, the world it seems is their oyster.
(The album ‘Toquiwa’ is available now on a digital basis with a limited number of physical CDs available at the remaining few UK shows.)