Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nirgilis & HALCALI At The Unit

The Daikanyama Unit was bad-mouthed in my Tokyo live house post, but having been there on Sunday I have to say it wasn't actually that bad. The staff was even polite (shock!). Still, in the end, I prefer grungy little clubs with character like the Que and Loft.


I was there to see an event called Spoon Market, organized by the group Tokyo Pinsalocks and featuring a number of girl bands, including the ones I was especially interested in, Nirgilis and HALCALI.

Nirgilis is a synth-pop trio consisting of a girl vocalist and drummer, and a guy bassist, with all three in charge of synthesizers and programming. Japanese sources sometimes describe them as a 'mashup band', but I'm not sure how accurate that is—their hit tune “Sakura” did overlay a version of “Amazing Grace” to the main melody, but other than that, most of their songs seem pretty straightforwardly pop.

What's special about them is the vocalist Acchu Iwata's singing style, which, to borrow from one of their song titles, is 'coquettish'-sounding, and also intuitive, emotional and sensual. Some of their song lyrics are rather steamy, so maybe their aim is to be sexy, in the true sense of the word. I was curious to see what they were like on stage.

Acchu, wearing a head-patch shaped like a hand, was petite, like some sort of Hobbit pop idol. She did laps across the stage and threw her arms up in a V, like a medal winner. The band was a lot more noisy and intense than I expected having listened to their albums, and often plunged into digital jam sessions.

One of my favorite Nirgilis songs is called “Thank you for the special day!!”, which is about seeing a perfect show by a favorite band. At the end of their gig, my enthusiasm level wasn't quite that high, but it was still good and I was happy to have seen them.


HALCALI came on a little later. They're a girl hip hop duo comprising Halca and Yucali (Halca + Yucali = HALCALI), and they made a splash a few years ago as a 'Japanese high school girl hip hop unit'; according to their website, the two met each other in a dance class when they were elementary school kids, and they were discovered at a 'female rapper audition'.

They're an adorable combo—Halca, tall, long-haired and pretty, while Yucali being little, short-haired and cute. They had on striped shirts, Yucali's in pink and Halca's in yellow, with illustrations of bananas on the front.

HALCALI's show was worlds apart from the typical Shimokita or Shibuya rock/pop gigs I see. Of course, it was hip hop, but going beyond that, the emphasis on dancing, acting and moving on stage, one girl coming forward when rapping while the other moving back, and so on, was fresh and fun to watch.

It also made me think that, at a certain point, a 'show' became for kids not just an occasion to sing and play musical instruments, but also do coordinated dance steps, in HALCALI's manner. It mustn't be a coincidence that you see so many groups street dancing to their reflections in building windows these days. Dancing became a natural part of musical entertainment, and people enjoyed showing off their moves on stage. Whereas, for many people of my generation (thirtysomething or so), the common understanding was that bands don't really dance, at least not the good ones, except as a joke. Dancing was an extra variable you had to put into the performance; why not just do your best singing and playing music? But maybe now that would be considered by my succeeding generation as plain and sorta boring.

In any case, HALCALI was skilled at all they did, rapping, singing, dancing, and getting the crowd moving—Yucali repeatedly told everyone to come closer to the stage, “even all you people standing in the back like strangers”—and I thought these two should play in the U.S. in an anime festival or something, where the fans would lap them up. But then, woops, I checked later, and it turns out that they already did that earlier this year, though the fans would no doubt want to see them again. (One final thing about HALCALI: some of their rhymes blow my mind, for example I would have never thought of rhyming 'aka jutan (red carpet)' with 'Azabu Juban (a shopping district next to Roppongi)' as they do in one song!)


Filled with regret I left the event before Tokyo Pinsalocks hit the stage, due to other business to attend do. They are a great group and nice people... Next time...

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