Die Milch – gig review

Die milch cover

What is it with Lolita ladies and hot beverages? Comprising of Mocha on violin and Coco on keyboards and vocals, the Japanese duo Die Milch put a spell on the crowd at The Islington on Sunday night.

As far as I could make out with my shaky Japanese, I learned from their website that Coco is actually a doll made by a magician, who is allowed to become animated for a limited time to perform… Along with a description of the band as ‘gothic baroque pop’ by the friend from the Lolita community I went along with, that was all I knew about Die Milch. It turns out, the duo characterise most good things that I associate with Lolita fashion – an eclectic but stylish mixture of old and new, a sense of irony and just a splash of magic. The stage is a visual treat with the keyboard decked in roses and white lace and two impeccable gothic Lolita ‘coords.’ Sonically, Mocha’s soaring violin solos over industrial style beats suggests a more tasteful Emilie Autumn, though Coco’s harpsichord keyboard gymnastics also bring to mind Malice Mizer.

An unfortunate by-product of doing a music degree is that I have become snobby about string players in pop. All too often it seems that all it takes is the bassist dusting off the violin he hasn’t played since he was 14 and shoving in some long notes in a couple of songs for a mediocre band to get their ‘classy classical’ points. Thanks to my snobbishness, I was nervous when Mocha, clad in a little-bo-peep style white dress, picked up her bow. Please, please be good.

Image credit: Aliki Arkomani

I needn’t have worried. It couldn’t be clearer from the moment her bow touches her strings that she can  play. Really play, with classical flair and technical mastery. Though she doesn’t feel the need to jump around the stage a la Lindsay Stirling, her bowing is extrovert and expressive in manner which belies her diminutive statue and adorable bonnet.

To be sure, there is nothing unique about Coco’s understated vocals, but there is a lot to be said for a clear soprano who doesn’t fluff a single note, which is pretty rare in touring pop musicians. Moreover, a more conspicuous vocalist would draw attention from the complex instrumental parts. What Coco lacks in vocal individuality she makes up for in stage presence. Instead of letting her limited English restrict her, Coco’s stage chat was knowing and often hilarious. “It is hot here. But if you go to Japan in summer, you will die.” As a recovering Essex girl, I appreciated her nod to estuary English: “I know real Engrish. Bread an bu-er. Wa-er.” Both performers use rigid, stylised dance moves to maintain their clockwork doll persona. The overall choreography of the set was slick and seemed impeccably rehearsed, leaving me in no doubt as to the clarity of Die Milch’s creative vision.

Support Scarlett Young, whose singing and dancing won her the title ‘UK Kawaii Star for HYPER JAPAN,’ gave an energetic performance. Indeed, it’s difficult to believe that so much kawaii  can fit into one person. Though her syrupy, unironic cuteness seemed a little incongruous to Die Milch’s gothic tones and complex musicality, there can be no doubt that her programme of J-Pop favourites was a crowd-pleaser for the Japanophile audience. Young’s choreography was tight and her vocals strong but I felt that her reliance on karaoke style backing tracks held back her obvious musicality – though this is probably less of an issue on the convention stage, which is where she usually performs. I would be interested to see how she fares with a live band.

Promoted by the music journalism website and J-Pop club night J-Pop Go, the evening was a thoroughly enjoyable celebration of Japanese music and the Lolita community in London and beyond.

You can get yourself a copy of Die Milch’s latest album IMPERIAL here.

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