Sometimes you have moments when you look around you and think, “My life is utterly ridiculous.” Standing in the changing room at The Quarter Note, Shinokubo, waiting to perform with Die Milch, dressed in Lolita fashion and surrounded by girls in even more outrageous outfits is near the top of my list.
“What kind of things do you get me into?!” says long-suffering boyfriend holding his viola and also waiting to perform. Unlike me, boyfriend is not into alternative-fashion in the slightest so his ouji stage outfit, complete with subtle frills, was a new look for him. One I was enjoying immensely.
How on the earth did two scruffs from Essex come to perform with a neo-classical Gothic Lolita outfit in Tokyo? A lot of hanging around at gigs mostly. I’d been a fan since last summer when I was told about Die Milch’s London gig. I almost didn’t go as it was a Sunday night and I was feeling lazy about doing the drive up the M11 to Islington. You can bet I’m glad I made the effort now! After that we went to a gig of theirs in Ikebukuro in the autumn where we got chatting to a friendly fan who was organising a car share to a special Die Milch birthday gig in Shizuoka and did a very good job of convincing us to come along. It was a great excuse to go to Shizuoka and at that gig the band were kind enough to invite us to go for seafood with them. Over dinner, we got chatting to Coco, the band’s keyboardist and vocalist and told her that we play the harp and viola respectively and she asked if we wanted to perform as guests in a performance. Whilst this was very exciting, it’s not exactly unusual for musicians to go ooh when I say I play the harp and nothing to come of it so I didn’t get my hopes up. But a couple of months later, she sent us an email with our parts and gave us the date of the concert! As long as our playing was up to scratch, this was happening!
I’m not ashamed to say that it turned out that ‘getting our playing up to scratch’ was no easy feat. Die Milch are real pros and pros in the classical sense – no offense meant to pop musicians, but difficult classical music demands boss technique. Our parts weren’t easy, we didn’t go to music college and we have day jobs so we worked really hard to get up to level. And when performance day came I was still terrified – if I cock up performing by myself it sucks but if I messed up on this stage I would not only let down a professional band but one which I hugely respected as a fan.
The theme for the gig was ‘Doll Special’ and so the other artists were suitably beautiful and doll like. The openers were colorpointe, a group who fuse singing and ballet with an alternative twist. They were followed by JULiC, a fabulously dressed gothic rock band. I really enjoyed chatting with these lovely people backstage and both of their live sets were fantastic. We were playing on sad～悲しき王子のため息～, a neo-classical instrumental on Die Milch’s latest album Imperial. Luckily, I did not vomit in terror on stage/break my harp strings/play in the wrong place and the crowd responded well to us and Coco’s typically fantastic MC-ing.
A real highlight for me was the fans of Die Milch. Even though my boyfriend Arthur Rei and I were only temporary members of the band they were so kind to us. A friend of Coco’s hand made me a beautiful ring to wear on stage to match the rest of the ladies in Die Milch. Afterwards members of the audience came up to us to chat and one kind gentleman told us that the song we were in was the best piece of the night!
I would like to thank Coco and the rest of Die Milch for this amazing opportunity. I feel like I learnt so much from you – not only musically but about how gigs work in Japan.
I hope to do more collaborations like this one in the future!
HexaGlaM, Velvet Eden, Die Milch, Lapis Light and Rose Noire: a review of a four hour visual kei marathon
4.45pm Saturday 21 November, just starting to get dark, and long-suffering boyfriend and I are wondering around the ‘dodgy’ (aka. many love hotels) section of Ikebukuro. We’re 15 minutes late to the gig, but Google maps manages to direct us to the venue, Ruido K3. We walk down the stairs and pay, then are directed to what I can only describe as a black walled ‘air lock’ kind of entrance. I’m claustrophobic at the best of times so this alone would be enough to get my heart rate up, but we are also greeted by an extremely loud blast of music. We look nervously at each other, hurriedly put in our ear-plugs, and draw back the black curtain.
The sight of HexaGlaM’s set in full swing is enough to make me wonder if I’ve entered wonderland. With wigs and hair every colour of the rainbow, the tremendous amount of energy in the performance of their brand of melodic hard rock really does make them seem larger than life. Singer Sella puts a spell on us with his ‘prince’ character, telling us with a hint of humour that it was ‘fate’ that lead us to meet in downtown Ikebukuro tonight. His powerful voice is equally effective on the band’s catchy melodies and the occasional screaming sections. All five band-members were big personalities but I especially enjoyed watching guitarist Koro. She was jumping around the stage with the air of a kick-ass pixie and I loved her yukata inspired outfit and the way her purple hair extensions clashed with her green sparkly guitar.
After the high energy visual-spectacle that was HexaGlaM, two-piece Velvet Eden seemed like a big contrast, with their more somber electronic music. Because I’m a visual kei novice I didn’t realise this, but Velvet Eden are a veteran unit that have been going since 1998, with one line up or another. On Saturday, the charismatic cross-dressing, vocalist DADA, (the only remaining original member) was joined by current guitarist Chro. Decked out in black lace, they created a gothic feel, assisted by blue lighting and generous use of the smoke machine. Dada’s deep sonorous vocals over drum machine focused electronics brings to mind 80s British Goth.
No denying it, Die Milch were the band I wanted to see. Their July concert in North London was the first music review I wrote for this blog and the last gig I saw before leaving the UK. I fell in love with them there, so seeing them from my new home in Tokyo was really special for me. The three-piece unit did not disappoint, with their fusion of electro neo-classical music and Lolita fashion making for the ultimate audio-visual treat. As usual, they seemed impeccably rehearsed, playing their instruments and their living doll personas to perfection. Only Coco (vocals and keys) and Mocha (violin) performed at the London gig so it was great to see additional violinist Yui perform at Saturday’s show. She adds a lot to unit both sonically; playing off Mocha’s violin parts in delicious call and response duets, and visually; two brunette violinists flanking blonde Coco works very well for the band’s cutesy clockwork choreography.
It was interesting to see how their performance style varied slightly from London to Tokyo. In London they favoured catchy, vocal-centric songs such as ‘Operette’ and ‘Go! Lolita’ whereas Saturday’s gig featured more instrumental, neo-classical repertoire. Either works for me and it was great to hear tracks from their newest album ‘Imperial’ alongside older hits such as ‘Rosaria.’ In their performance of ‘We R D.M’ (We are Die Milch) in London, as well as encouraging their audience to participate in the dance moves, they passed the microphone round almost the entire room so everyone could introduce themselves. They skipped this part this time, perhaps due to the sometimes shyer nature of Tokyoites than Londoners.
All in all their set exceeded my already high expectations and I didn’t want it to end. I’m hoping I can catch their January gig, which is on Coco’s birthday I hear, but it’s in Shizouka… Well I have been needing an excuse to visit that area of Japan!
The lights are low and and the silhouette of a beautiful girl walks elegantly to her violin. Lapis Light certainly like their theatrics. It gets brighter and we can see that singer/violinst Rei (零) has certainly won the prize for best hair and make-up of the night. What seems to be her natural hair is complimented by flowing extensions and a gorgeous autumnal leaves head dress. She has impressive false eyelashes and red glitter under her eyes that compliments her red themed outfit.
After a brief tranquil violin solo, the tempo goes up. And stays up. The best way to describe Lapis Light’s sound is heavy metal meets baroque pop meets video game music. On steroids. Seriously, the energy of this band was relentless – almost too much for my taste at times – and so gentler passages with prominent violin and occasional vocal narration were welcome. I really enjoyed how Lapis Light incorporate traditional Japanese imagery and sounds into their visuals and music – from the autumn leaves in their banner and Rei’s kimono inspired outfit to flurries of pentatontic, ‘koto like’ electronic music decorating their music.
First off, these guys get points for playing an electro-industrial version of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana to open. That’s something I’ve always wanted to hear and I can think of nothing better to get an audience pumped up.
The red curtains rose to reveal Rose Noire, of which violin duo Jill and Louie, who may or may not be siblings, are the core members. On Saturday they were joined by bassist tAk and a drummer whose name may be Ebisumaru. Or not. Come back to me in a few years when I’m fluent in Japanese.
Louie does electric violin and lead vocals while Jill plays acoustic violin. I’ve never seen this kind of combination before but it works, chiefly due to Jill’s impressively strong tone on the violin. She was one of the best instrumentalists of the night; her playing really sung and she spun and moved across the stage in a way that had lots of personality but was not overdone.
A few songs into their violin-centric brand of melodic gothic rock, there was a bit of a surprise when Louie started singing counter-tenor. Yes, you heard me right, counter-tenor. At a visual kei concert. A pretty decent one too, and it worked with the more classical theme in these songs, complete with harpsichord electronics. Seriously, these guys make Emilie Autumn look like an amateur.
Bassist tAk had a wonderfully quirky stage presence. You can’t really see it in this photo because his face is covered by the mic stand but his make-up genuinely scared me and he was doing this creepy eye thing to a fangirl at the front who was loving it. At one point he stacked it over the monitors. Even though this cracked the gothic veneer somewhat, he recovered really well which made me warm to him even more. As he smiled apologetically, revealing his teeth for the first time, I heard my boyfriend murmur, “So he’s not scary really…” He gave the cutest little awkward wave when he went off stage, next to Jill and Louie’s flamboyant bows.
Rose Noire seems to have very dedicated fans who rightly demanded an encore. The night finished with their hit FEED, a wonderfully crafted track which favours both Jill’s violin and Louie’s vocals and really shows this genre at its finest. I really recommend listening as an introduction to the band, the yearning violin line will charm its way into your dreams.
A friend who is a fan of old school visual kei said he wanted to go to a visual kei gig when he visits me in Tokyo next year, but expressed concerns that the scene was either dead or the fans were entirely fourteen year-old girls. I’m no visual kei expert, but this afternoon of excellent music and spectacular outfits showed me that the scene is very much alive, even if it has changed markedly from its original form. I was impressed by the age range at the concert actually; there seemed to be a mix of people from about 18 to fans in their fifties, some in gothic, Lolita or visual-kei style outfits but also a fair few in ‘civilian’ dress.
For a visual kei virgin like myself, the event was a sensory overload in the best possible way. I’ve never known a non-classical gig to start at 4.30, but I guess if it’s going to be four hours long I can see the wisdom in it. I definitely needed a lie down afterwards, thanks to such intense music and brightly coloured outfits as well as being on my feet for so long (granny alert). Looking forward to having my mind blown again, bring on the next one!
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.
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.