Maison book girl at Boston Music Room, London

live report - 06.12.2018 20:01

Stylish, modern idol group Maison book girl hits London on their UK tour.

The idol music scene in Japan has become a very different place in recent years. After dominating the Japanese charts for decades with its sunny, inoffensive pop music, bursting with ‘girl next door’ charm, a new breed of idol group has emerged from the independent fringes. Japan’s dizzying diversity of musical genres is now finding an outlet through idols, and there seems to be a group to meet any musical taste, from metal to grunge to indie and and anywhere in between you care to think of.

One of the most interesting acts in this new wave is Maison book girl, or bukuga to their fans, whose signature sound is almost a new genre of its own. Looking to start a new idol project in 2014, Megumi Koshouji hooked up with producer/composer Kenta Sakurai. The line-up was completed by Aoi Yagawa, Yui Inoue and the bespectacled Rin Wada, who proves once and for all, that wearing glasses makes you effortlessly cool.

The group’s sleek, understated image plays a central part. They act like style icons, marketing their merchandise almost like a designer label, but it’s musically where they stand out from the crowd. Sakurai has developed his own unique percussive, staccato brand of music, that builds in loops and layers, relying heavily on keyboards and MIDI sampled xylophone, woodwind and strings. It owes more to avant garde minimalist composer Steve Reich than anything that’s ever topped the J-pop charts.

Maison book girl’s distinctive sound and stylish look were enough to convince newly formed label Read The Air Records, a collaboration between UK’s Alcopop! Records and Japan’s Vinyl Junkie label, to snap them up for their very first release. karma, taken from the 2017 album image, and bath room, from their 2015 debut album of the same name, were selected for the debut double A-side, blue vinyl 7-inch single and the group are here to promote it with a week long tour taking in Birmingham, Brighton and London.

Barely a couple of weeks after performing at the VIVA LA POP! festival at the 37,000 capacity Saitama Super Arena, Maison book girl are in the somewhat cosier confines of Tufnell Park’s Boston Music Room – capacity 250. Support is provided by local indie guitar band flirting. and some J-pop tracks from the DJ get everyone in the right mood.

The lights go out and the clapping intro to bath room fills the venue. The crowd join in and do their best to keep up with the quick fire rhythm as Maison book girl stride on stage and pick up the hand clapping before spinning off in to their opening dance routine. They might cultivate an image of icy emotional detachment in their music videos, but in real life they have a much warmer way with their fans. Far from being the frosty fashion models their publicity sometimes makes them out to be, it’s not long before they break out the smiles along with some cheeky slaps to their hind quarters in time to the music.

The audience gets a sneak preview of the upcoming elude single, with Reinkouto to kubi no nai tori, a strange title that translates as ‘Raincoat and the bird without a neck’. It’s instantly recognisable as a Maison book girl song, with its odd time signatures and ever present xylophones, though it carries a slightly darker tone and is less obviously pop than their other tracks.

There’s a quick break for an MC from Megumi, who looks more Scandinavian than Japanese with her blue eyed contacts and blonde hair that’s punked up with a dash of acid yellow. She greets the audience with a few lines of well-rehearsed English before they get back to it with lost AGE. Their moves reflect the song’s insistent beat of time ticking away, as their arms echo the sweep of a second hand advancing around a clock face.

The show doesn’t have the high production values of their Solitude HOTEL lives, which resemble performance art installations at times, but their UK fans get the opportunity to see Maison book girl and their cool, quirky dancing up close and personal. They whizz through their set with barely time to draw breath between songs. Highlights include townscape with its formation hopscotch routine, the super-catchy faithlessness and the stop-start rooms, which sees the venue plunged into blackness during the song’s pauses.

There’s one more quick MC, although having used up her pre-prepared English, Megumi ends up giving it mostly in Japanese. Nobody seems to mind though and the show gets under way again with snowy irony. It’s another chance to see the fun, peppy side of Maison book girl as Aoi leads they crowd with chants of “Oi! Oi! Oi!”

Taking a moment to thank everybody again, Megumi announces the last song of the night, karma. Their whole 40-minute set is quite an aerobic workout, but even as it draws to a close with one of the quicker tempo numbers, they keep the vocals sure and steady amidst the busy, bouncy dance routine.

Signing off with more thank yous, Maison book girl take a deep bow before heading off stage to the sound of well-earned applause. While they’ve played to bigger crowds at more impressive venues in their career, they’ve still given a max effort performance here, and their laughs and smiles show they’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

They reappear from backstage after fifteen minutes, looking fresh as daisies again, ready to meet their fans. The queue for a polaroid snap with the group, or ‘cheki’, snakes across the venue as everybody waits for a slice of the authentic idol experience. The language barrier turns out to be no problem and the girls greet their fans with an easy grace and sense of fun, completely charming everyone they meet.

Hopefully, Maison book girl’s UK tour is more than a busman’s holiday and they’ll be bringing their stylish look and unique brand of music back to these shores soon. They might just have picked the right time to make an impression as they lead the way in a burst of alt-idol acts hitting the UK this summer. The alternative idol scene is producing plenty of exciting, creative music these days and Maison book girl have shown the UK what it’s all about.

Set list

01. bath room
02. Reinkouto to kubi no nai tori
03. lost AGE
04. bed
05. townscape
06. veranda
07. faithlessness
08. rooms
09. snowy irony
10. karma

The limited edition blue 7-inch double A-side single of karma / bath room is available from Read The Air Records.
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