Lovebites at The Underworld

Support: Shirobon| FEMM
November 27, 2017 at The Underworld
Promoter: The Underworld

The world of idol music and upbeat power rock is an almost unstoppable force in Japan, with stadiums routinely filled with pop and rock megastars whilst alternative acts dominate the underground scenes. But it’s a scene that is almost invisible overseas, relegated to small tours focusing on Japan-themed expos playing to exhausted, seated crowds filled with noodles.

Power-metal shredders Lovebites and mannequin electro-pop outfit FEMM had a real opportunity to show what the scene was capable of in enemy territory, the beer-stained gun metal sweatshop of the Camden Underworld. Far away from the power-pop arenas and stadiums, they had a fight on their hands to prove the power of their scene – and I’ll be damned if they didn’t come out with some infectious fighting moves.

Opening up the night was Shirobon, a London-based electronics artist whose decks are bizarrely replaced with a Gameboy. Opening DJ sets are usually a death sentence, with beat-bangers being played to about three people and one dog who may be a Soviet spy – so it was excellent to see a sizeable crowd lapping up a set that used retro sounds to make very modern electro (with a bit of Streets of Rage 2 for good measure). Mixing up chiptune with a particularly chipper stage presence, Shirobon was clearly a great choice to warm up the crowd – and the regular applause and chants kept the energy up right until FEMM came on. As strange as it is to see three very different genres collate the same bill, it’s very obvious that they are all of the same world – and when you can settle in an expo audience into a death metal sound-tracked bar you know you’ve done a good job.

From the moment members RiRi and LuLa were physically carried, completely rigid, on stage to perform electro pop as mannequins I knew that FEMM were going to be a special type of bonkers. FEMM, or the Far East Mention Mannequins, consists of Emily Kaiho and Hiro Todo performing the greatest rendition of “the robot” dance ever conceived. Their music is pop in its most elemental sense, mixing shameless catchiness with a rebellious tinge.

With no live band, the performance is completely in the hands of these two singers – who stride a line between uncanny valley and having more stage domination and energy then most flesh-and-blood rivals. The dance moves and synchronisation is really quite something, and the whole aesthetic feeds so deeply into the spectacle of the show it’s hard to see it as a separate entity to the music.

There are some downsides to having such a compelling and dedicated stage gimmick though, where through their perfect modulated vocals and synchronised dance moves it did come across sometimes as strangely clinical – most devastatingly where you can start to wonder whether the vocals are mimed, with the presentation so perfect that its impossible to know for sure. It’s a hard sell when you describe it for what it is, with two vocalists performing to a backing track.

But this isn’t a band that prides itself on being real and genuine, but instead one that draws power from this bizarre satire of manufactured pop whilst using its greatest strengths. Its all deceptively clever, and with crowd chants and banners going up for a joint singalong to ‘Fxxk Boyz Get Money’, it’s easy to forget that you are standing in a half-filled Camden Underworld and not an arena.

Finishing the eclectic bill was Lovebites, fresh off their shameless power-metal debut Awakening From Abyss on their first UK tour. Whilst FEMM’s direction was, by their own design, robotic – Lovebites was warm and vibrant. Arriving in matching white attire belied individual characters bursting out through their performance – dispelling any idea that they are here for anything but the joy of playing.

Running through their debut in its entirety, with an added encore of Halestorm‘s ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’, it was difficult not to love them for their sheer unabashed joy of playing and adoration of 80s’ excess. Key to their success is vocalist Asami who not only has a voice that exemplifies the best in over-the-top power vocals, with some showstopper wails placed in, but a natural stage character that had the crowd eating out of her hand. On the ranking of ‘did she give it the beans’ she was distinctly Heinz. Banging out a medley of power metal clichés and staples felt more of a celebration of the genre then rehashing tried-and-tested crowd pleasers. The J-rock sentimentalities shined through too, giving everything an alternative classic-rock glow that is hard to put your finger on – but pervades everything.

The crowd reaction too was channelling more then just gig joy, though there was plenty of that, but was a relentless celebration of the J-Metal scene that gets so little love over here. It is hard to picture yourself in the Underworld when people are screaming underneath their banners to such garish and colourful guitar exploits. It was in this environment that their songs truly thrived, coming alive from the album and truly taking on a celebratory personality of their own.
I have to admit that I approached FEMM and Lovebites with caution, not knowing whether the whole performance would come off lacklustre or forced. But together they made it damn near impossible to dislike them, and proved far and away just what the scene is capable of when given a proper platform to perform. This is just something that you don’t see everyday, and that is a big shame. Great fun.

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