On Wednesday, October 12, the all-girl Japanese rock troupe Band-Maid strolled into London Town with one thing on their mind – domination. The band were kicking off their first ever European tour with a date in the Capital’s 500-capacity Camden Underworld, and the curiosity of what was happening down the road got the better of Hammer, so we went along to check it out. Needless to say, it was a great move. Here’s what we learned…
They’re Inexplicably Popular
With just under 40,000 Facebook followers, it was hard to gauge just how busy tonight’s show was going to be, but you should never underestimate the power of J-rock. There were queues outside the Underworld in Camden hours before the doors opened waiting for the special VIP meet and greet, and when Hammer arrives as the girls go onstage at 8pm, all of the merch has sold out. On the first day of their European tour, the UK fans came in like locusts and bought everything they could see. Something is happening here.
The Crowd Are Rock Fans
You might think that a band of ComicCon-baiting Japanese women would attract fans of the aesthetic and culture rather than the music, but this isn’t the case at all. The capacity crowd was like every other crowd you’d see at the Underworld, only perhaps more widespread. Grown men in patch jackets, teenagers with black metal spiked armbands, kids in pop-punk shirts and the odd sighting of brightly-coloured hair – this is a rock ‘n’ roll crowd and they lap up every song in the raucous 90-minute set.
This Is Not Babymetal
If you look at Band-Maid and instantly think of Babymetal then you’re instantly doing both bands a great disservice. The only thing the bands have in common is that they’re Japanese and are female, which is like comparing Coldplay to Napalm Death because they’re both British, male, and play guitars. While Babymetal focus much more on the kawaii, electronic and (at times) ridiculous sides of heavy music, Band-Maid are a dirty rock ‘n’ roll band who play their own instruments. Wailing guitar solos, huge choruses and punching hooks, they’ve got the attitude of Guns N’ Roses and the pomp of Def Leppard, although frontwoman Miku Kobato’s banter gets a bit pantomime after a while.
It’s Not A Gimmick
Okay sure, they wear maid outfits but other than that their is nothing ‘fake’ overtly going on. There’s no grandiose backstory, no over-the-top stage show, no higher power who sent these maids to Earth to do his bidding – nothing. They don’t even mention the fact that they’re wearing maid costumes, it’s just taken at face value. Kiss wear make-up, Band-Maid wear maid uniforms – it’s that simple. At one point, a man came onstage to quickly fix guitarist Kanami Tōno’s hair but other than that there are no ‘handlers’ or ‘puppet masters’ that we can see.
They’re Actually Good
In the 18-song setlist there is never a dull moment that warrants a quick trip to the bar (not that you can even reach the bar, as everyone is packed in so tight). With three studio albums under their belt, there’s enough talent and experience amongst the quintet to blitz through the arena-sized anthems that swell and burst inside the dingy north London venue. And despite Band-Maid having never played a proper show in the UK before, a rather large portion of the crowd are singing along with every word – in English and Japanese. Down the front, men stand alongside teenage girls with their fists in the air and chanting along to their new favourite band. From the massive YouTube hits of Real Existence and Thrill, to the bombastic chorus of Don’t Let Me Down, there’s a palpable energy in the air. Whether this popularity continues and the girls return to the UK is anyone’s guess, but sticking them on at a festival this summer would be a fantastic move.
All photos by Christopher Woods.