There goes Chewbacca. He’s just brushed past Bane and off into a crowd that includes a Lego Batman, Daredevil and, at least, twenty versions of Harley Quinn. Hammer have been stood outside London’s Excel centre for about three minutes and already Comic Con is going to take some beating as the most gloriously technicolour, wilfully OTT and consistently WTF event we attend this year.
Much like metal itself, the comic-loving community are hugely passionate, obsessive even, massive in their numbers and largely ignored by mainstream culture. Anyone who thinks otherwise should really come down and take a look at what we’re dealing with here today. And, as if to hammer home the point, the few that aren’t dressed as their favourite characters (and, we’ll be honest here, it really is only a few) are spotted in Iron Maiden, Mastodon, Avenged Sevenfold and In Flames t-shirts to name but a few. The crossover appeal is obvious…
…which is why we are here today. As Paris-based crossover merchants Rise Of The Northstar are here today to celebrate their dual loves of Manga and old-school thrash metal, and we are going to join them to see if we can’t educate ourselves. The band’s Welcame album, released earlier this year, is a refreshingly classic take on New York style hardcore, mixed with Bay Area riffs and the band’s fascination in Eastern culture.
And far from just popping along for a jolly day off, Rise Of The Northstar will be performing later in the day at Comic Con to see how it translates to a core audience of fans that will be familiar with all of their reference points. Although even the band herself seem a little taken back by the obsessive nature of those present here today…
“It’s pretty extreme,” says bassist Fabulous Fab surveying the scene in front of him as ROTN begin unloading and setting up for their set. “We are influenced by the teachings and the message in these films and comics, but the whole cosplay thing is maybe a step further than we would go.”
As if to prove his point, a group of young girls wearing doll dresses take to the stage pre-ROTN and proceed to throw lollipops into the crowd and dance in sync to sugary, J-pop. It’s very twee, cutesy and about as far away from metal as you could possibly get. After about 25, quite unbearable, minutes they depart and Rise Of The Northstar burst onto the stage in a blur of movement and barked gang vocals and savage riffing. It scorches the memory of what’s gone before and wakes those in front of the stage into life – you’ve never seen a circle pit in its full glory if you haven’t seen it with two young kids dressed as members of Slipknot, a Jason Voorhees and Sonic The Hedgehog all throwing down. Some further back look on in horror, but most are won over by the electric performance. Half an hour later ROTN leave having won over a whole new, and unusual, bunch of fans.
After the show the band de-robe from their stage gear and pose for photos, seemingly satisfied with the show. But are keen to explore the rest of the activities of the convention.
“It’s funny,” says lead vocalist and band leader Vithia when we ask if the band’s music and inspiration can cross over to both of these huge fanbases. “We started playing around the scene in Paris to the usual heavy music fans. But, recently, the promotors have been telling me that when we come to town they don’t just see the usual faces. You see a group of people that you don’t see at any other show, so I think that our message is getting across.”
You wonder how hard it was to find a group of like-minded people to start a band in this very specific vein in an underground metal scene.
“It all came together naturally,” Vithia explains. “I knew my vision for the band. Then you meet some people at shows and you see this…”
Vithia grabs EVANGELION-B’s arm and reveals a tattoo of a Manga character.
“…You see that ‘Yes, this person is going to be the right guy’ and just slowly but surely we came together.”
As the band wander through the crowds and stalls – selling everything from comics to memorabilia to ACTUAL SWORDS – you notice that they barely blink an eye at the big name Western characters. A Jurassic World trailer, the Batmobile, a_ Back To The Future_ DeLorean… not a sniff of excitement. But when we reach the Bandai Namco games centre that is premiering the new Dragonball XenoVerse game every member is excitedly willing to wait in line for their turn.
“Our aim is to go to Japan and be the biggest band there,” says Vithia. “Our music is our interpretation of that culture. We aren’t just a band, we aren’t just music. Our image, our music, our artwork, our lyrics… all of these things go into what make Rise Of The Northstar and it’s a full package.”
Do you feel at home surrounded by fans like these?
“We feel at home in Japan,” is Fabulous Fab’s reply. “It’s the best place on Earth. When we go there it’s an amazing feeling, we just feel so welcome and in-tune with that culture.”
At this point ROTN and their crew are cackling and laughing at what’s happening on the screen as the Dragonball contest begins to hot up. Obviously their day’s work is done and they can relax and enjoy the rest of the Eastern delights that Comic Con has to offer.
But, before we go, we have to ask them; what about the Marvel, DC and other graphic novels of the Western world? Is that something that you guys are fans of?
“Uh… yeah…” shrugs Vithia. “You know, I like… Watchmen. That’s one I like.”
“But really we prefer the Manga.” He adds, obviously distracted by the ongoing game.
Fair enough. It might have been an eye-opener for us, but it’s just another day in the world of Rise Of The Northstar.
All photos by Kevin Nixon.