OL Culture, Rap, and Neon Lights – Charisma.com in Shibuya

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Photo: http://girlspiclive.com/vol03/report.html

On Halloween weekend in 2016 at Shibuya Club Quattro, a mysterious masked figure came out on stage to fiddle with the laptop. An electronic noise started, stopped, started again, and then turned into a song. Lights started flashing and the figure ripped off the mask to reveal DJ Gonchi as a Conehead, and dancing onto the stage was another Coneheaded MC Itsuka.

The electric rap duo of Charisma.com ripped through their first three songs on Halloween weekend without a pause, and then MC Itsuka addressed the audience. “Gokigenyou,” she said, the typical Charisma.com greeting. Itsuka directed everyone’s attention to Gonchi, but in the middle of introducing her, said, “Ah – I’m sorry, but she is not DJ Misoshiru,” referring to another female DJ who performs with another female rapper. The audience erupted into laughter. “The resemblance is there, but no.”

Charisma.com is made up of two school friends who formed the dance/rap unit when both were working as OL, or office ladies. The band has become known as an “OL unit,” but soon after this concert, they would announce they were quitting their jobs to release a full-length album (they said, instead of OLs, from this day forward they would be CEOs).

Their lyrics and stage presence attack social pretense and ideas about politeness: the lead single from their debut EP, Ai Ai Syndrome, was just titled “Hate.” The music video features Itsuka and Gonchi in sleek bob haircuts and lacy off-white dresses, sitting at a vintage table with plates full of flowers while figures in black bodysuits dance mechanically behind them. Halfway through the music video, Gonchi, smiling at the camera, kills the black figures with a series of different weapons, in a spray of CGI lime green blood. “You are cool,” sings Itsuka. “But fool.”

The 2013 album was a start into a new world of genre and gender. Itsuka said in an interview with the international music website MTV81 that when Charisma.com was first formed, she had a lot of anger, so it naturally came out in their music. But the response has been not one of rejection to the anger, but a recognition of it. “Hate” stands at over two million views on YouTube, as does the music video for “Iinazuke Blue” from their first full-length album.

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Photo: http://girlspiclive.com/vol03/report.html

The duo played “Mamemame Boy Gasatsu Girl” next, directing a call and response. The audience called out, “Mamemame boy,” while Gonchi responded, “I’m a gasatsu girl” – “Hardworking boy, I’m a rude girl.”

Itsuka’s deadpan humor and ambulatory command of the stage matched Gonchi’s sly smile and unwavering presence behind the laptop (except, of course, when she ran to the front of the stage for “Otsubone Rock” to place a ladder like the one in the song’s music video and briefly pose on it center stage with Itsuka).

The concert was a multi-band performance showcasing women musicians, Girl’s Pic, and after Charisma.com’s relentless set, matched with green lasers and a dancing crowd, the two artists crossed to the left side of the venue to talk to the Girl’s Pic MC’s.

One of the two MC’s, who said she was still 18, said, “I’ve never been to a club before, but that made me want to try going.”

“Ah, but you won’t find this sort of thing in clubs,” said Itsuka, adjusting her Conehead.

It is highly doubtful that you would find that sort of thing anywhere but a Charisma.com concert.

OL Culture, Rap, and Neon Lights – Charisma.com in Shibuya

“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink” – Oomori Seiko in Shibuya

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Photo: http://girlspiclive.com/vol03/report.html

It was the night before Halloween 2016. Girl’s Pic Vol. 3 was happening, the latest in a series of concerts put on by the television station Music-ru to promote women artists. After a band and a duo performed, a solitary young woman in a black glittering gown bound by a pink sash graced the stage of Club Quattro in Shibuya, holding an acoustic guitar.

“Zero songs,” she sang, the first line of the title track from her latest album, Tokyo Black Hole. “The mom-and-pop candy store in front of the station has been torn down/I used to think I’d destroy this city with water balloon bombs.”

The singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko presents to her audience a dichotomy of femininity and anxiety, girlishness and destruction. These themes aren’t contradictory: they’re inseparable. Her website profile calls her a “word magician of the new girl generation.” “Tokyo Black Hole,” the song and the album, begin softly, surreptitiously, but soon the pain beneath the description of Tokyo streets comes to the forefront.

“Hello hate,” Oomori intones. “That person who wanted me to die/Will die someday without anybody/And I will forget about it.”

In her albums, Oomori Seiko’s raw, pained lyrics are hidden in a soft, muted delivery, disguised within bubbly synth and pop beats. But on a stage, with just her guitar, she disguises nothing. She screams, strums, and sings, asking for the lights of the venue to be kept up so she can see the audience’s eyes. The connection with the crowd, for the sake of her own emotions and theirs, is placed center stage.

A little ways into Oomori’s second song, the lights started to go down and she said, still strumming, “Keeping them up is good!” The lights went back up, so she could see the crowd’s eyes.

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Photo: http://girlspiclive.com/vol03/report.html

The gentle, muted pop of Oomori’s albums is so at odds from her solo live performances that they might as well be completely different songs. The glittering synth is replaced with the metal of messy guitar chords, loud, loud, loud, with Oomori’s words pouring over them, drowning out any possibility of calm.

Her themes of innocence, sweetness, and girlishness do not mask pain, but instead, mix with it. Being feminine can be extremely painful. References to buying manga, distorted love affairs, and her at times strained relationship with songwriting run through her music.

“Music is not magic,” Oomori repeats like a mantra in “Ongaku O Sute Yo, Soshite Ongaku E” (“Throw Away Music, and, To Music”). “But music is…”

Oomori was never rawer than during the end of her set. At the climax of a song she stepped on a pedal to turn off her guitar and pulled away from the microphone while still playing, and sang directly to the audience, her voice reverberating in the small venue.

Not produced. Not edited in the studio. Just her voice and the sound of her guitar, nothing else. Vulnerability and pain shared with the audience as a way of mutual catharsis.

She did not perform “Magic Mirror”* that night, the song she wrote when she was thinking about quitting songwriting, or “Pink,” from her first physical CD (which makes an auditory cameo at the end of the “Magic Mirror” music video), but perhaps these songs are the most evocative of what it means to be Oomori Seiko.

“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink,” she sings in the song about the color.

What does it mean to be a girl? To have femininity?

“Why can’t girls play rock music?” she sings in “Magic Mirror.”

Oomori connected deeply with the audience, not only by making it a point to make eye contact and see faces, but also, changing lyrics to suit the fact that this concert was in Shibuya on Halloween weekend, and chatting about her day and the show whenever she paused between songs (which was not all that often). She was not trying to hide anything or present anything more or less than herself. Just be truthful.

Judging by Oomori’s popularity not only in Japan, but also among English-speaking fans, her complete honesty as a performer transcends boundaries of language. When an interviewer from Japanese entertainment website Natalie pointed out the range of ages and genders at Oomori’s concerts, she responded, “Everyone is interesting. I want to know about the lives of many different people.”

If the audience’s rapt attention in Shibuya was any indication, showing interest in others causes those people to be interested in your words, too.

*Please note that the “Magic Mirror” music video linked here contains nudity.

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“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink” – Oomori Seiko in Shibuya