Gaijin à Go-Go
"Fun, fantasy, not fame," wrote singer Petra
Hanson aka Kiku Kimonolisa in the ad she placed in a New York
newspaper for a band she was seeking to form back in 1999.
This was not to be your garden-variety rock band, but one
that looked primarily to Japanese pop culture for its inspiration.
Responding to the former model and clothing designer's
ad were bassist Sanford Santacroce (aka Saiko Mikan), drummer
Jon Young (aka Tatami Matt), keyboardist Catherine Carney
(aka Mikasa S. Sukasa), and the token Japanese, guitarist
Yuji Horibe (aka Kinki Pajamamoto). And so was born Gaijin
à Go-Go, New York's offering to all things kitsch
With an approach that echoes the deliberately naive retro-modernism
of the former Pizzicato Five and the untutored technique of
Shonen Knife, Gaijin à Go-Go take their cue from Japan's
Group Sound (GS) wave of the '60s and '70s.
Wrap those jangly guitars, goofy choruses and tambourine-beats
in a package of mini-dresses, mod suits and platinum-dyed
hair, and the package is complete.
So complete, it seems that when veteran producer Joe Blaney
(The Clash, B-52s) saw them onstage at downtown venue Irving
Plaza, he decided to take them under his wing. The collaboration
led to a debut EP in 2001 and, ultimately, their major label
release, this spring's Happy-55-Lucky for Sony. Gaijin
à Go-Go also backed J-pop duo Puffy in a recent mini-tour
of the US, and are now being exported to Japan.
But the real litmus test for Gaijin à Go-Go is: Are
they funny? Kitsch-appeal only takes a band so far, and with
song titles such as "Tempura Mental" and "Wasabi
Man," their brand of humor is not exactly subtle. In
fact, Gaijin à Go-Go's parody of Japanglish
(eg., "The singer takes you into the paradise of the
candyland peaceful!") approaches puerile offensiveness.
But for the most part, their humor and sheer awfulness are
harmless and in good fun. Singing mostly in mangled Japanese,
the band realized that they had to offer something in English
for their New York fans, so they came up with the anthem "Foreign
Barbarian." The song includes such gems as "When
no means yes & yes means no/When the light says stop
Gaijin à Go-Go have also this week released a CD, Merry-55-Round,
with remixes by Yasuharu Konishi of Pizzicato Five and dance
producer King Britt, in addition to a new track that lionizes
Japan's latest export to US Major League baseball,
Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees ("He's
mister Yankee/Big show Yankee/Gambare mina no super cutie").
Gaijin à Go-Go, it seems, may have got their unwanted
fame anyway. Good thing that in this age, as Andy Warhol established,
fame is limited to fifteen minutes.
Happy-55-Lucky and Merry-55-Round
are available on Sony Music Japan International. Info: www.gaijin55.com