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Gaijin à Go-Go

Unbridled kitsch

"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 and Japanese.

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 go!"

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

credit: SMJI

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