Guardian Addendum: BiS-Kaidan, “Suki Suki Daisuki”

BiS-Kaidan – “Suki Suki Daisuki”

Ian Martin of Call & Response Records and I have started doing a weekly column for the Guardian, where we introduce a song recently released from the Japanese music scene. Last week was the inaugural post, in which I briefly talked about BiS-Kaidan – the collaboration between idol group BiS and noise-rock legends Hijokaidan – covering Jun Togawa’s seminal hit(?), “Suki Suki Daisuki”. Due to limited space on the Guardian, we can only briefly introduce the songs there, so I figured I could go a bit more into detail about what I think about them, here.

The topic of idol music vs. indie music has become a long-running point of conversation between Ian and I, which even became the main topic of our indie fanzine, Quit Your Band!, which we released a few months ago. It’s something that has, in a sense, been run into the group by the community, but I think it’s a very relevant topic and raises important questions about authenticity, and the ever-blurring line between punk rock and commercial music.

BiS-Kaidan is interesting, because at first glance it seems like the punks have won and that having someone like Hijokaidan eagerly collaborating with an idol group gives the project a sense of integrity. It’s often been pointed out that BiS is the “anti-idol”, the group trying to break the idol archetype and deconstruct it. And while that maybe true, I can’t help but be cynical of the motives behind this. Indeed, they’re not Morning Musume or AKB48, but they’re essentially offering the same sort of “kick” that any other pop group offers, just to a different audience (basically, anyone interested in these niche genres of new-wave, post-punk, and noise). But I don’t want to discredit BiS too much; they’re definitely an interesting group, and have a lot to offer in regard to Japanese pop music. They’ve certainly caught the attention of Hijokaidan, a band who rank among the legends of avant-garde and noise music in Japan (and the world).

Jun Togawa – “Suki Suki Daisuki”

The idea of covering Jun Togawa’s “Suki Suki Daisuki” is an interesting choice. The original song has a lot going on, one of which is the feminist angle and how it represented what it meant to be a Japanese woman in the 80s. I suppose the big question is, how much of that is lost when a bunch of adolescent girls in a pop group start singing it? Ultimately, the track is a big 80s punk fan’s wet-dream; a bunch of school girls covered in goo screaming a Jun Togawa track, drenched with Hijokaidan’s signature noise.

It’s another example of Japanese pop music’s recent trend, where indie musicians are recruited and asked to make music for idol groups. In a way, it’s always been like this, with A-grade studio musicians writing songs and performing them for groups like Candies and Pink Lady back in the 70s. As more and more niche markets have emerged since then, it’s become easier to pick and take the best parts of subgenres and meld them together into pop songs.

Babymetal – “Headbanger”

Take for instance a group like Babymetal, who take elements of black and death metal and put it into one nice package with three cute girls singing on top it. The project gets a lot of cred due to the involvement of Narasaki, the frontman of indie-shoegaze-metal band Coaltar of the Deepers, who is no stranger to blast beats and growls. Combined that with homages to Metallica and Slayer at their live shows, the project is essentially a metal fan’s greatest dream (or nightmare) come to life.

At some point though, a line has to be drawn. If people hear the original “Suki Suki Daisuki”, and go, “oh, that’s the weird song those BiS girls were singing”, the song is robbed of its meaning and subversive nature. And while BiS fans are probably more aware of the track’s background and the elements surrounding it (as it is, after all, essentially done to cater to their fanbase), the project faces the same dilemma a lot of pop and idol music faces these days: the risk of taking something that’s underground, mainstream,  and making the original seem like a parody.

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