ATARASHII GAKKO live in London

ATARASHII GAKKO! are one show away from wrapping the European leg of their first world tour, and there’s a celebratory feeling in the air at Indigo at the O2. Since their 2017 debut, the quartet of Suzuka, Kanon, Rin and Mizyu has become one of Japan’s most fascinating cultural exports. Clad in school uniforms (their group name means “New School Leaders”), they seem adjacent to J-pop’s well-known idol culture, but their authentic, expressive flair and explosive, often aggressive performances have given them an alternative, inventive edge; they match the energy of Japanese jazz-punk legends H ZETTRIO and the bounce of Beastie Boys. After signing to American label 88rising, AG!’s global profile has soared – they’ve dominated stages at festivals worldwide from the likes of Coachella to Clockenflap.

So it feels fitting that they open their first-ever headline show in London (June 10) with ‘Toryanse’, a song about rites of passage. They feel ready to take on the world. “Leave it to AG!” Suzuka proclaims on ‘Omakase’ – a standout from their newly released album, ‘AG! Calling’ – and things quickly amp up. In this thrilling first half, ATARASHII GAKKO! traverse a breathtaking stylistic range, jumping between groovy basslines and trap bounce on ‘Giri Giri’, raving to hard-knocking techno on Yohji Igarashi’s remix of ‘Pineapple Kryptonite’, and channelling sexy Showa retro-pop on the viral ‘OTONABLUE’.

While their earlier jazz-inflected repertoire spotlights Suzuka’s smoky vocals, the group’s new beat-heavy sound places Rin centrestage, emphasising her swaggering verses that go from rapid-fire delivery to sharp nasal snarls. But AG!, above all, present as a powerful team. Their incredible choreography is at times magnetic and at others whimsical: on ‘Arigato’, the four make the most broom-mic contraptions, using them for everything from pole routines to air guitars.

Elsewhere, in a dance break set to a hard-hitting boom-bap groove, the four command a bouncing sea of hands, effortlessly transitioning between games of limbo, moonwalking, robot moves and breakdancing. ATARASHII GAKKO! have become beloved for their defiant, provocative personalities, and in these moments they let their idiosyncrasies shine: Suzuka flips the bird to open ‘Suki Lie’, while Mizyu and Kanon contrast their sweet harmonies with ponytail-whipping moves and frantic headbanging.

ATARASHII GAKKO live in London
ATARASHII GAKKO! live in London. Credit: Lindsey Blane, courtesy of 88rising

ATARASHII GAKKO! have come some way from their early, experimental jazz-punk days. They are fully in command of their new sound, one that has helped them appeal to an international audience. It’s an ongoing crossover that they address, halfway through, with a few English songs. “We are AG around the world,” they announce on ‘Hello’, their theme song to the animated film The Tiger’s Apprentice.

It feels a little on the nose, especially because their charisma speaks for itself: as the lukewarm disco of ‘Forever Sisters’ launches into ‘Candy’s sugary hip-house, their off-the-rails energy infects the room and everyone starts dancing along. ATARASHII GAKKO! are packing serious heat: ‘WOO! GO!’ brings Jersey club bounce and stankface-inducing subbass, while a strobe light-accompanied routine on ‘Fly High’ is the set’s electrifying high point. The crowd screams back the refrains for ‘Tokyo Calling’ and ‘NAINAINAI!’, proving AG!’s obvious appeal, sans the world-beating slogans.

Wrapping up their encore – fittingly, a spirited performance of ‘Que Sera Sera’ – Suzuka shares a sincere off-the-cuff insight. “There’s so many AG fans in Europe… why???” she screams. “My mind is explosion!” The crowd laughs along with her – but AG! were once a group playing tiny underground circuits when they were actual schoolgirls. Their appeal seems more than a distillation of ‘cool Japan’, riding a wave to the world not simply powered by novelty, but by their inventiveness, flair and sheer hard work.

The audience is ready for it, and Suzuka seems to be taking it in stride: modifying the chorus of ‘Tokyo Calling’, she leads a chant with the crowd, from seifuku-clad superfans to glowstick-wielding seniors: “London calling!” they repeat. It’s a winking reference that also captures the ATARASHII GAKKO! spirit: rock’n’roll as hell.

ATARASHII GAKKO!’s setlist was:

‘Giri Giri’
‘Pineapple Kryptonite’ (Yohji Igarashi Remix)
‘Forever Sisters’
‘Woo Go’
‘Suki Lie’
‘Fly High’
‘Tokyo Calling’

‘Free Your Mind’
‘Que Sera Sera’

The post ATARASHII GAKKO! in London: an electric debut from Japan’s youth leaders appeared first on NME.


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