microCAST Reissue: POP'N'CUTE: Harajuku Kawaii Live Show/Fashion Event Report
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[Editor's Note: This article, originally published on June 28, 2014, is reissued here to highlight the addition of a MICROCAST track.]
Squee! the System
Mainstream Japanese society is boring. One could argue that mainstream society globally is never exciting, but the homogenous nature and stubborn adherence to routines and social hierarchies make this island nation particularly dull.
Being that it's a free country, however, those individuals who don’t fancy themselves following the herd don’t have to. As a result of the extremely dull mainstream, the subcultures that have formed in reaction to it are equally, albeit inversely extreme. And thats the stuff that we tend to associate with Japan.
The Harajuku Kawaii Scene is one such subculture, and at the POP'N'CUTE event at Shibuya Milkyway on May 24th 2014, we got to experience it first hand.
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One does not Simply Walk in Harajuku
POP'N'CUTE was organised by Junyan. He’s a friendly, soft spoken guy and one of the central figures in the whole Harajuku kawaii scene. He's also one of the organizers of the now famous Harajuku Fashion Walks. The scene is characterized primarily by fashion, but music also plays a role.
The central theme is the Japanese word 'kawaii,' or 'cute,' and by cute we don’t mean puppy dogs.. we mean toddlers covered in teddy bears walking puppies and eating copious amounts of sugary sweets. Basically take every single cute thing you could possibly imagine and fuse it all together to make an hodgepodge of the cutest cute cuteness you can imagine…. then pour syrup on it and squee.
It’s become quite popular of late thanks to the likes of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. So much so that even Avril Lavigne tried (and failed spectacularly) to usurp. But the core of the scene is still the somewhat underground side of things like POP'N'CUTE.
Into the Fluffy Bunny’s Den
The event itself was not all that big, but there were no half measures - everyone looked and acted the part. Even people whom society at large would probably ostracize for being anything but cute. Which is something I really loved. There were no gender roles, there was no pressure to be pretty or handsome. There was absolutely none of the elitist fashionista bovine excrement one would expect, despite it being a fashion based subculture.
If there was any hint of elitism, it was when the organizers saw Akihabara written on my business cards. They were quick to point out that Harajuku and Akihabara are completely different scenes, they are in no way related and that there was no anime or otaku anything to be found there. After some explaining that despite the name we are not entirely an Akihabara specific news site, they were cool.
The Candy Coloured Underground
There was a bar, but nobody seemed to drink any booze. There were also some small stalls selling cutesy trinkets and accessories as well as stands for the artists who performed on that day to peddle their wares. The show itself comprised 3 live music acts, two fashion shows, and a live painting event.
Coming from a subcultured past and being able to claim membership to a number of obscure ‘scenes’ back home and in Japan, it was an interesting experience. More than anything, because it was so wildly different from the black latex and people being suspended from hooks in their flesh that I’m used to.
Eye of the Teddy Bear
The fashion was the first thing that really assaulted my senses. In Harajuku, fashion is everywhere, and often enough you'll see people dressed like the patrons at Pop ’n’ Cute, but they just blend into the Harajuku experience. This was my first time being in the thick of it. It was bright, vivid, lively, and unashamedly kitch.
The fashion shows paraded the works of independent local designers specific to the Harajuku scene. The first one was the typical peeps-strutting-in-clothes format, but the headline event was a really random, bizarre yet strangely cute affair involving a drummer, jump ropes, and a unicycle...Yes… Unicycle.
Heart Shaped Box of Kittens
The music was also an interesting experience. The 3 artists who performed were all talented, and were also completely different from each other. Lisa Melody was reminiscent of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, except that she could actually sing for reals (no autotune fakery), and pretty well at that.
The Henjin Hentai Joshi Futari (translated: Two Weird Perverted Women) were like a cute, yet batshit insane Japanese version of the white stripes.
The last duo, Glad Game, were more of a traditional pop music pair with a bit of a darker feel to their fashion and their sound.
DJ RYZ (the only name I knew) kept the music going between stage shows by playing everything from bubblegum pop to dubstep, and played a particularly nice set during the live painting event. What is ‘live painting’ you ask? Three artists painted while the crowd watched, ate candy, and talked about which neon colour they liked the best.
A Spoonful of Sugar to Help the Syrup go Down
Like the fashion itself, the music was a melting pot of just about every genre imaginable, and it suited the scene perfectly (though it did pain a certain reporter who's into subcultures based around music, not fashion). To hear some of my favorite tunes being taken out of context, stripped of their meaning, used against their (very critical) social message, and turned into accesories in this season’s look...it did sting a bit.
Caught in a Web of Candyfloss
...it stirred some interesting philosophical thoughts, though. I understood, and absolutely loved how vibrant and bold the scene was, and how it contrasted with society. It was a uniquely Japanese over-reaction to the unique Japanese mainstream, and it works well. At the same time, however, it was based on the same concepts of fashion and image that drives so much of the mainstream.
The big difference is the human honesty that the regular herd of sheeple sorely lack. While the looks and affectations were put on and over the top and a little fake, there was no dishonesty in the interactions between the people at the event. Pop ‘n’ Cute had the outward frivolity of an FTV party, yet it had the tight knit, honest, human interaction of a death metal mosh pit.
They also had candy… lots of it… and it was free :D