PERFUME Live in London

There was a point not that long ago where the idea of an outfit such as PERFUME performing in the UK would have seemed absurd. Following on from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s performance earlier this year, however, it’s clear that times are changing.

When tickets were first announced for the London leg of the Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd, they sold out almost immediately, prompting a move from the O2 Islington (capacity 800) to the larger O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire (capacity 2,000).

It was a surprisingly sunny, hot day in London. Eager fans had begun queuing from early morning at the venue and it was clear from their outfits (and Perfume fan club shirts) that the hardcore element were out in force. In fact there were several Perfume lookalike outfits, including Fragrance – a tribute act who had flown in from Perfume’s original home of Hiroshima especially for the concert.

By the time everyone had finally made it into the venue in the early evening, there was a palpable atmosphere of enthusiasm. With the house lights lowered, there was a huge roar of anticipation from an excited audience.

Making full use of the video projections on their dresses, Perfume recreated their Cannes performance featuring the remixed ‘Spending All My Time’. It served as the perfect intro and the song was given much more impact, enhanced by the superb projections both on the dresses and on the screen. There were times when you couldn’t be quite sure what you were watching as the projections would randomly break up the profiles of the girls on the darkened stage.

Then it was straight into the harmonic melodies of ‘Magic Of Love’, Perfume’s most recent release, and a performance in which the audience could finally see the girls more clearly with much cheering in response. But it was the Technopop treats of Laser Beam that really set everyone off. As one of Perfume’s most well known numbers, it transferred seamlessly into a live setting. The criss-crossing lasers creating a dazzling mesh of light that suggested the stage was far larger that it actually was.

Keeping the fans happy early, ‘Polyrhythm’ followed next, prompting an enormous reaction from the crowd. Then it was time for a break as the girls brought the house lights up for an MC segment. This allowed Aa-chan, Kashiyuka and Nocchi to introduce themselves properly – and included a point where Nocchi grabbed a towel stating “Too hot – Sweat girl!” Then it was time for an impromptu Japanese lesson as the girls asked if everyone used Facebook – and then taught everyone the Japanese version of Facebook’s ‘like’, which is ii ne.

Keep the conversation UK-focused, the chat then moved onto food and the traditional British dish of Fish & Chips which, apparently, is much tastier than the Japanese equivalent. This also prompted the girls to induce a little rivalry by declaring the stalls crowd to be “CHIPS!” and the upper balconies to be “FISH!”, insisting each section call out their assigned name when prompted.

After all those fun and games, it was time to jump straight back into the songs with a heavy bass-enhanced ‘Spring Of Life’ followed by an equally percussive rendition of ‘Seventh Heaven’. The latter seems an odd choice for the setlist when the outfit has so many more heavy hitters in their arsenal. Its one that also interestingly appears to have a few Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-style licks in its closing bars. ‘Spice’ follows up with a more stripped-down stage presentation with the girls flawless choreography picked out by simple spotlights.

There’s a brief interlude at this juncture (with video projections and an instrumental version of Handy Man), allowing the girls time to leave the stage and change their outfits. The trio return having swapped out their white dresses for more dazzling outfits with bold triangulated colours. Then it’s straight into a rendition of ‘Daijobanai’ – again another usual choice of song, originally the B-side of their earlier 2013 ‘Mirai no Museum’ single release. It’s a stomper of a song though with its rapid-fire beats perfectly complimented by Perfume’s synchronized movements. That’s followed by the percussive glory that is ‘Electro World’ whose driving beats and crunchy rhythms seem almost custom-built for a live performance.

After that rousing section of the show, it’s time to stop for another MC for the PTA Corner segment of the show. This is a regular feature of standard Perfume gigs and consists of call-outs to sections of the audience. So if you’re a girl, shout out, if you’re wearing glasses, then shout out etc. Then it’s onto a call and response performance of the ‘Hamigaki’ (toothbrushing) song, which did appear to lose much of its impact on a UK audience. This shapes up into what appears to be an aerobics performance as the audience are guided through hand-waving techniques to take part in an upcoming song. It’s a tricky thing to follow and makes you appreciate how complicated the choreography actually is – and we were just trying it with one hand.

To win the audience back over however, the Perfume trio embarked on a brief rendition of Queen classic ‘We Will Rock You’, which got an enthusiastic response with the whole venue clapping in unison.

From there, it was straight into the last section of the concert as the sped-up intro of ‘Fake It’ kicked off. ‘Dream Fighter’ follows, with handy lyrics on the screen for the audience to follow. Then it’s time for the instantly recognizable intro to ‘Chocolate Disco’, one of Perfume’s earlier and yet still consistently popular songs – particularly live as the crowd are encouraged to thrust their hands up at the end of each chorus.

Sadly, it’s then time for the last song, which is the energetic ‘My Color’. This gives the audience the opportunity to practice the hand choreography from earlier, so congratulations if you managed to pull this feat off.

But the crowd is still hungry for more and a frenzied bout of clapping and chanting begins until the girls return to the stage. And now it’s decision time as a list of tunes appears on stage inviting us to vote for the final song. Will it be ‘Nee’, ‘GLITTER’ or ‘Love the World’? The crowd is encouraged to shout the loudest as each track is read out, but to my ears every song is equally welcomed. In the end the girls decide that ‘GLITTER’ has got the biggest response and so our final song of the evening is the bassy beats of this 2011 track. Along the way, the girls encourage once again the “FISH!” and “CHIPS!” segments of the audience leaving everyone on a high. As the girls say their goodbyes at the end, Aa-chan thanks the audience and states that they all “feel the same passion for music”.

Merchandise was available at the venue, although copies of some of the singles and the Love the World CD swiftly sold out – as did the special PTA T-Shirts. Lucky people at the end were able to snap up some of the live DVDs however. Plus, there were plenty of tour shirts and towels to go around at the end.

So what’s the conclusion about Perfume’s historic UK debut? It was certainly a superb performance, albeit not the full-on epic scale visual spectacle that their Japanese concerts consist of (for comparison, Tokyo Dome has a capacity of over 50,000).

Also, Perfume are now at the stage where they’ve released so many songs, that making setlist choices is going to be difficult. Personally, I’d have liked more Triangle-era tunes like ‘One Room Disco’ or ‘Night Flight’, but for the moment we’re going to be wondering on what Perfume’s returns plans are, if any. I suspect that judging by the enthusiastic response of their fans tonight though, this is a foregone conclusion.

Issue 3 of ELECTRONIC SOUND features an interview and article on Perfume. More info:

Text and Pics by Paul Browne
6th July 2013
This article originally appeared on the J-Pop Go site.


The Sinclair ZX Spectrum user manual had this to say on the subject of electronic music:

“Because there is only one loudspeaker in the computer you can only play one note at a time, so you are restricted to unharmonized tunes. If you want any more you must sing it yourself.”

This guiding principle to “try things out for yourself” and apply inspiration to see past technical limitations was a common piece of advice found in home computer and synthesizer user manuals in the late 1970s. Here in the UK, this was advice that inspired a new generation of young silicon dreamers; bootstrapping revolutionary new art in the form of videogames and electronic music.

The Silicon Dreams festival brought together some of these (now-slightly-older) electro pioneers at the Snibston Discovery Museum in the former coal mining town of Coalville, Leicestershire. Celebrating our silicon chip age, the festival offered computing workshops, retro computing and vintage gaming sessions. Visitors were encouraged to have a play on any of the hundreds of home computers and gaming machines on display: ZX Spectrums were there of course, but also original models from Atari, Nintendo, Sega, IBM, Apple, and a host of almost-forgotten machines; all brought to life and running glorious hand-made code.

To complement the retro computing and gaming exhibitions, Silicon Dreams also held a special evening for synthpop fans. This took place in the adjoining Snibston Century Theatre, a 200 capacity former mobile theatre that had been converted from wartime military trailers back in 1952. For decades it would travel in a convoy of 32 vehicles to provide theatre around the country, hosting performances from the likes of Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton and Laurence Olivier. Now permanently based at Snibston, its tradition of re-using old technologies in new ways made the Century Theatre the perfect venue for this auspicious event.

Kicking off the evening, Martyn Ware – our godfather of synthpop – took to the stage to talk about his career outside of Heaven 17. Despite a ribbing from Glenn Gregory backstage that his presentation was really just a “cunningly disguised time-share promotion”, Martyn proceeded to talk us through a slideshow about Illustrious, the pioneering 3D sound company he’d formed with Vince Clarke in 2001. I’d heard of Illustrious of course, but had no idea of the range and vision of their convergent art. They’ve deployed 3D sound installations at such diverse places as the Palacio di Belles Artes in Mexico City and the enormous ‘Tales From The Bridge’ installation on the Millennium Bridge during the London 2012 Olympics. With upcoming plans for installations at the Royal Albert Hall (as exclusively revealed) and a 24-hour non-stop 3D soundscape, it’s clear that Martyn is still as inspired now by the possibilities of music technology as he was 35 years ago.

There was then as a chance for the audience to ask Martyn some questions, and as it happens I was first up. Ever the geek, I asked Martyn whether he thought machines or software would ever become self-aware, and if so what would be their favourite Heaven 17 song? Martyn spoke about existing software that could already compose its own music, then mused on the sci-fi inspirations of early Human League. The lyrics were often intentionally “multiplex” (to quote Mr Oakey) and open to different interpretations. This was also true for Heaven 17, in particular on the How Men Are album. Martyn reckoned a sentient AI would especially like ‘Five Minutes to Midnight’, for reasons that will remain to be seen.

Another question confirmed Martyn’s love of music’s disappearing physical medium – the vinyl version – and how Heaven 17 had always put a lot of thought and time into designing each album and 12 inch cover, something that just doesn’t have the same imperative when releasing songs as MP3s and digital streams. He teased us with news that plans were underway for some forthcoming special vinyl releases of early material with previously unreleased tracks and mixes.

A question about his thoughts on the impact of music television programmes such as X-Factor and The Voice saw Martyn fiercely critical of such manufactured shows. He felt they were insidiously shaping our music listening habits and were basically just free commercials for the promoters, who, incidentally, had already decided who was going to win from the beginning, regardless of who people were voting for. Martyn said he knew this was a sham with 100% certainty, a fact that in a fair world would make headline news. Lightening the tone, the apocryphal story about Phil Oakey chasing Martyn down the street and throwing bottles of milk at him can now also finally be put to rest: Martyn claims this is entirely fictional.

After a brief refreshment break (sorely needed on that hot summer night!), it was time for some music. Northern Kind have had a special place in my heart ever since I first heard their smash debut album Fifty Three Degrees North back in ’07. Their blend of Yazoo-y synthpop, crisp production, and memorable melodies earned them a place in my ‘Best British Bands’ list, with 2009’s wonderful sophomore album Wired: cementing their place. Now – after a slightly longer than expected gestation period – they’re back to preview some songs from forthcoming third album Credible Sexy Unit.

Opening with ‘Daggers’ (which some keen ears in the audience recognised from the special edition re-release of the first album), lead singer Sarah Heeley steps up to the mic looking like a divine Roman goddess in her silvery, shimmering toga-dress. It’s clear that despite their relative lack of recent live performances, Northern Kind have been busy rehearsing their set; new song ‘Piece of Me’ sounded assured and confident, with Sarah’s superior vocals on fine form and clearly gaining new fans who thought they were only there to see Heaven 17.

A sequence of five songs from the previous albums followed, showcasing highlights like ‘Pleasurely That Machine’, ‘Euphonic’ and my own personal favourite: ‘Millionaire’. Then for ‘Dirty Youth’ Sarah drops her guard of innocence to come over all sultry; flirting with the audience as she croons “she sees a cute boy in the corner” and raising the temperature in that little theatre to dangerous levels.

To cool things down, music maestro Matt Culpin completes his re-wiring of some machine that looks like a telephone exchange and new song ‘The River’ gets its first public airing. “This is my favourite one from the new album” says Sarah and my gig buddy Paul later reckoned it was the best song of the whole night too. A slower number with intricate vocals, I can’t wait to hear ‘The River’ again in the comfort of my own room. Northern Kind closed their set with a third and final new song called ‘Out of Time’, an upbeat tune and a good choice to end with. Although I’d expected to hear a few more new songs than the three played on the night, the balance was probably about right given that the majority of the audience were most likely new to Northern Kind.

Now it was time for headliners Heaven 17: Glenn, Martyn plus Billie Godfrey, Berenice Scott and Kelly Barnes. “This’ll be like playing in Grandma’s front room”, smirks Glenn as he enters and surveys the cosy theatre. The band launch into a strong sequence of favourites including ‘Let Me Go’, Penthouse & Pavement and ‘Geisha Boys & Temple Girls’. Both the band and the audience are clearly enjoying themselves; this band know how to make an audience feel like we’re all mates together and the low stage and low roof just added to that intimate atmosphere. “Here’s a song little Martyn and little Phil wrote together while sitting on the swings in the playground” jokes Glenn to the opening strains of ‘Crow & A Baby’.

After a few more hit songs he tells us it’s time for “an Enid Blyton bedtime story” (“…with lashings of Ginger beer!” prompts Billie). Martyn steps up for a ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ duet and it’s never sounded better. As the heat of the night warms away my goose bumps from that brilliant bromantic duet, Heaven 17 close with the obligatory ‘Temptation’ and ‘Being Boiled’.

The Snibston colliery is long gone, and the dawn of the age of computing is fast becoming a distant memory too. But synthpop’s still alive and as vibrant as ever, as evidenced by the two bands who performed here tonight.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum user manual had this additional piece of advice on the subject of electronic music:

“If you are really keen to make a lot of noise you could record the sound onto tape and get the Spectrum to play along with itself”

Thankfully people like Martyn Ware were keen to “make a lot of noise” and his silicon dreams are still inspiring us into the 21st century.

The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Matt Culpin

Text by Jer White @ Pansentient League
ZX Spectrum manual by Steven Vickers
Photos by Jer White
9th July 2013