2019 is a good year for SXSW, largely because the Japanese noise punk band, Otoboke Beaver, has appeared on
Starting as a college project at Ritsumeikan University’s music club in Kyoto, with a few line-up changes, now with Accorinrin on guitar and vocals, Yoyoyoshie on guitar, Hiro-Chan on bass, and Kahokiss on drums, Otoboke Beaver had come a long way. They told me they did not have any experience playing instruments when they first formed.
Otoboke Beaver’s first major breakthrough was when they signed to British record label, Damnably, who subsequently hosted Otoboke’s first UK tour, with them supporting Shonen Knife. The band saw members of Shonen Knife as mentors, saying they learned a lot of essential experience from them. One coincidence is that Emi, the former drummer of Shonen Knife, was at exactly the same music circle where Otoboke Beaver formed, ten years prior. Emi first saw them at a livehouse in Kyoto, and was extremely impressed, “Their music is splendid.”
They then gained steam quickly international-wide. Their unforced wackiness, distinctiveness and dark humor were much loved and appreciated by their fans overseas.
When I saw the “girl gang”, they did not wear any make-up, and had simple T-shirts on. They seemed excited though, telling me that they were planning to go to this makeup event by Mac Cosmetics after the interview. I almost felt bad when they rushed to get their lipsticks and eyeliners, after I told them that we would be taking some photos. How did I not get it? I remember not washing my hair one day to prepare for a hair perm but had to take the graduation photos before the perm was even done. It was no joke.
I started by telling the band that they were one of the big names at this year’s SXSW, the band members all giggled shyly. It was true, though. Otoboke Beaver was invited to play at Coachella last year. While the reputation of the latter may have slid in recent years, playing at the famous West Coast music festival is still a big thing.
I asked them to compare their experience playing at Coachella and SXSW, two very different festivals in terms of line-up choices and performance form. They seemed to think of Coachella as more of a “job” that they were invited to do, with obligations. With SXSW however, they applied by themselves and got picked. The main intention was to promote themselves, and they were thrilled to learn that most people who came to see their showcases were hard-core fans who knew them already. This is extremely rare on SXSW’s stages with the majority of its participating bands emerging artists.
They still didn’t feel like they were anywhere near “big” now. As they put it, “we just occasionally play some festivals overseas.”
Otoboke Beaver’s lyrics are extremely funny and personal. They seem to be full of rage, but at the same time have a great sense of humor. It was the leader singer, Accorinrin, who wrote them all. She told me that they were all about her own personal experience. The main theme was failed love relationships. She jokingly said that she had always been that “the other woman” in a relationship, with or without knowing. Feeling unfair and mistreated, she hid her frailty and expressed herself with rage instead.
I said, in media’s eyes, Otoboke Beaver occurred as so off the wall, and even a little bizarre – like an aggressive kind of “kawaii (Japanese word for cute)” kind of band. I wondered how far that image was from their real life.
All band members laughed as hearing the word “kawaii”. Guitarist, Yoyoyoshie, smirked, “I don’t know whether we are ‘Kawaii’…” “–– but definitely aggressive, especially when playing a live show.” Accorinrin finished her sentence. She agreed that there was indeed a gap between who they are on stage and off stage, but also stressed that her rage was not just for the stage. She compared playing on stage to going on a date, “you always put on your best outfit. That is your ‘battle suit’.” She said that was how the girls in the band gain more confidence and feel ready to present themselves.
Most fans of Otoboke Beaver already knew this: the name of the band originated from a love hotel in Osaka. This band name even made it to the list of “the worst band names of SXSW” by Do512, an Austin local entertainment website, because of this origination.
Love hotels are a kind of short-stay hotel that serves the purpose primarily of sex, which are very commonly seen in Japan. It is also not rare to see pornographies sold publicly in a convenience store like 711.
Meanwhile, my impression on Japanese culture has always been that Japanese people, especially men, worship the image of “pure teenage girls”. This is evidenced by the huge amount of “shojo manga” consumed by grown men, which portrays teenage girls as protagonists, and the success of girl music groups whose members are banned from involving in any romantic relationships.
Accorinrin said she had no interest in commenting on idol culture at all. She did complain about the obvious superiority of men in Japan. She said if a woman had a rich dating history, or was not as submissive, Japanese men would see these qualities as a huge “minus”.
The band told me it wasn’t until they tour abroad that they realized what kind of stereotypes they had been living in. For example, in Japan, they have red signs for lady’s room and blue signs for men’s room, however, in western countries, the signs are usually of the same color. These small details can really make people in Japan adapt to the stereotype unconsciously.
“Not that this is where our rage comes from. We were just writing about our petty emotions. It was much later after we visited other countries that we came to see how our songs could be interpreted as having feminism intentions.” Accorinrin explained.
In Japan, feminism is often seen as a rather less represented, negative term. At the beginning, the band refused to pose themselves as feminists, because they thought it may cast hatred towards them. They said they learned a lot over these years of touring abroad, and will keep educating themselves.
While the band started to observe the sociological impacts that music can bring, they still wanted to stick to writing about their personal experience for the time being, because there was just too much to write about.
“Some male musicians can be really cocky, seriously. I used to date this musician guy – after the band gained fame internationally, he felt insecure and jealous. That really bothered me.” She said the first time she removed her performing outfit and makeup in front of that guy, he lost interest immediately and commented, “You look old.” That experience hurt her deeply, and she never dated a single musician ever since.
I told the band that their unpleasant encounters may seem personal, but at the end of the day, all females may have had such experience before. It would mean a lot for these women to see that someone finally spoke up.
“We don’t see ourselves as any sort of representatives, but if anyone shares the same feelings with us, we love to be told.” Accorinrin said.
All Live Photos by: Itsumi Okayasu