The Japanese Popstars have been a hyped electronic act for many years, with numerous Irish Dance awards to their name you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’d had numerous albums under their belt. But surprising their new album is ‘Controlling Your Allegiance’ is their second album, and the first have the marketing power of a major behind them. The album from the first beat is billed as encompassing selection of tracks that exudes electricity as well much needed moments of nostalgia and emotion.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with them they’re a trio from Derry, Northern Ireland, who have been compared to the juggernauts of EDM like The Chemical Brothers and Orbital in both sound and their highly praised live shows.
Rather than being clever or introvert the trio’s new album goes for the jugular from the off. But as the CD develops it begins to paint a picture of a complex set references that includes everything from stadium electro, breaks, house, disco and trance – it’s throw-back to the good ‘ol days of big sounds and big drops; a full-throttle nostalgic trip back to day’s gone by – but it manages, on the whole, to sound very fresh and very now.
‘Controlling Your Allegiance’ doesn’t tease you, nor doesn’t lure you in. But slaps you, with a electro fish, right around the chops with ‘Let’s Go’. It starts you on a wild ride at a frenetic pace and is perfect statement of intent – it snaps, crackles and pops with energy and is sure to destroy any dancefloor it’s deployed on.
‘Catapult’ slows the pace a little and has as feint wiff of melancholy which consumes you from start to finish. It’s still a big sound, but tempered with some trancey synths – the sort of track that will bring a crowd together for one those precious moments of warmth and empathy you have when dancing within a crowd of your fellow ravers – it builds and breaks into a slamming nu-electro stadium track.
Three brains are obviously better than one as the album hops, skips and jumps from banger to beauty in the blink of an eye. By the time you hit ‘Song For Lisa’ your welcomed by the progressive house tones and deep gurgling basslines that perfectly accompany a vocal from Lisa Hannigan – the first of the guest vocalists.
The next guest to appear is Robert Smith from The Cure who injects 10cc’s of indie undertones alongside chiming guitar riffs, low-slung basslines and a feint air of melancholia. It’s sounds strikingly similar to some of Underworlds new material, which is by no means is a bad thing.
Early favorite of ours is ‘Fight The Night’ a slow disco track that has oozes big basslines and sophistication which is brought by an other worldly vocal by Morgan Kibby, the American vocalist with ethereal French nugazers-cum-seventies revivalists, M83.
TJP take a leaf out of the Stadium trance bridgade with ‘Building Block’ a trance track that wouldn’t sound out of place in one of Armin Van Burens epic nine-hour sets, lush synths, tight drums and progressive bass lines show off a side to the Popstar’s we were not expecting, but it’s done well enough for even the most pretentious dance music aficionados to like.
The album swings effortless between genre and sonic intensity as the album draws to a close, you’re greeted with techno influences in the form of ‘Destroy’ the beautifully evanescent and slow tones of ‘Shells of Silver’ which features enchanting vocals from James Vincent McMorrow, the American psych folk singer shows The Japstars have a milder side and reminded us of some early Massive Attack.
The final forays come in the shape of ‘Punch Drunk’ a vitalic-esque pounding piece of electro, full of swinging synths, big kicks and plenty of attitude. To finish the album leaves you with a parting gift of lush synths and the best vocal of the lot with their new single ‘Joshua’ a rapturous nu-electro track that see’s Tom Smith of Editor’s fame laying down a lovely unadulterated vocal.
The Japanese Popstar have cemented themselves as an act for a larger more stadium-like audience, it’s not an album that hides behind underground sounds of small dark corners of the world but it’s their take on a big sound that works well in both for a home listen and, most importantly, gives the trio plenty of new fodder to slay massive crowds the world over. Its doesn’t break much new ground but if you looking for a Long play that harps back to old days of big sounds, big hooks and plently of highs and lows you’ll more than likely fine nothing better in 2011.
HBF Rating 8/10
We got the chance to have a chin-wag with trio before the go jet-setting around the world to promote the new album.
What are the origins of the Japanese Popstars? What or who inspired you start making music together?
The origins of the band stem back about 5 years. We were watching other live dance acts perform at some of the Irish music festivals, they all seemed to be having a lot of fun, so we decided to try and set up our own live dance music act.
Your obviously a trio. When it comes to working on new material does being a trio help or hinder you in the creative process, do you work together or alone?
We try to look at ourselves as our own worst critics, so we try to make sure that we are all feeling an idea early on in the writing process before we progress down the avenue of completing the track, I think that would be the same if the band at 6 members or two.
The way its currently working is that we normally all write alone to come up with lots of initial ideas. Then we get together and try and choose the stuff that we would like to develop into actual tracks
Can explain how you came up with the name The Japanese Popstars?
It was Decky that came up with the name. He is a big fan of Japanese culture, movies and anime. We were thinking of names that we could give the band and that one just came out one day as Decky was driving around Derry
How has living in Northern Ireland influenced the music that you make?
I don’t know if it has or not. It’s a hard question to answer. I think like most people that make music, the main influences on our music is the music that we grew up listening too. The one thing we are lucky about though is the Northern Irish crowd, no matter were in the world we seem to play there will always be some people there from home, up in the front of the crowd raving away.
Did you approach the making of you latest album in different way to your previous work since you were signed to Virgin/Emi – was there more pressure now that you’re on a major?
No as the vast majority of the album was actually finished before we signed to Virgin, I think there is only one track on it that was written after the deal. Maybe if it had been the other way around there would have been some pressure to write a ‘hit’ record or something like that, but we didn’t really have that.
You all have alias’ how come? What’s the story behind them ?
We were all dj’s in our own right, before we came together to do the Japanese Popstars and the alias thing kind of stems from that period.
If you could name 5 artists that have influenced you who would they be and why?
Underworld – I was a massive fan of their music and especially the live dvd, I used to watch it every weekend with my friends, I never thought one day we would get to share a stage with them
The Chemical Brothers – Again we are all big Chemical Brothers fans. Their music always seems to sit outside the normal sound of the day but still sound relevant and bang up to date
Prodigy – Decky is a massive Prodigy fan. Its these guys that got him into dance music
Pete Tong – The essential selection radio show on Radio One, used to broadcast right after I finished work on a Friday. It was all about that feeling that the weekend was finally here and it was this that really got me into dance music. If it wasn’t for that radio show we wouldn’t be here
Soulwax – We actually all met each other for the first time at a Soulwax show, and I think we saw in that show glimpses of the energy and excitement that we wanted to recreate.
Did you have a theme for the new album? A concept or idea of what you wanted it to do?
Not really a theme as such. We knew that we didn’t want to make the same album again as the first, which would have been the easy option. We wanted to push the boat out a little more and really try to develop as producers. We also wanted to include proper vocalists for the first time, both to try and lift the music to the next level but also to a certain extent, to broaden its appeal.
You have been described as the next Chemical Brothers or even Underworld – how do feel about this comparison?
We don’t really pay much attention to things like that. Those guys are gods to us and we don’t see the comparison ourselves. All we can do is keep trying to write the best music that we can, and provide a good show.
You have always been touted as amazingly live act – what can we expect from the new live show? Any surprises? And would you consider doing a live album?
The production for the live show is currently going through a major upgrade, its being rushed through to hopefully be finished for the UK festival season. So we will have the big desk, the L.E.D’s and all that. We are also trying were possible to include some of the vocalists from the album live, but this really depends on their own tour schedule.
We did a limited run of a live album in 2009, its live a mesh of recordings from some of the big shows of that year, you can listen here http://thejapanesepopstars.bandcamp.com/album/we-just-are-live
If you could have DJ or artist play at your wedding’s who would you choose and why ?
If it was a Dj I would say Pete Tong. The guy just seems to always have the right music for the occasion.
If it was an act then it be a toss up between Charles and Eddy, and Bobby Brown. I would obviously want the early nineties versions of these guys.
If your studio was on fire, and you could only save one thing each. What would choose and why ?
To me the most precious thing in my studio is my ideas folder on my computer, I know I am meant to say that I would grab a Ms-20, a 909 or some 1970’s Moog but for me good ideas are far more valuable.
You can download the JPS essential mix below which was aired on Radio 1 last week.
The Japanese Popstars Essential Mix
Controlling Your Allegiance is out June 20th Worldwide through Virgin/Emi.