O!susume – Band-Maid

Broadcast 26: Band-Maid

Back when I first started O!Susume RadioBeat, I knew that I was going to write about Band-Maid at some point. It\’s literally my favorite band, how could I not? But I\’ve held off for a few years now, mostly because I wasn\’t ready; I didn\’t think my writing could do them justice. I still don\’t think I can properly convey just how amazing this band is, but since this is the final month of O!\’s first consistent year, Erin and I wanted to make it special and go all in with our favorite bands. So I can only hope this primer on Band-Maid inspires people to go check out more of their work; as the saying commonly goes among \”maidiacs\”: start anywhere, there are no bad Band-Maid songs. \"\"

Years Active: 2013 – Present (2022)

Core Members: Kobato Miku 小鳩 ミク (rhythm guitar, vocals), Toono Kanami 遠乃歌波 (lead guitar), Hirose Akane 廣瀬茜 (drums), Misa (bass), Atsumi Saiki 厚見 彩姫 (lead vocals)

Point of Origin: Shibuya, Tokyo

On the surface, Band-Maid thrives on the tension of opposing themes. You have a group of girls decked out in gothic lolita attire, incorporating maid cafe lingo into their fan culture by calling their fans \”masters\” and \”princesses\”, and then playing some of the most intensely technical hard rock that has hit the scene in decades. The group\’s costumes and saccharine stage-kayfabe isn\’t something they adopted on a whim; rather, it\’s the starting point of the band\’s legacy. In 2013, Kobato Miku was looking to form a band of her own after being rejected from an idol audition; she had previously worked at a maid cafe, and decided it would be a good way to stand out amongst the many other girl groups starting up around that time. Miku connected with guitarist Kanami online, who then suggested bringing drummer Akane in, who in turn recommended her music school peer Misa, the group\’s bassist. The four of them played for a few months as a quartet, until Miku decided to hold auditions for another vocalist to increase their range. Saiki was chosen through those aditions, and the band\’s lineup was set.

Dispite Band-Maid primarily sticking to hard rock, there is an incredible variety of styles and genres that flow through their songs, in part due to the group\’s diverse musical background. Miku got into rock music via musical idol Sheena Ringo\’s Tokyo Jihen project, while guitarist Kanami is a big Carlos Santana fan. Akane has taken inspiration from Deep Purple and Maximum the Hormone, and bassist Misa loves Paz Lenchantin, The Smashing Pumpkins and Jimi Hendrix. Furthermore, several of the band members are classically trained in a variety of instruments, including piano, tromobone, trumpet, alto horn and guitar.

Band-Maid\’s first label was Gump Records, which they signed to after a standout performance at a music festival in Shibuya in 2013. The group charted on Oricon at #64 for the first time with their second mini-album New Beginning in 2015. However, the band recalls in later interviews that they were struggling at the time, and the future of the band looked uncertain. Their motivation to go forward came from an unexpected place; the music video for their song \”Thrill\” was posted to the English-language Facebook page of an internet J-rock radio station, introducing them to an international audience and gaining incredible traction with over 1 million views. Miku and Saiki have said that seeing such a positive reaction from international fans encouraged them to push through the difficult times, and the group recofused themselves on the hard rock sound that \”Thrill\” had found success with.

2016 heralded Band-Maid\’s milestones of their first sold-out concert in Japan, as well as their first international gigs, playing at Sakura-Con in Seattle in March, as well as shows in Mexico and several cities in Europe. International recognition seemed to be the key for kickstarting their ascent to fame, as their first full album Just Bring It hit #16 on the Oricon charts in 2017, and their second album World Domination cracked #9 the following year, while crowning at #1 on Oricon\’s weekly charts for rock albums. 2019 saw the band break into TV, with their song \”Glory\” debuting as the 2nd ending theme for season two of Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, and \”Bubble\” as the theme song for the j-drama Perfect Crime. They even got in on the action with the Netflix movie Kate, where they cameoed as themselves playing \”Choose Me\” and \”Blooming\”, furthering their exposure to audiences outside of Japan.

Band-Maid was riding as high as ever in 2020, opening for the Guns N\’ Roses tour that year, but their activities came to a halt along with the rest of the world once the pandemic set in. While many other busy artists might see it as a time to rest, the group instead focused on improving what they percieved to be their weak points, and consequently came out of lockdown at an even higher musical level than before. The group is proud that they were able to host a virtual \”okyu-ji\”, or live show for their fans during the pandemic, since several of their tour dates had been cancelled. Since then, Band-Maid has resumed in-person events, starting with their second American tour in 2022, including headlining at the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, California.

Since their earliest days, the group\’s goal was always to go international, and they made those intentions clear with their World Domination album, with its message that they wanted to spread their influence all across the globe. Another big goal of theirs was to write their own music. At first, guitarist Kanami was the only one with significant songwriting experience, to the point that the others semi-jokingly refer to her as \”Kanami-sensei\” in this regard. In the years they\’ve been together, Kanami has tutored her bandmates in songwriting to the point where the group not only writes most of the music they play, but they give themselves challenges, such as each member writing their own part of the song and then arranging it together. Furthermore, the members say that the group takes audience interaction into account when songwriting; they want to ensure that non-Japanese speakers will be able to appreciate some of their lyrics, and join in the chants and calls at live shows. Band-Maid has managed to reach technical heights that have been recognized and lauded by lifetime fans of hard rock and metal, as well as by some of the very rock legends that inspired them in the first place. Go and check youtube for \”Band-Maid first time reactions\” and you\’ll get hundreds to choose from, perhaps thousands at this point, many from professional musicians, coaches, vocalists and critics, and most of them are simply blown away by what they see. I want to give my personal recommendation to the channel The Champ of Medium, who provides fantastic commentary on the tracks, backed by a knowledge of music that I can\’t even hope to emulate here.

Don\’t You Tell ME

It\’s hard to know what to say about Band-Maid that isn\’t just me going \”it\’s amazing, it\’s so freakin good\” over and over; after a year of writing these recommendations, I fully realize I am no music writer, and don\’t really want to become one. I just want to share great Japanese music with other folks who aren\’t in the know, and sometimes I don\’t have much to say aside from \”here\’s some MVs, enjoy\”. I\’m also not sure I can pinpoint exactly what elevates Band-Maid above all else for me. When I first heard their songs, it felt like something clicked; there was a musical aesthetic that I didn\’t realize I was even looking for, but now I had found it and it was exactly what I had always wanted in a band. I love fast-paced melodies, I love technical instrumental elements, I love songs that skate the line between hard rock and speed metal.

NO GOD

Beyond that, I\’m genuinely inspired by the members of Band-Maid, those who are already widely considered to be among the best musicians of their generation in their respective fields, who only want to compete with themselves and continue to improve just to see how much their skills can possibly grow, and enjoy it all the while. I love them because they\’re just SO DAMN GOOD at what they do; it\’s the pleasure of watching masters at work, doing something difficult with such skill it seems effortless to the untrained eye. At certain moments during their live performances, the other members will cluster around Akane, pulling silly faces and trying to get her to mess up her drumming during the show; of course, Akane never falters, she\’s in a world of her own, pounding out progressions with pure joy that other drummers struggle to keep up with.

secret My lips

Band-Maid is living proof that the sum of the whole can be greater than its parts, when all members are united in their desire to lift each other up and constantly find new ways to improve. Most people in the fandom believe that they still haven\’t \”peaked\”, as each new album, almost unbelievably, shows a new level of technical improvement over the last. How good can they actually get? It\’s a question that\’s almost scary to contemplate, seeing where they are now.

Blooming

 

SOURCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band-Maid

https://bandmaid.tokyo/

https://tokion.jp/en/2021/10/25/global-icon-band-maid-part1/