Putting on Perfume

My daughter has long been a source of inspiration to me. She has a deep and abiding interest in music, dance, and art, and her tastes have been carefully cultivated. She’s introduced me to many newer bands like Beach House, Warpaint and Mac DeMarco, both of which are now part of my own collection. When in middle school, the kid got very interested in Anime, taking colored pencils to paper to draw her favorite characters, inspired by books and movies, particularly the beautiful, surreal treasures of Hayao Miyazaki. Fast forward to high school and she took to electronic dance music (EDM) expressing her version of artful dance by incorporating lighted hula-hoops. For a graduation present my wife and I played chaperone for her and friends to go to Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Las Vegas, where a film crew captured her hooping, placing a row of Vegas dancers behind! Proud Dad, check.

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Perfume at The Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, CA

I’ve endeavored over these years to support my aijou and join in on her love of all things Japanese and EDM. The concerts are hard for me to appreciate, as it’s difficult to accept the genre when the performer is just triggering deafening pre-recorded content, and no one is actually playing an instrument or singing. However, I’ve tried, and do see where some of the acts rise to the level of art. This even when at EDC I was asked by one young attendee “what are you doing here?!” I will say it’s a lot easier to see EDM events as concerts worthy of attendance when they transcend the repeated “drops” and incorporate dance, lighting effects and stagecraft to improve the level of entertainment.

Perfume_promo_72dpiWhile one such act, Perfume, won’t be everyone’s cuppa, they most definitely rise above the robotic crowd. This group of three young women, all exceptional singers and dancers, hail from Japan, performing their own version of J-pop/techno-pop internationally to great acclaim. But what brought them more to my daughter’s attention was their spectacular use of video imagery, as seen on their many Youtube videos. The imagery is not just lighting and film, but carefully choreographed graphic art and illusions that are projected onto layers of screens, which alternate between being translucent and opaque. As the dancers move in and around the panels, the effect is that they seem to appear and disappear instantaneously while graphics and filmed images take over. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try: the dancers execute tight moves, suddenly seeming to transport across the stage to new locations, reappearing in unexpected places, or dancing in place encapsulated in or morphed into an image such as a planet, swirling shaft of light or other visual artifact. It’s truly impressive.

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After struggling to find the right sound and approach early in the millennia, Perfume released their major label debut in 2005. By 2010 they performed to 50,000 fans at Japan’s biggest venue, Tokyo Dome. Since then their popularity has grown around the world. The three performers, A~chan, Kashiyuka, and Nocchi are brilliantly choreographed by dance instructor MIKIKO. Their expressive, cute dance moves, combined with perfect three part harmonies, and colorful costumes would be enough to raise interest in a large fan base. But their additional secret weapon comes in the form of visual artist Daito Manabe, who first added his craft to that 2010 show in Tokyo.

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Manabe creates visual art that forges “a tighter, happier relationship between man and machine.” When applied to Perfume’s effervescent electro-pop act, the result is magic, best described on the Japantimes.co site: “The group performs their futuristic electro wearing elaborate white dresses that act as a canvas for a constantly morphing kaleidoscope of digital graphics, which in turn interact with the images being projected on screens behind them.” Actually it’s now “images projected in front of and behind them” as special screens are mounted and mobile, able to be carried by the dancers such that the surfaces themselves can move and change as the dazzling effects play out. This effect must be seen to be appreciated:

Tokyo Dome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVuLrZ8Tyc4

SBSW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZiPIgCtIxg

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Last week, on Friday August 26, 2016 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, now long into their career, and after multiple international tours, Perfume simplified their show a bit to make it more organic and personal. The stage was massive, stacked three levels high with a series of movable steps that allowed the group to traverse floors, eliciting cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. Extensive graphic effects were saved for just a few points in the show, while the majority of the songs were performed without special screens and effects; the scene at stage level projected above and behind them in real time, more like a basic singing & dancing act. While I would have liked to see more focus on the type of imagery made famous by Manabe, what they did do was joyful and captivating, more human than machine-like. I would have expected their vocals to be performed live – instead both the music and three part vocals were pre-recorded, as has been their way – forgivable really since the dance and visuals are so involving – and much preferable to a guy and a button! The young women haven’t yet mastered English, so their salutations and exclamations between songs were simple and seemingly innocent. At one point they selected an audience member who was bilingual to translate their greetings and admonitions to be happy and dance along together with them – very endearing.

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Check Youtube for videos of the band, and also take a look at some recent contestants on the show America’s Got Talent and elsewhere who have used this same motion-capture and projection technique to create incredible illusions on stage. Besides Perfume and others, what’s possible is probably best seen by viewing performances by Japanese artists Hara and SIRO-A.

SIRO-A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiMhIFgclAw

Hara: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4hmELQSr70

Nosaj Thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_woNBiIyOKI

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One thought on “Putting on Perfume”

  1. I think it says more about your (and your wife’s!) character that you not only took your daughter to Vegas to see this band, but that you’ve blogged about it too. Well done even if Perfume will probably never be my cuppa. 🙂

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