The september 2014 issue of Metal Hammer magazine is featuring a Dom Lawson interview with BABYMETAL and an in dept intewview with the mind behind the band KOBAMETAL.
Transcription: jabberwokk Babymetal reddit
If we hadn’t witnessed it with our own eyes, we would never have believed it. It’s July 5, 2014 and thousands of metal fans are gathered on the hallowed grounds of Knebworth, Hertfordshire, for the first UK Sonisphere festival since 2011. And there they are, on the festival’s main stage… three teenage Japanese girls, dancing and singing their way through the catchiest of pop melodies, with big grins plastered across their faces and fingers bent into what we soon discover is “the sign of the fox”. Behind them are a band of virtuoso metal musicians, clad in white and faces painted similarly, letting rip with a pinpoint precise and laudably modern barrage of scything riffs and pummeling rhythms. The crowd – sizeable as the girls hit the stage, fucking enormous by the time they leave it – is going righteously and thrillingly bonkers. Is it metal? Is it pop? It’s both and neither. It’s Babymetal, and within 30 minutes they have not only won over a supposedly hardcore crowd of Maiden and Metallica fans, but, even more enjoyably, briskly shut the mewing gobs of a great number of tiresome cynics and online try-hards. Joyful, triumphant, and utterly bizarre, Babymetal have arrived and the UK is plainly digging it.
Although they have been building up a head of steam in their native Japan for the last couple of years, Babymetal only began to make inroads on these shores earlier this year, when YouTube links and bewildered blog posts started popping up across social networks and rock and metal media outlets. Understandably, not everyone was immediately impressed by the band’s unashamed blending of J-Pop (Japanese pop music, obviously) and thunderous metal. In stark contrast to Japan, where manufactured pop is widely accepted as a legitimate part of a wider pop culture that seems largely bereft of embittered whining, the UK’s rock and metal scenes are innately suspicious of anything that seems to have been conjured from the hellish mind of a record label mogul, rather than built from the ground up in a more earnest and “real” fashion. We hate Simon Cowell and we love Motörhead. The divide is clear. But part of Babymetal’s irresistible charm is that, whether for cultural reasons or not, they don’t seem to acknowledge that divide at all. Musically, they are as heavy and sharp as any modern metal band. Vocally? Well, yes, the squeaky and undeniably pop-orientated voices of Su-Metal, Moametal, and Yuimetal remain wholly untouched by, say, Slayer’s back catalogue, but the final product itself is so deliciously alien and peculiar, not to mention delivered with with joyous enthusiasm, that griping about Babymetal not being “proper metal” just comes across as pointless posturing.
OK, we admit it – we’re intrigued. And so Metal Hammer caught up with Babymetal at The Forum in London a few days later to have a chat with Key “Kobametal” Kobayashi, and to ask whether people’s cynicism about the self- evidently manufactured nature of the band is anywhere near accurate or just a knee-jerk reaction to something beyond our usual frame of reference. Softly spoken and unfailingly polite, Key certainly looks like a metalhead and, via the interpretive skills of tour manager Nora, is quite happy to explain how Babymetal came to be.
“I have been a huge metal fan for 30 years,” he states. “But of course metal is only getting older and older and the scene isn’t getting bigger anymore. I started thinking that I wanted to come up with something new, something that no one has ever done before, and that’s where Babymetal came from. The idea really just fell from the heavens.”
At some point, Key may grow weary of being asked whether his band are a cynical exercise in pop exploitation, but for now he seems perfectly happy to address the issue.
“I understand that people outside of Japan don’t really understand the pop scene in Japan and they perceive it differently from how the Japanese would,” he nods, thoughtfully. “As a longtime metal fan, I always used to say ‘That’s not real metal so I’m not listening to it!’ I’m a metal purist too, to be honest. But I realized that the scene isn’t really getting any bigger. All the old-school metal bands are still around and there’s still a fanbase, but it’s all getting smaller. So to bring Japanese metal around the world, it has to be something different and original. It’s like sushi! Sushi came from Japan and people had never eaten it before, and now everyone eats sushi all over the world. If I just started another metal band like any other, like Iron Maiden or Metallica or whoever, then no one is going to listen to it or be excited by it. Right now, Japan is known for the Idol scene and the J-pop, and I just thought that this amalgam of J-Pop and metal would be a good way to represent Japanese metal and Japanese music. And people seem to be enjoying what we do. It’s the power of the Fox!”
Ah yes, the Fox. If you were at Sonisphere, you may have seen Babymetal’s into video, which recounted the daft but endearing fictional tale of how the band came together in answer to a request from the metal-loving Fox God to start something called the ‘Metal Resistance’. As preposterous as it sounds, there is something very clever and lovable about Babymetal’s back-story and the mystique that surrounds those who put the music together. While the metal media speculate about whether the band’s eponymous debut album was put together by members of much-loved noughties’ crossover crew Mad Capsule Markets or just some terrible Machiavellian producer with a hotline to the best session musicians, the reality is that in Babymetal’s world it really doesn’t matter a shiny shit. In fact, the whole thing works so brilliantly because it has side-stepped all the usual considerations in favour of the wholesale creation of a unique and fully formed world of its own.
“I was always interested in metal bands that had some mystery to them,” says Key. “I wanted to create something that was different from normal everyday life and people will be guessing about what’s going on in the band. It’s like Disneyland… it’s not reality and you’re transported to a different place. That’s what I wanted to create. The three girls were chosen because they’re suitable and they represent the band really well. They’re great singers and great performers. that’s why I created the story about the Fox and the Metal Resistance. The girls are like prophets, speaking for the Fox God. It just makes it different from everything else… and it’s fun!
What really comes across when speaking to Key is that he never expected Babymetal to be received so well overseas. The band have already exceeded expectations at home, becoming a huge deal very quickly and selling out two nights in the legendary Budokan in Tokyo – that’s 20,000 people per night – back in March. But conquering the rest of the world wasn’t supposed to be easy, not least due to the aforementioned cultural differences that make places like the UK so susceptible to a sneering, cynical outlook on anything that makes up its own rules as it goes along. As a result, Babymetal’s Sonisphere experience – not to mention the small matter of a show at The Forum that sold out in a matter of hours, after it had already been up-scaled from a much smaller venue – amounts to an unexpected but very welcome triumph for Key and the band and a very good omen for their collective future.
“When this began I was just experimenting and it was a challenge,” says Key. “I didn’t know what was going to happen and I never expected it to become so big, so fast. We’d never played a big festival like Sonisphere before and we really didn’t know what to expect at a big festival full of real metal fans. In the end, it’s just trial and error. We’re always moving forward but we never really never know what to expect. Right now we’re getting a lot of offers from all over the world. We’re opening for Lady Gaga in the US and we’re doing a festival in Canada and more headline shows, so we want to travel more next year and just see where it takes us.
Key smiles the broad smile of a man who simply can’t believe his luck. He may yet end up making tons of money from Babymetal but it’s obvious that the music and the experience are what have driven this project from the start. And then, of course, there are the girls themselves. Metal Hammer is invited up for a quick chat with Su-Metal and her diminutive comrades before they take to the stage at The Forum and they greet us with excited grins but plenty of the extreme, disarming politeness for which the Japanese are famed.
“Sonisphere was an amazing experience, because it was the first time we’d played in front of such a huge audience!” beams Su-Metal, every bit the professional but very much a wide-eyed teenager too. “When I walked out I thought ‘Oh no, what am I going to do?’ but it was such a great experience. With Japanese fans, because we understand each other, they join in with the chanting and the call and response. What’s amazing with the UK fans is that even though they don’t understand the language, they still sing along with everything! And they also did the Fox sign which was wonderful to see!”
The Babymetal girls have all had a degree of experience within Japan’s pop and Idol industry through singing and modelling, but the metal scene is a very different world and one that they are clearly enjoying immensely. Su- Metal excitedly recalls meeting Kirk Hammett backstage at Sonisphere and not knowing who he was – “He just seemed like an ordinary guy and a very kind gentleman!” she says – and points out, with some bemusement, that the European crowds that have come to see Babymetal have been predominantly made up of diehard metal fans, as opposed to the Japanese crowds that are often as passionate about pop as they are about heavier music. Most of all, it’s obvious that their European adventure has gone way better than any of the three girls could ever have dreamed and that being a part of Babymetal is just about as much fun as any human being could realistically withstand. So yes, you can be cynical about Babymetal if you want. meanwhile, the band, their manager and an increasing number of metalheads are enjoying every second of this unprecedented and wonderfully demented phenomenon.
“We’ve received so many comments online from the UK and lots of people have been mimicking our dance routines and putting them on YouTube, so we’re getting such a great response and we never expected it.” Su-Metal concludes, eyes twinkling. “The response we’re getting makes us think we’re being accepted. It feels like a dream!”