I spent most of Sunday in The Garage, a small venue in Islington. It holds around 650 people and it was packed to the rafters. The crowd were there to see one band – and the cheers they came on to were unrivalled. Anamanaguchi are a global phenomenon, a self described ‘hacker boy band’ that combine pop-punk with the NES to make songs like this:
They’re currently touring with their debut album, Endless Fantasy (a play on Square Enix’s most famous series) but they’re hardly new on the scene. If you’ve played 2010’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game you’ll already be familiar with their work, since they soundtracked the whole game. The game’s most well known track, Another Winter,made a surprise appearance at Sunday’s gig, too. (As an aside - Scott Pilgrim is a seriously great brawler, inspired by River City Ransom. The gang who made it, Tribute Games, are now developing the also wonderful Mercenary Kings).
Even if you never played Scott Pilgrim, you probably heard of them earlier this year, when they launched a Kickstarter to help fund Endless Fantasy – or, specifically, to make it ‘more than an album.’ The project raised $277, 399, money that was put towards light shows for gigs, ads, cool backer rewards, a game jam and – perhaps most significantly for the 650 people present on Sunday – signing with a UK label who could distribute their album and allow them to play over here.
Anamanaguchi step out to thunderous applause at 9PM and launch straight into Endless Fantasy’s lead single, Meow. I’m stood midway back, ready to dance badly, as is always the way. Meow, in addition to an NES, actually samples cat noises (hence the title). The song hits the chorus, the samples play – and everyone in the audience is Meowing along. This band have already created an atmosphere in their first song that most bands would kill for in an encore. Everyone is dancing and jumping, meowing out of tune. It’s one of the most intense gigs I’ve ever been to and I love it.
3 hours earlier. Shirobon steps onto the stage, sets up his equipment and starts to play. He’s a relative unknown to the crowd and, indeed, to me. If Anamanaguchi is the Arctic Monkeys of Chiptune – well established as one of the kings of their genre – Shirobon is Glasvegas – less well known, for sure, but still capable of sounds of a generation. His sound is closer to mainstream dance EDM than, Anamanaguchi or Chipzel, for example, but he gets the crowd going. Warm-up acts usually can be relied on to indicate the future sound of a genre – and if chiptune heads in the direction Shirobon has taken, it’s going to be huge.
Anamanaguchi follow Meow with Japan Air, one of two vocal songs on the album. It’s a high tempo love song explosion and keeps up the pace of the opener. I’d wager nobody really knows the words to it (apart from the chorus, ‘They all try to keep up/While we fuck this shit up’) but everybody’s singing along anyway, the best approximation they can do of m33sh’s lyrics. Next is Planet – slower, more anthemic – before they shift into high gear, playing Another Winter and seguing straight into perhaps the best known of their tracks: Airbrushed. Airbrushed is huge and shows how talented the 4-man chip outfit – an up-tempo adventure of guitar riffs, heavy bass and drops that Skrillex wishes he could handle. This is what the audience are here to see – a band that loves to play the songs that the crowd l0ve to hear. But the set doesn’t even peak there.
It’s 8PM, and Sabrepulse takes his place in centre stage, wearing a Chipzel shirt. He’s the Arcade Fire of Chiptune, if we’re continuing that analogy – adaptable and defining, although as far as I’m aware he hasn’t collab’d with Bowie yet. His chiptune takes a lot of cues from dubstep, with heavy bass lines, repeating chip riffs and drops to die for. Halfway through his 45 minutes, Sabrepulse invites Anamanaguchi’s own Luke Silas on for a song they wrote together – First Crush. Everyone goes wild. The crowd is well and truly warmed up by the end of his set – quite literally, in fact. We’re soaked in sweat, it’s disgusting, and we love it.
It’s now halfway through the set and it’s time to wheel out the big guns. The opening riff of Endless Fantasy’s title track starts to loop and the crowd roars. Luke hits the kick drum and the crowd moves as one – a wave of people, bouncing in unison. Everyone starts singing the chip melody – who needs lyrics, right? The bridge arrives and everyone stops, briefly, before launching right back into it when the chours returns. Bozosoku GF follows, then Space Wax America, my favourite track on the album and one written, according to lead guitarist Pete Berkman as ‘a tribute to Weezer.’ I definitely get what he’s saying – Space Wax is all guitar shredding, fast drumbeats and a chorus to die for, so very Weezer indeed. Sting Operation, the lead song on the band’s very first EP, Power Supply, is next, then Helix Nebula. Both of these tracks sound significantly rougher than any of the tracks on Endless Fantasy - a testament, then, to how far the band has come since 2006.
Between acts, I look around the crowd, seeing if I can recognise any faces. The audience is an interesting mix, really – it really feels like a number of worlds have suddenly collided, from the jeans and (Zelda) t-shirt crew I’m a member of, to new-wave punks with more colours in their hair than most Call of Duty games have full stop. There’s game devs around, twitter ‘celebrities’ (shoutouts to @piss_wizard, hope you enjoy the set list), journalists – people from every corner of gaming’s reach have come together at Anamanaguchi’s second UK date ever. And more, in fact – turns out Dragonforce’s Herman Li even turned up.
It’s nearly 10PM and there’s not been Prom Night yet. Everyone loves Prom Night. Good job the next song is Prom Night! The other song with lyrics, Prom Night is a raw, animalistic song about sex – and it doesn’t try to hide it. From the chorus’ ‘Love me like it’s prom night/I wanna hold you close like it’s the very first time,’ to the bridge shouting ‘Go down and take me up to heaven,’ it’s clear that Bianca Raquel is channeling that teenage primal desire we’ve all had at some point in our lives. The crowd is singing along, of course – it’s a song about a state of mind we’ve all shared. Everyone wants to fuck (although most of the crowd contained themselves until after the gig).
Pete announced the last song of the night – that was (T-T)b, although I still have no idea how to pronounce it – and James DeVito, bassist and lighting extraordinaire, passes one of the huge light rods into the crowd. Everyone surges to grab it as we all recite The Illusion’s monologue that plays over the track. “We are beings of light, our mission is to feed creation.” It sounds like the mantra of a cult, but in that moment, it was true – 650 people, in a shared dream, watching a band we’ve been aching to see for years. The song ends, the lights go out, there are chants of “one more song.” Anamanaguchi return and end the night with Echobo. A slower paced song, close to a ballad, it speaks of childhood innocence and adventure. Endless Fantsy’s overarching theme is one of people over corporations, of following your dreams, all while not losing sight of what’s most important in life: having fun. Hence, this is a fitting goodbye. The fantasy has ended for tonight, but we carry it with us for as long as we let it.
I stuck around to get a set list (which proved eminently useful when writing this article, natch) and got my Gameboy signed by Pete. The boys said they’d be back in February, and believe me, I’m gonna be there. And I hope maybe a few of you will be, too.