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Clockenflap Music Festival

Japanese band Sekai No Owari look forward to Hong Kong debut at Clockenflap

Possibly the world’s most eclectic pop group, the Tokyo four-piece whose members met at school and all live together have made their music more accessible and begun recording their first album in English

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 6:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 11:28am

Sekai No Owari might just be the world’s most eclectic pop group. The diverse oeuvre of the Tokyo four-piece takes in everything from indie pop to stadium rock to EDM to jazz to swing to classical, although the direction of their trajectory from 2010 album Earth via 2012’s Entertainment to 2015’s Tree has been towards more accessible material. That, says the band’s singer Fukase, was simply a matter of audience reaction.

“When we first started, we made music we liked, but my friends and family didn’t enjoy what we were doing, and we realised we didn’t enjoy it unless the people around us appreciated what we were creating. We went for what we could do instead of what we wanted to do.”

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Sekai No Owari – the name means “the end of the world” in Japanese, a reference to psychological issues Fukase suffered in his youth, from which music helped him to recover – make their public Hong Kong debut on November 27 at Clockenflap. They’ve played in the city once before, at the 2015 Hong Kong Asian-Pop Music Festival, a private event broadcast on various media, but didn’t have time to see much of the city.

“Our manager filled our schedule with no time to spare, so we weren’t able to explore the city at all,” says the band’s resident eccentric, DJ Love. “This time I’m hoping to have a little more time to spend in the city; my friends have been telling me how cool and vibrant it is.”

As you’ve probably worked out, theirs isn’t a traditional line-up; as well as the DJ and the singer, the latter also a songwriter, there’s guitarist and songwriter Nakajin, and pianist and songwriter Saori, who also produces the band’s stage shows. A sort of implausible real-life The Monkees, they all met at school – Saori and Fukase when they were four – once built their own music venue together and then lived on the floor, and still all live together, albeit these days in a house. “We are more like a family than just a band,” says Nakajin.

That music venue, Club Earth, started as a place to entertain their friends, and then grew. “We first thought about making a studio, but we realised that our friends wouldn’t be able to come and hang with us in a studio, so we ended up building a DIY venue that was more welcoming for our friends,” says Nakajin. “As we moved along it became our own live venue.”

They’ve certainly moved on since then. In 2015 they filled the 70,000-capacity Nissan Stadium, Japan’s biggest venue, for two consecutive nights, and sold out a gig in Taiwan in under two minutes. That’s partly because of their eclectro-populist musical style: not afraid of an anthem, they veer from epic electronica (2013’s Death Disco) to smooth French-touch disco (2015’s Mr Heartache) to vaudevillian swing (2015’s Anti-Hero) to straight-up J-pop (2014’s Dragon Night).

But it’s also due to Saori’s spectacular stage productions, which inevitably will have to be toned down for a festival gig such as Clockenflap. Anti-Hero and another song, SOS, were written for the soundtrack of the 2015 live-action film version of popular manga and anime series Attack on Titan – which itself is kind of about the end of the world – providing them with another big boost in popularity.

The band’s playful image is perhaps best personified by DJ Love, who always performs wearing a clown mask, a costume that was originally designed for Fukase. It grants him a pleasant anonymity, he says, but it’s still a brave choice, given how many people find clowns sinister (including, apparently, Tim Burton, who met the band recently and told the DJ he was afraid of him).

“The clown mask scares little kids, and sometimes they cry or run away from me,” says DJ Love. “I love kids, so that hurts. But it’s nice to have a mask on because I can keep my privacy during my off time; it’s quite helpful, because when I’m at work I’m DJ Love but when I take off my mask I’m back to myself.”

The band have been touring overseas more recently and in a bid to crack international markets they are now in the middle of writing and recording their first album in English, in collaboration with a roster of Western producers: Dutch EDM DJ Nicky Romero, British electro-classical oddballs Clean Bandit and American wonky synthpop artist Owl City, the last of whom they also collaborated with on 2014 single Tokyo. Saori says that the switch to English, while challenging, has given the band the chance to approach songs differently.

“Writing songs in English is challenging and enjoyable at the same time. It’s not our first language; words don’t fit the melody the same way they do in Japanese, and sometimes we can’t translate expressions exactly. Each day I’m learning about the differences. But I enjoy writing in English: I find myself thinking in other ways.”

Sekai No Owari, Nov 27, Clockenflap, Central Harbourfront. For more information, visit bit.ly/2duDgFJ