J-Pop Sunday: No Cars

It’s not unfair to say that there’s often some pretty left-field stuff coming out of the Japanese music tradition. In the UK, we don’t usually get exposed to a lot of it – Polysics are probably what most people who have a vague interest in alternative music conjure up when someone says ‘weird Japanese rock’. Arguably, it’s because we don’t often have access to it, but what if I told you that one of the strangest, most fantastic bands you might ever encounter in your life are a J-pop band based in London?

No Cars are quite simply, bloody mental and absolutely phenomenal.

No Cars like food, the Northern Line and sellotape. Yep.

Quick Guide
Act Name: No Cars
Line-Up: Haruna Komatsu (vocals, guitar), Takaco Iida (vocals, bass), Tomoko Komura (vocals, keyboard), Candy Tanaka (vocals, drums)
Years Active: 2011 to present
Genre: Indie-pop
Robyn’s Choice Tracks: Where Is David Bowie, Do Re Mi Farming, Jap Trap

A couple of weeks ago, I was hanging about at the Worcester Music Festival while Charlie, who does the Notes from the Keybed column, was doing some DJing between bands. We were in Monroes Cellar Bar, which is probably the tiniest venue I’ve been in to date, and all of a sudden, three Japanese girls and a reasonably tall man start bringing a buttload of stuff onto the stage. About 20 minutes later, said Japanese girls come out of the back room in matching white blouses and pink ribbons, and the tall man sits behind a drum set in a tanuki kigurumi. The show hasn’t started yet, they’re all still setting up, but they have their own line check song and it’s one of the most adorable things ever. The keyboardist bashes some keys, nods and pulls out a bag of lettuce. She balances a glass full of pink confetti on her Casio. She peers into a tote bag, checking everything’s in there. They’re all pretty much ready to go. I have no idea what the hell we’re in for.

When No Cars finally begin their set, the place is packed. Everyone’s crowding round, trying to get a brief peek at whatever’s going on up there. And first of all, they all stand in a line, sing a nursery rhyme style song in Japanese while keyboardist Tomoko tries to fan the confetti over them like sakura blossoms in the wind. This is not a band afraid to approach stereotypes and rip the living shit out of them. Then, as lead singer Haruna picks up her guitar, counts the band in and they jump into ‘Cress’, Tomoko sits disinterestedly on a bar stool, chewing on lettuce. Eventually, she hops down and starts offering it to the crowd. A No Cars set is a bizarre piece of performance art – from inviting someone on stage to be harassed as a ‘James Anderson Puppet’ to wrapping up your lead singer’s face in Sellotape, there’s not really anything that can be considered ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’. But it’s far more than just a spectacle – No Cars really do have some brilliant songs, and their surf-rock indie-punk sound is catchy, immediate and indeed, well crafted.

They also have a song about tuna. Tasty, tasty tuna

Let’s take ‘Where Is David Bowie’ as an example. From No Cars’ first record Yoko Eats Whales, it’s genuinely a song about trying to find David Bowie. But it’s super cute and it’s got these great, jangly guitars that are just ever so slightly out of kilter with the rest of the rhythm. When presented live, it turns into a crazy pantomime – Tomoko puts on a David Bowie mask and lurks creepily behind Haruna and bassist Takaco before Haruna stops and asks “where is David Bowie? Where the fuck is David Bowie?!” The audience gleefully yells “he’s behind you!” before it all picks up again, and while it’s utterly bizarre and captivating to watch, it’s just as addictive to listen to. It’s hard to sing along to a No Cars song, as the band often flit between Japanese and English, but the simple melodies provide the perfect backing for the bizarre subject matter. ‘Jap Trap’, from new album Yoko Makes Tits Bigger With Airbrush, is the sort of thing that’ll be kicking around your head for days. ‘Do Re Mi Farming’, all about people banging on some hay bales, has some absolutely wonderful key changes and wicked bass lines – not to mention that retro Casio sound! Plus, I don’t know any band that can craft a ballad to filter coffee that sounds as good as this.

What you have in No Cars is blissfully aware pop music, filled with laughter and joy – it’s impossible to walk away with a No Cars set or listen to a full record without a huge grin on your face. So take a walk on the strange side, pop on over to Bandcamp and prepare to have your mind blown.

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