Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2013: Perfume

By | Published on Monday 16 December 2013


Each weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we will reveal another of our ten favourite artists of the year. To see each artist as they’re revealed, sign up to receive the CMU Daily or check this page. Next up is Perfume…

Veterans of the Japanese music industry, the original line-up of the group having formed in 2000 while they were still at school, Perfume are now one of the country’s biggest groups. Their rise, however, was a slow one, with their first five years as recording artists spawning a handful of not particularly successful singles – slightly ironically collected on their first album release, a compilation called ‘Complete Best’.

But they really began to take off as they worked towards the release of their debut album proper, ‘Game’, in 2008 – the first single from which, ‘Polyrhythm’, bagged them their first top ten hit. The track was also featured on the soundtrack to Pixar movie ‘Cars’, bringing them to international attention for the first time.

Although all of their albums since then have been very successful, each delivering some great music, they really hit their creative stride with 2011’s ‘JPN’. And this year they continued with fourth album ‘Level3’, with their longtime producer and songwriter Yasutaka Nakata creating another impressive collection of techno-pop songs in a year when he’s put out two other big albums – the second from Japanese solo star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and another with his own project Capsule.

It’s also the first Perfume album to receive a proper release in the UK, as part of moves made in 2013 to bring the group to a wider international audience, which they discussed in an interview with CMU earlier this year. Thinking internationally is still something alarmingly uncommon amongst Japanese acts, particularly the most successful ones, thanks in part to the often insular nature of the music industry there. Though, as the downturn in global record industry fortunes finally starts to catch up with Japan, artists and labels are beginning to look further afield.

A three date tour of Europe this summer (laughably billed as their ‘second world tour’, they having previously played a handful of shows around South East Asia) coincided with their website winning a design award at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity.

A large part of their success comes down not just to the impressive performances by the three members of the group – A-Chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka – but also the creative team around them. Nakata, choreographer Mikiko Mizuno, stage director Masahiko Uchiyama, video director Kazuaki Seki and live visuals designer Daito Manabe have all worked with the group for many years and have created a distinct sonic and visual style for them.

And it’s in those live performances where it all really comes together. Although used to arena stages at home, the team made full use of the smaller stages they were faced with for the European performances. The opening of the show used ‘projection mapping’ to lay moving images over the white dresses the group were wearing, each of which also included mechanical sections which raised and dropped to appear as if the dresses were breathing.

I’d assumed until recently that this section of the show was tightly choreographed so that the group were in the right place for the projections to appear correctly on their bodies. But I’ve since learned that the system was actually designed to follow their movements and adjust the projections accordingly – which possibly gives some idea of the effort that Manabe puts into the design of these performances.

Whether the group will ever build a large enough audience to make regular trips to the UK worthwhile remains to be seen – the cost of transporting such an ambitious show here this year was covered by beaming them back live to Japanese cinemas, picking up an extra audience of around 45,000 people. However, their music is some of the more accessible (for Western ears) J-pop on offer and their performances are incredibly impressive, so it would be a shame if they never made the trip again.

Check out that projection mapping performance, and the group’s first English language song (and also their most obvious nod to current European dance pop) ‘Spending All My Time’ here: