This is the English translation of an article I originally wrote in French for Journal du Japon. If you speak French, please check it out too.

With the recent release of their new EP Galapagos, and their recent shows in France this summer – first at La Magnifique Society, in Reims (Champagne), then at Les Eurokéennes, in Belfort (Franche-Comté) – I thought it was time (and a good thing) to ask this question: what is Wednesday Campanella?

Let’s be clear here 2 minutes. Last year, I’ve been immensely lucky to interview their frontwoman, KOM_I. But in the end, it was more a very nice chitchat on stage performance, upcoming projects, inspirations and so on, and I didn’t really explained why WedCamp was so great, how it was changing the way music is done in Japan (and why not the world) and why you should all listen to it. Fortunately, I’ve been able to interview KOM_I once again, in Reims. She was dressed kind of like a R’n’B singer from the early 2000’s (a silky leopard pattern chocker around her neck and little blue glasses on her nose) and I thought it was wonderful.

So let’s get to know Wednesday Campanella.

The March 11 trauma

Everything begins in 2011. Hidefumi Kenmochi, a music producer who workerd with Hydeout Productions (Nujabes‘ label) watches, powerless, what is happening in the Tohoku region. Shocked by the events – like a lot of his fellow countrymen and women – he starts working on a new project, something that’d sound like a countryside Perfume. At this time, he meets with Yasutomo Fukunaga, now mostly known as Dir.F. He is then artistic director and manager of the label Tsubasa Records (known for some releases of BiS and Ai Kawashima). He soon will join Kenmochi in his quest.

Looking for female artists and singers to embody the music they want to create, they meet with Misaki Koshi, aka KOM_I, during a party in 2012. Intrigued by this young woman who express her opinion freely, they offer her to make some recording tests in studio. The Wednesday Campanella journey (or Suiyoubi no Campanella at this time) can start.

Artistic disruption

First though as a three or four-women band (another female singer appears alongside KOM_I in the very first music videos of the band), Kenmochi and Dir.F decide quickly to go with KOM_I only. The spark of creative madness and the charisma of the now singer work on their own. It’s also in these early times that the decision to only have KOM_I on stage is taken. Unable to remember a choregraphy – her sayings – she improvizes live dances, and likes to play with the audience. This trademark, printed in Wednedsay Campanella DNA since its very beginnings, is still at the very core of its shows.

« KOM_I has this charisme since forever, as soon as the underground debuts of WedCamp« , says Patrick St. Michel, an American journalist based in Tokyo. An observer of the Japanese musical scene, he follows the group since its beginnings. « She has something unique, and is able to capture the audience and the listeners in the blink of an eye. » The stage becomes an artistic performance, half contemporary art installation with ladders and huge ballons, half participatory dance and karaoke. When seeing and listening to a live show of WedCamp, one is at the same time impressed, euphoric, amazed like a kid during Christmas and admiring. A lot is happening on stage. Once you leave the venue, you’re changed.

« We’re lucky to be surronded by a lot of talented professionals: our special effects guy, and our sound and light engineers have been in this business a long time » explains KOM_I. « It’s thanks to them that we can pull off this amazing scenography and make so many different things. On my side, with my youth, I manage to pull them out of some kind of routine. I breathe new life with my crazy ideas and my weird and shaky projects. This is to say: if you’ve liked Wednesday Campanella on discs, prepare to be positively shaken if you’re lucky to see KOM_I perform live. In fact, you have to see it live. It’s also thanks to those incredible shows that the group is known abroad.

KOM_I

Because if Wednesday Campanella starts to gain traction internationally, it’s because the group wanted that to happen. In fact, most of the Japanese musical artists don’t really care about some kind of global fame – contraty to their neighbours from South Korea, for example – because the music market in Japan is still very much an ecosystem where you can evolve without having to worry about exporting yourself abroad. Wednesday Campanella goes the extra mile(s) and performs in festivals outside of Japan, communicates in English (the most recent music videos are subtitled) and broadcasts its music on a lot of different streaming platforms. The change of name, from Suiyoubi no Campanella to Wednesday Campanella, goes that way. Hell, even KOM_I herself speaks a more than correct English in interview! I can’t say that of numerous Japanese artsits I’ve interviewed in the past!

So, OK, there is the English communication thing. But the success of the group, in Japan and abroad, is mostly because of KOM_I. Her personnality and her naturalness conquest crowds. When I asked her what changed in 13 months (since my first interview), she spontaneously replies: « Oh! A lot! I changed of boyfriends two times… I also tinted my hair in a lot of different colors: orange, blue, green, yellow… Now, I’m back to black again! forgetting more or less intentionally her debuts as an actress (in a drama and a motion picture), or her modeling career (she’s one of the Vogue Japan Women of the Year 2017). « Oh, yeah, I did that! » she adds. « But now, I’m more focused on singing. I’m still a singer, you know! »

The easy way she seems to go through life, her charisma and her contagious energy allow her to go beyond the language barrier. You’ll obviously like <Wednesday Campanella because of the slick and inventive tracks produced by Hidefumi Kenmochi, how he seems to carve into rythms and beats like a sound sculptor. But it’s the spiciness added by the spark that is KOM_I, the way she enjoys singing, that transforms WedCamp from a group you like to a group you love.

Recently, beside her multiple activities, KOM_I has been seen surounded by young artists based in Japan: Bunta Shimizu, her stylist ; Yulia Shur, a Belarussian visual artist, or the actress Fumi Nikaido. When asked if she needs to be with artists to create her own thing, she gives a negative answer: « They’re just my friends! I personally love them first before admiring them as artists. In fact, I just start having friends my own age, with who I can work and communicate genuinely. It’s quite new for me. »

Evolving music

In the end, what does WedCamp is quite out of phase with what Japanese pop usually does. Of course, you can feel it in the music itself. In the beginnings, Kenmochi‘s productions were very Nujabes-like (guitar samples, cut beats, vocal beds). But confronted to KOM_I strong opinion regarding these early prods, he switched to something else and explored new musical worlds, pushing technologies and musical instruments toward new horizons.

This hard work gave birth to a music constantly evolving. The first demos sound more like ambient music; then Wednesday Campanella follows quickly the electro hip-hop direction that will become its identity for a few years, with KOM_I rapping and speak-singing. With 2015 and the EP Zipang, the group goes in a new direction, looking for house and future bass, even going with the disco-funk vibe currently trending in Japan. And today, with Galapagos, its last EP to date, WedCamp leaves hip-hop for a calmer electro pop-folk. With each new stage in this musical quest, Wednesday Campanella keeps some elements of its prevoious explorations, building layer by layer its universe. Patrick St. Michel adds: « Some compare them with Yellow Magic Orchestra; it’s an interesting statement. There is obviously something common between both of these groups when it comes to musical production. »

Galapagos, the next step

Galapagos can be understood as a break in the continuity that is Wednesday Campanella. Break because – the first verses of Melos excepted – the rap which has been WdCamp‘s trademark so far is missing. But continuity because the production is still very electronic oriented, even when it takes a detour to have a taste of folk or new wave.

It’s also the first time there is featuring on one of the group discs. And, Vive la France!, it’s with Pablo Padovani, frontman of the French group Moodoïd. « It’s all thanks to Yoko [1]! explains KOM_I. « She put me in touch with Pablo because she felt that we could get along together. Usually, collabs are quite complicated. But with Pablo, we understood each other immediately: we have the same way of thinking. Making music with him has been very easy. » The results are a track on Galapagos titled Matryoshka, and another one on the the last album to date of Moodoïd, the very good Cité Champagne, where KOM_I appears on the track Langage. This song sums up perfectly the global scope of Wednesday Campanella: you don’t need to understand a specific language to feel what the group wants to communicate and get the strength of its music.

Galapagos, just like any other WedCamp disc, tells us a story. There is a logic between each track. If the last album, Superman, was a bright and shiny piece of pop invoking different solar deities (up to its title), Galapagos is more focused on nature, as one can see when reading the different lyrics – available in English on a dedicated page [2]. « Galapagos is more focused on plants, the forest, the moss. » says KOM_I. « The idea of eternity is also very present. Matryoshka ends with reversed lyrics because the track could go on forever. It’s the same thing with Minakata Kumagusu which has a cyclic structure, and ends with a fade out, to reinforce a feeling of infinity. » The EP as a whole is also cyclic, starting with a track transporting us in a lunar primordial forest, where life begins, and ending with a song revealing us the secrets of the universe and of life.

Galapagos is also a socially conscious EP. It starts with the presence of the Kokkai-gijido, the building where the National Diet of Japan meets, in the music video of Three Mystic Apes; the building is on an island, symbolizing the isolation and the disconnection between the politicians and the realities of the rest of the world. And it’s more clear with The Sand Castle, written while thousands of Japanese people converged in front of the very same Kokkai-gijido in July 2015 to protest against the 2015 Japanese military legislation (which allows Japan to get involved in offensive military actions). Because, in the end, Wednesday Campanella – or at least KOM_I – is a politicized group.

Music and politics

Several times, KOM_I expressed herself publicly on social or political topics: on the law banning dancing in public which lasted until 2015 (and how ridiculous it was), on the closure of different Tokyo clubs, on the general social situation of Japan… « And note that during interviews, I watch my words! » she adds. « I could say a lot more, but I’m careful. » Though, she sighs when I talk about the recent controversy surrounding the song Hinomaru by Radwimps. « Before I joined Wednesday Campanella, in high school, I was surrounded by political activists. Since this time, I think that an artist should be a thought leader. I don’t like this statu quo where artists act like if they were living outside of the world. That’s why I sometimes express strong opinion. Having political opinion, challenging and denouncing injustices is important, especially when, like me, you can have an impact. » For now, she doesn’t see herself involved in politics more than her public comments. But why not in the future…

In Patrick St. Michel‘s opinion, this freedom of speech can also help the group to be more visible abroad: « It’s an attitude you expect with Western artists, even with K-pop artists. It allows KOM_I to bring light on different topics to her Japanese audience, and allows her international audience to discover another point of view on this country. KOM_I could open a new path for Japanese artists more socially conscious. » Soon after KOM_I interview with Buzzfeed Japan, SKY-HI reacted on Twitter, agreeing with her.

What next?

Wednesday Campanella is already inspiring some emerging talents on the Japanese alternative scene. The group CHAI gained recognition thanks to their songs challenging the concept of kawaii, singing about self-confidence and body image, going against the stereotypes of J-pop. Musically, Patrick St. Michel sees Haru Nemuri as the rock version of Wednesday Campanella: « She has a singing style similar to KOM_I‘s. It’s kind of like if Wednesday Campanella chose to go with a Ringo Sheena or a Jun Togawa direction. »

As of today, the group is touring, from festival to festival, mostly in Japan, but also internationally (Poland, Taiwan), to promote Galapagos and amaze more audience with its scenic performances. But as KOM_I said in interview, she’s now focusing on singing, so we can expect some singles in the coming months.

And for us, froggies, there is one question left: when will you be back in France? « I hope to be back in Reims next year » replies KOM_I. « I start to like this little piece of nature! So we can start booking reservations for the 2019 edition of La Magnifique Society.

A lot of thanks to La Magnifique Society, <bPatrick St. Michel, KOM_I and Yoko Yamada.

[1] Yoko Yamada is a promoter for the Japanese booker Creativeman. She is based in Paris and is fluent in French. She was present during the interview, acting as a translator whenever KOM_I couldn’t reply in English.
[2] This page is another example of the selflessness of the group. Why go through the trouble of having comments about the different songs, AND having everything translated in another language? I get they want to make it big internationally – as they should. But that! It’s pure generosity.

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