URBANGARDE are a Japanese band active since 2002. They are composed of Hamasaki Yoko (vocals), Matsunaga Tenma (vocals), Zeze Shin (Guitar) and Okubo Kei (keyboard).
Their music is a blend of various musical styles including bubblegum pop, 80’s synthpop, punk, progressive rock, chiptune, new wave, goth, industrial and heavy metal just to name a few. The band themselves describe their music as Trauma Techno Pop and use visual arts to support the concept behind their music.
Selective Hearing had the opportunity chat with URBANGARDE about their new album Showa 90, the concept behind their music and videos and what they are currently listening to.
Please introduce yourselves to the readers of Selective Hearing.
Yoko: I’m Yoko, URBANGARDE’s vocalist. I am an icon of the band, and I’m sometimes in charge of composing the music and arrangements, too.
Temma: Hello, sick people! I’m Temma Matsunaga, I’m also a vocalist. I write all of the lyrics and I’m the creator of the band.
Shin: I’m Shin, the guitarist. I handle composing, arranging and being an anime otaku!
Kei: I’m Kei, URBANGARDE’s keyboardist. I also contribute to composing and arrangement.
The concept behind the sound of URBANGARDE is Trauma Techno Pop. Please explain this concept for those who are unfamiliar with your music.
Temma: Traumatic music. Focusing on the darkness in the heart, revealing it, and giving you catharsis. It may seem negative but it’s positive.
Kei: On the “techno pop” part, it’s like focusing on the spirit, rather than the sound.
Your songs have a very catchy pop feel to them and yet they also have an edgy political and social commentary undertone. Do you believe this juxtaposition makes your music more relatable to those who may not be accustomed to such things in their pop music?
Yoko: I think that everything has two sides. It’s just a natural form for us to be both pop and ironic.
Temma: I think that pop is like a poison candy, giving you something bitter with a smooth and very sweet taste. As Andy Warhol said, pop is not just sweetness. Something that has also sharpness and “pops” common sense is truly a pop style, I think.
Shin: That’s right. Although it’s catchy, the themes of the songs are not always cheerful. Pop has poison.
Kei: No matter how radical it is, something that reaches people has to have a certain level of catchy-ness and pop-ness.
In regards to your latest album Showa 90. The title suggests a connection to a mysterious message based on the imagery on the album cover. Can you give us any hints as to what that message may be?
Temma: Showa 90 is our modern time presented as a parallel world. It’s set during war, and people are lowering their voice like ghosts. Of course, you can choose whether this is just a parallel world or a caricature of the real world.
Kuchibiru Democracy has a strong anti-war message and some stations in Japan have refused to air the video due to its culturally sensitive nature. What are your thoughts on this?
Yoko: It gave me a reason to reconsider freedom of speech. We’re musicians, not activists.
Temma: I honestly didn’t think that there would be rejection at this level. Maybe modern Japan in the Heisei era is getting closer to the parallel Showa world from the album?
Shin: The broadcasting stations are afraid of complaints, because they thought if people saw this video in a setting where they couldn’t hear the sound, they might think this is political or religious, I think.
Kei: I think this situation itself links to the story of this song.
What is the main idea behind the song and video for Coin Locker Babies?
Yoko: For the music, we wanted a melody that would replay in your head after you heard it once.
Temma: It’s about modern people who only look at LCDs and can’t touch reality. If you break the LCD and touch real living flesh, you may find love. An example might be saying “Let’s make a baby”. I wrote the lyrics with a feeling of proposing to someone.
You have a dedicated following in France and have performed in Paris at Japan Expo in 2013. Are there any other countries you would like to visit or perform in?
Yoko: I would like to go to any country, as long as there are people who want to feel our music live.
Temma: UK. I’m interested in how URBANGARDE would be accepted in the country where punk was born. I think URBANGARDE’s severe black humor would match the British national character.
Shin: Germany and UK. Both have wonderful music culture, so I’m curious to see how URBANGARDE would be accepted.
Kei: I’m interested to see how concepts like this Showa 90 would be accepted in Asian countries close to Japan.
Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Yoko: This is not a musician, but I’d like to collaborate with Pierre et Gilles for visual aspects.
Temma: Kraftwerk. Our mini album “Shoujo KAITAI” is a homage title of Kraftwerk’s “Ningen Kaitai (The Man-Machine)”
Shin: OK Go. I’m very interested in their sense/ of sound and visuals.
Kei: David Bowie. I feel that he was always challenging new things with sounds.
What are you currently listening to? Is there anyone you are into right now you would recommend our readers check out?
Yoko: A French artist, Jackson and his computer band. I’ve been a big fan since their first. Also, I recommend Takashi Hattori, who is my best friend.
Temma: Japanese New Wave in the 80’s “GUERNICA.” I’m really curious to see how people overseas accept it.
Shin: Music I listen to recently is mostly the latest anime songs. Anime music is interesting and I can learn from it.
Kei: Shibuya-kei music from the 90’s in Japan. I think this type of music was already exported to overseas, though.
Lastly, thank you for your time. Do you have any closing thoughts for your overseas fans?
Yoko: I feel strange and really happy at the same time to know that there are people outside of Japan who know about us. I’d like to continue to create music, hoping to meet them in person.
Temma: URBANGARDE is the standard of J-Pop! Please listen more and more. Please get infected!
Shin: Thank you for finding URBANGARDE from all the many artists, as many as the stars!
Kei: I can’t wait to meet you all!!
URBANGARDE on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/urbangarde
Showa 90 (Regular Edition)
Showa 90 (Limited Edition)