Commercializing the underground

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A response to some things that people said.

Before I proceed to say what I wish to say, I just want to make a point that I have nothing against any of the groups or people mentioned in the following article. I actually enjoy a lot of them but I feel that what I’m about to say needs to be said because I don’t particularly like when people spread misinformation.

I recently came across a couple of articles that talked about an event called “Gyu-No IDOL War!” that happened about a week ago at Shinkiba 1st ring, a venue that I associate more with wrestling than idol shows. You should probably read the articles first and come back to this one, but basically it was an event catered towards so-called “pinchike” idol fans and was very light on typical venue rules and such.

To start with, I guess I should try to explain to people who might not know what “pinchike” means. Basically “pinchike” is a mostly (more on that in a bit) derogotory term in idol fan circles. “Pinchike” fans are often loud, rowdy and like to jump around during idol performances. Basically imagine the polar opposite of a 48G crowd and you’re probably thinking along the right lines. To the people who matter (promoters, venue owners, etc) they’re seen as a problem.

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Personally, I can see where the people with the money are coming from. In Japan especially, people don’t like to cause a fuss or have to face any kind of real confrontation unless it’s completely unavoidable. For a lot of these groups and their fans, causing a fuss and being in your face are what they’re setting out to achieve. It would then of course be logical that venues and promoters who just want to go to work, get paid and go home at the end of the night with as little fuss as possible would be against such antics.

On the other hand, why would you even go to a live music event of this nature if all you could do was stand there, wave light sticks and clap? I don’t know about you, but if those were the rules I’d rather just stay at home and watch a concert DVD. It’s pretty much the same experience (even with a better view perhaps) but I can also check my emails, work on my degree and not have to pay insane prices for alcohol. Maybe that’s just me though, I’m obviously not trying to speak for everyone here.

That’s all rather getting away from the points that I’m trying to make by writing this article though. There is an interesting narrative being told here and while not particularly malicious, I don’t think it’s being totally honest. Let me lay out some loose points and attempt to maybe read between the lines on some things.

So these articles I’m referencing (and nothing more) kinda play up this whole “rebel idol” movement I guess you’d call it. It’s not really anything new, a lot of people will tell you that BiS pioneered the genre but its been around forever if you knew where to look for it. If anything, you could say that being a rebel is actually pretty popular these days in the idol world. Perhaps almost too popular but more on that in a bit too.

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So we have this whole rebel idol thing with their “pinchike” fans who get a little bit fired up but are mostly harmless folk who just want to have a good time at a music show. That’s pretty cool man, I can respect that for sure. But really though, how do we make money from it?

What I’m about to say next is mostly speculation but I can say there’s probably at least some truth in it just going off of what I know about marketing and in particular the people managing these groups. That being said, if anyone would like to come forward to correct or challenge anything I say after this point, please do feel free to do so.

Okay, so we have this counter-culture thing and it has its fans, but a lot of people are doing that these days (as mentioned in the above articles) so how does any one group stand out from the crowd? Oh I’ve got it, we need to create headlines with a topic that speaks to our customers!

If you hadn’t heard, or read the above articles – Period of Plastic 2 Mercy performed at this year’s Tokyo Idol Festival. During one of their performances, member Kamiya Saki (ex-BiS) is alleged to have stage dived into the crowd. I say alleged because there’s not actually any photos or video of the event taking place. It’s all just word of mouth on social media, something I found odd at the time but even more so now. Surely there should be some evidence of the event, considering TIF themselves were filming most of the sets being performed.

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So apparently, TIF didn’t take too kindly to this stage diving stuff and kicked both POP and BiSH out of the event because they share the same management. That being said, BiSH didn’t seem to make that good of an impression either during their performance. As for POP, a few days later Saki was suspended after management made a pretty vague statement about something happening. This of course generated a modest amount of talk about both the group and the alleged event that’s supposed to have taken place.

Fast forward to “Gyu-No IDOL War!” and we see POP performing on a show where they, the other groups and the fans are all doing the sort of stuff that Saki has been suspended for. If that wasn’t enough of a mixed message, two days later the group post on Twitter that they’re banning all of the stuff they seemed to be okay with just 48 hours previously. Certainly both an interesting and rather perplexing timeline of events, I’m sure you’d agree.

So as we stand right now at the time of writing this, Saki is still suspended, POP apparently aren’t letting their fans do anything but stand with their hands in their pockets at their concerts and now the interesting narrative I mentioned earlier is starting to come to the forefront.

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This is how I see it, “pinchike” fans will now feel like they’re being treated unfairly by both group and venue management. They can’t do any of the stuff that they enjoy doing at shows so what now? Well, I think it’s fair to say that there is now a market for idol shows where there are fewer restrictions on audience participation. It’s just common sense here people.

These so-called “rebel” groups now not only have an even more hardcore audience but they’ve also managed to get people who probably haven’t even heard of them talking about them. That my friend is some pretty slick marketing right there. We can argue if the potential damage to their reputation and the potential consequences are worth it but the short term gains seem to be there at least.

The rest pretty much writes itself – put on more shows that appeal to the “pinchike” crowd, said crowd will obviously pay a bunch of money to go to said shows and buy drinks/merchandise/etc, pick up curious new people along the way, keep growing it and make a ton of money. Everyone wins! Right?

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Before I wrap up this interesting journey down the rabbit hole, it should probably be pointed out that none of these groups are really that “underground” as they, or others may claim them to be. I don’t think you can call yourself underground if you’re performing at huge events like TIF and ranking on Oricon regularly. If you’re truly an underground idol group, no one is writing about you and you sure as hell aren’t playing shows in front of hundreds of people.

Maybe that’s just the Punk kid in me though, I always did enjoy a good old fashioned show in someone’s sweaty basement. In any case, let me know what you thought about this. Do I have some valid points or is this some conspiracy level stuff? Leave a comment below.

Images from TGU, Pure Idol Heart, Twitter and Google.

About NSK

New School Kaidan is a community-focused website for the Japanese idol industry international fan base. Between podcasts, broadcasts, events, and analytic articles, New School Kaidan aims to bring an understanding of idol culture to the masses.

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2 comments

  1. Awesome, thought-provoking article. As usual.

    I had a thought today.. The modern day world makes it harder to be underground, doesn’t it? Truly underground, anyway. When I first stumbled into the JPop world in 2001, simply being into JPop was “underground” by western standards. You had to dig for it in the bowels of laggy, clique-driven, virus-filled IRC servers to find it. I’m sure the process used to be similar for the underground music world. But the Internet has evolved and now we’re all always connected to each other. Even so-called underground artists are all over Twitter. Are they truly underground? After visiting Japan, I wonder.

    I think when you go to Japan, Garry, you might see so much that you’ve never seen, that you never even knew existed that it might reveal that this stuff perhaps isn’t even underground, but maybe a better term for things like BiSH and POP are… counter-culture perhaps? Maybe not even *true* counter-culture, but accessible counter-culture. Counter-culture lite? I’m not sure what a good term for it would be. There really is a scene we gaijin fans never, ever see.

    In any case, any PR is good PR, and they’ve definitely got people talking with all this bizarre, flip-floppy behavior. I have mixed feelings on rowdy crowds, but then again until a few years ago I had never been to a concert, so I’m very inexperienced in the world of live music. The rules are ultimately for safety, but at the same time sitting on your hands is no fun either. It’s an eternal struggle for balance, I guess. I thought PARMS/Alice Project was rowdy at first but by the end of my trip I was a front-row participant, so yeah. I guess it’s all about following the lead of others because in the end, you either be a part of the rush or you be a part of the floor. lol

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