Japanese punks Otoboke Beaver find new courage in ‘Super Champon’ era: NPR
Once intrigued by the label, Accorinrin now proudly says: “I am a feminist”
Mayumi Hirata/Courtesy of the artist
Named after an Osaka love hotel, color-coded in tangy mini-dresses and inspired by an irreverent Japanese comedy, Kyoto-based Otoboke Beaver produces some of the fiercest and funniest punks in the world. decade. Formed in 2009, the quartet shouts vulgarities on supercharged sub-minute bursts, playing with the ferocity of Bastard, the attitude of Team Dresch and the richness of Number Girl.
The band’s debut album, 2019 Itekoma Hits, was the best-selling record on his label Damnably. In a translator-assisted video call, I asked singer Accorinrin if she expected this level of global response: “Not at all! It would be nice if we became famous in the Kyoto area, so we didn’t expect this global situation.”
Otoboke Beaver is referred to as a punk feminist, often by her own public relations, but she has expressed bewilderment at this label. In 2018, Accorinrin ignored questions about feminism, telling Japan Times, “I come [write] about how pissed off I am at my boyfriend, nothing bigger. “But in our interview, Accorinrin clarifies that she has since changed her position. In Japanese culture – not to mention the katakana syllabary – the loan word for feminist has a negative connotation. For Accorinrin, “feminist” used to connote a woman “who complains a lot, who harasses, who hates men.” In this sense, she was initially hostile to the label, but after touring abroad and experiencing its global meaning, she agrees: “I a m a feminist.” To that end, Accorinrin had always wanted to write the song “I’m Not Maternal” – a protest against Japan’s cultural pressure on women to start families – but didn’t feel like she had the courage until SuperChampion.
“Feminism is not the first thing they want to espouse,” adds Damnably label owner Janice Li. “It’s obvious in what they’re doing, but it’s not conscious.”
Indeed, an explicit goal of feminism would require more foresight than the hyper-presentity of Otoboke Beaver’s rushed and furious work allows – nothing seems planned or premeditated, other than the simple goal of having a good time. Lyrics sound holders SuperChampion feature stream-of-consciousness appeals: “I’m not motherly!” “I will not make a salad! “You’re not a hero, shut up the fuck up!” If it’s explicitly political, politics is less an invective than a funny rebellion against domesticity. On “I’m not kindergarten,” they shout, “I love dogs I love dogs I love dogs I’m delivering a puppy not a baby!” In response to lewd looks from older men, they shout, “Abso-f******-lutely you’re out of the question / So full of yourself, old dirty fart!”
These instances play into the same strain of irreverence we’ve come to expect from Itekoma Hits, but with some key post-pandemic changes. When they still had day jobs, they had markedly different personalities offstage. While some members were still open about the Otoboke Beaver, Yoyoyoshie hid her double life from her company whenever she had to take a day off. Accorinrin explains that she always had the impression of “pretending to be a serious, nice and wonderful worker in the office” and Hirochan did not talk much at all: “We were totally different.”
Following the success of their debut, the members were able to quit their day jobs and no longer had to turn down shows or cancel practices in favor of overtime. “We were able to practice a lot at the music studio,” Accorinrin explains, “so we think the sound has become tighter and more solid.” Leaving their jobs was less of a change than expected: “In terms of income, it’s really difficult. In terms of feelings, it has not changed at all. After their 2020 tours were canceled, they took the loss unflinchingly and spent a year playing frenetic hour-long live sets with no less energy. They entered the recording process with a studio album mindset. With the introduction of new drummer Kahokiss, they refer to SuperChampion as “season two” – the album hones the scorched earth fury of Itekoma Hitsbut Otoboke Beaver retains his sense of humor.
While Otoboke Beaver’s presentation is so colorfully front and center, they often act in direct contradiction to the expectations that come with it. Otoboke Beaver’s stage presence is heavily influenced by the manzai’s verbal comedy: in addition to traditionally punk antics like spitting and stage diving, they infuse humor with double talk and quick verbal interactions between the members. .
On “MOJO,” an ode to a TV show about unwanted women, Accorinrin yells “Farewell to the light of my youth / Farewell you are my VIP” in tribute to drama star Tetsuya Morita’s comedy. Bassist Yoyoyoshie, who is also the de facto designer of the band’s dynamic style, hosted the two music videos inspired by ’90s children’s cartoons for the record: “I’m Not Maternal” features the band members performing happy births reversed in a sea of placid middle-aged onlookers; for “I don’t want to die alone”, a scrawled woman writhes in loneliness under a Superchunk poster.
And when Damnably founders George Gargan and Janice Li recently got married, the sisters of South Korean label Say Sue Me wrote them a sweet twee ballad named “George and Janice” as a wedding gift. In contrast, Otoboke Beaver’s version of the same name is a 43 second starburst of screamed warnings about sugar and descriptions of the couple’s altercations and the ringing onomatopoeia of wedding bells: “Scary diabetes scary diabetes / We love George and Janice!”
With a punk so madly crazy, Otoboke Beaver approaches SuperChampion with conscious direction. Where electric beginnings were festooned with flings, breakups and violent threats to exes, the SuperChampion era pushes the boundaries of gender roles by affirming Accorinrin’s individuality. Early in Otoboke Beaver’s career, men joked that dating Accorinrin would ensure they were immortalized in song, so she grafted JASRAC, a copyright collection agency like ASCAP or BMI, into the object of a song’s affection rather than a boyfriend. “I don’t write songs about all the boyfriends,” she retorts. “My songs are not my Twitter or my journal.”
On SuperChampion, Accorinrin’s performance is still full of fury, and her lyrics are no less tumultuous, but she is firmly anchored in the first person: “I am a complicated woman! “I don’t want to die alone! When I ask about the difference between Accorinrin’s treatment of romance on Itekoma Hits and SuperChampion, she immediately turns to her group’s future in her response. “Before, I lived in love,” she says. “But now I have more experience and we play Otoboke Beaver for a living.”