Female Japanese artists aren't all super-cute, rainbow-loving J-pop puppets. Charisma.com are dryly humorous and write flinty rhymes that are critical about society while being catchy and cool too.
Meet MC Itsuka and DJ Gonchi, AKA Japan's most furious duo . These feisty femmes make filthy electro-rap tunes on which Itsuka dismantles modern Japanese society with spiteful glee. They're the ultimate haters—but they have fun with it. Just check out the insane video for bouncing bitch-bomb “Hate” (above) and you'll see what we mean. Itsuka and Gonchi have been best friends since junior high, they formed Charisma.com in 2011, and started playing shows last year. Released this past July, their effortlessly aloof mini-album, I I Syndrome, set tongues wagging in Japan, where their don't-give-a-shit attitude and nakedly negative lyrics are the perfect antidote to their home country’s suffocating auto-politeness. Luckily, they're pretty friendly in person, as we found out when we met up after their recent album-launch party in Tokyo. Still wouldn't want to get in their bad books though...
Noisey: Itsuka, do people often tell you they find you scary?
Itsuka: Yes, lots of people find me scary. That's because I say what I really think, and most people keep it to themselves. But if you do that you'll never be close—you can only build up trust with someone if you're honest with them.
Gonchi: She is scary sometimes. I'm not the sort of person who can say what they think all the time, like Itsuka does. We're the opposite of each other. But yeah, sometimes she's scary—she tells me off all the time—but she's actually giving me advice, so I'm grateful for that. It's just the way she says it...
Did you start Charisma.com as a way to get all that stuff off your chest?
Itsuka: Yes, we've had that policy since the beginning. I used to write cutesy love songs—"I like you!" "I want to be with you forever!”—but I can't write songs like that anymore. Other people can do those songs better than me.
Do you think young Japanese people should be more pissed off in general? There's a lot to complain about right now, what with a useless government, nuclear-related cock-ups, a screwed up economy, spiraling birth rates, crazy long work hours, stuff like that. Why aren't more people angry at a time like this?
Gonchi: Even if they are angry, they can't say anything.
Itsuka: And why's that?
Gonchi: They're afraid.
Itsuka: Afraid of what?
Gonchi: If the other people around them don't agree with them...
Itsuka: They don't want to be disliked.
Gonchi: I think a lot of people keep their opinions to themselves in case people think they're wrong.
What's the song “Hate” about?
Itsuka: I noticed that certain types of girls overuse the word “kawaii” so much that it made me wonder, “Do you really find that cute?” If you use that word so easily, it's no longer a compliment worth receiving. I hate that.
Gonchi: Those girls just think calling everything “kawaii” makes them sound kawaii themselves.
"Lifefull"is about people who spend all their time looking at their phone, even on a date or whatever, and tweeting all the time. What pisses you off about that?
Itsuka: Oh, that comes from being on the train. You're on a crowded rush hour train and people are holding their phone in front of their face, taking up extra space. Everyone does it. Everyone's too far into their own little world.
Gonchi: Sometimes you see people using a full-size iPad on a train that's totally packed. It's like, really?!
But in the past people read broadsheet newspapers on the train. Isn't that worse?
Itsuka: Oh yeah, I guess when you look at it that way, it's not as bad. The phones are smaller at least. We'll cancel that song then.
Gonchi, you use Twitter though right? (She's at @gonchi_charisma)
Gonchi: Yeah, but never on a crowded train. It's great for finding information, but I don't understand people who tweet about their feelings, like, “I'm sad” or “I'm lonely.” Do they really want a bunch of strangers to read that stuff? I don't get it.
Photo: Viola Kam (V'z Twinkle).
Your song “Now” is about seizing the day, stop complaining, and getting on with it before it's too late. That's actually a positive message, and yet you still manage to make it sound bitchy. How do you do that?
Itsuka: Haha. Well, it is bitchy. When I see people who say they want to do something but never actually do it, I think, “Surely that means you don't really want to do it.” What a waste of time to procrastinate. It's better to just get on with it, make mistakes, and learn from them. A lot of people are like that.
Your biog mentions that you both work office jobs, which is something that most rising bands tend to cover up.
Itsuka: At first we thought it would be more interesting to mention it, but now we find it a bit embarrassing, because it's perfectly normal to have a job really.
You write a lot of lyrics complaining about your colleagues. They must hate you when they hear those songs.
Gonchi: Recently they've started to notice!
Itsuka: I just changed jobs, so I haven't written about my new colleagues. But some of the staff there told me they'd heard our music, and they said they could sympathize. I was happy about that.
Gonchi: I don't write the lyrics, so my colleagues just assume Itsuka is talking about her own workmates, not mine, haha!
“OLHero” is also a positive song, standing up for the OLs (office ladies) who put up with shit at Japanese companies.
Itsuka: A friend of mine built up so much stress and she had no way to let it out. She’s a hard worker, but her salary is not as high as the others around her because she's not a suck-up like them. That made me mad, so I couldn’t help spitting about it.
Photo: Viola Kam (V'z Twinkle).
How do you relieve that everyday stress yourselves?
Itsuka: I sometimes make a sudden trip to an onsen [hot spring]. And sleep is great: you can forget pretty much anything if you get a good night’s sleep.
Gonchi: I like to go to the top of Tokyo Tower and check out the view.
What about cute stuff? How do you react when you see a kitty-cat, or a baby, or a beautiful rainbow?
Itsuka: Oh, I don’t care. If I see a cat I’m just like, “Oh, a cat.”
Gonchi: I have a dog; I think dogs are cute.
Itsuka: I have a dog too. Even then I just think, “Oh, a dog.”
Gonchi: I think little babies are cute.
Itsuka: If a baby does something amusing, then I think that particular baby is amusing, but I don’t consider all babies cute by default.
Daria and Itsuka hanging out with a raw prawn in her mouth.
That’s pretty severe. Itsuka, do people ever tell you you look like Daria? I thought that and then I found someone had tweeted a picture they’d made of you as Daria, so I guess I’m not alone.
Itsuka: I saw that on Twitter. But I’ve never seen Daria.
Daria looks like Itsuka and her attitude is pretty similar too.
Itsuka: I’ll look it up!
How did you end up with the name Charisma.com?
Gonchi: Itsuka’s friend kept telling her she was charismatic, so we chose “charisma.” We thought “.com” was the signifier for a company [like LTD], but we were mistaken!
Itsuka: Haha. We’re still dealing with that mistake.
It’s a nightmare to Google that name. And it's not even your URL—it leads to some weird religious website.
Itsuka: Oh, really? That’s pretty cool.
“Hate” complains about girls who are obsessed with fashion. But you guys are pretty snappy dressers.
Itsuka: Thanks! I like fashion. But I don’t dress up in order to make people tell me I’m kawaii. I just like to wear clothes I like. So it’s a bit different.
Gonchi: Do most people buy fashionable clothes just to have people tell them they’re cute?
Gonchi: Wow, I always thought it was about self-satisfaction. Looks like I was wrong!
Do you think most Japanese women spend too much time thinking about fashion?
Itsuka: They don’t even think about it at all. They just copy whatever clothes their favorite celebrity wears. There’s no thought involved. If people thought more about what kind of clothes they like, there would be more variety in the shops and more cool looking people around.
You have great videos. “Hate” is amazing, with Gonchi murdering all your backing dancers with an axe. And you shot the video for "George" in a karaoke booth.
Gonchi: Yeah, we just snuck in and shot it secretly.
Was the British royal baby named after that song?
Itsuka: Haha, that announcement was a surprise!
Gonchi: Our song came first, so...
Hopefully Prince George will grow up to be a Charisma.com fan.
Itsuka: I guess. But that song is quite negative, so he might get upset with us, haha! “George” sounds like the Japanese word “jouji,” like a robotic person who doesn’t think for themelves. He’s still just a baby, so I hope he doesn’t turn out like that, haha.
What would you do if you were invited to perform at Buckingham Palace for the prince?
Itsuka: I’d ask him to sing along.
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