Meet Bakubaku Dokin, the Weirdo J-Pop Duo Who Will Make Your Heart Go Boom
They sing about haircuts and meat, love The Spice Girls and Hanson, and want to bring their act to America.
Tokyo duo Bakubaku Dokin's name refers to the wild boom-boom of the heart, which is cool because that's how you'll feel about them too. Their new self-titled mini-album is their first proper release, and it is endearing, exciting, cute and grotesque in equal measure, mixing the pastiche-pop approach of Shibuya-kei with an art-pop sensibility and inspired rhymes about eating steak, going for a haircut and wanting to be a cyborg.
The duo, who rap and sing over eletronic tunes while dressed in their pajamas, got their start as guest vocalists on "Alien," a track by Deee-Lite's Towa Tei that soundtracked the equally odd PlayStation game "Touch My Katamari," and their early material was produced by DJ Fumiya from Japanese party hip-hop group Rip Slyme. Now they handle their own production and songwriting with Yui writing the songs and Naoko in charge of wardrobe.
I sat down with Yui and Naoko for strong drinks at a neat little postmodern bar in Tokyo called Shibuya Oiran. They speak like they’ve had helium for dinner, which is also how they rap, and they pepper conversation with infectious giggles as we talk symbolism, cannibalism, style and heavy crushes on 90s American pop stars.
Noisey: Bakubaku Dokin are far from your average band. You're kind of weird.
Yui: Haha, yes, everyone tells us that. And that's how we like it. I think we're normal ourselves, but we like weird stuff.
Naoko: For example, we like it when you can't tell whether someone is male or female or human or non-human. Those people make good friends.
Yui: I tend to be interested in things that are misunderstood by most people.
The recent video for your song "Kaizou Ningen (Cyborg)" is somewhat bonkers, with all that footage from gory B-movies hastily stitched together with epileptic neon GIFs and clips of alien autopsies.
Naoko: We have an artist friend called Ohitashi Anal (Boiled Anal), who usually makes paintings and videos, and we like his sense a lot so we just asked him to make us something crazy. It was actually more insane and grotesque at first.
Your songs are always about something interesting. Tell me about the song "Haircut."
Yui: That song is about how much fun it is to go get your hair cut! You come out of a hair salon with your hair all slick, which is fun. That's it!
There's a line in that song where you sing (in Japanese), "I want to get a big fluffy perm, but it doesn't look good on me." You sound so crestfallen and defeated, it's super-cute.
Yui: Yes, that's actually a true story – I tried to get a perm like that and everyone said it made me look like a little old lady. So I had to give up."
Naoko: It's that sense of uncertainty that makes going to the hair salon so much fun.
Really? I can't imagine anything more depressing than spending an hour or two at the hair salon only to come out with a terrible haircut.
Yui: Well, yes. Especially when you like the haircut yourself but all your close friends tell you it doesn't suit you.
How important is fashion to you?
Naoko: We used to try to be as original and eccentric as possible, but recently our focus is on more important things.
Yui: We play live in our pajamas and things like that. We keep it as relaxed as possible.
Naoko: Do you know Where's Waldo? She had pajamas that looked a bit like his outfit, with red and white stripes.
Yui: The back had stripes and the front had checks, haha. It's fun to wear weird clothes on stage, and hopefully it's fun for the audience to watch, too. Rather than frilly skirts or whatever, we want to show them the kind of things that appeal to us.
What's the story behind "Beefsteak?"
Yui: That song is about how delicious beefsteak is, haha. Eating beef gives you power. A big, thick chunk of steak just can't be beat.
How do you like it cooked?
Yui: Medium-rare. I want to see blood.
OK, I get it. I think it's pretty common for people to like steak. But to write a song about it?
Yui: Well, yes. I liked the way the words sound. Rather than the melody, it's the way the words sound when they're lined up. And then there's a quiet bit where we sing sweetly about wanting to become big and strong by eating meat, haha.
The first song on the mini-album is Bikkuri (Surprise), which is a total freakout of fuzz guitar samples and screaming and stuff. What's the song about?
Yui: That song is about how much fun it is to be surprised, haha.
I'm starting to notice a pattern here.
Naoko: Haha, right. Yui has a talent for choosing words that have a cool sound. They have a meaning too, but she pays close attention to how they sound.
The cool thing about that is it means your songs can appeal to people even if they don't understand Japanese. Do you hope to tour overseas someday?
Yui: We'd love to play overseas. I like the way Western musicians approach melody. It's different than in Japan, just like how the packaging on a product at a foreign supermarket is different from the packaging back home. I went to New York for three weeks to study, actually, and I went to all the clubs while I was there.
Naoko: I spent about six months in Boston, to learn English. In those six months I put on 8 kilos, haha. And I made a parody movie while I was there called Cyber Girls, because I was into the Spice Girls.
Yui: I was into Hanson. I wanted to marry Taylor. There's a really dope T-shirt shop on Nakano Broadway called Nakano Ropeway where I recently bought a T-shirt that had a big photo of Hanson when they were young, but underneath it says 'Nirvana.'
Ha, that's excellent. I once saw a guy in Shinjuku station with a Bob Marley T-shirt that said underneath, "Sid Vicious forever."
Naoko: I want that!
In "Beefsteak" there's a line about wanting to marry an American. I bet some of our readers would happily take you up on that if you do go perform there.
Yui: Yes, well I wanted to marry Taylor from Hanson, haha. But if I married an American I'd be able to eat meat every day, so that's what that lyric is about.
But... You could eat meat every day even if you didn't get married, right here in Tokyo.
Yui: Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of that.
What are your live shows like?
Naoko: All the live footage of us on YouTube is kind of old, and we’re just on the mic, but these days also have instruments on stage. We have just enough gear that one of us can control it at a time and then we take it in turns to go to the front of the stage and mess up people's hair.
Yui: We don't talk much between songs, unless we're pretty drunk, and then we don't shut up.
Are you strong drinkers?
Naoko: We're pretty strong. I'll drink anything.
Do you often drink before a show?
Yui: Oh yeah, we drink. Sometimes the next day I don't remember playing the show. I have to get Naoko to control all the equipment because I'm too wasted. When I see clips from those shows it's like watching someone else.
Naoko: Alcohol helps us to bond with the audience, though, so when we play late-night parties we have a few drinks and the shows go great.
Are you working on a full album?
Yui: Yes, we've started making songs for an album. I think the songs will be catchy but also really dope. I want the songs to have a happy vibe but to have much heavier sounds and lots of samples. Something kinda weird but listenable. I think our songs "Beefsteak" and "Kaizou Ningen" are pretty twisted, but they're also accessible.
Does the new mini-album have an overarching theme?
Yui: Well, we might look strong, but we are both weak of spirit and body. I catch colds easily. So we often have lyrics about wanting to be stronger. I think all the songs on this minialbum are about becoming better in some way.
Sounds like you need to eat more meat after all.
Yui: Yes. In China, they used to say that if you beat someone stronger than you and then eat their flesh, you can absorb their power. I think that's interesting, and it's probably been a bit of an influence on me. The idea of eating meat to become stronger.
Whose flesh would you eat if you had the chance?
Naoko: Someone cool.
Yui: Yeah, definitely not someone lame. You'd become lamer.
Daniel is our expert Japanese pop culture. He's on Twitter - @ItCameFromJapan.