Otakon 2008 came and went, and those of us on the JrockRevolution.com staff who got to attend would like to thank everyone who came to our panels and events to say hello. We’ll have more from Otakon for you guys soon, but in the meantime we thought we’d write up a con report. There’s a photo gallery on the second page—don’t miss it!
Interview and panel notes—by Maria
The first two interviews were with DaizyStripper and MarBell on Saturday morning just before the noon panel. DaizyStripper has really skyrocketed in popularity (they hit #1 on the Oricon indies charts recently) in their relatively short career and they are real devotees of the VK scene. They were really excited about playing the U.S. so soon after their band launched, were very lively and animated during the interview in general. I can see them being very appealing to the U.S. jrock scene as they are a colorful group that aims to mix the sweet with the sexy—hence their name: DaizyStripper.
MarBell was an interesting interview as well. The band is very new, they’re still forming their identity but the vocalist Mar has a very strong personality; she calls herself the Queen of Jrock and isn’t afraid to say she’ll be as tough as she needs to be to tell the world her message. She comes across as very elegant and neo-gothic, and she knows she’s a novelty as one of the few female jrock vocalists out there so she is very ambitious. You can tell she really hungers for success and is the lynch-pin of the group.
The third interview was with the Underneath. We’ve spoken with them a number of times before so I followed up with them on a number of points from earlier interviews that we did during/around RTOC and asked about their experience at the hide memorial summit. I think fans will be very interested to hear what they had to say about their return to Japan and their ambitions for more shows in the States.
The "Future of Jrock" panel was a really worthwhile experience, we had a very engaged audience, standing-room only with a little over 100 people in attendance. Members of DaizyStripper, MarBell and the Underneath were all present, and they said they were really impressed by how seriously American fans take their work. Yaz would ask a question of the panel and we’d briefly respond and then things would be turned over to the audience. We heard a lot of feedback on online jrock communities (people use community-based tools to get information, some audience members wanted to see more jrock-related podcasts and not just streaming radio).
When JRR was introduced to the audience we got a lot of applause, I think mainly because we have really worked hard to create such a strong community. Many people came up to me after the panel to talk to me personally about how glad they are that JRR is around and how glad they were to see we were at Otakon.
Street Team—by JaNaye
Having our "Awesome 15" Otakon Street Team members there with us was really great. Their dedication and determination to reach out to as many of the attending crowds as they could, their enthusiasm and excitement was never ending! During the Industry panel they were right there, passing out fliers with huge smiles on their faces (that could have also been because of the artists who where there), and almost all of them attended the Jrock Revolution panel, enjoying themselves as they talked, laughed, and played JRR Jeopardy to win prizes.
Even at the concert, when they could have only listened to the bands, a Street Team member brought her professional camera to assist us in taking press pictures of the bands!
At the end of the weekend, it was great to hear how much they enjoyed the panels and had an amazing time helping us out and talking to hundreds of people, which led them to make lots of new friends. After it was all over, a few of the members thanked us again through posts on the forum and let everyone know much fun they had at the convention and assisting on the Otakon Street Team.
The Concert—by Alissa
Otakon in Baltimore, Maryland has been around for over a decade now with over 26,000 people in attendance for 2008 that’s 3,500 more then 2007 and rapidly growing each year. The convention has had a long and illustrious history of bringing over many exciting Japanese musical guests, but it has only been within the past couple of years that the convention has started doing concerts on Sunday, the last day of the con. Traditionally, Sunday has been the day where things slowly wind down and con-goers take stock of the weekend’s events and loot and pack up their things. Keeping this in mind, I was a bit unsure what kind of crowd the Sunday Jrock concerts would draw: would fans still be pumped, or would they have run out of steam by Sunday afternoon? Would they even show up, or would the concerts be forgotten in the craziness of hotel check-out lines?
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried at all; Jrock fans have once again proven that their loyalty and enthusiasm for seeing their favorite bands live knows no bounds. Hall D, where the concerts were scheduled to take place, was an incredibly large room, and nearly 1,000 excited fans were eager to rock out to some great music. You would never have guessed that most of the audience had been running around the convention center for two full days already—more than that in the case of those attendees who’d arrived on Thursday evening. This was definitely the moment these fans had been waiting for all weekend and they were pumped up.
DaizyStripper was the first band to perform. Still a relatively new visual kei band, this group has nevertheless received a lot of attention recently in Japan, even performing at the hide Memorial Summit on May 3rd. Their brand of infectiously catchy and energetic rock proved to be the perfect opener to get the crowd even more pumped. You’d never have guessed this was their first show in the U.S., considering the overwhelmingly positive and engaging response from the audience during their set!
As an extra treat for the audience, after each band member came onstage one by one and showed off their intricate and colorful costumes, they pulled off their custom-made jackets and threw them into the crowd, giving a few lucky fans very, very cool—and generous—souvenirs. Nothing seemed to phase the band’s positive attitude, even when they had to deal with a few "technical difficulties," such as guitarist MAYU’s spectacular fall after tripping over an errant mic cable. As expected, he bounced back up immediately, seemingly none the worse for wear and just as energetic as ever.
For their debut US live performance, DaizyStripper was incredibly engaged with the audience and the crowd loved them right back—enough that Otakon staff had to repeatedly push people back towards their seats, as everyone kept trying to move forward so as to gain a better view and more dancing room. Near the end of their set, vocalist YU-GIRI led the crowd in a resounding chant of "Daizy!" with the audience shouting back "Stripper!" on cue. It’s safe to say that this band has managed to solidify a very positive reputation for itself here in the States.
The second band to perform was MarBell. Also having played at the hide Memorial Summit and making their US debut here at Otakon, MarBell differs from the other two bands in one very major way: both the vocalist, MAR, and the bassist, AZUSA, are women. MAR is definitely not your typical female frontwoman; although her pale skin, long black hair and full-length, hooded gothic coat give her a look reminiscent of Amy Lee of Evanescence, Mar set out to prove that she has a not-quite-so-serious personality completely independent of her "look," starting with the impromptu silly dance she treated the audience to during the band’s sound check.
The band’s look is quite gothic, and the sound is darkly melodic as well; visiting the band’s Myspace page, you can see a lot of Western influences—such as Marilyn Manson, Paramore, (yes) Evanescence, and even such unexpected names as Daft Punk and Madonna—listed alongside other Japanese bands. It’s hard to pinpoint a "genre" for MarBell’s music, as the rather eclectic list of influences would suggest, but whatever you might call it it’s definitely an original sound, and MAR puts her all into the performance, her powerful voice and unabashed dancing showing her passion for the band’s music.
Completely unconcerned with what might be considered "appropriate" behavior for a band’s frontwoman—and for an all ages show, for that matter—over the course of their set MAR called herself a "bitch" and her bandmates "assholes," kissed her bassist, jumped off the stage and into the crowd, mimed doing some rather obscene things with the microphone, and to top it all off, turned around, bent over, and flashed everyone in the audience—twice. It was definitely one of the more entertaining sets I’ve seen in awhile, and regardless of people’s personal opinions about such antics it’s somewhat refreshing to see a band that knows how not to take themselves too seriously while still playing great music at the same time.
After an incredibly long wait-time between bands during which the crowd got more and more loudly impatient with each passing minute, the main event finally arrived: the triumphant return to the States of the Underneath. It seems their participating in the nationwide Rockstar Taste of Chaos tour earlier this year has helped them gather quite a name for themselves with the U.S. Jrock fanbase—and after playing for so long as Transtic Nerve before reforming to become the Underneath, this talented powerhouse of a band deserves every ounce of the wide recognition they are finally getting.
The Underneath’s set list was as follows:
3. FAT FATTY F***IN’ PIGS
-Changing scenes in the dark-
7. ALONE TOGETHER
8. GETTING CLOSER
9. BITE THE BULLET
10. WOMB IS PLANET
Dressed all in black, the band put on an incredibly powerful performance; song after song of intense hard rock blasting into the crowd. TAKA was a strong and commanding presence at the front of the stage, and he made a point to interact with the audience as much as possible, playing crowd favorites and taking breaks between songs to talk to everyone in slow but steady English.
During one MC session he announced to everyone, "This is our first time at Otakon, it’s a great event and we’re proud to share this experience with you," prompting massive cheers from the audience, which became even louder when he ended the speech with, "I have one question…do you wanna rock??!" The resounding answer from the crowd was yes, and once again Otakon staff were forced to line up in front of the first row to keep the audience from surging towards the stage, moshing in the aisles, and standing on the—admittedly not very rock’n’roll—chairs for a better view. There was so much headbanging going on it’s a wonder most of the crowd even saw any of the performance! And of course, the screaming and cheering never stopped for an instant between songs, and even continued during songs.
The band matched the audience in their intensity, feeding off everyone’s energy and pouring their hearts out into the music. Taking a cue from MAR, at one point bassist RYO leaped offstage and into the cheering crowd, playing all the while. At the end of the second to last song, TAKA fell to the stage as he finished singing and had to take a moment to catch his breath before getting back up, shouting "We love you Baltimore!" and launching into their final song of the night.
Despite the nearly 2.5 hour long event and the 2+ days of con-going most of the audience had already endured, let’s not forget that the bands themselves also went through a whirlwind of panels, interviews, signings, and rehearsals during the course of the Otakon weekend, and it seems both the crowd and the bands were determined to make the weekend go out with a bang. The energy level throughout the three sets never waned for an instant, each song more powerful than the last until the very end. All in all, a very satisfying concert experience for everyone involved. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end Otakon ’08.