The Japanese House That Felt Like Home – Gig Review by Gem Stokes

The Japanese House (Amber Bain) emerged under the hand (and continued production) of The 1975, and has bloomed into a fully-fledged indie superstar, filling the space with an ethereal stage presence. Emerging in a cloud of shoegaze-y vocals and diaphanous fog, the entire room was submerged in chaos the way that I love with artists that have a passionate following. Performing in a large venue, Bain doesn’t appear to lose the intimacy she possesses with smaller crowds, like during NME’s ‘Girls To the Front’ Shacklewell Arms show (pictured below).

The entire act was refreshingly unpretentious – but Bain definitely could be if she wanted to, with talent of her calibre. Simple staging and frequent blue-hued lighting was reminiscent of the album cover, reinforcing the notion that the performance was just one big synthy dream that Bain herself had orchestrated.

Despite loving Electric Ballroom’s history, I’m not a big fan of the venue (or the grotesquely inflated drinks prices), but the performance was definitely worth trekking to gentrified Camden for. Playing a mix of songs from four previous EPs and the freshly-released debut ‘Good at Falling’, Bain is ironically good at making you fall for her music. Dreamy pop is combined with layer upon layer of glittering synths and hip-swaying percussion, generating an equally poignant, yet comforting atmosphere that the sold-out venue inhaled and absorbed completely.

Although many of her songs are sonically upbeat, Bain manages to conceal dark, emo lyrics in melodies that sound even better when they’re being screamed by a fervent crowd. This is especially present in ‘You Seemed so Happy’, explained in a series about the album for Apple Music: “The whole point of the album is just me being really honest… Not really intentionally. But just for the hell of it.”

Poetic lyricism is something Bain does well throughout her entire discography, packaged in such a way that each listener can find something to identify with or enjoy. Perhaps the most alluring aspect of the performance, Bain’s capacity for vulnerability creates the safe space many fans long for, in a world where everything seems manufactured and without feeling.

The Japanese House at The Shacklewell Arms, 25/2/19

“I keep looking for something/Even though I know that it’s not there” and “instead I keep focusing/ On just how thin I can get” are some of my favourite lyrics of the album, featured in ‘Maybe You’re the Reason’ – making the song feel entirely approachable (a personal attack, if you will). The thirteenth song on the set-list and definitely one of my favourites to hear live: rhythmic percussion juxtaposes isolated moments of layered pitch-shifted vocals and strings; variations of catchy guitar almost distract from the emotive lyrics, until a fierce middle eight appears that would make even the most pretentious bar-leaner of an audience member, nod their head. Charming the crowd is something Bain excels in.

Despite not often interacting with the audience (which is something I’m usually not a big fan of at gigs), The Japanese House’s music tells its own stories. I daresay Bain’s narrative will develop and thrive as she inevitably progresses to headlining stadiums. I’ll be front row, singing my heart out.

See you there.

The Japanese House’s debut album ‘Good at Falling’ is out now.

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