Hatsune Miku and Anamanaguchi: Too Real For Reality at Hammerstein Ballroom
    • TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2016

    • Posted by: Alexander Spruch

    When discussing hologram performers most people evoke the memory of Tupac at Coachella or Michael Jackson at the Billboard Awards. To a different audience these mainstream performances are nothing more than a novelty, not unusual nor interesting. Many of the latter line of thought are gathered at Hammerstein Ballroom, wearing outfits and clothing that scream Anime. They are all here for the same purpose -- to see hologram performer Hatsune Miku. Miku for short, she was originally designed as a persona for a singing synthesizer program by the Japanese company Crypton Future Media. Since her humble roots as a synth character, Miku has gone on to do car commercials, open for Lady Gaga, sell out Japanese arenas, and now shes come to America for her biggest tour yet.

    If the audiences outfits didnt give their excitement away, the smiles and constant laughter before their 3D idol appeared on stage cemented how they were feeling. I walked around Hammerstein Ballroom and from a brief glance I could group the crowd into two distinct categories: the aforementioned overjoyed Miku worshippers, and those brought to the venue by proxy. The former group were often dressed from head to toe in Miku apparel and could be found on the massive line for the merch booth hoping to obtain some new pieces from this years offerings. The other group usually had their arms crossed and a stern look on their face that seemed to communicate: what did I get myself dragged into?

    New to the tour is opening act, Anamanaguchi, an electronic band formed in New York that is known for employing retro video game sounds in the creation of their music. Their addition to the tour is a smart choice, Mikus fans overlap with video game fans to which Anamanaguchis music natively appeals to. They also both share a common misconception in that when someone listens to either parties music they would assume that their music was born on a laptop and would die there. Anyone who has see Anamanaguchi live in the past knows that this is not the case and this notion is quickly dispelled as they take to the stage and equip themselves with the traditional rock instruments that we are all familiar with.

    The band came out at full force and did not waste a minute of their tight setlist, playing hits such as Endless Fantasy and Meow right out the gate. Fans welcomed the band with spread arms, using the bright green glow sticks that have become a trademark for Miku shows to bounce up and down in rhythm to Anamanaguchis sounds. While the role of the opening act has often been delegated to getting the crowd into the mood, that was not the case tonight. The audience wholly embraced the band and wasted no time in becoming a part of the music.

    After Anamanaguchi left the stage there was a short intermission and then Mikus band took position. When all was set a screen at floor level center stage came to life and played a lengthy stylized introduction sequence that resulted in the awaited appearance of Miku. She renewed the crowds energy with a brief hello and then got right into her set. One thing I did not know going into the show was that you dont just see Miku perform during her set, but you see a variety of digital characters in her family with their own music and special effects. One of the coolest looking effects came from a schoolboy dressed in an all yellow school outfit named Kagamine Len, who had the stage effect of creating duplicates of himself as he danced. If this wasnt about an hour into a set that included hologram angels ascending toward the Heavens, I most likely wouldve found a schoolboy forming his own dance troupe with clones of himself more surreal than I did.

    Near the end of the set Miku brought on Anamanaguchi to perform their new collaborative song aptly named Miku. Excited to see it live as I loved the song when it debuted online two days prior to the show, I couldnt help but be blown away by the performance. I dont know if the general populace of America is going to welcome the idea of hologram performers with open arms, but maybe a meeting in the middle of the road between the two camps of holograms and traditional bands is the answer. Either way, Miku already has a solid enough of an audience to warrant a yearly US tour, and if youre curious at all about seeing her I would heartily recommend attending Miku Expo 17.

    I was fortunately granted the opportunity to talk to Anamanaguchi (Peter Berkman, James DeVito, Luke Silas, and Ary Warnaar) before the show about working with Miku and the process of collaborations.

    AS: Thank you very much for doing this. So, to get things started, how did the collaboration with Miku come about?

    Peter: They reached out to us shortly after a concert we did with Porter Robinson, they were apparently there, later on sent an email and started skyping, and weve been fans of Miku a long time. Some people on their team had been fans of ours it was very much some mutual admiration going. We were very much eager to put as much as we could into a collaboration with Hatsune Miku.

    AS: How is working with Miku on this tour compared to working on your solo tour or other tours in the past? How is this show prepared differently than your own shows?

    Luke: Its very thought out. Very regimented. Regimented may be a strong word. But like the attention to detail and everything, theres nothing spared There very much on top of something where we always might not be.

    Its been a funny juxtaposition, weve been playing our own headlining shows in-between. Well play major cities like San Francisco, Seattle, LA, but in-between do our own shows. I mean, its a different experience, we have to interact with it differently.

    Peter: With these shows you have to imagine a virtual popstar there, and with our shows we dont.

    AS: Was that a hard adjustment to make? Did you have to learn any choreography?

    Peter: (Laughs) No. Our own shows might be better if we learned some choreography. We got to program our own choreography actually, Luke programmed it for our song actually that came out with Miku.

    Luke: If you watch that song, and watch her dancing, you could imagine me if you wanted to. Theres a video of me doing it on a flash drive, I know exactly where it is.

    AS: Music video?

    Luke: I want to do a .gif with me juxtaposed on her. Lots of Meme-potential. Thats another difference, at our shows youll see me dancing where here I dont want to steal her thunder.

    AS: Speaking of the song, were there any guidelines? Could you not do certain things or was it free reign?

    Pete: Not for the song. Miku is very much about being an open platform, a source really that could have multiple, multiple, infinite outlets. Shutting off any of those outlets would be against Mikus existence. Plus, we didnt really set out to write anything that would be offensive.

    Luke: There was no iconoclastic intent. We just wanted to make something cool.

    AS: Did the few vocal tracks you put out on Endless Fantasy (Anamanaguchis last album) help with this one?

    Pete: I think that what helped us more than that was programming chiptunes and trying to make square waves as expressive as possible. Because working with Hatsune Miku is a lot more like trying to make squarewaves expressive than recording a singer in a bedroom or studio or something. So yeah, in that way we were prepared very nicely for that challenge.

    AS: Scott Pilgrim the game is disappearing from being available, how do you feel about your music being harder to find?

    Pete: I think its funny when companies take things down, because that seems to be happening a lot now. Theres a lot less things and a lot less ways to get things.

    Luke: Yeah, it sucks. Its a good game.

    Pete: Good graphics, 10/10.

    Luke: Yeah you got the graphics, but you got to have the gameplay. 10/10

    AS: Sound design helps too.

    Luke: Yeah but I think thats part of the gameplay.

    Pete: I think Sound Design is part of the graphics.

    Luke: This is where we butt heads a lot, is music graphics or gameplay?

    Ari: Its like everything else, you produce a physical quantity of something and then you run out of it.

    Pete: But thats how things work physically. Its not really using the potential of the digital distribution model.

    Luke: Its the same reason why people are selling PS4s with PT on it for hundreds of dollars.

    Ari: Its what they did with Beanie babies when they retired them.

    AS: Was that collaboration comparable to the one with Miku?

    Pete: When youre writing music for something, a lot of ideas come pre-loaded before you ever sit down to write a note. Scott Pilgrim is inbued with a whole lot of things, character, storyline, settings, so sitting down to write Scott Pilgrim the goal is to be as close to the role as possible.

    To just live in that world, I would say the exact same thing is true of writing for Hatsune Miku. There are a variety of songs weve written, some of them work for Hatsune Mikue, some dont. Some need tweaking and massaging so they feel like they fit in to the world. We have a long appreciation of soundtrack music and that kind of tradition, in a lot of ways writing for Hatsune Miku is like writing soundtrack music like Scott Pilgrim was.

    AS: Thoughts on the explosion of chiptunes? The genre is much bigger than it was when you first started.

    Luke: Is it? I dont know man, obviously it has to gain popularity in terms that there will always be more people getting into to it. But at the same time, that community has dwindled a bit for a myriad of reasons. Like decentralization and major events have died down and in place smaller events have started to come up. It makes it more difficult for people to attend in a meaningful way, 'I can go to this but I cant go to this makes it impossible for it to scale up in the way or size of something like Blipfestival several years ago.

    Pete: I think chiptune music is a lot less important than what chiptune represents.

    Luke: Yeah, I definitely would agree to that.

    Pete: Could you define what you mean by the 'explosion of chiptune music'?

    AS: What Im referring to in relation to video games, indie games have blown up and a large number of them employ chiptune music.

    Luke: A vast majority of them employ that aesthetic in general. Just a lot of what people would consider retro-inspired things. But that doesnt always adhere to a lot of things. Richard Vreeland, a chiptune artist, Disasterpeace, has been involved in a lot of projects. Theyre all amazing, truly fantastic, but in the same way his music is and isnt chiptune music. It uses the sounds and pallete but that isnt the focus of what he does. In the same way these games arent saying 'hey were going to make this new old game. Its the same thing as the idea of post-rock, re-contextualation of these elements into something thats bigger than the sum of its parts.

    AS: Last question. Anything fans of bands should be looking forward to?

    Luke: Were writing, working on music.

    Pete: I suggest looking backwards from the day this is published and checking out our song Miku.

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