A Eulogy to Dots

Sudden announcements have apparently become a thing in the Japanese shoegaze scene.  Late last night, polarizing Japanese shoegaze idol group Dots (・・・・・・・・・) announced via Twitter that its final one-man live will be held in March, eliciting a wide range of responses from its substantial fan base.  The reasons for the breakup – or perhaps more appropriately, indefinite hiatus – aren’t totally clear at this point.  Since forming a little less than three years ago, Dots has emerged as one of the most popular bands in Japanese shoegaze, thanks in large part to its over-the-top live performances.


I first heard of Dots around the fall of 2016 when kiiro records boss Tsuji was getting ready for his first Chiba Shoegazer event.  None of our group of event organizers had ever heard of them, and the mini festival would be their official launching point.  The idea of a 9-person shoegaze idol group was a complicated one.  One one hand idol music has a very deserving reputation as exploitative and creepy – the Maho Yamaguchi story is just the most recent reminder of the dark side of the industry.  The idea of it infiltrating a scene that I had grown so close to was honestly a little troubling.  Dots wasn’t the first idol group to cross over into the genre, but it was the first to make that crossover its central theme.

On the other hand, there was some intrigue as the group was getting ready to get rolling.  The group was mysterious.  Each member took the stage wearing a visor, dressed in white dresses, and dancing almost intentionally awkwardly over blaring gazey pop tunes.  Again, the whole “alt idol” (eh…) thing was well-established by this point, but there was at least something consistent about what Dots was doing.  And as if the whole concept of a shoegaze idol group wasn’t weird enough on its own, the stretches of harsh noise and random cutting and eating of cabbage mid-set gave Dots the “weird Japan” push that would attract a sizable crowd of Japanophiles overseas, making Dots possibly the most popular Japanese shoegaze act on the planet.

I’ve been able to see Dots live a few times, and there’s always been this sense of conflict.  The music is actually pretty good, all things considered.  For Tracy Hyde’s Azusa Suga, who for my money is one of the best songwriters in the Japanese indie music scene right now, has contributed a number of songs – not surprisingly, Dots’ best material.  While there music is at times the sort of paper thin, overly cute stuff you might expect from an idol group, enough of their catalog is well-written and fun.  The group’s live performances are outrageous and the energy is always high, credit for which is due to Dots’ loyal, seemingly entirely male fanbase that travels well and has each song’s choreography and call and response interjection’s down to a T.  The performances are incredibly entertaining spectacles that make you forget momentarily that idol groups are essentially collections of cute, young girls controlled by men for the sake of men.

Despite my apprehension about idol culture, the industry is an important, albeit tragic, part of Japanese music culture.  This has been the strongest half-decade in the history of Japanese shoegaze and Dots has been a significant part of the scene’s canon.  The girls themselves have simply been doing what they want to do, and while we can look to deeper statements that may make about Japanese society, if we come at this from a purely musical or entertainment standpoint, the group has been a success and has gotten shoegaze gig-goers in the country to stop just standing there.

Whether this breakup is a long-term thing remains to be seen.  The announcement was followed up by a super vague blog post that didn’t do much to shed any light on the situation.  Dots has a Total Feedback appearance at the end of this month that will almost certainly be packed – Spool and Dots have been two of the event’s largest draws in recent years – and then the aforementioned final one-man in March.  If I was interested in betting, I’d wager that we’ll see more from Dots in the future.  The whole thing has gone way too well to this point, and even if Dots doesn’t eventually come back, they’ve shown that the idea of a shoegaze idol group can be successful.

 

Hitori Pale – “SPiRAL”

Nagoya’s Hitori Pale flew under even the local radar this summer when the young three-piece released its debut track “SPiRAL” on Soundcloud.  An introductory track, “SPiRAL” is a bit rough around the edges in terms of sound quality, but the song has really grown on me since I first gave it a listen.  Musically, this is another track that feels like it would have held up well in the early 2010s, reminding me a bit of former Osaka shoegaze mainstays EUPHRATES with the dramatic, soaring chorus.  The vocals are the most unique bit, and while I am not the biggest fan of vocals being so present in the mix, there’s something really dramatic about the vibrating melancholic wailing in this track that combines well with the warm, fuzzy textures and gloomy chord progressions to really hit the spot.