Hey gang! Brian over at Supreme Nothing may have an even deeper love for the enigmatic Dots than I do, and we got to chatting about this last week; the below is the result of his investigation into how this beautiful madness comes about. Remember to check out Brian’s other stuff, including playing ringleader for some of our more ambitious games, over on his site!
Shoegaze was the term coined for a sub-genre of postmodern bands, initially from the UK region, who played gorgeous, multi-layered rock with distorted guitars, obscured vocals and a dreamy quality that swept you up in emotions. The bands tended to let the music do the talking, so they often maintained a detached demeanor, rarely making eye contact with the audience. In other words, they gazed at their shoes as they played.
In the 90’s, bands like My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Ride and Slowdive enjoyed a rocketing burst of success worldwide. Some of the bands broke up, and others like MBV just sort of retreated away and were assumed by many to be done. In the last few years, all of these bands have been warmly welcomed back, some with new material and sold-out shows. Shoegaze is back once again in the West.
Meanwhile in Japan, it never really ended. This whole time there’s been a multitude of beloved shoegaze, dream pop and post-rock bands keeping that melancholy and dreamy torch lit. In fact, Japan has one of the best shoegaze scenes worldwide. Running parallel to this is an exploding scene of new independent pop idol groups who actively seek out experimentation with other styles in their quest to attract a piece of the wota pie. And that’s what brings us to our elusive subject at hand …
The quirky enigma that are the Tokyo shoegaze idols known simply as “. . . . . . . . .” (Dots) is the best-kept mystery in the pop underground right now. These girls sprung onto the highly crowded niche idol scene and instantly endeared themselves to many of us. But from the get-go, there have been far more questions about them than answers.
They clearly keep very busy, consistently playing shows, maintaining an active Twitter account, and uploading daily vlogs on YouTube along with plenty of live footage. But for all this presence they maintain, they still somehow manage to tell us essentially nothing about themselves. Who are they? What motivated them? What are their ultimate idol career goals? Myself and others have been eating up everything we can find on the Dot girls, but we’re still no closer to definitive answers on anything. For us Western fans, it’s both exciting and utterly maddening.
So a nice bit of fortune came my way via an FB group dedicated to the Japanese shoegaze scene. Through the group, I came into contact with Azusa Suga, guitarist/songwriter for the brilliant Tokyo-based shoegaze/indie pop band For Tracy Hyde. Azusa, I learned, has written a couple of songs for this strange and wonderful group of young ladies! At last, after digging around the web and making wild speculations, perhaps I’d finally scored a peek behind the curtain, and, if nothing else, perhaps a glimpse into their musical sources. I contacted Asuza, and was greeted by a friendly gentleman who kindly agreed to attempt to answer some questions about an idol group coming from a Western fanboy with an interest in the weird side of pop music. It al isso fitting to mention that he also happens to play in a fantastic band that deserves all your attention!
One thing Azusa told me right off the bat: Although he’s written songs and played shows for them, the group remains a big mystery to him. “I still haven’t seen any of their faces.”, he laughed, and told me that he was uncertain how much insight he could truly provide. With this understood, I submitted some questions to him, and here’s what he had to say:
What’s the name of the song(s) you wrote for Dots? And did you compose the music only, or both music and lyrics?
AZUSA SUGA, FOR TRACY HIDE: So far I’ve written two songs for them, “スライド (Slide)” and “ソーダフロート気分 (Soda Float Kibun),” which are yet to be released in CD format. For both songs, I wrote the music, the lyrics and the arrangements altogether. I’ve also recorded/programmed all the instruments with the exception of the sax in “ソーダフロート気分.” This is the typical way of business for Dots contributors.
Are the songs similar to your work with For Tracy Hyde, or would you say it’s a different feeling?
The difference between my work with For Tracy Hyde and my work with Dots is subtle, but it definitely is there. I guess I feel more free to be straightforward and try out J-Pop clichés with the latter.
How did you end up doing this? Were you aware of them before their debut late last year?
I don’t recall knowing of them before their debut. When FTH were offered to play at the first Chiba Shoegazer gig (which we unfortunately had to decline) by Tsuji from Kiiro Records, Dots were on the lineup, and Tsuji briefly mentioned that they were recruiting songwriters and interested in hiring me. Seeking for opportunities to contribute songs to other artists and build up a career, I contacted them ASAP.
Are you aware of any of the other musicians from other bands working on things with the group?
Mr. (Seiko) Kinugasa from the Kyoto-based indie rock band My Letter has contributed a song. ”文学少女 (Bungaku Shojo)”* Note: There are other writers/bands involved, but in keeping with Dot’s secretive ways, we agreed that we should not mention them unless they’ve been publicly acknowledged.
Does the group seem to be attracting primarily stereotypical idol fans, or are shoegaze fans who normally pay no attention to idols also coming out to see them?
Their fanbase seems to be predominantly ye olde idol crowd (which shouldn’t be disdained at as some of those guys actually have an astonishing amount of musical knowledge). While they’re drawing attention from the shoegaze circle as well, the shoegaze guys are less outgoing and you wouldn’t expect to meet them at a Dots concert.
(A quick note here, this is something I’ve also come to recognize about idol fans I’ve encountered. Many of them do indeed possess a far wider interest in other forms of music than one might estimate. Wota are are not far removed from a lot of stereotypical “über music nerds” I’ve known in my life, myself included.)
I’m curious to know, do shoegaze fans seem to be openly embracing Dots as a legitimate indie-pop group in the shoegaze genre, or seeing them as an odd novelty?
I think their current evaluation is leaning towards the latter but there are people that acknowledge them for the quality of the songwriting. If me and other indie musicians continue to contribute stuff to them, I’m sure the situation will change quite a lot.
I know you said you still don’t know much about them as yet. Do Dots appear to be purposefully putting up the wall of mystery as part of their image, or are they just very new to all this?
The wall of mystery is definitely their own construction that they’re continuing to build up. The management is crazy about anonymity, experimentation, and whatnot. I’m sure I’ll still be saying “Well, I don’t know who they are…” next year.
Would you consider a collaboration with the group in a live setting? Have they experimented with working with a live backing band?
That’s something that both me and the management are interested in yet haven’t managed to realize yet. They did collaborate with a Japanoise guy though (if that counts as a live backing band). Since there are nine of them in their full formation, venues in which they can perform comfortably are very limited (hence only five of them perform at smaller venues), so it would be tough for both all nine of them AND a backing band to share the stage.
And there you have it, a (small) step towards a better understanding of the Dots enigma. While I’m still thirsting for more knowledge about the group, I have to say, there is a certain satisfaction on my part that Azusa could only only give me a few new nuggets of insight here. I’ve mentioned this before, and I believe I’ll stick to it when I say that I hope we never learn much of anything about Dots.
We live in this world now where everybody expects answers to everything. We’re currently getting flooded with film prequels/sequels to movies made 20 years ago to answer leftover questions that don’t require answers. TV shows with years of continuity issues promise to wrap up things up tidily when they reach their finale. Since when has real life answered all your questions? This is destroying our ability to allow our imaginations to fill in the blanks and explore within ourselves. Humans need some mysteries to keep our minds active and alive.
Thank goodness that . . . . . . . . . understand this.
I want to thank Azusa Suga for taking time to discuss his work with Dots with me. Once again, I greatly appreciate his kindness in answering my questions and being such an approachable fellow about it. Azusa’s band, For Tracy Hyde, is a great indie-pop treasure coming from a wonderfully vibrant music scene that warrants the attention of music lovers worldwide. More information and music is available below, so do yourself a big favor and dig in.
For Tracy Hyde:
And some lovely closing music….