The Italian Job: One Englishman’s First Idol Concert

Our story starts on the morning of the concert.  I had been doing a spot of sightseeing in Bologna…

“I don’t want to read about your sightseeing!  I want to read about the concert!”

Ah well, lets get that out of the way first.  Monster of Dolls was a great success and if they do it again, you should definitely go if you can.  Melon Batake a go go were absolutely amazing and, though I don’t really follow them closely, Ladybaby were enjoyably rocking, charming and engaging and JyuJyu went down a storm.  But I suck at describing music and performances[*] so what you’re getting is not a review as such, but the personal experiences of me, Chris, on not only my first interview assignment but my first actual idol concert.

Le Due Torri, Bologna

So yeah, I’d been doing some sightseeing.  Bologna has two tall medieval towers in the centre, both of them leaning because vertical architecture was seemingly not introduced to the Italian peninsula until the late Renaissance.  Tourists can go up the tallest one, though it’s a lot of stairs, but I was feeling fit and looking forward to the view.  I found the tower easily enough, due to it being a tower.  However, I could not gain entry since you needed to buy e-tickets online first or get them from the tourist office.  Since I’m a bit of a luddite, my phone is a Nokia 3310, the height of sophistication in the year 2000 but not really up to modern online purchasing, so I sought out the tourist office.  Despite the location of said office being denoted on the tower entrance and me being in possession of a map, I still managed to wander around in confusion for nearly an hour before I found the not-at-all-concealed tourist office and when I finally tried to purchase tickets there were none available for at least another hour.  Sadly I had run out of time and had a concert to get to.

I tell you this gripping anecdote because the tale of personal incompetence was to set a theme for much of the rest of the day.

The doors were due to open at three o’clock for the VIP ticket holders and I was to arrive at two to do interviews.  The venue was about 6 km from the city centre, where I had based myself and I had studied bus routes and timetables beforehand but was confused about where to buy tickets and where to catch buses from.  Monster of Dolls were running an eight-seater shuttle bus from the centre, which their website said would start from twelve, but they announced that morning it would start from one-thirty, possibly cutting it a bit fine.  Spying a train station on the map near to the venue, I decided the best thing to do was to head to the central station and catch a train.  So just after twelve I set out to do that.  But as I got near the station, a wave of panic swept over me – I realised I had absent-mindedly forgotten the event tickets!

Half an hour later, and in possession of the tickets, I arrived at the central station, which was rather busy.  Unlike in the UK where ticket machines will serve all destinations, you have to buy your ticket from the correct rail operator’s machine and after waiting in one wrong queue, I reached the correct machine at the second attempt only to be informed by it that there were no trains going that way in time.  Deciding against trying to locate the correct bus stop, I decided at that point to get a taxi, hoping I would be able to make myself understood to the driver.  However, my luck then took a turn for the better with the appearance of a guardian angel in a There There Theres T-shirt named Lorenzo.  He had spotted my bootleg Banana Monkeys shirt (designed by our very own Kerrie) and astutely ascertained my destination.  Since he spoke fluent English, I asked if he would be prepared to share a taxi.  He was going to his hotel first but agreed as it was on the way to the venue and he was able to tell the driver where to take me afterwards.  So it was that I finally arrived at the Monster of Dolls venue, an industrial warehouse where a dozen of so people were already milling around outside.

As it turned out though, I had actually got here 50 minutes before my scheduled time.  I decided to set out and find some lunch and came to a small shop about ten minutes down the road.  Italians seem to have weird crisp flavours like tomato or lime instead of sensible British flavours like prawn cocktail or pickled onion, but I eventually settled on some rather bland cheese flavoured crisps, a Mars Bar and a can of much needed energy drink.  Remember what I had for lunch, it is important.

Back to the venue in plenty of time, but two o’clock came and went and the doors remained shut.  I moved over to a side door where various staffers were occasionally going in and out.  They failed to understand me at first and thought I was trying to gain VIP ticket admittance and told me to wait until three but at the third attempt, I got someone to look at my press pass and was told to wait ten minutes.  It would take a lot longer than that.

In the meantime excitement was building.  More people were arriving and we could hear soundchecks from outside.  I was waiting by the side door and caught a glimpse of Soze from Melon looking out – my first sighting of an idol in the flesh!  Three very slick-looking Italian press men in waistcoats and bow ties and carrying expensive-looking equipment turned up and received embraces and handshakes from staff.  I had thought myself the fancy dan with my £30 voice recorder I had purchased especially for my interviews, but now I was feeling like an amateur writing for some web blog.  Fair enough though, because that’s exactly what I was.

At three, the journalists were warmly ushered in.  I rushed to squeeze myself behind them, jabbering that I had a press pass too and had been told I could come and interview the idols.  A huge and very Italian man of about forty-five, dressed in a suit gave me the first welcoming expression I had encountered.

“Ah, you are Homicidols, yes? Come!”

This was Antonio, whom I believe was the boss of the operation.  After collecting wristbands I was led to a bench near to the front of the stage.  Antonio explained that as we were running behind I would have to wait until after the meet and greet that was about to take place before I could interview any idols but then he seemed to be saying it would be about five or six o’clock.  I sought clarification and he went to get someone whose English was better, however no-one returned.

Still, I was enjoying myself.  I was seeing some of the Italian idols going through their soundcheck and having some sort of bass feedback problem.  I was watching the Japanese idols setting up their merchandising stalls, taking selfies with each other and looking at their phones.  I fell into the idol rabbit hole five years ago after stumbling across a BiSKaidan video, getting into BiS and then immediately experiencing oshiloss as I found out they were imminently splitting up.  I’ve spent stupid amounts of time and money on idol music but had never been to watch any concerts, even from idols that ventured to the UK, due to work and responsibilities.  But now here I was amongst real live idols!

After a few false starts and some increasingly flustered running around by Antonio and his staff, the doors opened and in came the lucky VIP ticket holders to meet the idols and get first pick of the merchandise.  I interestedly watched what was going on but kept a nervous eye on the Melon merchandise as I was worried I might not get a shirt in my size or the solo GARUDA and Rukatama CDs I wanted.  I did not have a VIP ticket so remained on my bench.  Eventually though, my good friend Mat (@SalemBlack4Ever) came in and I knew he didn’t have a VIP ticket.  No they just let him in, he said, so I took that as my cue to get my Melon merch.
“And chekis with all four members, please!”
“We’re not doing group shots.”
After a bit of back and forth, the chap on the merchandise table managed to comprehend that I did want one each, so I got my tickets and headed for Rukatama who happened to be free.

Your heroic correspondent Chris, queueing for Run at Melonbatake a GoGo's buppan.

Well, as I said, I’ve been a idol fan for five years, but I never properly appreciated the idol experience until spending cheki time with these ladies.  They were all so welcoming and charming.  Yuffie spoke fairly good English and was able to hold an engaging conversation, and Soze and Rukatama were able to have a basic chat as well.  But even little Run, who spoke practically no English, was so warm and friendly that I think she might now be my favourite.  I am ashamed to admit that for the last five years I have thought that you didn’t really need many talents to be an idol, just enthusiasm and the ability to look cute.  Now I realise what many of you already knew, an idol’s true talent is to make their fans, a socially awkward bunch on the whole, feel happy and welcomed and adoring.

So I emerged from the buppan as on a cloud, and the Japanese idols all packed up and the Italian idols came on.  Enjoyable enough for the most part and there seemed to be a core of a dozen or so people at the front who were really into it.  The feedback problems from the soundcheck reared up again a couple of times, but they got sorted out for good.  Eriko, the MC, a Japanese teacher who lived in Italy, did quite an enjoyable turn, which combined her soprano-esque vocals with the DJ’s distorted Europop and enthusiastic rapping.  But I was getting a bit anxious that I had not been told any more about interviewing the idols.  I was still on my bench in case they needed to find me.

The Italian idols finished their turns and it was time for Ladybaby to take the stage.  I got up, determined to enjoy watching idols (actual idols I’d heard of!) perform.  Mat had procured me a lightstick, though he had to teach me how to activate it, and I waggled it unconvincingly towards the stage.  I didn’t attempt any of the Jumping Spider Fibre Biker nonsense though.  As I said before I thoroughly enjoyed Ladybaby, despite not being one of their fans.  We have no photos of their performance though, nor JyuJyu’s, as both groups prohibited them.

Then there was a two hour break for dinner, Italians taking their meal breaks very seriously.  Those with the dinner-with-idols tickets went off to do that.  But what would the rest of us have? I looked around and went outside, since the idols clearly weren’t doing interviews while eating, and discovered the only other food on site was someone selling some basic Japanese snacks from a table out front.  So my dinner was a large packet of wasabi flavoured crisps and a melon (yes!) flavoured soft drink.  Now remember what I had for lunch? This would be my big criticism of the event; even telling a local burger van or equivalent that they could pitch up outside would have been something.

Some Japanese snacks: a melon flavoured soft drink and a packet of Wasabi flavoured crisps

My dinner. Yum yum.

Back inside and dinner swallowed, I was despairing of ever talking to any idols.  I lamented on Twitter about this but our heroic proprietor, Mr. H. Maniac, managed to re-establish contact and I was soon talking to Antonio, the besuited boss who told me that Ladybaby had departed the building but he could try to arrange something tomorrow morning.  I declined as I had a flight to catch.  He told me I could meet Sari once she had finished, so confident everything was back on track, I went to watch Sari.

Monster of Dolls MC Eriko and Sari on stage.

What would Sari be doing, we all wondered? Standing on stage talking for fifteen minutes it turned out, in Japanese, which was translated into Italian.  Being an ignorant monoglot English speaker, I can’t tell you what it was all about, but she at least looked very regal standing up on stage and happily posed for those in the small crowd that were aiming cameras at her.  She even did a pose for me, but it came out a bit blurry as my photography skills are as bad as my journalistic ones.

True to his word, Antonio appeared after she had departed and whisked me off backstage to meet her.  Unfortunately Melon Batake a go go were now taking the stage and I knew I would miss some of their set, the one group I had really flown out here to see.  On the other hand, doing these interviews would mean I would get to spend some extra time with them later so I didn’t feel too bad.

Sari greeted me graciously like the queen she is.  I had asked about a translator before coming to Italy and was advised one would be available, however in the latest twist, it became clear that our translator was expecting to translate from Japanese to Italian and spoke only basic English.  Fair enough, you might say, I was in Italy after all, but if we had anticipated this we could have made an effort to at least translate the questions in advance.  A solution of sorts was found: a second staffer who spoke better English was brought along to help and halfway through Sari herself switched to giving her answers in English as best she could and thanks to the efforts and great patience of all three of them we eked out a small interview, which you can read here later.

Feeling pleased to have actually managed to conduct an interview with a genuine former idol, I returned to watch the rest of Melon’s set.  They were amazing and everything I’d hoped for.  Each member also took time to run around the audience and greet the fans on the balconies at the back.  There’s no reason they cannot conquer the world! And I was going to get to talk to them again later!

Melon Batake a go go performing at Monster of Dolls, Bologna, 2019.

Melon Batake a go go performing at Monster of Dolls, Bologna, 2019.

Melon Batake a go go performing at Monster of Dolls, Bologna, 2019.

Run stands on a balcony fence while holding a lighting structure and singing during Melon Batake a go go's set

Melon went off, did their encore, and went off again.  And then videos projected on the wall announced the imminent arrival of JyuJyu.  Apparently JyuJyu had decided the stage was not large enough for their choreography, so they instead took up the entire left hand half of the standing area.  Since JyuJyu are quite small people, as idols generally are, this made it difficult to see above the first line of wota at the front even for a six foot tall fellow like myself.  Happily we could climb up to higher levels of the auditorium to get a better view, but even then Mat commented that he didn’t realise there were four of them until the end as he could only see three at a time.

Before too long, I was taken backstage again to meet Melonbatake a GoGo.  I was delighted to see them again and they did their best to look happy to see me too.  Happily they knew of Homicidols thanks to the Corenament.  Unfortunately, for this interview we only had the translator that did not speak much English.  Yuffie, the best English speaker of the group, insisted on taking my sheet of questions to look at.  She puzzled over them for a few minutes and I began to regret having silliness on there like “Are melons a popular crop in outer space?” as this was just adding to her confusion.  Eventually she suggested that they would take my questions away and email me the answers at a later point.  I gratefully accepted the suggestion as things were beginning to feel awkward, shook hands with them all, and went back to watch the rest of JyuJyu’s set.

So two – alright, one and a half – interviews down and one to go!  Antonio had told me that after JyuJyu’s set, they and Melon would be coming out for group chekis and after that I could I could talk to JyuJyu.  I would have liked a group cheki with Melon, but I had run out of money.  This is probably just as well, for had I taken more money I would have just gone round and round the cheki queue until that money had also run out, such were my levels of adoration I was feeling right then for the group.  It was midnight by now and with the show over and no cheki money, I would have headed back to my hotel, as buses did not run past about half midnight and I did not know how long the event’s shuttle bus would keep running for but I gamely stuck around for my JyuJyu interview, hoping they wouldn’t be too tired and annoyed to have to talk to me since they’re a pretty scary bunch anyway.

The attendees slowly drifted away and the idols packed up and at 1 a.m. A security guard started hustling me towards the door, informing me they were closing.  I vainly protested that Antonio had told me I could interview JyuJyu but this fell on deaf ears, possibly because of the language barrier.  As I stood outside with the door firmly shut behind me, I watched the final shuttle bus pull away, not flagging it down as I half hoped the door would open again and I’d be ushered back in.  After a couple of minutes though, I realised I could be here forever and needed some sleep so started on the long walk back to town.  It was a nice night for it.

Event photos courtesy @SalemBlack4Ever

*Why do I write for a music blog then? Because Maniac press ganged me into it when he heard I was going to Monster of Dolls. He’ll take anyone!

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