WASTED with WATANABE: The Junnosuke Watanabe Interview

Some enchanted evening, under a moonlit summer sky, a drag queen is performing her cabaret number at London’s Ku Bar. Watching her show with our intrepid reporter is none other than the person behind acts like BiSH, BiS and GANG PARADE: Junnosuke Watanabe. The man in question is kicking off the night with a pint of Staropramen , while Cal from Homicidols and Porin from the band Awesome City Club (who just happened to be in town) both enjoy a pornstar martini each.

Junnosuke Watanabe and Porin from Awesome City Club

Homicidols: You always get beer don’t you?

Watanabe: Oh yes (laughs). Cocktails are too sweet for me.

Homicidols: Plenty of beer in Japan though. What made you want to come to England?

Watanabe: Honestly, I just really like British music. It’s always influenced me. Blur, The Sex Pistols, Massive Attack, My Bloody Valentine… I just love it! So, I thought that I want to move to the UK. That’s really the reason (laughs).

Homicidols: Now that you’re here though, is it hard to run your company from halfway across the planet?

Watanabe: Oh yes, quite hard! Timezone differences make meetings hard, and with WACKLondon, we’re trying to promote in the UK too. That’s also hard. One thing is that only I really speak English in the company… The girls don’t really study hard enough (laughs). It was conflicting at first, but I wanted to meet that challenge, because people love our music, so I want to bring it to them.

Homicidols: Your English got a lot better for sure. But outside of work, how’s life here in general?

Watanabe: There’s a language barrier, but British people are always extremely kind. Maybe because London is so diverse, so British people probably meet a lot of people that don’t speak their language every day here. But, its because of that diversity that I think the UK and London is the best place for WACK’s music to reach as many people outside of Japan as possible.

Homicidols: How do you feel about other countries though? Like say, America?

Watanabe: America is nice, but I think uh… very violent (laughs). You know you can just buy a gun there? When I went to SXSW with Kudaranai Ichi Nichi, (Note: for those out of the loop, WACK signed the emo band recently) I saw some gang violence. I was worried people would start shooting, so I ran away immediately. The UK is much safer.

Homicidols: Some people might be disappointed, so how about Canada?

Watanabe: (Laughs) Maybe. Probably not.

Homicidols: Would you ever hold a performance in mainland Europe though?

Watanabe: No.

Homicidols: (Laughs) Okay, why?

Watanabe: I just really like the UK. Besides, London is connected to a lot of places, so it should be easy for people from Europe to come here.

At this point, the drag queen’s cabaret number starts up again. The three of us enjoy her covering hits from the likes of Britney and Adele, while we sip our drinks. After the performance, Porin says goodbye to us and heads home, so that she doesn’t oversleep tomorrow. Watanabe wants a smoke break, so we go outside and smoke.

Junnosuke Watanabe with some trash

And pose by some trash.

After that, we head to Ku’s basement club to talk more. “212” by Azealia Banks is playing and Watanabe really likes whenever she says “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.” This time, we both order a Corona.

Homicidols: You know this song?

Watanabe: No, but I always like the music here. Upstairs too.

Homicidols: You go to gay bars a lot for a straight man.

Watanabe: I like gay people! (Laughs) Really! Japan is kind of stuck in the past lane when it comes to minorities, the government really misunderstands gay culture. And gay power. In Japan, you can’t marry a member of the same sex, but you can in the UK. This is that diversity I mentioned earlier! (Laughs) We’re at a gay bar right now, and we’re having fun, so maybe Japan should just have more fun.

Homicidols: I love this, but we should probably talk about WACK again.

Watanabe: Probably! (Laughs)

Homicidols: You’ve said this before in Japanese interviews, but it isn’t as widely known amongst some non-Japanese fans; Why did you stop working with SCRAMBLES and Matsukuma Kenta?

Watanabe: Even in Japanese, it can be a little hard to explain. Our point of view was just different, so it made sense to stop working together. During BiSH’s final singles era, my sense of taste was changing, and I suppose so was the general public’s. It just made sense to change things up.

Homicidols: ASP had the biggest change, going to alternative style pop music. What made you want to do that?

Watanabe: Especially in Japan, different kinds of pop music are becoming more and more popular. Alt pop would sell better than punk rock – it just isn’t popular anymore. Put it this way, BiSH became huge, but when you’re big, you can only fall out of fashion. The kind of music ASP makes now is fresh, but I also don’t have to compromise on their image either.

Homicidols: This is a more recent change, but BiS started managing themselves. What made you want that for them?

Watanabe: It’s important to think about yourself! (Laughs) They needed to get to know themselves better, and being self-sufficient means you can build yourself up as a person more. I normally force my idols to do whatever, but so does every other producer, because that’s how being an idol works. In fact, self-management was a mutual decision, but I kind of forced that too. Being self-managed isn’t common, but I think they’ll be able to have their own underdog story if they try. Authenticity sells! And now, they sell more than they did before.

Homicidols: What about when it comes to creative decisions?

Watanabe: At first it was kind of a joint effort. But now, less so. Honestly, I’m old and they’re young. Younger people know better! I want to learn from them like they’ve learned from me. I want to change my opinion, that’s part of why WACK overall needs to change more.

Homicidols: So, in that case, do you think we could see the return of fan favourite songs like “nerve”?

Watanabe: Absolutely not. (Laughs)

Homicidols: (Laughs) Okay, why?

Watanabe: I know a lot of older fans really like songs like that, but there’s a difference of opinion between artist, fan and manager. The thing is, we want to change. We need to reach new audiences and sell to new people, we can’t really do that if we keep doing the same things. And if BiS make a mistake with their decisions, I can give gentle advice, but maybe I can’t say “no” to them. Making mistakes is okay, everyone’s human after all. Besides, we can recover. We have more than enough money from BiSH. (Laughs)

Important note: This conversation took place before the announcement of the OGBiS reunion. We were talking about BiS3, so technically, he didn’t lie!

At this point, the music is getting louder, we’re getting drunker and we can’t hear each other too well. Watanabe suggests we get food next, so we go to a restaurant in Chinatown. On the menu for us is a helping of baozi, mapo dofu and 2 Tsingtao each.

Watanabe: Mapo dofu is the one food that has never betrayed me.

Homicidols: …What does that mean?

Watanabe: Oh, you know. (Laughs) Anyway, what were we talking about again.

Homicidols: Having a fuckton of money because of BiSH.

Watanabe: Oh yes. We do.

Homicidols: But without BiSH, who would you say is WACK’s number one group right now?

Watanabe: Hmm… Honestly, GANG PARADE. But sometimes, it can be hard to sell them to new audiences. Asobinin (the name for GANG PARADE fans) are really very dedicated, which is good for the group, but you always, always need to draw in a bigger crowd. The older members have been there for a while, but even so, they need to be flexible. Like I said, changing your way of thinking is good.

Homicidols: Is that line of thinking why you tried creating a group like TONAi BOUSHO?

Watanabe: Yes! But uh… that didn’t last too long.

Homicidols: What happened there?

Watanabe: I don’t fucking know. (Laughs) I’m not God. Things just fell apart inside the group itself. You can’t anticipate things like that, or every little thing. Recently, I learned the phrase “shit happens,” and here, shit happened.

Homicidols: When it comes to that, what about things like BiS never getting to Budokan?

Watanabe: Ah. Well, BiS have always been popular, whether it’s nationwide or underground. But Budokan is… tricky. The thing is, BiS fans are underground idol fans no matter what state the group is in. So, right now, just like back then, it isn’t really possible.

Homicidols: There was a rumour that the priests at Budokan refused to bless BiS too, is that true?

Watanabe: Oh yeah, they really thought we were disgusting. (Laughs) BiSH too. In that case… Shit really did happen. (Laughs) It was the same with GANG PARADE, but maybe the image off that era has long since passed. Maybe GANG PARADE could go to Budokan in the future. With ASP… I actually have no idea how that happened. Maybe people’s attitude will change, the music business is like gambling! Maybe ASP will be seen as disgusting in the future, but maybe they’ll be just as successful as BiSH. Who knows.

Homicidols: When it comes to some of those “disgusting” things, WACK did a lot of insane stunts in the past, but not so much anymore. Why is that?

Watanabe: Again, I just changed my mind about things. Shock value doesn’t really sell anymore. Like with BOYSGROUP – the logo shocked foreign people and went a little viral, but they kind of stopped caring after about 2 days. The original point of BiS was “doing anything to sell,” and WACK is still doing anything. It might not be what older fans expect, but that sort of thing isn’t effective anymore. We’ve always strived to do more and reach new audiences – I can’t make a living selling to just insane people. I changed my tune about things! I like that idiom, did I use it right?

Homicidols: You did!

Watanabe: YEAH!

Homicidols: On that topic, there was no audition camp this year. Same reasoning?

Watanabe: Yes. The livestreamed camps might be kind of a has-been at this point. If I did it again in Japan next year, we might get a lot of criticism. Like the challenges and punishment games, people kept saying that we were “forcing” the contestants to do things.

Homicidols: WACK is known for that though, so don’t people know what they’re signing up for ahead of time?

Watanabe: Oh absolutely. Everybody knows what they’re doing here, but people online talk a lot of shit. It isn’t like 10 years ago, sometimes too much negative press isn’t good. I keep saying it, but we want to reach new audiences, and that’s difficult.

Homicidols: Foreign fans had similar problems. During a certain member’s audition camp, her pre-existing fans kept saying “Who honestly enjoys this?” and “Why is my oshi being forced to do this?” But, WACK fans earnestly love that kind of thing. Some people would buy their own death sauce to eat with the members at the same time, and some people even did the squat challenges themselves at home.

Watanabe: (Laughs) Oh, really? I love how dedicated foreign fans are. It always makes me smile. But, unfortunately, times have changed and you need to adapt.

Homicidols: Speaking of change, since you stopped working with SCRAMBLES, you’ve been working with a lot of famous musicians. But are there any Japanese acts you haven’t worked with yet that you really want to?

Watanabe: Honestly, I don’t have any specific people in mind. I just want to work with famous people! Not because of their star power, but because they know what people like. I don’t, and I want to know. But if I had to pick… King Gnu!

Homicidols: How about non-Japanese bands?

Watanabe: ASP worked with WARGASM recently, which was like a dream for me. I want to do it again! Outside of that… Hot Milk. Also, we saw their billboard on the way here, but I love Garbage.

Homicidols: I know you do buddy.

Watanabe: (Laughs and claps) Really! I love their album “Version 2.0.” It was fresh back then and they’re still touring and playing those songs even now. Shirley Manson is somebody that never fell out of fashion.

At this point, we’d finished our food and wanted to find a new place to haunt. But unfortunately for us, London might be the only major city that has a bedtime. The clock struck midnight, and both Soho and Chinatown became ghost towns. We walked through the streets while talking, while Watanabe stopped now and then to take some photos. One of his recent hobbies is learning how to be a good photographer.

Junnosuke Watanabe taking some pictures

Waiting for his Uber, we talked about one last thing that fans might find interesting.

Homicidols: We’ve talked about a lot of changes, but some fans still have questions about the past.

Watanabe: It’s fine to ask! Go ahead.

Homicidols: So, what did you really think of that one English VICE article? About BiS and the Playboy photoshoot with black ink.

Watanabe: Oh, that. (Laughs) Well… Stupid honestly, but I didn’t care about incorrect information because we got attention.

Homicidols: That was a fascinating response, but that looks like your Uber.

Watanabe: It is! I’m very drunk and sleepy now too. Maybe we can talk about it more next time.

Homicidols: Next time?

Watanabe: Next time!

With that, the head honcho headed home in a silver Lexus. Our plucky young reporter managed to navigate Soho and get home, still mentally processing the series of conversations that took place.

If promises of that special WACK brand of insanity tickles your fancy, you can see ASP, BiS and MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN TONAi BOUSHO a.k.a. MONSTERIDOL at “WACK in the UK Volume 3” next month! £30 for three idol performances and £120 for VIP benefits. Tickets on sale RiGHT NOW!

 

 

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