We See Idols: WACK in the UK – Show Report

It has been just over a week since WACK in the UK and, yes, I’m just now getting around to hitting the “Post” button on this piece. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is DayJob® which has been crazy busy and eaten up all my time since I got back to the US, primarily because I took almost a full week off to go to the aforementioned WACK in the UK. But DayJob® pays me money that allows me do things like travel to other countries and see idols, so I must give it my attention. The other reason is that what started off as a straight-up show report kept growing and morphing into what is really at least two if not three different articles. At Papermaiden’s suggestion, I will now focus on the show itself and get this thing published before WACK in the UK 2: Electric Boogaloo has come and gone.

ASP in the UK – Historical Photo

AN INNOCENT IDOL BLOGGER ABROAD

On the day of the show, I was unsure of what to expect. In the US, the line at the venue for a show like this would typically begin forming before sunrise. Inquiries to my local friends who would be in attendance informed me that this was unlikely to be the case here. That morning was wet, chilly, and overcast, but I still enjoyed the walk along the canals and through Regents Park to get to Camden and arrived at The Underworld around noon. There were about a dozen folks milling about in front of the place with various pieces of WACK attire poking out from beneath puffer jackets. I didn’t recognize anyone I knew but just inserted myself into the group. Everyone was friendly and inviting and, after a quick round of introductions, the small mob of us collectively decided to have a quick tour of Camden. We wandered the streets for a short bit and  took selfies with the Amy Winehouse statue, but were soon drawn back to The Underworld and settled into the venue’s adjacent pub. 

PRE-SHOW

The queue for the show finally began forming a little after 2:00 pm and it would grow and shrink throughout the afternoon. A cold drizzle and chill winds came and went causing people to retreat into the pub to warm up and re-emerge later. There were also impromptu fan meets occurring that drew people away, but there was no real line management or monitoring happening. No numbers on hands. It was the most amiable and casual line-up I’ve ever participated in.

There were a fair number of fans from Japan in attendance who were, likewise, very friendly and excited to be there. One passed out ASP wrist bands with the names of individual members on them. For those without an ASP oshi, he assigned them one on the spot, telling them the member’s charm points. Meanwhile, a pair of young women from Japan taught us the calls and choreography to “Blueberry Gum,” the infernally catchy B-Side-of-the-Year candidate from ASP’s latest single.

Whenever he came out to smoke in the security cage in front of the Underworld, Junnoske Watanabe was friendly and generous with the fans who would come up to chat or pass to him gifts though the wrought iron bars. He was also generous to the bums who came up and asked him for cigarettes.

AiNA THE END and Aoi Yamada were equally casual and friendly when they arrived at the front doors of The Underworld and greeted fans waiting in line with smiles and waves. One of the young women teaching us ASP wotagei was so shocked by their proximity she froze like a deer in headlights as AiNA passed within inches. A bit later, AINA and Aoi popped out the same door and greeted everyone again before darting off into the Camden streets. I assumed they were off to do a bit of shopping, but they very well may have been off to nick a shopping trolley which would play a prominent role in their act later.

ASP

At the start of the show, Watanabe came out to welcome everyone and then turned things over to ASP. The anti-society punks-gone-pop then launched things off with a performance that would have blown the roof off the joint if we weren’t in the basement. They kicked off the set with their signature song, “HAiKEi ROCKSTARSAMA” which was effective in riling up the crowd into an immediate frenzy. They followed this up with an unreleased song before jumping back into familiar territory with the Prodigy-inspired “TOXiC iNVASiON.”

The set was high energy throughout and, although The Underworld strictly forbids crowd surfing and moshing, it always seemed like the idols and audience alike were perpetually on the brink of breaking those prohibitions. 

My only disappointment was that they didn’t perform more songs from their early punk catalog when they were hailed as potential successors to the musical legacy of BiS. I especially wanted to experience “SAKEBE” live. Their eleven-song set consisted of eight songs from their more recent, major label work which largely channels hip hop, drum and bass, and, in the case of the aforementioned “Blueberry Gum,” reggae fusion. Still “Hyper Cracker” and “I HATE YOU” are amazing tunes, and even if the musical presentation leans more pop these days, ASP remains punk in spirit, and they showed that on stage.

AiNATOAOI

The most highly anticipated set of the night by the majority of attendees was easily AiNATOAOI, the special unit consisting of AiNA THE END and dancer/model Aoi Yamada. Their entry drew audible gasps as, instead of appearing onstage, they materialized in a spotlight atop of a few short stairs and within arms reach of the audience.

From that vantage point, AiNA launched into “Red:birthmark” which she performed while she and Aoi crept down the short stairs and walked slowly through the crowd.  It was truly mesmerizing. The duo eventually made their way onstage where they launched into an ambient noise act that abstractly introduced the unit.

The set was equal parts dance, theater, and AiNA’s solo work. After a brief exit, AiNA entered stage right pushing Aoi with a bullhorn in the aforementioned shopping trolley.

The act in the trolley morphed into the upbeat, jazz number “ZOKINGDOG” during which AiNA smacked myself and a number of other audience members on the head. A week later, I am still feeling truly blessed.

The set then took a turn into more emotional territory as Aoi stripped off her sparkly dress and, dressed only in a bodysuit, began a languid and dramatic dance to accompany AiNA in an acapella version of “Kienade,” a song that brilliantly emotes both childish innocence and impassioned ennui. The lack of a backing track was chilling as AiNA’s signature voice resonated among the silent audience. It was a beautiful and unforgettable moment.

AiNATOAOI did not present a long set, but each moment was precious, emotionally impactful, and is indelibly etched in memory.

ExWHYZ

The evening then shifted into a decidedly upbeat mood as ExWHYZ took to the stage. It was remarkable to think that this act that had just played The Budokan six short months ago were here now performing in this tiny club in London.

ExWHYZ played the longest set of the night which largely consisted of their most upbeat greatest hits and new music. They did perform a version of “Obsession” with English lyrics which went over very well. The highlight for me was their performance of “As you wish,” their lovely, latest single. I do love the emo tunes.

At the end of ExWHYZ, Junnoske Watanabe came back out to thank the crowd and declare, “WACK is FUCK!” The audience wholeheartedly agreed. He then invited all three acts on stage. 

A Handsome Lad

Watanabe then announced that WACK in the UK would be returning for a second show in March with ASP, GANG PARADE, and KiSS KiSS.  ExWHYZ collectively sank to the floor in disappointment upon learning they would not be included in the next show.

AFTERSHOW

After the show, AiNA and Aoi continued their trend of being shockingly accessible, mingling among the crowd, taking selfies with a lucky few, and causing AiNA to miss the start of the VIP cheki session.

Speaking of, all VIPs were given the opportunity for cheki with the member of their choice. The post-show cheki session was pretty rushed as the Underworld staff were determined to empty the place on schedule. Over on the Homicidols Discord server, folks sometimes express anxiety about the prospect of getting cheki and not being able to speak Japanese or knowing what to say or do. This would have been the perfect first cheki experience for those folks as interactions were limited to seconds as the staff cranked through the line. I was in a BiSH T-shirt, and AiNA waved to me when she noticed it so I felt a bit guilty about getting cheki with ASP’s Nameless instead. There were, of course, many many people who opted for cheki with AiNA though, so I didn’t feel too bad.

Most things went smoothly for the evening but there were issues with merch sales. Both the credit card and PayPal payment options failed so it was cash only and there was no ATM in the building. Still, even with those issues, almost all the band specific merch had sold out by the time I got to the merch table after the show. By then, they no longer had any change either, so they were having difficulty selling the event T-shirts at £21 apiece. They were nice enough to let me buy one at £20 though so, Watanabe, I owe you one pound sterling. You’ll have to come to the US to collect it though because I can’t make it back to the UK for the March gig. Unless you bring Ling Ling over. Then I might figure out a way to be there.

https://twitter.com/JxSxK/status/1726586711483035813

All photo credits: Daemon Aimless