Club Academy, 2nd November
“[Club Academy] is a big venue and we’ve sold a lot of tickets. It’s nice to know your audience is there for you,” enthuses 21-year-old Amber Bain. She is certainly not wrong. She walks onstage to cheers from a bustling crowd, many of whom have been patiently stood at the front since the doors opened to get the best view for her performance as The Japanese House. Sitting on the sofa in her dressing room three hours earlier she is remarkably laid back. Although being relatively new to the touring circuit she seems to have taken packing out venues in her stride.
Bain views her career as somewhat of an inevitability. “My father was quite musical so there were always instruments around the house. I always wanted a guitar and maybe to look like Avril Lavigne.” Her first performances started young, she recalls “being that asshole at school who would play in assembly, or on the playground. Other kids would be like ‘shut up!’”
Despite the tough critics she has done very well for herself. After a stroke of fate involving Matt Healy chasing after her mate, she was able to play the 1975 frontman some of her music which he then took to Dirty Hit Records. Unsurprisingly, they in turn quickly signed her up. After touring in support of The 1975, and releasing a couple of EP’s with Dirty Hit, The Japanese House are now heading their own tour.
Amber tells me she enjoyed the experience of supporting The 1975, but is mostly excited about touring in her own right. After a show in London she is heading off to Europe and then on to America. Having been touring for almost a solid year now, including playing packed out shows at Reading and Leeds, it is amazing she is still going. I wonder whether the diet cokes and pitta and crisp sandwiches that litter the dressing room hold the key to endless energy.
Supporting her tonight are London-based bands Fake Laugh and COLOURING. “They both have the voices of angels!” declares Bain. She’s not wrong: apparently ditched by the rest of his band, Fake Laugh front man Kamran Khan puts on a charming acoustic set. His voice really is great and accompanies the toned down indie rock he plays. Following Fake Laugh, COLOURING’s hazy electro pop was plenty of fun, and got the already-receptive audience moving.
Finally The Japanese House entered. Opening with the Imogen Heap-esque ‘Clean’ she contrasts an ethereal soundscape of layers of vocals and soft synths with a clear impatient electric guitar. This contrast underpins the evening. Lush synth melodies, vocal harmonies, and hi-hat dominated drum lines are cut through by Bain’s guitar.
Playing with ease the band coast through their collection with the crowd reacting warmly to singles ‘Sugar Pill’ and ‘Cool Blue’. Given the limited instrumentation, The Japanese House’s small discography does begin to feel a little repetitive in a live setting. However, newer tracks like the upbeat, guitar-focused ‘Good Side In’ break the trend and help to dispel this feeling.
Earlier in the evening, I asked Bain about her songwriting. A lot of her music relies on careful production and layered vocals — were the songs written with this in mind? “The lines are very blurred between production and songwriting; the two just go hand in hand for me”.
Following from this I want to know whether the soft dream pop genre that underlies the Clean and Pools To Bathe In EPs was something The Japanese House wanted to stay loyal to. “I never really think about it. I kind of just do what sounds good for each song, rather than applying a genre to a bunch of songs. The album will have strange things in it”.
I certainly hope so. So far The Japanese House have been making considered and warm dream pop, but it can sound a little formulaic at times. However, the singles from her upcoming EP Good Side In are starting to stray from the soft melancholic style she has established in a great way.
More upbeat and funky grooves appear on ‘Good Side In’ whilst the beat on ‘Swim Against The Tide’ sounds like some strange collaboration between Mike Milosh and Aphex Twin in his more lucid periods. Fingers crossed the experimentation continues when the album drops.
Back onstage the band close their set with crowd pleaser ‘Still’. Bain gives a shout out to her mother who has come tonight, and walks offstage. I am reminded that she is only 21 and already playing her third time in Manchester. With 2 EPs and an album in the pipeline and no signs of slowing down, we have got a lot to look forward to from The Japanese House.