FEMM at HYPER JAPAN Christmas 2017

live report - 17.02.2018 11:01

Mannequins with attitude hit HYPER JAPAN.

You might not give it much thought walking down the high street, but mannequins are an oppressed minority. Those figures staring out blankly from the shop windows have a tough time at the hands of humans. It’s a hard life getting used and abused, regularly dismantled and forced to wear clothes they don’t like. It's much worse for their crash test dummy cousins. Even plastic people have feelings.

Salvation is at hand though. FEMM Agency Syndicate, operating from their secret underground base at the bottom of Tokyo Bay, have reanimated the mannequins RiRi and LuLa. Assisted by their human agents, Honey-B and W-Trouble, they defend the rights of mannequins around the world. Now FEMM, bring their fusion of sci-fi back story, fashion and dance music to London, to recruit more agents to their cause.

The show opens with an unusual entrance. As the intro to My Revolution begins, a pair of mannequins on a trolley are wheeled out between the stage and audience. They remain rigid as two men carry them to their positions on stage. The trolley pusher makes final adjustments to their poses, like a department store window dresser. Then the lights come up to illuminate the statuesque figures, modelling matching white latex mini dresses and stilettos. Their long platinum blonde hair stands out against their red leather blouson jackets.

As the drumbeat kicks in, RiRi and LuLa spring to life, making eerily artificial movements in time to the music. Their hands form the delicate yet slightly unnatural poses of a fashion mannequin’s interchangeable limbs. Their eyes are fixed in glassy, emotionless stares. The heavily processed vocals sound like digitized robots and during the song’s quiet passages the gently ticking rhythm adds to the impression of watching clockwork automatons. They play their parts in this high-concept performance with absolute conviction. Even the dancing glove puppet panda in the front row of the crowd can’t induce them break character or crack a smile.

The next song, Samishii Nettaigyo, like the opener My Revolution, is a cover from their 80s / 90s J-POP REVIVAL album. Originally a number one hit for J-pop duo Wink back in 1989, the track is pepped up for modern tastes. Side by side, they start with their synchronised and mirrored choreography. It’s not just the song they’re covering. Their dance moves are straight out of the original music video, reinterpreted in mannequin style.

They keep the cover versions coming with Candy Girl as they split up and head to opposite sides of the stage. The HYPER JAPAN stage isn’t huge by any means, and with both performers so far apart their routine loses some of its visual impact. However, at least more of the crowd gets a chance to see them pop their robotic moves up close. The Japanese nostalgia angle might be lost on the audience, but the old school J-pop songs get cheered and applauded all the same.

The funk riff intro to Astroboy brings us back to the 21st Century. In a rare moment of crowd interaction, RiRi gets everybody to join in with her stiff, robotic clapping. This track opens with the more natural-sounding voices of human agents Honey-B and W-Trouble before switching back to RiRi and LuLa. With the electronically-modified vocals it’s hard to tell if it’s all playback or if there’s any live performance in there. Not that it matters; the style suits their concept with its synthetic perfection.

Tracks from FEMM-Isation make up the rest of the set. This album had an impressive array of producers and songwriters from around the world on board. As a result, the English-language songs have a strong western electronica flavour compared to the set’s earlier vintage J-pop numbers. It’s a fact that reanimated mannequins don’t talk, so there’s no pause for introductions or banter with the crowd. They swiftly work their way through electro disco bangers White Noise, Dead Wrong and Kill the DJ. It's a flurry of intricate, synchronised hands, reminiscent of 80s-style vogueing crossed with hip-hop botting.

FXXk Boyz Get Money closes out the set. This girl power anthem, with its snappy lyrics about female independence, brought FEMM international attention after it went viral. They treat the crowd to the cute robotic twerking that features in the song’s video. For a dance music act that barely moves its feet, this is about as animated as their lower halves get the whole time. Staying in character to the very end, they pose for a photo with the crowd before departing backstage, walking off in their stiff mannequin gait to more applause.

Set List

01. My Revolution
02. Samishii Nettaigyo
03. Candy Girl
04. Astroboy
05. White Noise
06. Dead Wrong
07. Kill the DJ
08. Fxxk Boyz Get Money
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