I interviewed Kero Kero Bonito for Issue 05 of Subbacultcha magazine.
Read on issuu here
or below (I was quite sad about the extent of the edit, given the original interview was over 30 minutes long):
Kero Kero Bonito
Interview by Callum McLean
Photos by Trent McMinn in London, England
PULL QUOTE: ‘Weapons like Pokémon Go are important tools against Brexit.’
Ever thought dance music these days can be a little dry? Enter button-bashing party-starters Kero Kero Bonito. Splashing pixelated colour across your ears in 16-bits, their 2014 debut Intro Bonito was a future pop proposition with a nostalgic bent — an affectionate blend of 4th-Gen games console sounds, contemporary J-pop and ‘schoolyard dancehall’. Since then, South London MIDI pranksters Gus and Jamie have been propelling the bilingual rapping of half-English, half-Japanese Sarah Bonito to the stars with songs about flamingoes, Tomb Raider and suburban malaise. And it’s catchy as a level 4 Rattata.
We meet in a crowded Starbucks in colossal London shopping centre Westfield, where Jamie’s no-nonsense one-liners bounce off Gus’s grandiose philosophising, while Sarah — manga-cute, exuberant showman on stage — geeks out on Pokémon while distractedly slurping my discarded iced tea. We talk macho pop, classic Nintendo, and how to market punk. Welcome to the vibrant, cartoon world of KKB. Please insert coin.
Tell me: why all the references to ‘90s video games and the nostalgia for ‘Cool Japan’?
Gus: It’s a generational thing. Jamie had an N64, I had an N64, Sarah had a PS2 — it’s one of the things that separates our generation from the previous one. And also it’s an international thing. So I can talk to [producer] Meishi Smile in L.A. about Mystical Ninja Goemon, and I can talk to anyone in Japan about Zelda. In that sense it’s an identity, for sure. But also it was an exciting time to be around, because that was when that shit was really up for exploration.
Sarah: On my way here I was playing Pokémon Go — it was just the same for us in the nineties: kids in the future would be influenced by this international game. They’d be able to talk about Pokémon Go with someone from Japan in the future.
Gus: Weapons like Pokémon Go are important tools against Brexit.
Sarah: I caught a Psyduck today, which is one of my favourite pokémon. Just wanted to say that.
I’ve had to defend Pokémon Go quite a few times in the past few weeks.
Gus: I think the people who challenge Pokémon Go can shut the fuck up. Because people dissing The Beatles, people dissing flares; what will it be next?! It could be anything! It’s gonna be a spray where you spray water all over your face or something — I don’t know. Some kind of iPhone attachment that lets you plug into the mind of someone else. There’s always gonna be detractors.
Sarah: I enjoy playing it, so I don’t see a problem. It’s fun! To play!
At least to me, that era that you hark back to reminds me of a time when technology seemed a bit more utopian.
Gus: It was a lot less scary. But maybe we were just more naive. A lot of it is nostalgia for us.
Back to KKB — the new record isn’t far off now, what should we expect?
Gus: We just finished it. It’s The Best Album of The Year.
Sarah: Of the century!
Jamie: Just the year.
Gus: I can tell you that it features a few songs that you might know but mostly that you don’t. It is a wide-ranging, highly ambitious concept album. That’s all I can tell you.
You’ve compared yourself before to a lot of post-punk bands: Devo, PiL, The Pop Group…
Sarah: I think we’re also a heavy metal band now because there was a mosh pit in Norway when we played!
Gus: We can play Download Festival and we can also play in an old folks’ home — how many bands can say that? I’ll tell you, it’s about four.
Jamie: Most old heavy metal bands will be inevitably playing at old people’s homes very soon.
Gus: It’s us and Iron Maiden. But what’s so cool about those post-punk bands is that you could play Devo to anyone in this room right now and they wouldn’t know what the fuck! I think that’s important. What is more important than being able to look at and not be inherently deeply offended by other points of view? Especially right now. So if KKB are an interesting, unusual proposition to some people, I think that’s cool.
But how do you reconcile a lot of the super-commercial aspects of J-Pop and gaming with punk politics? Like, we’re holding this interview in a Starbucks.
Gus: You know what — we’re exceptionally clever, because we want to market the widely appealing rebellion of punk and combine it with a retail vision for the future. Look at the Sex Pistols. Johnny Rotten is a real estate agent now.
A true punk sentiment! Why can’t KKB be punk, commercial and cute all at once?
Gus: You know what, it’s crazy but people are still really afraid of things that are a little bit vulnerable, non-machismo, a little bit earnest, because people like to maintain some air of something. This is truer than ever because people can choose only to upload pictures they want to upload. Everybody has the perfect body, the perfect holiday, you know? KKB is a perfect holiday for people who are aware that not all holidays are perfect.