Derry Dance Act is Turning Japanese

Francis Jones meets Japanese Popstars intending to shake up NI dance

On song titles alone, ‘Dirty Popstars On Your Radio’, ‘Rodney Trotter’, I was prepared to love Japanese Popstars. The sense of mischievousness and self-deprecation carries over to their music, all warped grooves and deliciously twisted, decimating electro beats.

The band’s inspired, aural alchemy saw them heralded by Electric Circus as ‘one of the hottest electro acts to come out of Ireland’. They’ve signed a record deal with Dozer records, a management deal with X-Rated Management and had tracks picked up by Ministry of Sound for a new compilation record. And, as if that weren’t enough, they are set to play this year’s Celtronic and Electric Picnic festivals.

The three-pronged electro assault of Japanese Popstars features the talents of Decky Hedrock, the driving force behind Hedrock Valley Beats, stalwart of the dance scene since 1998 and veteran of festivals including Homelands, Planet Love and Glastonbury. Today though, Inside Track catches up with his compatriots in electro lunacy, renowned DJs, Gary ‘DJ Curntables’ Curran and Gareth ‘Galo’ Donoghue.

‘Japanese Popstars’, it’s something of a misnomer for a Northern Irish electro act, why did you pick such a random name?

Gary Curran: ‘Exactly Japanese Popstars, quite simply that’s what we’re not. Decky came up with the name, trying to think of things that are big in Japan and he thought ‘popstars’. And that’s it. People say ‘you’re not Japanese and you’re not popstars’, but hey they’re still talking about us.’

Gareth Donoghue: ‘Yeah, Decky is a big fan of Japanese film and culture. Certainly everyone who’s heard the name tends to remember it, so it’s certainly working in that respect.’

You’ve each been in the music industry for a number of years and accumulated a lot of experience. How has that influenced what you’re doing with Japanese Popstars?

Donoghue: ‘Well we’re all bringing different things to this project. Decky has got that live experience and Gary and myself have been DJing for a long, long time, we’ve grown up with good music, or at least what we’d consider good music! In 30 minutes Gary can give you a melody and then I can take that to the live environment, sequence it and so on.

'So with Japanese Popstars we’re working towards a style of our own, something that we can adapt for the live shows and the DJ sets. And you know that’s not easy, trying to find a style that is uniquely your own, but we think we’ve created something that’s rocking.’

Are relations within Japanese Popstars always harmonious?

Curran: ‘Me and Gareth have always got on well and I’ve never had an argument with Decky, though he does embarrass me a wild lot! Giving me grief at the wrong time in front of certain people.’

Donoghue: ‘We’re all pretty easy going. If anything Decky would be the one who pushes things the most, he looks after PR and is always trying to forward the interests of the band.’

Curran: ‘He pushes me too, pushes me to get work completed, he’ll say ‘just finish it’ and that’s a good thing, to have someone as focused as that in the band.’

What inspires the band’s sound?

Donoghue: ‘To get the ladies shaking on the dancefloor!’

Curran: ‘Yeah women and aside from that I would always say a band like The Prodigy. But, really anything that’s good. I started off being completely into House music, buying a set of decks at 14. Then when I was 17 I started playing at The Gweedore and they wanted me to change an indie crowd over to a dance clientele. I started playing indie, hip-hop, mixing in Motown, 70s music, 80s whatever.’

You’ve mentioned the ‘live’ aspect of Japanese Popstars, would you say then that you are primarily a live as opposed to studio act?

Donoghue: ‘I think that the live act has opened so many doors for us. It differentiates us from other dance/electro acts, we’re not just another couple of guys DJing. The records are important though, it’s about getting the balance. We released our first single on July 17 on Dozer Records, Paul Jackson’s label, so that’ll be a big milestone for the band.’

Many people would say that there is a pretentious aspect to the dance music scene, is that fair?

Curran: ‘Oh yeah, a massive part of it and I’ve witnessed that first-hand. I supported Judge Jules back in Derry, he had six bouncers round him and I couldn’t even get in to get my records signed. These bouncers shepherding him to and from the toilet, it’s just ridiculous that type of thing. Now though most people seem more relaxed, you can sit and have a chat with the DJs, Annie Mac or whoever. People in the Northern Irish scene are ok, well most of them!’

There was a bit of a lull in the dance scene here, do you think that it’s on the mend?

Donoghue: ‘I think that Stiff Kitten has been great for Belfast, bringing in acts and music that we wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to experience. Also Lush, though generally it would cater for the crowd there are those regular nights set aside for the real dance aficionados. And Shine, well it’s just awesome. I think the underground clubs are really great too, the likes of Funkasaurus providing something different.’

Have you been surprised at the hugely positive response to Japanese Popstars?

Curran: ‘Yeah, we were a bit taken aback, the band is only four months old after all. It started with Decky firing up the band’s MySpace site, and then Paul Jackson got in touch. We signed the management and record deals, it’s just been constant. It is kind of mad. We’ve actually got most of the album done already, but we’re just going to hold it back, get some of the tracks remixed.’

What’s the best thing about being in Japanese Popstars?

Curran: ‘There’s just a buzz you get, be it playing live or writing a tune, when you know that something is working, that it makes sense.’

Donoghue: ‘Also the fact that people we respect are getting behind the band and believe in what we’re doing.’

What are your ultimate ambitions for the band?

Donoghue: ‘Just to keep rolling, there is no grand plan. Let’s get the album out for a start. We’ve all got other jobs so to be able to make a living out of music would be brilliant. The most important thing though is to keep this an enjoyable experience, not to burden ourselves with undue pressure. This is about doing something different, we’re just enjoying the journey.’

It has been an amazingly accelerated period of progression for the band, from those packed four months what has been the highlight?

Curran: ‘I would have to say the first live set. The place went bananas, people up on each other's shoulders, going wild. And they hadn’t even heard us before!’

Donoghue: ‘The venue was brilliant, outside of the Trinity Rooms in Limerick, an old courtyard. We were just praying it wasn’t going to rain, because if it rained then the whole thing was scuppered. Up until about half an hour before we went on the whole place was empty. Then suddenly all these people started arriving. We were just looking at each other the whole way through and laughing, it was fantastic.’

Curran: ‘Getting signed has been so great too, just to know that you are going to be releasing a record and that you’ll have your name on a piece of vinyl, something that’s out there that’s what you dream of when you start DJing.’