PERFUME | REFRAME: Past, Present and Future at the Line Cube Shibuya

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It’s a drizzly October afternoon in Shibuya, the famed commercial and business district in Tokyo. Koen Dori, a busy thoroughfare which lays claim to corporate giants like the Disney Store, streetwear meccas like Supreme, and eventually winds into the NHK office park (Japan’s public broadcast center) and Kenzo Tange’s famed Yoyogi National Gymnasium, is particularly crowded. A swarm of umbrellas head up the street, some spilling into traffic. The swarm thickens around a large structure: the Line Cube, a recently retrofitted venue formerly known as the _Shibuya Kokaido,_ or Shibuya Public Hall. The will-call appears to be overflowing, while the scene inside resembles organized chaos: fans criss-crossing looking for their proper entrance, selfie-ing their way to oblivion, while employees of the Line Club selling merch project their voices over the cacophony around them, ensuring buyers are getting the right sizes.  The woman behind the desk takes a look at me and giggles. She’s certain the meager inventory of XL shirts have all but sold out. At 6’4” and equipped with an unconventional body type, I’m relatively used to difficulties locating the right fit. Yet beneath the heaps, she manages to find one. Finally, my own _Perfume_ t-shirt. I drape it over myself, proudly, as I enter the second floor of the Line Cube. Balcony level, and a seat smack dab in the middle, my anticipation for the imminent performance by the J-pop trio is so high, I don’t even mind getting up and down as people tiptoe across the rows—long legs, after all.  Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe ![Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472bb987f65aff26cad1c2d_Flaunt%2BMagazine%2B-%2BPerfume%2BReframe%2B-%2B4.jpeg) Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe As I’m wont to do, I rubberneck, scoping the audience and noticing the sheer diversity of age in attendance. Perfume, the mega-superstar group originating from Hiroshima, appears to have no target audience, and it’s refreshing. Since first coming together at the turn of the millennium, they have released multiple records going platinum, performed on countless stages worldwide—including Coachella Music and Arts Festival this past year (the first J-pop outfit to ever do so), and, most importantly, created an indelible aesthetic and sonic template for Japanese pop stars/groups in the 21st century. Perfume’s effervescent vocals and brand of bubblegum techno-pop dance music, produced by Yasutaka Nakata (one half of revered _Shibuya-kei_ band, Capsule), has influenced the likes of Aira Mitsuki, Saori@destiny, and Vanilla Beans, popularizing the kind of bold and maximalist sounds for which J-pop has become known. Teens to middle-aged folks are on bated breath in their seats. If you enjoy exquisitely-choreographed stage maneuvers, near-symphonic level amplification, and abstractly-rendered LEDs, then it doesn’t matter with which age strata you identify; Perfume is yours. I’m immediately aware of the hushed atmosphere inside the renovated Cube. Unlike the preceding moments to a concert in the States, where fans may already be on their fourth lager and cheering away, there’s an undeniably reverent, if not hallowed, mise en scene. The few thousand attendees surrounding me have been alerted by the Line Cube’s PA system to not snap any photos in order to avoid revealing the show’s delicate balance of technology, fashion and music, which, all together, can’t be justified from a 6” x 3” screen.  We are here for _Reframe_, a bespoke 8-show-run in tandem with the aforementioned venue’s new groove, and a harbinger for a more experimental and introspective direction in Perfume’s nearly two-decades-spanning résumé. An updated version of _Reframe_ 2018, the series this year has been put together by “reframing” Perfume’s past data, considering the musical and stylistic evolutions they’ve encountered (from “Polyrhythm” florid house-inflected rhythms on 2008’s _Game_ to the thick rolling analog synths of “Fusion” from 2018’s _Future Pop_), and foreseeing what the future bodes. Indeed, 2019 has been a proliferant year. In September, the trio (consisting of Ayano Omoto a.k.a. _Nocchi_, Yuka Kashino a.k.a. _Kashiyuka_, and Ayaka Nishiwaki a.k.a. _a-chan_) released _Perfume The Best: P Cubed_ from Universal Music, before that, in April, they graced the Gobi Stage at Empire Polo Field for Coachella, and in November they launched _Perfume Closet,_ a clothing and product line that intimately meshes the women’s cosmopolitan sensibility with grace. As soon as the house lights extinguish, I’m in for a wild, wild ride. There are scenes upon vignettes upon acts upon numbers. While brief periods of recalibration pepper in between, the audience never applauses—they’re aware that this is one continuous performance, and you better save the showers of praise until you’ve seen the _whole_ thing. And you _want_ to see the whole thing. _Reframe_ is spectacle: a concerted effort between human and machine, a work of stage production expertise, sound design acumen, and spotless creative direction. Nocchi, Kashiyuka, and a-chan find themselves adorned in a smattering of wardrobes, sometimes a purple and pink gossamer, other times in a harlequined half pants-half skirt outfit. They strut, jump, and sway in unison, or in mirror versions, often times right on stage with photogrammetry and 3D/VR depictions emanating from the large modular screens, or in _Hollywood Squares_\-like compartments which shift color and create audiovisuals when a particular member sings. Naturally, the booming sub-frequencies and sparkling treble shine in the former _Kokaido_, a sweet spot where the levels are strong but not drum-shattering. Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe ![Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472bb987f65aff26cad1c29_Flaunt%2BMagazine%2B-%2BPerfume%2BReframe%2B-%2B5.jpeg) Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe These scenes are a conceptual effort by the likes of longtime Perfume-collaborator, Daito Manabe, artist, programmer and co-founder of the Japanese production company Rhizomatiks, Setsuya Kurotaki, a sound designer, and countless others. During one scene, a system called “virtual shadow” renders a virtual silhouette from virtual illuminant, so Perfume’s contours and profiles are projected on the LED screens in various shapes. Such instances underscore the logistical and technical magnitude of _Reframe._  When the show concludes, the tech, lighting, and music fades, leaving only the three members, still panting from their acrobatic moves, on the stage for their concluding thoughts, wishes, and thanks. It’s a procedure Perfume’s known to do, a time when their strict adherence to performance can erase, leaving room for a more candid, humorous, and even evaluative moment on their work. “Did you enjoy the Reframe show?” summons a-chan in Japanese. “Today is the fifth show. They are so different from our usual arena and dome shows, so you might have been confused. But today’s audience felt so close from the beginning.” Fans look on in adoration—their idols’ intonation and presence is personal, gentle. “Because you found us, loved us and supported us throughout the years, we are able to try out something so new, futuristic and experimental like this,” adds Kashiyuka. “Through many challenges, this is the show that we believe to be the best and coolest now.” After graciously thanking them, there’s roaring applause, but not before Nocchi makes her final remarks. “During the show, we obviously don’t have any chance to talk to each other, but we surprisingly feel the same things on stage,” she says. “That’s probably because we’ve been together for twenty years, and I’m enjoying every moment of it! Thank you again for coming tonight!” And like that they’re off into the abyss. Guests file out the auditorium, edging once again towards Koen Dori. I, however, am making my way into the bowels of the building, a subterranean maze of corridors, meeting rooms, and offices some four or five floors underground. Entering a meeting room, I sit and wait at a table. The contrast between the environment upstairs and the aura down here is stark. I hear a door open, and suddenly chatter, footsteps, and some camera snaps fill the hallway. a-chan, Kashiyuka, and Nocchi meet a girl in her teens, pose for a photo, and smile warmly. Afterwards, they step in the meeting room and we greet each other. Bows and handshakes are shared, and large glasses of water are poured. After a riveting performance for well over an hour of dancing and singing, they’re parched.  We chat about their beginnings and whether they would change anything looking back now. Hailing from Hiroshima Prefecture, “We kept our local dialect, and that’s very much part of our personality,” shares a-chan**.** Dealing with their rising fame—particularly after their debuting singles at label giant Tokuma Shoten with “Linear Motor Girl,” “Computer City,” and “Electro World” in 2005 and 2005 respectively—wasn’t much of a worry for them. “If we could redo it, looking back at the videos we made, we thought they were the best, but we were so chubby and so young!” reminisces a-chan**.** “The one piece of advice we would give someone is don’t change your hairstyle—keep it the way you like it!”  Photographed by Chikashi Suzuki ![Photographed by Chikashi Suzuki](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472bb987f65aff26cad1c31_Flaunt%2BMagazine%2B-%2BPerfume%2BReframe%2B-%2B1.jpeg) Photographed by Chikashi Suzuki When one is speaking, the other two are admiring the latest issues of the magazines I brought. _The Elemental Issue,_ in particular, with its black, orange, red and purple-hued lenticular cover, is a favorite. Perfume’s music offers a boost of positivity. “It’s not just because of our music,” that they know their music soothes listeners, hence the name _Perfume_, “but because of our spirit. Even after twenty years, we’re so close,” notes Nocchi**.** “That actually gets reflected in the lyrics and brings happiness to people.” Of course, the positivity inflected in their music and delicate crooning, mixed in with Nakata’s revered production output, has led Perfume to reach new listeners abroad and in the States. “More and more I meet people who like J-pop,” iterates Kashiyuka**.** “My friend’s friend in America knows Perfume. I feel that as we tour, people aren’t just there for the music but to see _us._” Perfume’s domestic popularity in Japan, of course, has been documented for years. After signing with Universal Music in 2012, their 2013 release, _LEVEL3,_ became their fifth consecutive No. 1 album in the country. After a lauded appearance at SXSW in 2015 and generating buzz stateside, their star grew, and led them to Indio, California. “We were very honored to be chosen as the first J-pop group to perform at Coachella!” says Kashiyuka**.** “We don’t know exactly why it interested those at Coachella, but we are really happy we were chosen.” For such recognizable and renowned stars, their humility is crystal clear. In Japan, “no one has Coachella t-shirts,” adds a-chan**.** “I bought so many! And we got to see Ariana Grande, we had to fight through the audience to get to the front!” laughs Kashiyuka.  Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe ![Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472bb987f65aff26cad1c21_Flaunt%2BMagazine%2B-%2BPerfume%2BReframe%2B-%2B6.jpeg) Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe Ironically, the crowd size at the desert festival was much more akin to the shows Perfume normally does (selling out the 15,000 capacity Nippon Budokan or the 13,000-plus audiences at Yoyogi National Gymnasium), as opposed to the Line Cube Shibuya’s _Reframe._ “Our dream is to some residency shows like this, at the same place, in Japan but also bring it abroad,” says a-chan. “We want to keep challenging ourselves!” It’s not often that a group whose star has steadily risen for two decades actually desires a downsize when their influence and brand abroad is still unfolding. _Reframe,_ for all its technological might, requires a smaller, more intimate arena. Not only for the entire ecosystem of back-end contraptions and teams deployed in each scene that needs to remain hidden for theatrics, but because so much of the minutiae which makes _Reframe_ vibrant could get lost. The same argument is made for the 6” x 3” phone screens that audiences elsewhere might find hard to resist using.  “How do you think Americans will react if they say no to shooting photos?” asks Kashiyuka**.** I pause, flipping through in my head the latest shows I’ve attended: Thom Yorke, Men I Trust, The Garden—all of which had attendees who apparently moonlighted as videographers. “At first, I think Americans might be frustrated not being allowed to film, they hate rules!” I say. a-chan, Kashiyuka, and Nocchi laugh. “Likewise,” I add, “some musicians feel frustrated because it doesn’t seem like they’re performing for an audience that wants to listen, but rather one that just wants to document.” Perfume chats amongst themselves thinking about my comments. Perhaps the fact that the audience is meant to sit formally, as opposed to standing freely like at a rock performance, would change American hearts. “But at musical theaters, they don’t take videos,” volunteers Kashiyuka**.** “So if we bring it as a show, and not like a concert, would they understand?” Good point. Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe ![Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe](https://assets-global.website-files.com/62ee0bbe0c783a903ecc0ddb/6472bb987f65aff26cad1c25_Flaunt%2BMagazine%2B-%2BPerfume%2BReframe%2B-%2B3.jpeg) Photo courtesy Perfume // Reframe Phone logistics and rules aside, Perfume, like _Reframe’s_ data, is charting the future, while miraculously balancing normal, thriving lives. “When I’m at the pharmacy or picking up my laundry, I love hearing Billie Eilish on the radio,” shares Kashiyuka**.** “Tom Misch, too!” includes a-chan**.** And of course, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approaching, “We’re keeping our schedules _very_ open,” a-chan says, cheekily. With the success of _Reframe_ behind them, and the hunger to share more with the world, this upcoming year is shaping up to be a fulfilling one. “Wherever the three of us are together, that is where we’re strong,” says Kashiyuka**.** “_That_ is home.”