Ever eaten Champon? The city of Nagasaki’s famous take on ramen takes the everything but the kitchen sink approach: packed gloriously full with fried pork, seafood, vegetables and more.
If you’ve ever tucked into the dish, the title of Otoboke Beaver’s new album ‘Super Champon’ becomes very apt. The record is not only food-obsessed but overwhelmingly omnivorous in its sound: there’s touches of Dead Kennedys and Devo; metal and mathcore; comedic wordplay and cheerleader-esque gang vocals – all mixed into a hyperactive punky assault.
Like a super-sized champon, the album is a lot. How did the Kyoto punk quartet come up with their sound? Asked this by NME, Otoboke Beaver’s lead vocalist, Accorinrin, hesitates for a second and looks around at her bandmates. Then she replies:
Hearing her blunt reply, Otoboke Beaver’s other members – guitarist Yoyoyoshie, drummer Kahokiss and bassist Hiro-chan – burst into laughter.
Talking to NME through Zoom from their jamming space, the band are fresh from rehearsal, part of their “diligent” preparations for a tour later in the year across Europe and America. It’s a tour long overdue: after the breakout success of their 2019 record ‘Itekoma Hits’, Otoboke Beaver finally felt ready to quit their full-time office jobs. Anticipating shows in Europe and beyond, they celebratorily named their tour “Yamettatta!” – “We’ve quit!” in Kansai slang – only for the pandemic to stop them in their tracks.
But the newly unemployed Otoboke Beaver also eventually saw a silver lining of their worrying situation: freedom from Japan’s gruelling work culture and the pressures it exerted on the band. “I honestly felt like we made things based on whatever momentum that we had,” Yoyoyoshie reflects.
As they began work on the album that would become ‘Super Champon’, Otoboke Beaver found they had the time and space to pay attention to the details. Each member established personal goals: Yoyoyoshie sought to replicate the force and intensity of their live shows, taking charge of pre-production for the first time. Kahokiss, on the other hand, was more direct: “I wanted to become a mecha on the drums.”
As a result, ‘Super Champon’ ups the ante from the already ferocious ‘Itekoma Hits’. The new record boasts sharper hooks, technical chops, and even more concise songwriting (think 18 songs in 21 minutes) – all while gleefully disregarding genre boundaries. But Acconrinrin notes that the band have always been free spirits.
“Instead of us aiming for chaos, it was more because we were always pretty chaotic,” she says with a laugh. “We can only make this kind of thing, so in a way, [‘Super Champon’] was more about polishing what we already had: leveling up.” The band are proud of the craft on display on the record, Accorinrin for instance pointing to the hundreds of vocal layers on ‘Do you want to send a DM Pt. 2’, which range from alien harmonies to deranged hollers.
“Sometimes people just treat us like – ‘oh, Japanese people are stupid’, so we wanted to make fun of that perception”
Otoboke Beaver discovered their trademark intensity early. When they first formed in 2009 as beginners at their university’s rock club, the band started, in fact, with writing ballads. “We tried a couple of songs… but we soon thought ‘this isn’t it’,” Yoyoyoshie recalls. After some trial and error, the band discovered they all loved to play fast, pushing them towards their current direction.
Otoboke Beaver adopted the name of a love hotel as their moniker, Accorinrin often channelling her personal experiences in life and love into the band’s intensifying sound. “I remember I was thinking about love and boys all the time, so naturally the music began revolving around my own sadness and anger,” she recalls.
As Accorinrin’s rage became one of Otoboke Beaver’s calling cards, she began to find herself in uncomfortable situations – one of which inspired the ‘Super Champon’ cut ‘I put my love to you in a song JASRAC’. “The men around me would joke that if they went out with me, I would turn them into songs,” she explains. “I was put off by how I was turned into a joke, so I thought I’d write a song to turn them into money – while also asking: ‘are you someone worth being turned into money?’”
Fueled by personal anxiety, Accorinrin’s sharp lyrical lens also attacks Japan’s oppressive social customs with brutal honesty: ‘I am not maternal’ laments societal pressures on women to have children, while ‘I won’t dish out salads’ lashes out against the stereotype of women serving salads in workplaces and social settings. That frank and fiery feminism has helped win Otoboke Beaver fans in the likes of Don Letts and Dave Grohl, not to mention crowds at huge fests like Coachella.
Exposure, however, also brought Otoboke Beaver detractors – like the pedantic commenters sniping at Accorinrin’s pronunciation of English words on ‘Itekoma Hits’ highlight ‘Don’t Light My Fire’. “Those sentiments really disgusted me – so I thought to throw it all right back at their face,” she says.
‘PARDON?’ emerged as a retort. The band start the song by feigning ignorance to an overzealous fan (a chant of “I don’t know what you mean”), all the while accelerating into chaotic rage (bellows of “shut up!”). “We felt that sometimes people just treat us like – ‘oh, Japanese people are stupid’,” Acconrinrin says, “so we wanted to make fun of that perception.”
‘YAKITORI’ was another jab – though this time, directed at critics back home. “We’re aware that we’re not as popular in Japan as we are overseas. But because of that, Japanese audiences sometimes think ‘oh, they’re only popular because they’re acclaimed overseas’ and think we’re deliberately trying to write songs to sell to overseas audiences,” Accorinrin reflects in frustration. “But we never did any of that – we’re just doing what we love.”
In response, Acconrinrin decided to lean into the irony and double down on the pandering. For ‘YAKITORI’, “I just thought of whatever Japanese things that would sell overseas: yakitori, sushi,” she admits.
These accusations of pandering don’t really hold up, given how many of the band’s stylings remain distinctly Japanese-influenced. “Writing in Japanese is really precious and important to me,” Accorinrin says. Her vocal delivery takes cues from the form of traditional stand-up comedy known as manzai, of which the band are all fans. To begin songs, she writes central phrases and punchlines, which the group arrange into tracks in sessions that sometimes last up to six hours.
“They’re conversations, so music theory goes out of the window right from the start,” Yoyoyoshie says of the process. Otoboke Beaver’s emphasis on the language’s conversational rhythms and manzai’s comedic timing shapes their unique song dynamics, from start-stop song structures to call-and-response vocal routines.
“We tried a couple of ballads… but we soon thought ‘this isn’t it’”
And although many of Accorinrin’s threats are less than subtle (“I will fucking kill you, old man!” she shrieks on ‘Dirty Old Fart is Waiting For My Reaction’), much of Otoboke Beaver’s humour is also coloured with Kyoto’s signature wry sarcasm. On ‘Where did you buy such a nice watch you are wearing now?’, for example, the band chant the song’s titular refrain over a mockingly imposing metal riff. The line isn’t to be taken as a literal question, but as a veiled fuck-you: the band are really sneering “watch the time, go home”.
Ultimately, beneath all of Otoboke Beaver’s rage, sarcasm and humour lies a genuine sincerity. When asked what they’re most proud of with ‘Super Champon’, Hiro-chan replies earnestly: “The album is very fast. It’s very loud. But during COVID, there have been many who have become depressed, and I was one of them too. People have given me words of joy – similarly, I hope people uplift themselves by listening to this record.”
Otoboke Beaver also had another goal making ‘Super Champon’. “I think it’s wonderful that there’s no other band that sounds like us,” Accorinrin says. “Ultimately, we wanted to make an album that packs everything that would make people understand that.”
Otoboke Beaver’s ‘Super Champon’ is out now via Damnably