Japanese bands GPKISM and Seileen debuted in Philadelphia at the Polaris Nightclub Friday night.
Before the doors opened, the snow began to pile up on the ground and on the heads of the colorfully costumed concert-goers lined up outside the Ninth Street club.
DJ Mighty Mike Saga, an American, opened the Japanese-themed event with his selection of dance music.
Few attendees had arrived at the start of DJ Mighty Mike Saga’s set, but by the end of his performance, the crowd filled out. With less than 100 people there, though, the turnout wasn’t particularly impressive. But considering the weather forecast and the obscure nature of the bands, it wasn’t a bad showing.
Following the DJ, the first band of the night, Echostream, from New York City, performed. Echostream was actually formed in Japan by guitarist Tomo, vocalist/keyboardist Ryoko and keyboardist Tony before relocating to New York City. Ryoko and Tony are both university-rained musicians, and Tomo had previously been in several Visual Kei bands.
Echostream breaks from the typical five-member rock band configuration with two keyboardists, a guitarist, two drummers – one a traditional kit and the other electric – and no bassist. The result is a blend of alternative rock and electronic music.
Echostream proved to be the most talented band of the night, despite being the opening act. They have a unique sound and talented musicians. Their passionate performance and sound lyrics amped up the crowd for the headliners.
Before GPKISM and Seileen came on stage, DJ Sisen, on the tour as a member of the group Seileen, followed up Echostream with a DJ set of his own. Joining him on stage was a group of colorfully but scantily dressed women and one man.
DJ Sisen did some mixing, but he spent most of his time on stage dancing with his dancers and throwing candy at the crowd. Periodically he ran back to his table to pick new tracks, then he would return to dancing and tossing things to the crowd.
Soon Selia appeared on stage in a long white dress, joining his band mate Sisen. The crowd that braved the storm must have had some dedicated fans, which showed in the noise the crowd made as Selia introduced the duo. Selia is a unique performer, even by Japanese Visual Kei standards. He made a rather convincing woman, but this isn’t as notable as his status as a professionally trained countertenor, or male soprano. Upon first hearing him, images of another electronic-backed countertenor come to mind: Klaus Nomi.
Impressive as his voice may be, the group was held back by less-than-inspiring song-writing. The electronic backing was generic, and there didn’t seem to be much live mixing going on, despite the appearance of a DJ. The backing music sounded professionally produced, and Selia sounded like a trained singer.
GPKISM was the final band to perform. Without their live keyboardist Ryonai on the tour, they were another duo on stage, with GPK on vocals and Kiwamu on guitar.
GPKISM was similar to Seileen in that the music was mostly electronic. Through the addition of harpsichord on the backing music, live guitar and better-written electronic music, they had more variety and depth to their sound.
With the guitar and the harpsichord, GPKISM was definitely in the realm of gothic music. In fact, vocalist GPK’s stage name is short for “Gothic Prince Ken.” Visually, he fit the part, with thigh-high black patent leather boots with five-inch heels, a black vinyl dress with Lolita ruffles, a tightly laced corset, gravity defying teased hair, a crown and satin gloves. His guitarist, Kiwamu, wore his own take on a monarch’s military formal wear, which he said was handmade.
Toward the end of GPKISM’s set, GPK called for Selia to come back on stage, and the two performed what was likely the most memorable song of the evening. GPK’s deep gothic vocals paired perfectly with Selia’s countertenor in their duet. Selia in all white and GPK in all black paired well visually. The real visual show for the fans, though, was perhaps the way the two vocalists embraced and caressed each other throughout the performance.
Fans summoned Sisen and his dancers back on stage. GPKISM finished their set with one more song, and Seileen danced around them, singing along. After the performance, the artists ran to their merchandise tables to give autographs.
But the party wasn’t about to end at 11:30 p.m. DJ Mighty Mike jumped on stage and announced that there was going to be more music and dancing. DJ Sisen and DJ Mighty Mike Saga kept spinning until the club closed at 2 a.m.
Lee Miller can be reached at email@example.com.