Mysterious and ominous, the venue for The Japanese House’s performance, Thekla, is a docked boat that looms in the harbour, a stone’s throw from the heart of Bristol city centre. Although it appears cold and unforgiving from the outside, once inside, it opens up into a small and intimate venue, for no more than 200 or so attendees.
The Japanese House’s opening act, Art House Girlfriend, played the crowd with an impressive vocal performance, but felt overall musically lacklustre with little sonic diversity and a recurring sound that made all songs blend into one long, slow performance.
A reappearing pattern of thick, heavy kicks, slow, rumbling 808s, simple chords and bass lines, and her strong yet soft voice carried what could be described as incomplete backing tracks and melodies, although it could equally be argued that her pronounced voice helped level out the overall performance, leaving the audience satisfied but lukewarm.
The Japanese House began their set with a track from their earlier days, ‘Face Like Thunder’, which, despite being in minor key, provided Thekla with an injection of smooth energy. Amber, of course, being the lead artist in the act, was beautifully accompanied by her drummer, bassist and keyboardist, a fact clear from the very first note played. Her physical energy on stage demonstrated a collected yet enthusiastic showmanship, and the opening track provided a delicate segue into her next song, which exuded an air of acoustic folk, with loose cymbals and a prominent but simple guitar.
Her physical energy on stage demonstrated a collected yet enthusiastic showmanship
At this point in the evening, if someone were to tell you that The Japanese House worked closely with The 1975, and that member George Daniel was a producer on some of Amber’s tracks, you might not be surprised. The layered harmonic vocals, tight digital snares or loud, echoing kicks, thick 808s, plucky bass, and the hauntingly beautiful synth float underneath Amber’s voice and create more than just a song – but render the air thick and heavy with atmosphere.
the hauntingly beautiful synth floated underneath Amber’s voice creating more than just a song
For comparison, listen to any of the slower songs in the Japanese House library, then listen to ‘Paris’, from The 1975’s sophomore record, or ‘Fallingforyou’ from their debut of the same name. The synthesizer and the vocal layering can be heard in Amber’s music as well. It’s not a bad fit.
This was, of course, the tour for The Japanese House to showcase their more recent EP and generate buzz for the upcoming March album. As such, a broad variety of music spanning across Amber’s entire career was on show and did not disappoint. “Follow My Girl” was the anticipated released single of the night, making the boat glow with soulful harmonies. Amber doubles up on the last syllable of one line and the first of the next on the chorus of this track, creating a unique sound that blends every piece of the song together, almost as though she sings with herself.
The song “Still” punctuated the energy of the set in a timely fashion, with slow, echoing drums, and the signature layered vocals that define The Japanese House’s sound. A ballad-like, soulful vocal performance sweeps the listener away into the empty space between each strike of the drums, the negative sonic space creating as much of an effect as any note or chord could. The vocals splash through the music, creating the illusion of waves lapping on the shore.
A ballad-like vocal performance sweeps the listener away into the empty space between each strike of the drums
The live rendition of “Lilo” was the song which most prominently featured vocal talent, and for once, it felt like the quintessential Japanese House building blocks relinquished centre stage to let Amber and her guitar sing through the beat and create a drifting, loose sound with light touches of keys delicately decorating the background.
Amidst all this was Amber’s gentle humour when engaging with the crowd, a mix of contentment and humility, and when the set wrapped up, I was lucky enough to find her and her group outside the venue and thank them for the show.
The Japanese House played the listeners on this floating venue into a tranquil yet enthralled lull with a cornucopia of stylistically varied drums thanks to a very capable percussionist, beautiful vocals and vocal effects. An overall spellbinding live performance that clings true to the crisp cleanliness of the studio originals.