Singer, producer and guitarist Amber Bain – aka The Japanese House – had an incredible 2015. From hooking up with drummer George Daniel and frontman Matt Healy from chart-topping alt. rockers The 1975 to produce her music to releasing well-received first EP Pools To Bathe In, with single Still being Zane Lowe’s last ever Hottest Record on Radio 1. Second EP Clean was then released, adding a further four floaty tracks to her repertoire.
Only now does the 20-year-old Londoner really have the combined material to put on headline shows of her own. But given her vocal style is very much akin to that heard on Imogen Heap’s 2005 single Hide and Seek, with heavy use of vocoder technology to give an ethereal, otherworldly sound to it, what would a live performance be like?
First up, while Bain is front and centre, appearing understated in super-ripped jeans and a white t-shirt, her right-handed strung Fender Mustang guitar being played upside down, left-handed, she is flanked by a drummer and a keyboard + bass player adding the necessary depth to her sound in order to truly carry a headline show. And how do those spacey vocoder-enhanced vocals translate to a live show?
Amazingly well is the answer. While there is a girl in the audience to my left within earshot belting out every single word to all but the final song, the words don’t seem to matter as much as the tone and mood set by each new number.
Off the bat, Bain and her troupe open with latest EP title track Clean, the frontwoman struggling with hearing anything from her guitar. But once the technical issues are resolved, the energy in the room escalates as the opening lyrics from the song are sung, the chilled anthemic tune refreshingly uplifting.
First EP title track Pools To Bathe In is up next, the delicate guitar work leading into stunningly delivered dreamy vocals and some off-rhythm drum work as the water-theme of Bain’s music continues.
Commenting on her last Dingwalls appearance she said “last time we played here, we played in the restaurant, so it’s really nice to play an actual gig here”, a few laughs rippling across the crowd as Pools track Teeth emerged, the slow and chilled beat broken by sporadic lead guitar bursts leading into a wah-wah lick to add some funk to the tune.
For Letter By The Water, the water theme takes a turn for the morose, mingling with suicide and has Bain singing “Water bring my body in, I won’t take a breath, I want to drown”.
The trio rattled through the remainder of the group’s eight released tracks with considered abandon, focused on the performance with an occasional glance at her audience by the 20-year-old frontwoman, nerves appearing sporadically but really only helping to enhance her presence on the re-purposed Victorian industrial unit stage.
Finally, we’re treated to what is described as a “stripped-back version of a new song” of work-in-progress track Leon, most likely a reference to the 1994 film of the same name which Bain has previously stated she became obsessed with. And if this upbeat ambient song demonstrates the calibre of her new material, Amber Bain’s ambition is shining through in droves and we should look forward to her first LP. In her own time of course.
The Japanese House go on an extensive tour, supporting Dirty Hit labelmates The 1975, across the UK with five (count them five!) stops at London’s Brixton Academy, Europe and then on across the US before heading back to the UK for festival season, hitting up the travelling Dot To Dot Festival as well as Secret Garden Party.
Live Review: The Japanese House @ Dingwalls
Live review & photography by Kalpesh on 25th February 2016, see more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate