They aren’t Japanese and they aren’t, strictly speaking, popstars. Yet so powerfully suggestive is the name I have a mental image of young men with funky haircuts, manbags full of the latest electronic gizmos and hordes of teenage fans in unfeasibly fashion forward attire. Their broad Northern Irish burrs give the game away though: the young men in question are the self-confessed “best thing to come out of Derry since The Undertones” and aspire to the stadium electronica crown once worn by the likes of Underworld and Orbital.
Why the name? “It was Declan’s idea. He’s into Japanese culture and stuff, and he’s the marketing brain. We thought if you can make money anywhere, you make it in Japan,” explains Gary Curran (aka DJ Curntables). Declan is “Decky Hedrock” and “Galo,” real name Gareth Donoghue, rounds out the ambitious trio of noisemakers. A typical track is ‘Face Melter’ – six minutes of distorted synths, grinding basslines and stomach-popping kick drums which comes off as Digitalism reinterpreted by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Like the rest of their oeuvre, it is a record designed to be played in wide-open spaces, loud.
The Popstars are old friends, all veterans of the Northern Irish music scene, DJing or in bands. “Me and Declan were at Oxegen [festival] one year and decided, ‘we can do this better,'” Gary says. They put their heads together, wrote a few songs, and started looking for gigs. Mind, this was two years ago, when minimal techno still had a firm grip on clubland and stadium electronica was at best a novelty. So why the grandiose plans?
“Anybody can DJ if they put their mind to it,” Gary says with a shrug. “We wanted to take it a step further. We want to be like Daft Punk, Leftfield or the Chemical Brothers. Our tunes happen to be big, and we want to headline festivals.”
This year, their wish has come true with impressive sets at Glastonbury, Oxegen and Wireless. “We had 6000 people dancing at Oxegen, at 2.30PM,” Gary reports proudly. It isn’t going too far to say this has been their summer, their moment. With the likes of Digitalism, Boyz Noise and Justice making an ear-drum punching case for raucous live electro the Japanese Popstars suddenly sound bang on trend. A panting raft of celebrity fans and supporters bears witness to this.
Pete Tong has played their tracks on Radio 1 and gave them their first gig on the island at Wonderland, at Eden. “It was great. Pete Tong bringing you to Ibiza is something you aspire to,” says Gary. Nor is the doyen of Radio 1 the only DJ throwing his weight behind their wall of sound. Zane Lowe, Eddy Temple-Morris, Soulwax and uber-tastemaker Erol Alkan are all enthusiasts, as is every music magazine going. The Guradian, Mixmag, Clash and DJ Mag have all fulsomely praised their debut album, We Just Are (out now on Gung-Ho Recordings) saying things like “these guys will be massive.”
Despite the accolades the lads seem to have their feet fairly firmly planted. They’re home in Northern Ireland, recovering from a gig, and their interview responses are interspersed with much chuckling and consultation. “I’m collecting all the cuttings to give to my mum – everything except the review in Loaded. I can’t give a copy of Loaded to my mother!” Gary guffaws.
Apart from good reviews in bad magazines they simply hope to have more opportunities to take their brain-bashing sound to the world. In particular, they are looking forward to their debut at Fabric, in London, and a return to Ibiza to play Cream at Amnesia. “God bless the Terrace!” Gary exclaims. “It’s massive! We’re in for a great time.”
They are also eagerly anticipating their first trip to Japan this autumn. “We hope they like us, otherwise the name will be a bit of a bad joke.”
Meantime, they’re sticking to what they know: great tunes and simple pleasures (“we don’t have much on our rider, mostly food and vodka”) and looking to spread the message to even more fans. “We’ve been called ‘loud, strident dance music for glowstick veterans’ but I don’t mind. Bring your glowsticks!” laughs Gary. “We want our fans to go hell for leather.” And really, it’s hard to imagine any other response to the Japanese Popstars’ outsized beats.
By Cila Warncke
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