Kero Kero Bonito – Picture This
Last year, I saw a DJ set from the producer SOPHIE and twelve months on, I’m still struggling to make head or tail of what went on.
It was your usual British festival crowd – men dressed exclusively in clothes from Urban Outfitters and girls in tiny denim shorts – and they were having the time of their lives, yet SOPHIE appeared to be wilfully sabotaging his own set. He’d stop and start tracks, change to undanceable, jerky beats and tempos, and generally appear as if he were changing his mind about what to do every thirty seconds. Most striking though, were the visuals which, amongst other things, included graphic, close-up footage of surgery. Did this phase the crowd? Of course not. It was a festival; everyone had drunk half their own bodyweight in Tuborg by that point anyway.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. SOPHIE is part of the PC Music stable – a group of artists who make lurid, hypnagogic pop music whilst treating their approach to fame and celebrity as a kind of art project. They court the trendiest parts of the indie cognoscenti whilst displaying contempt for their audience and producing tracks which, let’s be honest, sound like Scooter half the time.
Whilst not affiliated with PC Music per se, London electro-pop trio Kero Kero Bonito certainly share many of the same hallmarks. They draw heavily from J-pop and video game music (arguably their best known track, Sick Beat, samples the game Super Mario 64), and write songs on Casio keyboards. Not only that, one of them performs under the name Kane West and releases artwork which features nothing but the Comic Sans font.
This could all degenerate into a horrendous hipster-ish in-joke. You can certainly imagine it being lauded in Sugar Ape magazine, the publication central to the TV series Nathan Barley. On the surface, 2014’s Picture This fits in with the style over substance accusations. It’s twee, catchy and appears to be completely mindless. I mean, it’s a song about taking photographs of everything – in the Instagram age, what could be more disposable?
But actually, there’s an incredibly wry, dry wit at work here. The chorus tells us when taking a picture, “don’t forget to show everybody you’ve ever known”. A cursory glance at your Facebook news feed will tell you that’s exactly what we’re all doing. We’ve become a generation self-obsessed, all treating social media as if we’re each the stars of our own television shows. The line is both throwaway and cutting – as if we’d forget to show everybody we’ve ever known.
Then there’s the flipside of this. Digital photography may be so ubiquitous that a single picture is essentially meaningless, but in our own way, we’re documenting the here and now, and we can look back on those memories. “When you’re old and wise you’ll find / All the shots you’ve got / Bring back the time it’s easy to believe / Yesterday was so sweet”. Think of the pangs of nostalgia or the Proustian rush that comes from Facebook reminding you a certain picture was taken on this day five years ago. It’s social commentary dressed up as the fluffiest of confections.
The best pop music is thrilling and instantaneous, while the greatest songs speak to us on a deeper level. It’s not that Picture This is an anthem for our times as such, but it certainly speaks to who we are and what we’ve become. But you can choose to ignore all that if you like, and you’ve just got a cracking slice of J-pop that will rattle around your head for days.
Entered chart: Did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? The answer to this question, as it is to many, many questions, is Charli XCX.
“Yesterday was so sweet” gives it just the right undertow of melancholy.