Dietary restrictions can go to hell. Everyone can binge eat sugar when it’s doled out in soundbites. If your teeth are sore but you’re still craving high-fructose goodness, turn to Kero Kero Bonito, the London trio making ridiculously sweet J-pop dance. The band’s music is awkward and giddy, the type of songs fueled by nerves in the best way possible, but when it hits your ears, it incites an addiction—and we won’t stop you from obsessing. If anything, enveloping yourself in the sound makes it all the more delicious.
Kero Kero Bonito formed in 2013 when producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled took to an online forum in search of a singer. Sarah Midori Perry replied. They passed samples back and forth, and Perry—who had never sang in a band before—gave it her all, only trekking out to meet them for their first-ever band practice after songs had been written.
“I never thought I would be singing or be in a band to the extent that I am,” says Midori Perry when asked how she found her voice, one that bubbles and pops in sync with the music beneath her. “I did have the desire to be in a band the way all teenagers do, but when I saw the ad, I thought this could be fun. Before that, I was making visual art like painting, so at the time I thought this could be another outlet to express myself. I grew up speaking both English and Japanese, and I always wanted to use both languages in many parts of my life not just in singing, but in speaking. When I find someone who can speak both English and Japanese, that’s when I feel I can truly express myself. So in KKB, I did what came naturally to me, even if it was something completely new.”
As the vocalist, lyricist, and visual artist, Midori Perry is the figurehead of the band. She skips around in their music videos. She dawns a graduation cap on the cover of Bonito Generation, their new album. She’s the hook that listeners latch onto, and she’s got the artistic spunk to match that pitch.
Her history comes into play more heavily than Lobban or Bulled’s does, including the fact that she grew up primarily in Japan. Her mother is Japanese and her father is British, and Kero Kero Bonito is the perfect merge for the two, both in terms of sound (she raps in Japanese, twists sarcasm and silliness together, and mocks selfie status) and style (the super-clean image extends to neon backdrops, soup can telephones appear in videos, and Peewee-style decorations talk). She may have spent numerous years in Japan, but she was invested in English and American culture, from British slang to glueing her eyes to Cartoon Network show on TV.
Midori Perry’s experiences pop up in sly ways during Kero Keo Bonito songs. In “Picture This,” she uses the word “Purikura,” a photo booth that was popular at the time she was in Japan. “You go with your friends to this booth, take a picture, and then draw over it,” she explains. “The printouts are cool. I did that after school every day since it was so fun, and I reference it there to link back to that same type of fun, friendly way of hanging out.”
On Bonito Generation, Kero Kero Bonito speeds forward with a tighter sound than its first LP. Though it recalls PC Music trends (and Lobban releases music under that label as Kane West) and dance pop, the trio find their own sound. They take notes from N64 composers like Neil Voss over super-reduced Barbie style songs.
“We act like a band whereas PC Music acts like a corporation,” says Lobban. “Bonito Generation operates on the level of modern pop music while being direct and delivering it in a more designed way. It hits hard. This is relative to a lot of other electronic music in terms of layering and fine-tuning production—the gloss, per say—but all the macro details like the air in ‘Lip Slap’ or the trembling bounces in ‘Trampoline’ feel direct because we get rid of other distractions. There’s no wash of production. You experience the individual event more directly.”
That’s how Kero Kero Bonito works. The trio channel the craziness of the internet, from cute animal sounds to simmering electronics, and turn it into songs that are, at the end of the day, fun. That’s what music needs more of with less smartphone addiction. After all, digitalized life exists to uplift us on bad days and give us escape routes when life gets scary, and Kero Kero Bonito provides similar benefits.