Working Through The Queue: Perfume's Reframe & Imaginary Museum "Time Warp"
This may seem like an unusual pair for me to chat about as I don't often speak about Japanese technopop, but these caught my eye for a very specific reason. See back in college I had a professor who shared a video of the artist collective known as Dumb Type. If I had to guess the video may have been Or Dumb Type, but enough time has passed that I can't be 100% sure on that. Either way, the trailers for Reframe and Imaginary Museum sparked that memory, and I was also fascinated with Imaginary Museum being an online celebration and forming the way it did due to Covid.
To say my knowledge on digital Japanese performance art is thin at best is still an understatement, especially if we were to try and track any development of that art scene from Dumb Type all the way to these newer performances. Conceptually speaking they're sort of polar opposites, considering Dumb Type had a more cynical look at technology and how Japanese society is seeped in the superficial world of the media. Perfume's work on the other hand is a pop lightshow of generally optimistic content, highlighted by the very sweet and earnest (but seemingly highly scripted) farewells given at the end of each of these performances. But while Perfume's performance here are certainly J-Pop candy meant for wider audiences, there's just enough performative art here that really seems to set it apart from your usual mainstream media concerts. But, y'know, is still a highly choreographed pop show with a mega budget.
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to propose that along the way the directors and producers of Perfume's shows were influenced by some of the groundwork laid out in Dumb Type's melding of music, choreography, computer design work, and so on. I shouldn't really run with that assumption though, so we'll just take it as an extremely stylized performance that's supposed to act as sort of a synthesis statement of the bands entire concert history.
And again, I'm not really someone who can give you a great breakdown as I don't really have a firm basis to critique it all on. In fact, because Netflix close captions only translated the parts of the songs that were spoken in English, I have no idea what any of the Japanese language portions of the songs meant. All I can tell you is some were catchy and there were some nice melodies, but mostly I was here for the light show and choreography. Which was all impressive and engaging, if somewhat seizure inducing in some places.
Imaginary Museum was, in comparison, a little less engaging for me. Its purpose as an online concert for fans who were disappointed that the band had to cancel it's big shows due to Covid is certainly wholesome, but essentially it's one big green screen music video.
As such, it's flashier, brighter, and so busy that it's a bit difficult to focus. The strong choreography is still there and still engaging, but the assault of sound and visual stimulation can be a bit overbearing. And that's like, for the full 50+ minutes of run time.
On top of that, in the same way that Reframe was a synthesis statement of their entire career, Imaginary Museum hits a lot of the same thematic beats and recycles a bunch of the choreography and visuals. Which isn't a bad thing, but when you see the two performances back to back it makes it easier to care more about the 2019 live performance more.
Imaginary Museum ends with the release of their newest song at the time, Time Warp. And man, it is a candy sweet nightmare of J-Pop confection.
It's like if The Mind's Eye and Saved From the Bell had a horrible demon spawn and unleashed it on an unsuspecting populace. But with a catchy tune and better graphics.
So is any of this worth your time? Well, if you like J-Pop than sure, or you can try it out at least to see if you might like it. The music is tricky for me to judge or criticize as I can't understand any of it, so it just depends on if I like the melody and tune (and I did like some of it). I was drawn in more for the performance aspect of it all, and I would say it's worth a watch just for that and to see the amount of effort and precision put forth in Reframe alone.
On a side note regarding Dumb Type, I did discover they had a new release that was scheduled for last year but was also delayed due to Covid. Titled "2020", it is very much a piece of performance art and entirely different than Perfume in pacing, tone, and content. Comparing the two entities side by side doesn't really seem practical. Yet there are still some minor similarities at times, be that simply the nature of digital based art shows or some manner of common ground in development over the decades.
Then again I could still be reaching, but in the end one piece of art helped me discover something new while also causing me to revisit and rediscover the works of an older collaborative group, so not too shabby a time spent.