Babymetal are something of a musical phenomenon. Over a couple of years, they have moved from being a novelty band that left people reeling in disbelief when their Gimme Chocolate video went viral (much to the delight of those of us who had found the band a year earlier with the Headbanger! video)to being an admired and adored musical force – a breath of fresh air in the increasingly moribund metal music scene and an example of how musical mash-ups – in this case, speed metal, J-Pop and God knows what else being thrown into the mix – can actually create something new, fresh and thrilling, a world away from the tedium and crassness of current British and American pop music. Any suggestion that Babymetal were a throwaway novelty act – a belief that some metal traditionalists cling to desperately – has surely been disproven by now. This is, after all, a band who went from what I suspect everyone thought was a one-off gig at London’s Forum to the Brixton Academy in just a few months – and now, just over a year later, are filling the 12000 capacity Wembley Arena. And while some of the audience for that first Forum gig were certainly there out of curiosity, that’s no longer the case. Babymetal have a devoted fan base unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and no one was here ironically – the audience, more diverse than anything I’ve ever seen, was loving every second of this show.
And rightly so. I’m not a fan of arena shows in general, but Babymetal are a band that was made for the grand scale of a show like this. And of course, playing one of the biggest venues in the country is a huge ‘fuck you’ to their critics (rubbing it in, at one point in the show, the video screen that plays out the whole Star Wars inspired Metal Resistance mythology that the band engage in shows a brief history of their conquering of the UK – from the gigs and festivals to the Kerrang! and Metal Hammer awards that they have picked up). And so I can put aside my doubts about the soulless nature of the arena show in order to trek out to Wembley, which is of course in the middle of nowhere.
En route, we stop off at what seems to be the only local pub – very much of the ‘estate pub’ type, populated by gruff looking locals who are all watching football on a frankly ridiculous number of flatscreen TVs. Things liven up when a bunch of large Polish men in the corner have some sort of disagreement – one nonchalantly pouring his pint over the table (I assume spilling your own pint makes sense in these situations) and his chum responding by smashing several glasses on the floor and the table, as a half-hearted kerfuffle ensues. All hell breaks loose for a moment and we start to wonder if we’ll actually get out of here alive (we don’t exactly fit in with the locals), but things are eventually calmed down, and we finish up our pissy beer – no real ale pub, this – and make our leave.
The queues outside Wembley are massive – though thankfully moving at a steady pace as the rain belts down on us. Inside, radio 1 DJ Daniel Carter is spinning discs – I don’t much get the idea of DJ as artist, but there was a solid enough mix of tunes to keep us entertained as we carefully positioned ourselves – not too close to the front (no one sane wants to be caught in a mosh) but close enough to have a decent view. As it happens, there is a catwalk jutting out from the stage, ensuring that when Babymetal finally appear, we are close enough to see the whites of their eyes.
The stage set is suitably grandiose here, perhaps closer to the band’s epic Japanese gigs than anything we’ve seen before. And the performances are pretty much flawless, as Su-Metal, Yui-Metal and Moa-Metal – backed, as ever, by the extraordinary Kami Band – rip through a mix of material from their debut album and the newly released Metal Resistance. The old material is much loved, and so, it seems, are the new songs – a large part of the audience clearly already being very familiar with the new stuff, even though the album was only released a day earlier.
And as excellent a form of entertainment that Babymetal are, much of the joy of this show is in watching the audience. Never have I seen such a wildly varied and un-pigeon-holeable crowd, all brought together by a single band. At one point, to the right of me there is a pretty sizeable (and very civilised) circle pit spinning away, while to the left of me, four of five raver boys are dancing vigorously. It suddenly all makes sense, as the speed and dubstep flavourings that are scattered throughout Babymetal’s sound makes this perfect music for the dance scene. While scattered throughout the arena are Japanese fans, all knowing the dance moves and taking an entirely understandable pride at the band’s success. It’s impressive to see this whole crowd, hands in the air, singing along with gusto to gig closer Road to Resistance, which has pretty much been the band’s anthem since it debuted at the Brixton show.
And that’s the thing that metal purists just don’t get about Babymetal – for all the controversy that they inspire amongst metal fans, they are not actually a metal bad at all. Rather, they are a heady collision of musical styles, of which metal is just one element – there’s as much electro, dance, ska and even military music in the mix, and the results are extraordinary. This really is genre-defying, or perhaps even genre destroying. Something for everyone, as they leave tired old musical conventions tattered in their wake.
The one word that keeps coming to mind when thinking about this gig is ‘joy’. The audience are loving it. The band are loving it – and I’m sure these three teenage girls are having the time of their lives, and probably still can’t quite believe that they have achieved what no other Japanese band has managed in the West. Everyone is having fun. No one is self-consciously worried about being cool. And the music, the performance and the visuals are glorious. This is entertainment at its very best, and you can’t help put pity the people who are too caught up in their own narrow definitions of genre to open themselves up enough to enjoy this. I’m not saying everyone will enjoy Babymetal – but those who bloodymindedly refuse to even give them a chance are the ones really losing out.
No one would have expected Babymetal to pull off a gig like this two years ago, but they came and they conquered – crushing all doubts with consummate ease. Even more impressively, the whole thing was simulcast live to ten thousand fans back in Japan (and consider what time it would have been over there). The suggestions I’ve seen from some sources that the band is unpopular in their home country are clearly a nonsense. In any case, on the basis of this show, I wouldn’t care to bet against the band playing even bigger UK venues in a year’s time. Suddenly, the thought of a headline slot at music festivals doesn’t seem so ludicrous, and personally I couldn’t be happier about the prospect.