Japanese internet sensation Babymetal smash their first UK festival gig. Matt Chapman reports from the mosh pit…
Sonisphere 2014 was full of surprises. Crossover rock/dance act The Prodigy went down a storm with a predominantly metal crowd; Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game got an airing courtesy of Him; there was way more fancy dress and cosplay than we anticipated; and the debut of a Japanese band fronted by three teen girls – which seriously angered some rock fans when it was first announced – won over the doubters.
Sandwiched between Alestorm (with their sea shanty songs about drinking) and cockney ‘legends’ Chas & Dave, Babymetal could so easily be written off as a novelty act. Yet it was clear interest in their set was high. With main stages placed at either end of the field, the turnover of bands was almost instant. That made it easy to see if an act was popular and even halfway through the preceding Alestorm set, a crowd has started to form for Babymetal.
While you might expect the Japanese act’s audience to be younger (and that was true to a certain extent) there was a bigger cross section than expected. By the time the band eventually took the stage, the crowd was huge, with cheers as Japanese voices called out the sound check. Meanwhile, the musicians – looking like extras from The Grudge thanks to their make-up and less anonymous compared with the full-body costumes they usually wear – offered the first signs they could rock their instruments.
Before the first real note was played in anger, a video heralded Babymetal’s arrival. Spinning a typical manga storyline about the struggle of heavy metal and the three chosen girls who travel to Europe to uphold it, it even featured an appearance from Iron Maiden mascot ‘Eddie’. It was the first step in winning over a crowd ready to embrace a new festival treat.
One song was enough to wash away any remaining doubt, as the mosh pit started its business. How could it not, when the backing band’s rock music is so strong it almost makes no difference who is singing over it? True, there’s a slight Bieberesque feel to the girls’ voices that almost clashes with that hard rock but in reality you could be reading children’s fairytales over the top of this stuff and it would still sound awesome.
That’s not to say the girls are superfluous – it’s their lyrics and chants that get the audience clapping in time, raising their hands in devil horns or kickstarting that mosh pit for the umpteenth time. Even a slow song has the crowd pulling back to form a wide, snarling circle, awaiting the moment guitars crash and drums roar so they can run towards each other like two armies in Game Of Thrones.
Live, Babymetal are invigorating, so even if you don’t rock out to their albums at home you’d find it hard to stand still during a gig. With the crowd chanting, “We want more” over and over again, it’s safe to say their first ever UK gig was a resounding success. And as it came to a close, the heavens opened: a fitting apocalyptic sign for any metal band.