Credit: Evie McCabe

Review: The Japanese House at SWG3

By Evie McCabe

 A shaky yet endearing start to The Japanese House’s UK tour

The first night of a tour can go one of two ways for an artist — and for The Japanese House, the first night of their UK tour at Glasgow’s SWG3 seemed to be going badly. For those who don’t know, Amber Bain, the brain behind The Japanese House, rose to fame after the release of her debut EP, Pools to Bathe In, in 2015. Bain started writing and performing music under the stage name after meeting The 1975’s Matty Healy in 2012, and signing to Dirty Hit. The combination of atmospheric electronics with clean, occasionally danceable guitar parts, means that the listener wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the close connection between the two bands. This UK tour was the first time Bain has graced the stage in four years, and while there were strong aspects to her performance, I left wondering if she would have such a strong fanbase had she never become associated with The 1975. 

Starting off strong — one of the best aspects of The Japanese House’s music is Bain’s vocals, often composed of uniquely layered harmonies which combine well with both the electronic and analogue elements of her music. This was no exception at the Glasgow show, with Bain’s backing vocalists delivering an equally stellar performance. The saxophonist in particular was incredible and earned cheers from the crowd during her solos. The setlist juxtaposed slower songs such as Chewing Cotton Wool with brighter cuts such as Boyhood (from Bain’s latest album In the End It Always Does) which showcased her stunning and recognisable voice.

Throughout the set, things seemed to be going wrong — Bain forgot or misremembered lyrics several times and there were issues with microphones and instruments, which overall did not make for a slick set. Bain was initially able to laugh these slip-ups off, but as they continued to happen, her nerves and frustrations became obvious. Credit must be given for her transparency — after performing One for sorrow, two for Joni Jones in the encore, she described it as “nerve-racking” and admitted it was her first time playing the piano on stage for a whole song. This vulnerability was a feature of the show which definitely made for good rapport with the young, queer crowd.

Bain has often been described as androgynous, with one interviewer memorably describing her as “a soft-spoken, queer 19-year-old girl with Kurt Cobain hair and boyish style”. This holds true in real life — I remember overhearing someone asking their friend, “Are they a boy or a girl?” midway through the set. Bain’s boyish style goes alongside a buoyant character on stage — perhaps especially so on the first date of her first tour in four years. Despite the moody and often miserable character of her songs, her cheeky smile and warm, funny comments to the crowd between songs made it clear that The Japanese House is not all doom and gloom.

Overall, it is hard to know whether to give Bain the benefit of the doubt or not. While some aspects of her performance felt shaky and amateurish, there were strong elements which showed why she has such strong support from her fanbase. Her vocals, backing band, and energetic relationship with the crowd were definite highlights and saved a show which could have been disastrous.


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