Peelander Z : Performing Comic Action Punk in the 21st Century

“We are not Japanese, we are not Americans, we are not human beings, we came from planet Peelander” yelled Kengo Hioki at the terrace of the Elysium while a camera man was interviewing him. Hioki San was wearing a single piece yellow chicken outfit that had a P and a white star in his vest. The costume, inspired by the sentai style suits (the ones used by the Power Rangers), is the official skin of the members of the band Peelander-Z. The concert they had just played was spectacular. I enjoyed it a lot, and was impressed by the energetic expressionism of their punk music performance. Although I have been assisting to several  Japanese punk music concerts, the live show of Peelander-Z was outstanding, more entertaining and clownish, more fun. I was captivated by their relationship with their public, by the cartoon-like colors of their dresses, by the simplicity of their music, and, overall, by their whole performance. Participating in their show made me happy and it made me laugh. If punk had to survive in the 21st century, the ensemble and collage that Peelander-Z puts together is one of its genuine expressions. Pure Japanese action comic punk.

And when I say genuine, I mean it in an ironical sense, because punk will never scape its paradoxical and contradictory subcultural nature. It will be authentic and revel but it will be condemned to use the language that is available in the mainstream culture, in the tradition, in the popular imaginary. As Dick Hedbidge,  points out in his seminal work Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979), in order to communicate noise, chaos, and disorder, punk needs to play with the  language that is available in society and culture. Hedbidge said,

“The various stylistic ensembles adopted by the punks were undoubtedly expressive of genuine aggression, frustration and anxiety. But this statements, no matter how strangely constructed, were cast in a language which was generally available – a language that was current.” (87)

In the 21st century, the arsenal of symbols that is available for appropriation is extensive. Contemporary punks can steal and subvert a repertoire of globalized signs that covers several centuries. Peelander-Z, for instance, constructs its style, alternative identity, and Otherness, by using bits of Japanese action sentai heroes (power rangers), cartoon animation, science fiction, classic punk hairstyles, bowling, classic Americana,  and other kinds of noisy elements. The result of such articulation is  a caricature that makes us laugh and sympathize, a collage of nonsense, an absurd. Its meaning reminds elusive, deceive us, and evaporates.

However, it is when Peelander-Z  performs that the signifying practice of its punk style communicates the most. It is in their show when noise and chaos become meaningful, an organic whole. Their music is very basic and direct according the principles of the DIY ethics (e.g. Mad Tiger, S.T.E.A.K). Simple cords and lyrics compose the structure of Peelander-Z’s songs in a similar way as they structured the music of mythical punk bands such as  The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. Following the revolutionary aesthetics, Peelander-Z erases the boundary between audience and artists using different strategies. For instance, by offering instruments and props to its diverse audience (children, teens, adults, elders), Peelander-Z invites them to take active part of the performance. Kitchen utensils, drum sticks, and metallic bowls are given to a public that immediately starts to create a percussion line, adding more layers of sound to the noise played at the stage. Perhaps inspired by the epic-theater of Bertold Brecht, Peelander-Z also uses handwritten signs to indicate to the audience the lyrics of the song, encouraging to add its voice to the aural chaos. And if these tactics were not enough, several times the members of the band jump into the audience pit and perform antics disguised as bowling pins and red giant squids.

I had lots of fun during Peelander-Z performance. I not only danced and sang to their music but also documented their show with my camera-phone. I have finally put together a montage that summarizes their live action performance. As an audiovisual document, it complements well the brief analysis I have elaborated above. However, the video does not replace the adrenaline and interactivity of a Peelander-Z performance.

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