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Friday, Oct. 13, 2006

School's out for Oreskaband teens

Special to The Japan Times

'I don't think being high-school girls is an important part of our band," says 18-year-old Tae-san, drummer with Osaka ska band Oreskaband. And with mere months until their graduation, we're about to find out if she's right.

News photo
High-school group Oreskaband don't let homework get in the way of their many band commitments.

These six bubbly teens already have a minialbum "Ore" on a Sony offshoot in their satchels that measures up to fellow Osaka ska bands Doberman, Muramasa and Puppypet. They have also played with veteran ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez, and they delivered a lively performance on the Rookie A Go-Go Stage at Fuji Rock Festival '06.

They now have a string of live dates, a new single and, to help them tap into the teen demographic, a talk radio show. But can Ikusa (17, guitar, vocals), Tomi (18, bass, vocals), Saki (17, trumpet), Moriko (18, sax), Leader (17, trombone) and Tae-san juggle all this activity with their final-year exams?

At the very mention of the e-word, Ikusa's face contorts into a mask of horror, and she moans "Oooooh! Nonononononono . . ." A more composed Leader explains, "They're important exams for our graduation."

"They're not the final ones though," says Ikusa, regaining her cool. "Those come in semester three, and it's semester two now."

Oreskaband insist that the balancing act is easier than it looks. Nonetheless, the girls are keen to put school life behind them, and none of them will go to college next year. Clearly they want to make music their first priority. But what will happen to this "high-school band" when they're no longer at high school? Will their image -- and fan base -- falter?

"If we can continue the basic style of our music, we can go on as we are," insists Tae-san. "It doesn't matter whether we're high-school girls or not. We don't like studying . . . "

". . . But we love music," adds Saki.

Oreskaband formed in 2003 at Tsukisu Junior High School in Sakai-shi, Osaka. Tomi, Tae-san, Saki and Moriko were in a band together, and once Leader, and later Moriko, became involved, the girls realized that ska would suit the newcomers' brass talents -- and Oreskaband was born. Well, Oretachi Kasukasu American Lawson Ska Band With Katta Shirts was born, but they reached the conclusion that their name was a tad long and shortened it.

Even after a weekend of interviews and photo shoots, the girls are upbeat and utilize our time together to excitedly practice their English and get their message out to the masses. "We want people to know who we are and what we're doing, even if they don't like us," says Ikusa.

The girls' weekly radio show started last week on Tokyo FM's "Buzz Room" program, giving them the chance to interact more with their fans, as well as each other. Saki tells us that while the members chat and play records, "people can call in with questions and we'll respond."

Not that many questions from callers are likely to get answered: The girls spent most of their time on the first show in fits of giggles.

Of course, not all teens are interested in Oreskaband. The girls themselves are wary of the ash-colored hair, blackened skin, silver makeup and painted talons that define Japan teen culture's strangest figures, the kogyaru.

"They're very lonely people," says Leader, a look of fear on her face. "Black! They make themselves black with artificial tan. They like to stake out their territory, and that kind of behavior proves that they're lonely."

"They want to express something," says Tae-san sympathetically. "I can understand that. But getting the artificial tan, and all that, I don't get it."

Leader: "They gather in the triangle park at Amerikamura in Osaka and dance para para [synchronized dancing]. Mysterious . . ."

Oreskaband's single "Almond" is out Nov. 1. They also play School Of Lock and Yuzu School Festival at Hibiya Yagai Ongakudo, Tokyo, Oct. 21 (students only, 2,969 yen, tel. [03] 5436-9600); Rico Rodriguez Meets Japan event at Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka, Nov. 22 (4,410 yen in advance, tel. [06] 6281-8181); and Spaceshower Rekiden -- Shinsaibashi Winter Battle!, Nov. 25 at Shinsaibashi Club Quattro (2,300 yen, tel. [06] 6357-3666).

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