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Friday, Jan. 8, 2010
Ghent's Das Pop goes overground
Special to The Japan Times
His upbringing pretty much ensured that the thought of being in a band was the farthest thing from Bent Van Looy's young mind.
Luckily, the front man for burgeoning pop rockers Das Pop had pals with more lenient guardians who opened a whole new world to him.
"My family lived in a small cabin in a forest in Belgium," explains the vocalist. "My parents didn't allow us to listen to pop music, which wasn't such a problem because it just wasn't around.
"In the same woods lived two friends my age. I would visit them and watch their TV since we didn't have one. That's where I saw Michael Jackson for the first time and my life was changed forever."
Instantly enamored with the forbidden fruit that was pop, after much pleading Van Looy was allowed to listen to Top 40 radio in his family's shed. Later meeting fellow pop fiends Niek Meul (bass) and Reinhard Vanbergen (guitar) in high school, they decided to start Das Pop in 1998 while sitting around Meul's kitchen table in Ghent, Belgium.
"During recess we would sneak into the music classroom and grab some bongos and a cello for a bass and would start playing together on the school playground," says Van Looy.
Now these former lunchtime rock stars (whose membership now includes New Zealand-bred drummer Matt Eccles) are garnering airplay in Japan with their polished, orchestral "Underground" single. Simple and catchy, the lead cut from last year's eponymous effort topped commercial radio charts throughout the country in November.
Although they previously issued a pair of full-lengths, 2001's "I Love" and 2003's "The Human Thing," in their minds their new album, "Das Pop," is the band's proper debut.
"This is the first album we released on such an international scale," says Van Looy.
"A lot has changed since we made those two early albums. We felt like starting anew with this one. We even contemplated changing our name, but ended up liking Das Pop too much. The reason this album is self-titled is because it feels like a first album to us."
Written over the span of a few years, the disc was recorded in Brussels and London with the help of fellow Ghent natives Soulwax. The brothers behind that alt-rock and electro act, Stephen and David Dewaele, were taken aback with the material for "Das Pop" and begin instantly pitching ideas for the project.
One of the biggies tossed out by the pair was to simplify things. While Das Pop's early work bordered on alt-rock with its layered, harder sound, Soulwax convinced their friends to try a different, more straightforward approach with a much cleaner production style.
"They suggested, quite rightly, that the power of Das Pop lay in the way we play together as a band. Before, we would arrange the songs in a very dense, baroque way, and Stephen and David made us see that the sparseness of three or four people playing together in a small room is sometimes more than enough.
"It was very fun working with them. We used to slave away in the studio and we were convinced no album could be made without having shed buckets of blood, sweat and tears. It was a revelation to see that making an album can be like a party."
The finished effort offers a well-rounded mix of modern guitar pop accented with garage rock, postpunk and a dash of soul. It's filled with shiny melodies and big hooks that even Van Looy's parents enjoy — as long as it's not played too loud. A definite hip-shaker, "Never Get Enough" packs a similar infectious edge as the hit "Underground." "Try Again" has strong single potential too.
The group spent two weeks in mid-November in Stockholm working on tracks for their next album. Once the demos are completed Das Pop plan to share them with Soulwax and hope they'll be interested in teaming up again. Expect the new songs to begin surfacing in their upcoming live sets.
Having toured extensively throughout Europe and in South Africa, Das Pop will make their first visit to Asia for concerts in Japan later this month. There's also talk of them gigging in North America, Australia and China as 2010 progresses.
Supporting slots for a diverse range of artists including Gossip, Death Cab For Cutie, and Justice, instilled the importance of winning over crowds that weren't comprised of Das Pop fans. This has led to some memorable moments.
"We try to make shows an unforgettable experience for all involved. For us as a band, the live shows are holy. The stage is where we belong. Ideally what happens is that the live show makes the record come alive, in the true sense of the word.
"In South Africa we played in a little school in a township near Johannesburg. All the children came to listen and the whole school erupted in a crazy dance contest. (At the Reading Festival) we had a 20-minute power blackout, but the crowd kept on clapping while we played the longest drum solo ever."
According to Van Looy it has been a longtime dream for all members to perform in Japan. With "Underground" having already created a buzz, what do they have planned to enamour themselves to local audiences?
"You will have to come down and see for yourselves. No Casanova divulges his secrets in national newspapers!"
Das Pop play Shinsaibashi Club Quattro in Osaka at 7 p.m. on Jan. 25, and Shibuya Club Quattro in Tokyo on Jan. 26. Tickets cost ¥5,000 in advance. For more information, call (06) 6281-8181 (Osaka show), or (03) 3477-8750 (Tokyo show), or visit www.smash-jpn.com.
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