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Friday, April 8, 2011
The Monochrome Set
By IAN MARTIN
In many ways, The Monochrome Set are the archetypal "Big in Japan" band. Formed in 1978 by a handful of Adam Ant's former backing musicians, the band, featuring guitarist Lester Square's faintly retro playing style and vocalist Ganesh "Bid" Seshadri's dryly humorous lyrics, flew insolently in the face of the spittle-flecked and violently imploding punk movement.
Unfortunately, despite releasing one of the all-time great debut albums in 1980's "Strange Boutique" and coming ever-so close to widespread acclaim with "Eligible Batchelors" in 1982, they fell apart in the mid-'80s after a misjudged switch to major label Warner Bros., leaving behind a collection of songs that inspired numerous copycats in subsequent generations (every good idea that The Divine Comedy or Franz Ferdinand ever had was ripped off from The Monochrome Set).
Another unusual legacy the band left was their involvement with Mike Alway's el Records, a label that, with its stylish, exotic imagery and its dedication to intelligent, offbeat pop, formed a large part of the inspiration for the explosion of Japanese music from the late '80s that came to be known as Shibuya-kei. Even after the Set's demise, el continued to release Bid's solo material, and all members worked together as the backing band for Jessica Griffin project Would-Be-Goods.
Ultra-hip Japanese musicians took The Monochrome Set to heart in a way that perhaps only Pale Saints or early el labelmate Momus ever really rivaled, with special affection reserved for suave, charming frontman Bid (who was, appropriately, descended from Indian royalty). As a result, the band re-formed, Spinal Tap style, to take Japan by storm, with their subsequent albums largely bankrolled by their Japanese audience.
With the demise of Shibuya-kei in the late '90s, The Monochrome Set went on hiatus again; nevertheless, their popularity in the more stylish corners of the Japanese indie scene remains undimmed, and this year sees them return to Japan for three gigs, with guitar-pop revivalists Sloppy Joe and neo-Shibuya-kei lounge-pop outfit Les Stereo-Phonic Theatre.
The Monochrome Set play Shimokitazawa Garden in Tokyo on April 9; Takadanobaba Area in Tokyo on April 10; and Osaka Muse Hall on April 12. All shows open at 6 p.m.; tickets ¥6,500 adv. For more information, visit www.themonochromeset.co.uk.