It was a relatively small but eager crowd that gathered in the Bullingdon to watch the opening night of The Japanese House’s 10-date UK tour, which also happened to be the group’s first ever live show. After a handful of hyped singles, a fantastic debut EP, and feteing from all the buzz-building outlets anyone could hope for, the pressure was on to deliver.
There was an air of hushed anticipation as the crowd waited for the set to get underway. A sense of mystery has hung around The Japanese House since their debut single, ‘Still’, appeared online back in March of this year. That ethereal sounding track, with its distorted vocals and haunting, confessional lyrics, felt determinedly enigmatic and anonymous. The fact that their visual identity mostly comprised photographs of desolate seascapes that they took themselves only helped fuel the curiosity. Whose voice was that? What gender were they? Waiting there in the Bullingdon, one half expected to witness a Sia-like stunt, with a reclusive performer taking to the stage shrouded in a veil. Thankfully, that never transpired. It turns out the project is masterminded by Amber Bain, a diminutive, unassuming woman who appeared on stage drowning under an oversized grey cable jumper. According to her friends, who peppered the audience, this show was a nerve-wracking prospect for the singer, though you wouldn’t know it, as she delivered a fascinating 40-minute set that moved around between tracks from her previously released EP, Pools To Bathe In, and an upcoming release.
Beneath a sea of mostly blue and purple lights, she gave a deliberately pared-down but well thought through performance, with the music’s captivating harmonies swelling around her low, husky singing voice. Turning her slightly recessive stage presence into a virtue, she replaced cultivated mystery with the real thing.
The crowd leaned in as she guided them through the layers of astral melodies that rose and crashed in and out of the music. It was a hypnotic show that enthralled, absorbed and beguiled.
After a bit of brief chat between songs, and without an encore, she and her band left the stage, but she happily stayed to sign records and pose for photos. It was a charming end to a mesmerising set.
As the crowd dispersed in a zen daze, you got the sense that this was the last time you’d get to see The Japanese House at such an intimate venue.