If Kyary Pamyu Pamyu were into gaming, she’d probably make music like Kero Kero Bonito. The London three-piece exists at the intersection of PC Music and J-pop, making music that harkens back to the golden age of video games (the ‘90s, duh) while sounding uniquely, hyperactively now. On their new mixtape Intro Bonito, frontwoman Sarah Bonito sings and raps in English and Japanese like a bilingual kids’ TV presenter, but her childlike delivery belies a depth to her lyrics: the group’s breakout single, “Sick Beat,” focuses on gender stereotypes, and album track “Babies (Are So Strange)” grapples with not wanting to be a ‘child-producing machine’. Bandmates Gus and Jamie back up her flow with RPG-soundtrack bleeps and PaRappa-esque burbles that set them apart from the emerging London underground pop movement. We chatted with the band about their fave games, inevitable animal conflict, and collaborating on takeout, not music.
How did you three meet?
Gus: Me and Jamie had been friends at school and we were in lots of friends’ bands and stuff like that. We were really interested in Japanese rap so we put an advert on a community bulletin board for Japenese expats in London and we got our Japanese friend to do the translation. We looked for a Japanese rapper on there. We got loads of guys but Sarah was the one.
What made Sarah the best one?
Gus: For starters, she wasn’t an old Japanese man. She got along with us and it was really easy. Sarah’s done her own art and stuff as well.
Jamie: We found Sarah’s art profile and she was wearing all these crazy costumes and we were just like “well if she does that all for fun then we’ve gotta hang out with her.”
When you started making music how did you guys come about the sound?
Gus: When we met Sarah, at first we were doing a few different things, but when we started working together we thought it would be great if Sarah were doing her thing and me and Jamie played along. We wanted to give Sarah the clearest framework and the means to perfect. We love video games and the way those things sound because they’re really clean and simple. Simplest is just the clearest and the best.
What kind of instruments do you actually use to create the KKB sound?
Gus: We construct it all on Logic but we use a mix of stuff: lots of old cheap mini-modules and keyboards. Mostly electronic stuff though, not really any acoustic instruments at all.
So how does that work out live?
Gus: We use some of the same stuff. There’s one keyboard we really like, the Casio SA46, which is just a really cute, versatile keyboard. We used it a lot when making the album and use it live as well because it’s versatile and really easy to play. We use instruments that are good live but also reflect that, so we’ve got a Yamaha DD50 which is a type of drum pad and samplers that we put all the beats on. We do try to bring out the same vibe live.
I imagine your live shows get really crazy. What’s the weirdest show you guys have played?
Gus: I think the weirdest one was this one we played at a community home. That was pretty crazy. I think the craziest in terms of the actual show was JACK댄스. That’s the PC Music-oriented party in London. That was insane because there’s a smoke machine that they put out and all our equipment was wet because there was so much smoke and humidity.
Sarah: It was crazy. The smoke machine was just everywhere. It was a really fun gig.
Gus: Very intense.
You guys are emerging at a time when London’s underground pop scene is getting global recognition. What’s the vibe like in London right now?
Gus: It’s pretty chill. We do our thing. There are some fun nights. We never constructed a scene. There just happened to be a group of people with similar backgrounds in the city and because it’s so easy to find each other we just hooked up. It’s not too sceney but at the same time we all appreciate what we’re doing.
You mentioned PC Music earlier. Would you be down to collaborate with any of their artists?
Gus: I think we might go get a Chinese together sometime.
Collaborate on a takeout, I guess. Video games are clearly a huge influence on both their music and yours. What games were you playing when you recorded Intro Bonito?
Gus: Super Smash Bros. When we have parties we still get that game out. Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros are the ones that never die because they’re multiplayer, because there are so many permutations to play, you can always have fun with them. They’re social as well. Obviously there are lots of games we reference but I haven’t actually played a game in ages.
Sarah: I haven’t played Tomb Raider for a while now.
Gus: It’s a shame it’s not two player.
Sarah, you deliver lyrics in a naive, childlike style but your songs have pretty radical messages about gender and alienation. How did you come to choose that medium?
Sarah: It kinda happened. With the song “Babies (Are So Strange)” we were just talking and I was like “I really don’t wanna have babies” and we developed it up from there. I really like to play with words and put in things that are from everyday life. I mention the film Alien in “Babies”, Tomb Raider, Wacky Races. I really like putting humor and seriousness together. I think it works really well.
Some of the tracks on the album were just so weird it was hard to untangle, like “Cat vs Dog.”
Jamie: Cats and dogs fight. It happens in families; it can be the fabric of some families, like in my family the cat and the dog are always fighting. It’s always happening in my life so why not write about it?
Gus: It’s like an eternal struggle. Whenever you see a dog and a cat you know it’s going to happen. It’s amazing. It’s just war. Unconditional war.
Jamie: They can never live together.
That’s intense, guys. Sarah, you sing both in English and Japanese. Was there a conscious effort to make KKB a bilingual band?
Sarah: To me, both of them are my mother tongue so it feels natural for me to sing it in both languages. I think in both languages and I grew up in both cultures so to me it’s one. When I only use just one language I feel like I’m just using 50% of my vocabulary. I wasn’t thinking about putting English and Japanese together- it was just kinda natural.
Gus: The first song we did was “Homework” actually. We made a beat and we just gave it to Sarah and she came back with this amazing Japanese and English stuff. We were like “wow, let’s just do this.” In usual life it’s not an unusual thing either. There’s an incredible number of people that can speak more than one language so I’m not surprised that Sarah looked at it as one language.
Have you guys gotten a lot of hype in Japan?
Gus: Yeah, it’s definitely one of the areas where we see the most tweets about us.
Sarah: When Diplo played “Sick Beat” I saw on Twitter this Japanese guy was like “I was listening to Diplo and suddenly these Japanese lyrics came on!”
So what’s next for KKB?
Gus: We really want to do some more shows this year. We really want to do a world tour and go to America and Japan. We’re destined to go to Japan. Maybe put out a lead single before we put out a big record as well. We have another top-secret project coming out soon with Double Denim.