As the tattoos on my right arm will attest, I love Mutant Monster. Not just because they are a great band, which they are, but because they are an important band. They are also three of my favorite people in the world. The trio operates on the fringes of the Japanese “girl’s band” movement; a broad sub-scene operating within and across myriad genre-cultures currently redefining what it means to make exceptional music in transgressive genres grown stale with western tropes of sociologically emphasized and exoticized femininity. A fringe operation befits their punk-rock ethos, and punk is not something that has ever really connected with me in a meaningful way.
Yes, there have been crossover artists and albums exposing a punk I found pleasing to my metalized manner, but it’s been rare and usually inconsequential to my fandom. The two-prong punk approach to music that, during my more formative years, annoyed me, and in a quest for intellectual and musical maturity, just plain offended me, puts my eyes in a position my mother still believes will become permanent. First there’s punk’s anti-musicianship demeanor, which as a trained musician and a bit of a proponent of music fandom’s technical connoisseurship, makes me wince. Second, there’s the attitudinal wallowing in complaining about generic disenfranchisement. Fair enough, but it eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. British punk has done this more than American punk and there is a lingering disposition which excuses being socioeconomically stuck and has psychologically ensnared some in fatalist socioeconomic thinking.
New Punk, Pop Punk, Post-Pop Punk, Postal Pop-o-Matic Punk, or whatever whippersnapper alliteration is at play, doesn’t work for me either, but it’s at least a step in a direction I understand and can’t dismiss. It is a perfectly acceptable compromise between the worlds of simple rock n’ roll energy and a mature acceptance of organic artistic commodification. The DIY ethic, sense of fun, and lack of shame in making music appealing in that Battle to Build a Better Ear-worm kind of way, is, thank the Fox God, not the slightest bit offensive to intellect or musicianship regardless of naive political whim or self-perpetuating social discord. Yet…I don’t really dig it on a purely taste level. I can say with ease and respect from atop my metal perch: it’s just not my bag, man.
Well…leave it to three girls.
I only use the word “girls” because it is part of the vernacular in describing the scene-within-scene world of prolific Japanese all-female rock, punk, or metal bands. I am still a little unsure if I find the label condescending or empowering for women, but maybe as a run-of-the-mill heterosexual gaijin male, it isn’t even my place to judge. As a cultural outsider I don’t know how to necessarily justify or condemn appropriated English so I just roll with what people are cool with saying. It seems to be used very much like “girl power,” which is colloquially just fine, especially since woman indicates maturity and girl can be used to represent the gender on a casual whole with positive meaning, and even the amazing band in question has a song called “Girl’s Fight.” It feels like there is agency in the usage. But make no mistake: Mutant Monster is comprised of three women. Chad, Be, and Meana, managed to do things I never thought possible, having nothing to do with gender. Among them, a punk band has become of major consequence in not just my fandom, but my life, and achieved the miracle of reinstating my lost faith in the musician.
I first heard them on YouTube with a recommended video. One video led to another, then another. It was definitely enough to persuade me into a club in Tokyo. I enjoyed the music’s punch, directness, and ease of arrangement without being overpowered by subcultural swagger. I also REALLY liked the voices. Vocal characteristic is one of punk’s primary aesthetics with which I have struggled. It was not affected, snarling, sniveling, or shouting, but an organic delivery with understated hooks. Over a year ago I saw them for the first time and little did I know I would soon become such a fan that they would alter my musical outlook.
They had a five date swing through the UK in late 2016 and I decided to support them by attending every show on the tour and welcomed them with personalized dog-tags engraved with their name and the cities of the tour. I wanted them to feel welcome, not knowing what the turnout would be and knowing how uncertainty of that kind can weigh on the hearts of performers. I remember from my own experience how much it means to be appreciated for such a daunting task as flying half way around the world to see a dream fulfilled. The gifts were enthusiastically appreciated and I figured I would leave it at that.
However, the pub and club tour saw my appreciation increase every night. There was no wallowing. No drastic sociopolitical venom. They were having fun, popular music’s often lost core principle, and presented me a back-catalog of one astoundingly perfect and powerful track after another. It was all tastefully simple and crafted with a musicianship that didn’t need to overstay its welcome because the songs were complete as they were within a context which allows for it. They made such perfect choices in arrangement letting the songs develop on their own and never got in the music’s way. That’s a deceptively sophisticated talent. Focus remained on the song, not on them as performers, characters, or attention seekers. They displayed an uncanny musical situational awareness knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it with efficiency without using simplicity as a crutch. This is rare in music, but in punk it’s almost nonexistent. I like embellishments, technical proficiency, and experimentation, as well as shameless entertainment with bombast and bluster, but I also like the straightforward as long as my intelligence isn’t insulted. This was the most satisfying of the latter. I was not just hooked. I was invested.
Every night they would greet me after the show with appreciation, kindness, and professionalism, and Meana would always be wearing the dog-tags. Never too punk for the room. Never chasing a manufactured identity in a subculture desperate for expressing a desire to be anti-everything except their own attention seeking costumes and pretend angsty alienation. They were grateful but never positioned as milquetoast. Honest rock n’ roll rather than genre-culture affectation was genuine to the point of my befuddlement. It’s just so…not done.
On the day of the London show, I commemorated the experience by getting a tattoo of my favorite MM t-shirt design. When they saw it, Meana was about in tears and Chad and Be were speechless. From then on, I felt a bond with them which has only strengthened with time. In a world of musical posturing and bravado, sociopolitical self-absorption, and artistic self-righteousness, these women were the opposite of the musicians who frustrated me for decades and displaying my appreciation felt appropriate. I left making music for many reasons. Among them: musicians themselves—lack of professionalism, drunkenness and excuse making, artistic entitlement and desperation to achieve illusory authenticity or mask insecurities. MM had won me over as the embodiment of everything I ever wanted musicians to be.
They have since solidified themselves as the most genuine musicians I have ever met. On-stage and off they are the same people. They love rock n’ roll. They love each other. They love their fans. They love to play. Their maturity and professionalism is astounding—able to approach the music business with simultaneous seriousness and wonder maintaining a near unheard of balance of youthful optimism (sans naiveté) and experienced grit. They run their own show. No team, no staff. The branding is impeccable, and they don’t resent the business but operate intelligently within it, sticking to their principles without losing themselves in the fray. Never unkind or unappreciative, I have been greeted by hugs, high-fives, and enthusiastic smiles, and always made to feel welcome at their gigs as a tiny part of their expanding experience.
In addition to this, they are role models. They do not adhere to masculine coding and do not lower themselves to ever be treated in a condescending manner, particularly by any men who dare watch them for all the wrong reasons. The evolution of their look is testament to this. When I see younger bands share the stage with them, and then see them watching MM from the back of the room, I hope they are taking notes. In an era of the changing and evolving Japanese woman, MM is the very image of modernity. They are maintaining agency, creative and imaginative in thought and action, and subverting gender roles without overt political agenda. And the boys should pay attention too. MM does not just act as a “girl’s band” should, but as all bands should.
I have seen them now around 30 times (I think) and a second tattoo sits above the first one. I still see them wear the tags, and I will always wear MM on my right arm as a badge of honor. I think of them now as my friends and am honored by the casual rapport, but I still want to respect the band/fan dynamic because in many ways they have become role models for me as well. I aim for Chad’s stout professionalism, Be’s sheer sweetness, and Meana’s emotional honesty. That’s not to say each only represents those attributes, as I believe they all share the collective traits I find so precious, but each seems to radiate a particular focus of strength.
American punk, British punk, subcultural attitudes, socioeconomic and political squawking—it doesn’t matter. Mutant Monster matters. Mutant Monster is important for my fandom and relationship to music. They are important for punk, the broader J-rock music scene, and women in the music business. While I credit Babymetal with reinvigorating my fandom and they remain my favorite act of all time, I credit Mutant Monster with restoring my faith in the people who make music, reminding me that music can still be made by honest and pure people for honest and pure reasons. Punk may still not be my thing, but bands which write perfect situationally aware music, embody the spirit of rock’s timeless constitution, and do so with professionalism, joy, and fervent belief in themselves, not only earns my respect but my fierce and unwavering loyalty. Even if they eventually get sick of my face and my now famous beanie popping up in front of their stage, I’ll support, defend, and champion these three remarkable women forever.
Genre be damned.
song of the day – Abnormal by Mutant Monster