Japanese Popstar Gary Curran says new 'punk and break beat' track 'Checking Out' was inspired by 2020 chaos and there's more to come

In July with no fanfare The Japanese Popstars dropped their first record in six years.

Friday, 14th August 2020, 5:29 pm
Updated Friday, 14th August 2020, 5:38 pm
Gareth Donoghue and Gary Curran, better known as The Japanese Popstars.
Gareth Donoghue and Gary Curran, better known as The Japanese Popstars.

‘Checking Out,’ featuring lyrics and vocals from Alloy Mental frontman Martin Corrigan and a Sean Curran video is a visceral slab of punk electro summoning the 2020 zeitgeist.

It marks a triumphant return for Gary Curran and Gareth Donoghue after what’s been a pretty long hiatus.

This week the ‘Journal’ caught up with Gary to discuss the electronica duo’s future plan of attack. He revealed more tracks are in the can and they too will touch on some of the familiar themes of division, corruption, violence and fear that have been on many minds lately.

“There is a bit of a theme taking shape with some of the music at the minute.

“‘Checking Out’ with Martin’s lyrics comes across with strong views that are related to what’s going on in the world in 2020,” he says.

The video certainly enhances the experience. A kaleidoscopic jump edit of street protests, flares, oppression, global warming, surveillance and brainwashing, the film’s an apt accompaniment to the insistent post-punk base line and break beats, which carry Martin’s agitprop lyrics.

A still from the video for the new record 'Checking Out.'

“We were very careful about the video. We tried to represent every movement without offending anyone. People might have thought we were cashing in on Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter can get distorted a bit now as well. You have the true form of it and then all the riots,” he notes.

Derry features prominently in the visuals and for quite a poignant reason for Gary and his younger brother Sean who directed.

“Free Derry Corner’s in there. My uncle, Paddy Coyle, recently passed away. He had the gas mask on in the mural. Our video came out and he passed away a week later. A really nice man. I felt it was important to reflect the civil rights in Derry without the violence because, even though it looks as if he was involved in that activity, if you ever spoke to him it wasn’t about him joining the IRA or anything. It was just about helping people. It was strange the way it happened at the one time,” he says.

The duo forged a formidable reputation as a live act before going on sabbatical six years ago.

Sean, who works as an educational video content provider in his day job, essentially demanded the directorship role upon hearing the single.

“When I let him hear the track he said: ‘I’m doing that.’ We asked him to have a whack at it and when he sent it back we were blown away.

“He’s doing well. It’s good to have talent in the family!” he laughs.

Though Gary has been a fixture on the local scene playing DJ sets in clubs and bars over recent years, until last month it had been a long time since the Japanese Popstars had put out anything in their own name.

The video for the new single 'Checking Out' focuses on the turmoil convulsing the world in 2020.

“It’s seven years since the last album ‘Disconnect: Reconnect’ went out on Bedrock. I think by that stage we were kind of burnt out. There was a lot going on behind the scenes, just travelling, and a lot of gigs,” he avers.

At the height of their powers either side of 2010 the band were putting out records in collaboration with artists such as Robert Smith from The Cure, Green Velvet, Tom Smith from the Editors, and Jon Spencer. They earned a formidable reputation as a live act and played some of the biggest festivals on the planet including Glastonbury, Benicàssim and Electric Picnic.

Listening to Gary recall that time is exhausting.

“I remember there were a couple of gigs in December. I left on Christmas night and went to Dublin, flew from Dublin to London, eventually we ended up in Goa, did the gig, came back, then we were back down for another gig in Ireland somewhere. I returned back from that for a New Year’s Eve gig in Belfast and then on a flight to America the next day.

"I was in bed for three days with migraines and headaches. You are in the back of an aeroplane and if you get a remix that lands in you are trying to work with your headphones to bring things back to finish in the studio.

“As much as I love it and I still love music it takes its toll. People think you are away having all this party lifestyle but when you start meeting your role models, they don’t drink, they run labels, they go and do their jobs. It’s a business to them. They are the people I look up to.”

From signing a deal with Three Beat Records in Liverpool in 2005, to forming the band with Gareth and Declan ‘Decky Hedrock’ McLaughlin in 2006, and releasing three albums ‘We Just Are’ (2008: Gung Ho!), ‘Controlling Your Allegiance’ (2011 BeatInk) and ‘Disconnect/Reconnect’ (2013: Bedrock), there was close to a decade of pretty intense recording and touring.

In 2012 Decky Hedrock parted company to release music under the Sirkus Sirkuz moniker. After the release of ‘Disconnect/Reconnect’ and the singles and remixes that followed that clubbier album it was time to recharge.

“We never ended it. We just took a break. I was always writing Japanese Popstars music and banking it in folders and Gareth was doing the same.

“I just took a break and started doing normal things like playing football! Playing for City Colts and Don Bosco’s as well. I’m too old. I should be retired. I never played for six or seven years,” he jokes.

Following the positive reception ‘Checking Out’ received after its soft launch on the band’s social media channels it looks like the Popstars will be firing on full cylinders again before long.

Derry DJ says time has come for locals to support live music scene“My main focus musically is the Japanese Popstars. We’ve another record coming out on Bedrock. It’s a remix of the 2012 IMS anthem, ‘Matter Of Time’ (featuring Green Velvet) we did. We’ve a couple of remixes coming out on that so that’s pretty big. We’re just finalising the second single.

"There is a potential album. Perhaps the new single will be released around October. We’ve two other tracks finished. We’ve been working with people around these parts and in Ireland as opposed to Robert Smith from The Cure,” he explains.

The new album, if and when it comes, will mark a departure from the tougher electro tech of ‘Disconnect:Reconnect.’ All being well and coronavirus contingent, fans may be looking forward to catching the Popstars back on the festival circuit this time next year.

“That new track is all punk and break beats. The idea is to get three singles out. There is enough material to put it out as an album, and do album versions of the singles you release. We’re aiming for regular consistency of the music being released, and hopefully with feedback and radio play, that will put us in a position to play festivals next summer should COVID-19 clear off. Hopefully the promoters will remember that we’re not bad at the oul live stuff whenever we do it.”