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    A descent into Gel

    "Ugly is cool" when it's the musical menace of Gelatine, a Japanese expatriate band whose crack musicianship and fiery frontwoman are leaving a trail of stunned audiences throughout New York.


    They broke the mold when they made Gelatine.

    Seiko Urabe (vocals)
    Jun Takeshita (guitar)
    Aya Sekine (keyboards)
    Yusuke Yamamoto (bass)
    Takeshi Ichikawa (drums).

    Related links: Official site
    Homeless   RA  MP3
    Man-Made Balan   RA  MP3
    Theme of Gelatine   RA  MP3
    © 2001 Seiko. Used by permission.
    The one-of-a-kind band of Japanese expatriates brings together three Berklee-trained musicians and a former high-school metalhead with a bandleader who openly admits that she writes songs by plinking out "do re mi" on a Casiotone. The result is a punk-surf-folk-pop hybrid that's basic and brash on the surface and unexpectedly complex underneath.

    Singer Seiko Urabe also hides a secret undercurrent beneath her perky, petite, ponytailed exterior — behind a microphone she's a bombshell, crouching like a predator, marching like a soldier, scowling, howling, teasing, taunting, all but shooting flames from her eyes. Asked to describe her onstage style, she yields only a three-word description: "Ugly is cool."

    Her bandmates hold her in awe. And so after her former band, 10 Yen Akinoko, reunited for the "Japan Smacksdown NYC" festival at various downtown clubs two years ago, the idea for the current band began to take shape.

    "We knew how powerful she was," says keyboardist Aya Sekine, who was also the festival organizer. "She was the magnet."

    The band's appropriately named theme song, "Theme of Gelatine" (hear it on RealAudio or MP3) has caught fire on WFMU, where the band is scheduled to do a live on-air performance May 24. And its club gigs have floored fans like the bands Nova Social and the Irreversible Slacks. Seiko's onstage antics and barely-on costume had male and female jaws dropping at a recent Meow Mix gig.

    Among Gelatine's other songs, the cartoon theme "Rocky Chuck" (the Japanese title appears to say "Mountain Mouse Rocky Chuck") is given a bouncy punk rendition, and "Man-Made Balan" (RA, MP3) is also cartoon-inspired, with a character who sings in a pompously operatic bellow.

    "Man-Made Balan" came to Seiko during her restaurant job, when she noticed the phrase on a package of that pointy fake grass that comes as decoration with your sushi. The absurd unreality and jagged shape of the grass made her think of a shark-toothed cartoon monster which, in the song, chases a wrongdoer around screaming, "Say you're sorry! Say you're sorry!"

    Drawing on Japanese folk and war songs, 1920s popular songs, American blues and jazz, as well as wild cartoon jingles, the songs are daunting even to the intensively trained band members. "I can't believe it," says Aya. "[Bassist] Yusuke and I went to school to write music — she writes songs that we have trouble playing."

    There are also strains of what what the Japanese call "Group Sounds" — some combination of surf and other mop-haired '60s pop.

    "[Group Sounds] are very soft music, but once it comes to Japan it is something very different. It is very energetic. Young girls were passing out" during the music's heyday, explains Aya. "We have a little bit of retro — that's what I think."

    Countering Aya's kitschy-sounding synthesizer and Moog, the band sports beefy power chords and intricate solo touches by Jun Takeshita, who grew up partly in the United States and worshipped the standard metal gods in high school. "What bands?" he says when asked. "Oh my God . . . Dokken? Night Ranger? All the guitar-hero stuff."

    Having been at the center of New York's "Japunk" subculture for a couple years, Aya is packing up her keyboards and moving out of the country after this month's gigs, which is going to present Gelatine with a challenge. They won't look to replace her with another keyboardist necessarily, but might experiment with different sounds, maybe horns. It will certainly be a big change, but fans can count on musical surprises and outrageous showmanship for many gigs to come.

    MAY 17, 2002

    Reader comments on Gelatine:

  • Seiko   from Nick, Nov 8, 2002
  • band contact info?   from Shingo, May 7, 2003
  • Re: band contact info?   from Al, Jun 6, 2003
  • WOW   from matthew, Aug 26, 2003
  • Re: WOW   from Jun from Gelatine, Dec 3, 2003
  • yawn   from , Jan 28, 2006
  • crap   from oz, Dec 9, 2007

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