Don Broco Had A Good Time In Japan
Even within a country as stimulating as Japan can be, inside the major cities at least, the district of Dotonbori in Osaka is quite the shock to the senses. Perhaps comparable to Soho before Pret A Manger emerged as victorious in the gentrification wars, or New York’s Times Square, but on mushrooms, as you weave down cramped streets, pulsating J-pop blaring from left, right and beyond, above you tower animatronic neon crabs, squid and the reaching tentacles of oh-so-many octopi. Right now, Don Broco singer Rob Damiani is spitting out chunks of the latter atop a pile of bin-bags piled inside a shop doorway, the victim of an impromptu takoyaki tasting session. Takoyaki, if you weren’t aware – and Rob apparently wasn’t before taking a bite – is the street food of choice in Dotonbori; a fried snack comprised essentially of bits of octopus and green onion entombed inside magma-hot batter, served with what tastes suspiciously like Worcestershire sauce and mayo drizzled atop.
The Broco boys will point and laugh at their retching bandmate, yet they’ll still give conger eel a go when we stop for sushi later. Crab brain finds its way onto the band’s bill, too. And, a copy of the restaurant owner’s CD – a lounge singer who may well be Elvis’ long-lost Japanese brother – finds its way into Rob’s pocket. Never let it be said that Don Broco aren’t game.
But what are Don Broco doing in Japan, other than trying to eat every single thing that has ever lived in the ocean? Well, that would be the band’s first-ever Japanese live appearances, as special guests to Tokyo’s ONE OK ROCK, over two nights at Osaka-Jo Hall, a 16,000-capacity indoor arena in the Kyobashi area of the city that sits – beautifully, it must be said – in the shadow of the city’s 16th century Osaka Castle.
“Here’s the thing,” pants Rob excitedly. “All British bands dream of playing Japan. You hear all the stories about the [legendary semi-ridiculous/totally awesome British band destination point] Robot Restaurant. You hear about all the legendary bands coming here back in the day. And if you’re a big manga, anime, comic, tech nerd like me, you’re especially excited. Just before we got here I watched the Oasis documentary where they went to Japan, and I didn’t think I could be more excited about coming out here. Turns out I could. Being here, it almost feels like you’re in the future…”
But those two mega-gigs start on the other side of tonight. After drinks. After shopping. After many laughs. Right now, drummer Matt Donnelly wants a wasabi-flavoured ice cream. Bassist Tom Doyle would like to explore the 12-floor department store across the canal, the capitalist tat Heaven selling everything from Gudetama merch (you know him, he’s the lazy egg Sanrio character), to microwave ovens to Super Mario cosplay outfits, to… well, there’s quite a lot of bizarre sex toys, truth be told. Guitarist Simon Delaney, meanwhile, wants to capture all this mayhem on film.
Here’s a warning to any octopus who might also be readers of Kerrang!: Don Broco are here in Osaka, and they haven’t come for peace and quiet.
It’s impossible to understand just how big ONE OK ROCK are unless you’ve seen them play in Japan.
Today Osaka Castle Park – a 106-hectare sprawl of baseball courts, soccer pitches, and about-to-bloom cherry blossoms – is a black sea of Japanese music fans, both very young and, no disrespect intended, really actually quite old, all totally and utterly bizarrely wearing the same piece of ONE OK ROCK merch (black T-shirt, black-and-white scarf emblazed with the band’s logo). Tonight’s gig doesn’t start for another six hours – especially impressive considering the standard early show times of Japanese rock concerts – but fans swell the park as far as the eye can see.
The cluster sat on the steps near the park’s two time capsules – two one-metre-in-diameter, two-ton tombs of metal alloy, buried in 1970 and filled with 2,098 cultural assets of the 20th century, and buried 15 metres under the ground; one is due to be opened in 2100, the second in 6970! – are especially impressive, thanks to the multitude of cardboard signs they’ve made and brought with them. And they know who Don Broco are, too, seemingly delighted to catch sight of Simon snapping away on his camera again (though it seems to be the Japanese way to shriek from a distance, rather than approach anyone).
Rob, who’s been clothes shopping in Amerikamura this morning, a sector of the city deeply in thrall to American culture, and is rammed with retro clothes stores, circling a small-scale, but not insignificant, reproduction of the Statue Of Liberty, is wearing yellow-tinged John Lennon spectacles and a long, white-washed denim jacket. He is loving it. Absolutely loving it. If back at home in Britain he’s a rockstar on the rise, in Japan he’s jumped a few steps into the future. Here, wearing clothes that would look ridiculous on anyone other than a singer in a band, Rob Damiani is a rockstar.
He’s still got some way to go before he reaches the stature of Takahiro Moriuchi, mind, the man ONE OK ROCK fans (and before that, fans of the Japanese boyband phenomenon NEWS) know as Taka. Spend five minutes with the man (we spend quite a bit more than that; we tell him he recently featured in K!’s 2017 edition of The 50 Greatest Rockstars In The World Right Now, he replies, “I hope I was placed high!”) and it quickly becomes apparent that Taka is a very big deal here.
It also quickly becomes apparent that what Takahiro Moriuchi wants, Takahiro Moriuchi gets. Not sure how Broco he is, but in Japan, he is definitely the Don.
“We’re here, and playing in these massive rooms, because ONE OK ROCK personally invited us,” says Rob with a smile brighter than the sun. “It was an incredible feeling to hear that this huge band knew about us, let alone wanted us to play with them. Taka is very clued in to the UK rock scene. He knows about Kerrang!. He knows about new and emerging bands. It’s testament to what an influence and impression British rock is making on the rest of the world that we’re on his radar…”
Celebrity endorsement or not, Don Broco deserve to feel proud of the part they’re playing in this. Tonight, performing in-front of a crowd who’ve never seen them before, they’re embraced like the headliners they will surely one day return as. Rob, now clad in a studded red leather jacket Michael Jackson might have rejected for being ‘a bit OTT’, races down the headline band’s ego ramp like he possesses the receipt for it. On his band’s dates with 5 Seconds Of Summer last year, Rob was told he wasn’t allowed to set foot on theirs. Taka personally told him he was fine to use his. Rob needs no encouragement: “Greetings, Osaka! We love you!” he bellows with the glee of a child eating a bowl of sugar on Christmas morning.
And what quickly becomes apparent over the course of this weekend is that Don Broco have, quite quietly, become the best pop-rock band in the world. In Superlove, they have a tune that knocks on the door. In Money Power Fame, they have one that says ‘hello’. In Everybody, one that kicks the door off its hinges if nobody is answering, and yet in Nerve, they have a slow, delicious, wet-throated anthem that will soon take them into room of this size without any assistance. Let it be known that a band that can write a song like Nerve is a band who can achieve anything.
Taka knows this – you sense that he’s a man who’s backed some wining horses in his time – inviting the band onstage at the end of ONE OK ROCK’s three-hour set for a group photo. He embraces Rob so tightly his eyes almost pop out from under his spiralled curls. Yet what happens next is extraordinary.
Back in England, Kerrang! catches up with Rob. “After the shows we met up with the ONE OK ROCK guys and had a few drinks,” he recalls. “We were chatting and they said, ‘What are you doing for the rest of your time in Japan?’ We said, ‘Um, we’ve got to catch our flight in two hours, so we were planning on going out with you lads and having a few drinks and staying up until our flight home. So Taka gets up, says, ‘Wait here,’ and goes to the other side of the room. We were thinking, ‘What’s he up to?’ because we can see him on the phone. Five minutes later he comes back and he’s bought us new flights home, hotels for the week and a ticket on the bullet train to Tokyo…”
“So he takes us to his favourite cake shop. And then to an owl café, where you can pay to drink coffee while owls fly around. Then we’re off to Universal Studios in Japan where – get this – he’s sorted free passes to every ride. Like, we’re escorted to the front of every queue for every ride. So we’re running around Harry Potter World like kings! Then we’re off to Tokyo. We’re visiting temples. I’m buying kimono. I ask Taka, ‘Do you know where the cash point is?’ And he’s like, ‘Let me treat you…’ I’m like, ‘You can’t keep buying us all these amazing gifts!’ But he pays. And then he takes us drinking. And for food, the tastiest beef I’ve ever had in my life.”
“The shows were the greatest shows we’ve ever played,” he smiles. “The week was the greatest of my life.”
We’re worried how Don Broco will return the favour when ONE OK ROCK return to the UK…
“I’m worried, too! I’m not sure, ‘Would you like to go to the cinema in Luton?’, or, ‘I know a great kebab shop in Bedford’ is going to cut it.”
But there’s little time to dwell on such thoughts. Next on Broco’s agenda is the small question of their third album. The album that, as most rock bands’ third albums do, will define them. That is, well, if not a worry, then pressure – right?
“Not pressure,” he says. “Excitement. The starting point for these new songs came from a live space. We’ve never been busier as a touring band these last few years, and that’s definitely where the new album is coming from. We’ve been in the studio asking, ‘If we were in the mosh-pit, what would we want to be rocking out to?’ and that’s what we’re trying to deliver on. When we’ve been writing riffs, we’ve been going with the ones that make us feel good. It’s heavier. It’s looser. I think we’ve always written really good pop-rock songs, but I think we’ve written some really good rock songs, too.”
When we were in Japan, you said the new record was almost finished. But there’s still no release on the horizon. Where are you at with it?
A nervous laugh.
“We set ourselves a deadline of finishing it all before we left for America with State Champs and Against The Current. That felt realistic. Well, we found out it wasn’t realistic. We got to a point the week before we left where we were like, ‘Shit, we’re not gonna get all these songs recorded in time…’ But we are nearly there, and I’m pleased we didn’t rush it. I’m looking forward to getting it finished. We want this record to take us to all the places we want to see in the world – we’re really thinking global. There’s so many places we want to visit. It’s a big world and we want to see it.”
You’re the anti-Brexit! You’re looking out at the world!
“I just want to come back to Japan, really…” sighs Rob.
Somewhere on the other side of the planet, an octopus is shitting itself.
Words: James McMahon
Photos: Lindsey Byrnes