Anamanaguchi is finishing up their set at The Echoplex in Los Angeles and the crowd moves en masse like a storm-struck ocean. Frequently, fans will brave the swells and surf above the sea of people. Every once in a while, someone emerges from the tempestuous sea of bodies drenched.
Just an hour ago, this same group was calm. The mid-sized Echo Park nightclub had turned into a space where The Adventures of Pete & Pete collided with Clarissa Explains It All on the dance floor. Guys were dressed in flannel shirts. Girls were wearing quirky outfits often involving shorts and tights. At least a few of the people came straight from E3, the video game conference that was happening just a few miles away from here. The convention badges and overlapping conversations about games were a dead giveaway. It was a fairly mild-mannered crowd until the headliners took the stage. Now there was a group of guys carrying a plastic light pole– part of Anamanaguchi’s rig– through the back of the club as another young man hung from the bottom of it.
Even the band was impressed. They said so several times during the course of the set. Days earlier, while Anamanaguchi was stationed up in San Francisco, drummer Luke Silas mentioned that he’s been thinking about the relationship between his band and their fans lately. He can’t pinpoint why this independent group of instrumentalists has become so popular.
Recently, Anamanaguchi released their second album, Endless Fantasy. It peaked at the top spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, album rankings reserved for up-and-coming artists, and hit 102 on the Top 200 list. The chart success came as the New York-based outfit was winding down the biggest campaign of their career, a Kickstarter effort requesting $50,000 to help get Endless Fantasy and related promotional materials out into the world. On June 2, they closed the crowdfunding drive with a grand total of $277,399. More than 7,000 contributed to the Kickstarter campaign. (I’m one of the backers, having pledged to score a copy of the new album on vinyl.)
“We had thought about Kickstarter before,” says Anamanaguchi frontman, Peter Berkman, by phone. “We had friends who put out movies and games on Kickstarter and had wild, wild success. They were all things that have audiences, but were a bit offbeat and strange.”
Berkman brought up the subject to his bandmate and co-songwriter Ary Warnaar while they were traveling to music festival South by Southwest. They had a distribution deal for the record, but weren’t actually signed to a label. Since they were releasing Endless Fantasy through their own imprint, dream.hax, there was no budget to do anything other than release a CD. “If we wanted to do anything else, we would be cutting into our own rent,” Berkman explains. However, they had big ideas for videos, tour lighting, a vinyl release, remixes and much more. Kickstarter was the logical route, but the band members were apprehensive about it at first. They knew that the crowd funding backlash had already begun.
“We really wanted it to be impenetrable,” says Berkman of the project. “In order to do that, we had to be completely honest, completely open and completely ambitious. The only way that we could really prove that we care is to make the album on our own funds and take it from there.”
They did far more than just raise the necessary money to handle the basics of album creation and distribution. One of their “stretch goals,” an additional project added after the base goal was reached, was to host a game jam. The three day event would bring together programmers and artists to create games based on songs from the album. That will be happening sometime in the near future and Berkman is ecstatic about it. “I’m super excited to have people listen to the songs, react to them and the kind of art they will be inspired to make around it,” he says.
Anamanaguchi, whose debut album came out in 2009, spent three years working on Endless Fantasy. During that time, they generated a lot of buzz for providing the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game and gained more attention for being the band who plays with rock instruments and an NES. They spent a lot of time on the road, where the sound of Endless Fantasy developed over lengthy sessions of listening to each other’s favorite music in the van. They wrote as they traveled. They experimented with new sounds on the live stage. Sometimes, it worked. Sometimes, it didn’t. “It was a very slow process,” says Berkman.
In the end, they came up with 22 songs. Each one of those songs stands alone, unconnected to the rest of the album, even though all were released together. “We wanted to have each song be in its own distinct fantasy world,” says Berkman. Despite their lack of lyrics and vocals, Anamanaguchi lets stories unfold throughout their work. There are songs referencing anime (“Akira”) and ’80s films (“John Hughes”). On stage, inside The Echoplex, the inspirations for Endless Fantasy are more obvious. With the Kickstarter money, band member James DeVito was able to create a lighting rig similar to the ones he has made for other artists. Images tied to each song bounced off of translucent boxes that resemble the cube seen on the new album cover. Bright colors shimmied up and down LED lightpoles.
There’s a fervor inside the venue that might elude even bands who have more in the way of label support, press clippings and Facebook fans. The energy is inextinguishable. Even after Anamanaguchi finishes the encore set, even after the lights brighten, people are reluctant to leave. They mill about the venue, sweat pouring down from their hair, as condensation drips from the ceiling. They talk of feeling sore. They look exhausted, but are still wide awake. As they exit the Echoplex, they huddle around the band members standing closest to the door. It looks as though this moment is as big for the band as it is for the fans.
“We’re always inspired by artists who try to make their work live in the world,” says Berkman in our phone interview. “The songs are one thing. The narrative of how it makes us feel, we want to express that in a lot of different ways.”
Certainly, that was exactly what Anamanaguchi accomplished one Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Anamanaguchi resumes their tour on July 12 in La Jolla, California. Check the band’s official website for upcoming dates.
Photo credits: Anamanguchi, Liz Ohanesian – taken live at the EchoPlex
Get it on Amazon! Endless Fantasy