Perfume has been one of the most ubiquitous and highest-selling artists in Japan for more than a decade, with a distinctive electro-pop sound backed by a stylish, futuristic image. But the trio’s musical output is only one part of the equation. Perfume’s live shows are a dazzling collision of technology and choreography that turn cavernous arenas into sci-fi wonderlands.

Perfume’s Future Pop world tour hits North America tomorrow with a show at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom. I went along to the Yokohama date in December last year, then met with the group — as well as the mastermind behind the group’s live production — to find out what’s behind Perfume’s fusion of tech and pop culture.

Perfume (from left): Kashiyuka, A-chan, and Nocchi
Amuse Inc.

Perfume formed at a talent academy in Hiroshima around the turn of the millennium, but the group’s popularity skyrocketed with the release of 2008 album GAME, which turned out to be one of the more influential records in recent J-pop history. Producer Yasutaka Nakata built upon the Shibuya-kei-influenced electronica of his own Capsule project to turn in a tight collection of innovative techno-pop songs.

Perfume rose to prominence well before the global EDM explosion, so the futuristic image felt like a natural fit for Nakata’s electro productions. “When we were younger, we actually practised singing like divas,” says Ayaka “A-chan” Nishiwaki. “But when we first met Nakata and started to do electro music, that image was connected with robots and one thing led to another,” adds Ayano “Nocchi” Omoto.

Minimalist videos for early singles like “Polyrhythm” set the tone, and high-profile collaborations with companies like Panasonic, NHK, and NTT Docomo later followed. “We’ve always felt a connection to our fans, but using technology actually makes it closer,” says Yuka “Kashiyuka” Kashino. “For example, showing messages from Twitter as part of the 3D images on stage — it makes the fans able to experience our show through technology.” A-chan adds “It’s not like technology defines Perfume, but since technology exists, Perfume wants to make the most of it.”

They certainly do that — Perfume’s live shows are like nothing you’ve seen before. Using advanced motion-captured visuals and complex transparent screen arrangements, each song has an aggressively stark aesthetic that elevates the choreography and the music itself.

Amuse Inc.

The cutting-edge live production is largely the work of Rhizomatiks, an experimental art collective founded in 2006 by Daito Manabe, who also directed the “1mm” music video below. I met with Manabe for about an hour at his Tokyo studio, and much of the interview involved him showing me various mind-blowing work in progress on his MacBook Pro. Rhizomatiks has so many projects going on at the same time that Manabe has to keep track of how the technology is shared between them with a flow chart that looks like Tokyo’s subway map from 300 years in the future.

Rhizomatiks works closely with Mikiko Mizuno, Perfume’s choreographer and director of the dance troupe Elevenplay. “First we do some very experimental projects with Elevenplay, then if the technology works well we use it with Perfume,” Manabe says. “It’s kind of like research and development with Elevenplay, and a bigger application with Perfume. We really can’t fail at a Perfume concert with so many people there, so we test a lot first.”

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