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Pugs
Dressed for Success: The Pugs in full regalia.



Japan's Pugs make American audiences scream at Lollapalooza

By Todd S. Inoue

As the sole Asian faces gracing Lollapalooza '97, the Pugs get their share of sideways glances. Throw in a cross-dressing keyboardist, a dance diva singer, double bassists sprouting a green mohawk and dreadlocks, and it'd be easy to just stay out of their path.

But not in today's multiculti, Lolla-utopia. Backstage at the Lollapalooza going-away party, the Pugs' second-stage brethren--Agnes Gooch, Failure, the Lost Boyz, Demolition Doll Rods--are lining up to take farewell pictures alongside the spastic disco/punk/funk band.

"We're very excited and happy to join Lollapalooza," says keyboardist Hoppy Kamiyama, in the band's tour bus. "The second stage has an exciting show every night. Main stage: 50 percent is boring, just mainstream junk. Techno-style dance--like the Prodigy--is boring. We watched last night, and it was really boring."

Kamiyama has reason to beef if the Prodigy receives ear-splitting adulation. The Pugs are used to a much more reserved reception in their own country. The sound of screams are new to the Pugs, just as Japanese is new to the mass of teenagers listening drop-jawed. Soon, each recipient is happily soaking up the sounds of foreign exchange.

"We have a quiet audience in Japan," Kamiyama says. "Many Japanese artists come to America, and every artist is surprised by the American audience. American audience is great. They are screaming, dancing and enjoying. Asian people are quiet. Except the Chinese. They are noisy."

"Koreans are loud," adds green-mohawked bassist Hajime Okano.

"But the Koreans don't scream," Kamiyama corrects.

The Pugs' music makes people scream on many levels. The band's American debut, Bite the Red Knee (Casual Tonalities), is a whirlwind trip through archaic dance music, devil-horn metal, slippy disco and pop, topped with Honey K's operatic vocal style.

The Pugs find joy in remaking such American staples as "Tequila" and "Popcorn" in their own twisted image. Fittingly, the Pugs' record label is owned by Klasky-Csupo, producers of Rugrats and Ahhh! Real Monsters cartoons.

Cultivating such peculiar music in a land obsessed with conformity lands the Pugs in the middle of a cultural typhoon. Okano describes the band and others like them like the Boredoms as errant nails that resist society's constant blows to lay them flat.

"We have to practice some technique for hiding the nail, like forming a barrier," Okano explains. "We have to protect ourselves, protect our mind."

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