It was a 6:30 p.m. show on an unbearably hot weeknight in the heart of Culver City and yet the line for Kanon Wakeshima's free show and record signing extended out the door of maid cafe Royal/T and out onto Washington Blvd. Not only was the show from this little-known Japanese musician packed, but it was crowded with people who had clearly spent a good two hours getting dressed for the event. Hair was teased and tied into a bevy of unusual styles, accessories were perfectly coordinated and skirts were puffed out with crinoline.
But, to be fair, the hype surrounding Wakeshima began well before last month's US release of her album, Shinshoku Dolce. An accomplished cellist prior to embarking on a pop career, she is the protoge of enigmatic Japanese rock star Mana, who produced her debut. Like Mana, she embraces the elaborate costuming and fully-choreographed style of performance that is favored by the Lolita crowd. Her first two singles, "Still Doll" and "Suna no Oshiro" were featured in the popular, though unreleased in the US, anime Vampire Knight, which has brought in fans from the anime fandom, particularly cosplayers. Additionally, her unique neo-classical take on dance pop has appealed to fans of the neo-Victorian and steampunk cultures. Wakeshima's music may never appeal to hipsters and holds little chance of hitting the US mainstream, but her music and persona hits enough underground communities to ensure her a strong following.
Wakeshima opened her all-too-brief set with her first two singles. She played for barely a half-hour with a remarkably stripped-down set-up consisting of a cello, a microphone and some dance beats pulsating from a backing track. However, she performed with a sense of drama well-suited for a concert hall. She walked on stage in a red ball gown with a train so long that one of her handlers had to hang on to the hem. She ripped into her white cello, oftentimes like a guitar god working a solo, in between verses, then occasionally paused to twirl a parasol and gesture as grandly as one would expect from someone wearing a ball gown.
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In addition to being a musician, Wakeshima is a visual artist and, since Royal/T also hosts an art gallery, her work was displayed for sale during the party. After the performance, a beefy line formed in the front gallery portion of the space as Lolitas, club kids and cosplayers armed themselves with posters, CDs and even some of her artwork to have signed. They were clearly smitten with Kanon Wakeshima.