Hyperpop Perfection: Kota Banks And Ninajirachi’s Sydney Show Was Razor Sharp
The duo have set a new benchmark for Australian pop.
The last time Music Junkee caught Kota Banks at the Oxford Art Factory way back in 2018, it was the last stop on an east coast whip-around tour in support of her debut Prize mixtape.
It was the mixtape that shot the Sydney singer onto the radar of pop tastemakers — tracks like ‘Child’ and ‘I’m It’ snapped and cracked, fuelled by Banks’ charisma and the excellent production bed provided by NLV Records labelmate Swick.
At the soundcheck prior to the show, Banks was nervous — fiddling with some in-ears that just weren’t quite playing ball, shuffling back and forth. By the time the show hit she had gathered herself, and the show was a hometown riot of school friends and industry onlookers: it was outrageously fun, if a little unpolished, totally appropriate for a fresh pop artist still finding her feet on stage.
It’s a testament to Banks’ constant work and growth over the last three years that the singer standing on stage tonight is a world away from the one in 2018 — the nervous energy has given way to brassy confidence, the shuffle replaced by stomping platforms. When she connects her feet to the earth and stares down the audience, wry grin on her face, mic clutched at her side, you feel the presence.
It’s not just that Banks has racked up a heap of live experience in the last few years, including big support slots and festival sets, it’s that she’s cultivated a blistering creative partnership with the artist that appears alongside her tonight — producer, singer, and songwriter Ninajirachi.
The first time they linked up musically was when Ninajirachi remixed a cut from Banks’ Sweet & The Spice EP, ‘Never Sleep. From there, the producer came on board to help out with Banks’ solo work — but that soon developed into creating a full-blown collaborative project, which culminated in the sugar-fuelled hyperpop EP True Noth, which arrived late last year.
As in all great creative collaborations, the project is much more than just a sum of its parts. Ninjirachi’s icy and skittish arrangements are softened by the presence of Banks’ pop melodies, which in turn are amplified and elevated by the production; a prime example of a partnership enriching both parties.
Onstage, it’s clear the two are closely attuned to each other — there are some cute and endearing synchronised dance breaks, a similar energy to that of kids performing musicals to extended family on holidays. They shout each other out constantly, and their enthusiasm for each other overflows: you’re not so much watching a gig as watching two best friends have the time of their lives.
And it all results in a set that is both suitably loose and fun, and incredibly tight and well-rehearsed. Having spent the last few months rescheduling shows due to frustrating border restrictions, the duo have been waiting and rehearsing waiting to release the live show to the public. It shows — True North tracks flow seamlessly into earlier Ninajirachi cuts like the shuddering ‘Cut The Rope’ and then back into True North and onto some Prize tracks.
A highlight is the thumping ‘Opus’, all crystalline synths and Banks’ spiralling vocals, the glittery ‘Blumiere’, and the surprising cover of Wynter Gordon’s EDM anthem ‘Dirty Talk’ — an inspired choice of cover to drop for the zilennial crowd. Speaking of millennials: midway through the gig the duo engage the crowd in a brief discussion about Harry Potter fansite Pottermore — “Any Hufflepuffs in the audience?” Banks earnestly questions the audience — as a way into ‘Slytherin’, the frenetic True North closer that is the duo’s spikiest PC Music moment.
“I don’t know what we were smoking when we made this,” Banks quips afterwards.
Banks’ dry ‘Italiana’ — which generates a glorious moment for the crowd to yell out “gnocchi, gnocchi, lasagna” — leads into the final frenetic closer ‘Secretive!’, before the house lights beam down and we’re all gently ushered out so the duo can reset for the later show.
Last year, Music Junkee contributor Sam Murphy wrote that Kota Banks and Ninajirachi were setting a new standard for Aussie pop. He’s right.
Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee and co-host of 2ser’s The Tuckshop. She is on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Tiff Williams