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Tom “2-tone” Smith takes a lesson in music with Oreskaband.

The sixth series of Bleach has been packed with great music, from its opening tracks, ‘ Rollingstar’ by singer-songwriting starlet YUI and Aqua Timez’s upbeat ‘ALONES’, to pretty pianist Mai Hoshimura’s ‘Sakura Biyori’ as the closing to the first half of the episodes. Now, with the second half of the series recently released on UK DVD, we’re introduced to the final closing theme of the series, ‘Tsumasaki’ from Osaka’s high-energy, brass-blowing schoolgirl ensemble, Oreskaband.

Long before K-on! set Japan’s teenage girls rushing to take up an instrument, this group of middle schoolers already out there rocking their hometown’s live houses. They hadn’t even got changed out of their uniforms. Well, that’s not entirely true. They did change their uniforms. They swapped their sailor tops and pleated skirts in exchange for the shorts and ties worn by male students.

The gender-bending outfits may seem initially odd, but then, Oreskaband aren’t exactly conventional. A look at their name may suggest to the average English reader that they are a band, and they possibly like ska, but the ‘ore’ bit is a distinctly butch, macho pronoun.

The first word for “I” learners of Japanese are introduced to is “watashi”, a middling polite and neutral word. “Ore” on the other hand, is at the gruff end of the polite-o-meter and is extremely informal masculine in its use. So in other words, while a direct translation of ORESKABAND into English would read simply as “We’re a Ska Band”, in Japanese it carries a masculine, casual tone and matches the band’s penchant for donning boys’ school uniform.

It was at one of their local shows that the girls caught the attention of Sony Music’s A&R. By 2006 Oreskaband was signed, had collaborated with ska legend Rico Rodriguez MBE on a cover of the 1969 classic ‘Monkey Man’, and still attending high school.

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Their first mainstream opportunity arrived in the form of an advert for the popular chocolate snack Pocky. It featured the girls performing the above song ‘Hana no Ska Dance’ to a bus full of Pocky wielding teenage girls. 2007 was a huge year for Oreskaband. This was the year they started their first tour with a date at the SXSW music festival in Texas, followed by the release of their first single in America, PINOCCHIO. While whetting the appetite of US fans, the girls returned to Japan and finished a nationwide tour with a sold out show back at their home city of Osaka. It was also the year of their first full length album in Japan, Ore, as well as their first album release in the States with an exclusive self-titled compilation album. Meanwhile, back in Japan series six of Bleach was airing on TV with ‘Tsumasaki’ every week before the girls returned to the States for the 2008 Vans Warped Tour. Will we ever see them at the Reading or Leeds festival in England? Well, their step into Britain does start here… let’s hope their success follows!

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Bleach 6.2 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment, while the complete box set of series 6 is out on 29th September 2011. Image: © 2010 Sony Music Associated Records Inc.

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