Meet STARKIDS, Tokyo’s insane response to the rise of hyperpop

In an exclusive short film, filmmaker Jeremy Rubier gets to know each member of the group, and why they’re poised for global fame

In the video for the STARKIDS’ “Flash”, each member of the Tokyo-based group knocks back a couple of cans of the cheap, nine per cent cocktail Strong Zero (“basically poison”) and proceeds to pass out on the street. Coming to, they find themselves at the centre of a rave, packed in among sweating bodies and pulsing lights – the perfect backdrop for their chaotic brand of hardcore, bilingual hyperpop.

“They rented a club for four hours,” says filmmaker Jeremy Rubier, who directed the “Flash” visuals. “And they had all these stupid ideas. And I was like, they’re brilliant. They just have fun. They’re not on their cell phones, they’re not part of TikTok culture. They're just real. Usually, when you create a fake party scene it’s super hard, but those guys invited 40 of their friends and they raged more than I’ve ever seen before.”

Rubier was so taken with the insane energy of the group that he wanted to dive deeper into their world. The result? A half-hour documentary that shows a day in the life of each member, culminating in a show for a “huge club full of fanatics”. If you’ve never heard of STARKIDS, though, you’re not alone – despite their underground acclaim in Japan, the group is yet to go global.

A bit of background, then. Made up of Space Boy, primary producer Benxni, Tahiti, Espeon, Lil Roar, and Levi, STARKIDS began with two childhood friends from Hawaii (Space Boy and Espeon), who initially collaborated with Japanese artists (such as Tahiti) over Soundcloud. Their worlds further collided after the two US musicians moved to Tokyo, linking up with the rest of the group through friends of friends or random twists of fate.

After two years together, STARKIDS describe each other as “family” and “best friends”, brought together by the leap of faith and DIY outlook that led them to Japan. Their refusal to do things by the book also crosses over into their art. Their videogame-inspired beats – sampling everything from Zelda and Mario to “Deez Nuts” memes – are the work of self-taught producers, while their lyrics are filled with anime obsessions and energy drink addiction. In Rubier’s documentary, the group are even seen sewing their own stage outfits.

“They look themselves like anime characters,” the filmmaker adds. “They’re free to do whatever they want with their image. They do whatever the fuck they want.”

Part of this freedom lies in not being signed to a label right now. “We are not influenced by labels or what’s popular in the industry,” says Benxni in the documentary. “We’re just doing what we do because we like what we do.” Besides drinking Strong Zero and raging with their friends, this involves teaching each other how to make music in their respective bedrooms, collecting toy guns, or – in Benxni’s case – travelling back to the picturesque fishing village where he grew up, to meditate.

They may be independent for now, but STARKIDS do have international potential. Rapping in both English and Japanese, they represent “a bridge between western and eastern culture that needed to exist”, Rubier says, hoping that this documentary could spark fandom beyond Tokyo. “They are in Japan, making Japanese music, but I really want kids abroad to fuck with them, to follow them, to want to make music with them.”

The group itself is similarly ambitious. Toward the end of the film, each member discusses their dreams for the future: to “go abroad with the boys”, to step up production and bring out multiple albums a year, to make enough money that they can move into a house together. “My dream for the band is to be together, forever,” says Space Boy, explaining the name: “Forever stars and forever kids.”