Nothing Lasts:
On Making a Kero Kero Bonito Fansite

jakec / 17072020

The cover of Bonito Generation

A few years ago, writing about, I said more websites should be video games. I was sort of joking, but only sort of. The interactive potentials of the web as a storytelling medium are still only rarely explored, decades into its maturity, and while plenty of news sites have gotten prettier and fancier, they still rarely evoke any emotional dimension of the text itself. They’re also increasingly taxing for the devices they’re read on, and while not much of a problem given the popularity of incredibly powerful computers and very fast internet in some places of the world, this is not only unnecessary indulgence and sophistry but a danger to its longevity. The goal then was to make something lightweight which also matched its conceptual form to its content. I think this was a success as a proof, but delivering on its full promise, for a single person, is laborious. I shelved the project shortly after beginning, realising how much it would take to realise the full vision. But with pandemic-induced time and a deteriorating mental state in dire need of focus, I returned to it with the expectation that it could at least provide an execution of idea that could be taken further in the future. Why make a website entirely devoted to a British electro-pop band? Why not?

So, the look of the website. The splash page is a deliberate nod to that websites-as-video-games gag, inspired by this incredible sequence from Bad Dudes vs DragonNinja. This was also to give the reader a sense that this wasn’t just something they were reading, but participating in, that it was a world unto itself, the loosely conceptualised Kero Kero World of the band’s records. The layout and colours of the homepage itself are meant to evoke old fansites as well as the band’s crayola bright aesthetic. Back in the day we didn’t have CSS Grid to lay out our fansites, but we did have tables; this is a modern update to an ancient design language. That it was slightly video game-y was not just about creating a sense of interactivity, but obviously also ties to KKB’s inspiration from old video games.

Beneath the simple facade, I wanted the site to have 1. An initial sense that there was more going on here right from the start, and 2. A notion of a sort of ghost in the machine. As soon as you hover over one of the stories, another one disappears - just temporarily, for now - and shows a particularly morose but personally resonant lyric. Although a lot of the press surrounding KKB pre-Time ‘n’ Place emphasised their brightness and positivity, as the Bonito Generation essay explores, there’s always been this feeling of anxiety inherent to Sarah’s lyrics. The first thing the reader is going to do is hover over a story to read it; seeing whatever quote appears, they should intuit that the anticipation is accompanied by forthcoming loss. After reading the first story, revisiting the home page brings new text: “Sometimes I realise time’s running out and I don’t know why.” It unfurls like a typewriter and becomes a fixture of the page from this point. This was meant to be the first clue that things would change permanently, but was also a wink at a formative piece of Millennial pop culture re: missives from the afterlife: PBS’s Ghostwriter.

The core conceit, obviously, is that the site destroys itself the more you read it. For a long time, that destruction was random. I wanted to create a feeling of uncertainty: similar to the reflections on loss on Time ‘n Place, I wanted to evoke that you never knew when something that grounded you in your place or self would disappear, creating doubt and fear about impermanence. Ultimately, I decided it was stronger to make the stories people had already read vanish instead. There is plenty of fear about impermanence on Time ‘n’ Place, but it’s stoked by the loss of something already treasured and attached to. I figured if people cared enough to keep reading the site, it meant the writing had made some impact on them. Instead, maybe it would create a sense of urgency and maybe some fraction of paralysis: I need to hurry up and treasure what I’ve still got in front of me as the ground behind me falls away, but I know that as soon as I move forward, I’m only gaining things I’ll lose later. It’s only after reading a few stories that the essays start to delete themselves in front of a reader. Beginning at the top, the letters erode one after the other until there’s nothing more to read.

The headline structure started as an illustration of how far the band had gone between Bonito Generation and Time ‘n’ Place. Originally just “There, Then: On Bonito Generation” and “Now, Here: On Time ‘n’ Place”, turning it into a motif for the other stories seemed like an opportunity I might as well take. The Bonito Gen headline remained, but Intro Bonito became “Why, When” to signpost its exploratory and intrepid nature, Time ‘n’ Place became “Not, Here” for its sense of displacement, and Civilisation I became “Now, Where” for its search for answers, and as a joke to myself about it sort of looking like “Nowhere”, maybe the answer its bleakness offered.

It was important that the site changed as it diminished, but not so much that it disturbed the familiarity. This went through several experiments which were ultimately either too corny (images glitching etc) or too dramatic (the pages darkening, opacity fading.) The reader had to establish some familiarity with the site first in order to feel a sense that something was being lost. There wasn’t much to work with: only a few essays and a few pages. This meant that the reader could familiarise themselves quickly, but the changes had to be similarly slight. It also couldn’t be a straightforward reduction: the theme of Time ‘n’ Place is not just destruction, but reorientation. To contrast the reduction, the images on the bottom right of the grid changed, updating with more recent photos of the band. As you read through the band’s story, you could see the band themselves changing at the same time. This is not high concept stuff, but it does convey, at least, that nothing is guaranteed.

This also drove the first essay I wrote, about the non-connection between The Invisibles and Kero Kero Bonito. As the essay mentioned, this is a bonkers fan theory, of course Kero Kero Bonito weren’t inspired by this weird graphic novel. But the two shared enough in common that the idea kept turning over in my head as a funny enough link to be worth writing about. A few years ago, Max Landis compiled a pretty wretched but elaborate series of essays about Carly Rae Jepsen which fronted the theory that all her songs were about the same relationship. In execution, it’s pretty unconvincing. But strange and silly essays about music are something I miss a lot, and not content to leave scribbled rambling about impassioned art to the children of the elite, I also figured the essay could serve as a suggestion of what the site itself was trying to get at.

As for the essays, how’d I do? There are always words that could be other words, sentences that could be in other places, paragraphs to unmake and reglue into a diorama of finer meaning. Some ideas I didn’t emphasise enough, some too much. There is always a disconnect in music writing between how much something moves you and how much you have to say about it. When they overlap, it’s a great feeling, but it’s never 1:1. As a means of convincing anyone of what I see in this band or what one ought to feel, a perfect transmutation is probably impossible. The struggle to do so is what keeps one writing; the realisation was one of the reasons I stopped writing in the first place. Maybe these essays aren’t very good, or maybe they are. They’ll be either to different people, I suppose. I don’t mind all that much any more, because ultimately, they are true. The project of conveying every feeling I’ve ever had about Kero Kero Bonito is immense, even more so in the multidimensional way I’ve tried to present here. Maybe the band feel the same way about their own music, which explains why it’s taken the shapes it has over the years. All art is growth, ideally. The corollary to the idea that records are “fossils of selves” is evolution. One carries on in new forms until entropy takes over. I’m not quite entropied yet. I hope this imbued you with some new energy in your own system, either as a way of thinking about Kero Kero Bonito or a band that’s moved you in a particular way. I hope you keep seeing things differently. And I hope I get to do something like this again.