How Videogame Rockers Anamanaguchi Became the Biggest Kickstarter Act Since Amanda Palmer

Ana•mana•guchi. The polysyllabic tongue-twister of a name, like a toddler attempting Japanese, is on the lips of a swelling army of fans and admirers after several thousand helped propel the DIY, 8-bit electronic group into the pantheon of Kickstarter breakout bands. Anamanaguchi’s Kickstarter, which closed yesterday (June 2) drew 7,253 supporters to the tune of $277,399 (out of $50,000 requested), making it the second-most successful music project in the site’s history after Amanda Palmer’s $1.2 million blowout last May.
 
“We passed our funding goal in the first 12 hours and were completely astounded,” says Peter Berkman, lead songwriter and guitarist for the band. “We set the goal at a level that we thought we would be able to hit, but it was a 30-day campaign. We weren’t expecting things to take off so quickly.”
 
The unsigned band chose the crowdfunding site as a springboard for its new album Endless Fantasy -- which debuted last week at No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart with 4,000 copies sold -- but it had all the hallmarks of a successful self-release on any platform. Since the release of its first EP in 2006, Anamanaguchi has built a passionate core group of fans in the genre commonly known as “chiptune,” which is a kind of musical extension of videogame, comic book and Internet culture. In 2009, the band was tapped to create the soundtrack for the “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” videogame; and in 2011 one of its songs, which typically utilize a Nintendo Entertainment System or Gameboy in addition to traditional instruments, was chosen as the theme music for Chris Hardwick’s popular podcast “The Nerdist.”
 
On Kickstarter, Anamanaguchi could have been a grain of sand on a beach of artists who have turned to crowdfunding in recent years as a means of circumventing music industry gatekeepers. But, as with other successful Kickstarter bands, including the Polyphonic Spree and Mindless Self Indulgence (who held the previous 2nd place record at $225,045), a niche, but established and highly engaged following proved more than willing to provide greater than the necessary financial investment, even as record labels have been tightening their purse strings.
 
“There was no label deal at the time that made sense for us,” Berkman says of deciding to crowdfund. “We talked to a few people that we decided against and other offers just didn’t come in.”
 
With their Kickstarter campaign, Anamanaguchi asked for funding not to record Endless Fantasy, but to promote it. The band had a finished product and a distribution deal in place with Redeye, but needed money for traditional label functions like producing videos and providing tour support. For pre-ordering a copy of Endless Fantasy, Anamanaguchi offered incentives including private chiptune recording lessons and a custom theme song in addition to limited edition t-shirts and posters.
 
“They’re just bursting with creative energy and have so many ideas outside of music,” says Edaan Brook, a Redeye A&R and business affairs coordinator who first approached Anamanaguchi in 2011. “The best bands for a self-release are great at promoting themselves and Anamanaguchi are a perfect example. They’re a self-sustaining entity.”
 
Redeye placed Endless Fantasy at both digital and physical outlets internationally, including Best Buy, and is even fulfilling the band’s Kickstarter orders out of its warehouse, a service Brook says the company began providing only recently. The band is touring in support of the project through the end of July and has already started spending against the Kickstarter money (which won’t be released until the campaign ends). They’ve used the funds to create a custom LED lighting rig for the tour, are planning a free, pared down version of the album featuring collaborations with guest vocalists and have produced a characteristically quirky, seven-minute music video for the title track, in which a slice of cheese pizza is actually sent into space.
 
“For a band like us, there’s no real direct route. No one is like ‘Oh, it’s an instrumental band that uses 8-bit digital sounds. I know exactly where they need to go!’” Berkman says. “But the weird part is we’ve always had the fans. I think they were excited at the opportunity to support us directly in the faith that we’d do something cool.”