On London stages, no one can touch the experimental psych of this quartet
“I guess at the time we were in bands that played kind of normal songs, normal music, and I think the way we started was to do something‚”” Taigen’s hands – usually wrapped around a bass or a microphone – dance communicatively on the table.
“Radical” suggests Yuki. The guitarist’s face says ‘for want of a better word’ and it’s sad that it’s a long-time clich√© reserved for semi-ironic, stoned mumble-talk because it sums Bo Ningen up nicely. People universally react to their live show like small children do to 3D films; a kind of incredulous wide-eyed awakening to something extreme and fundamental that the band manage to access, uproot, then throw around the room.
Taigen, Yuki and Kohhei (also guitars), and Mon-chan (drums) are sitting on the roof of the Macbeth – where they play later tonight – remembering Bo Ningen in its embryonic stage. In last month’s issue we helpfully let you know that they sounded like the future, as imagined 50 years ago, that they were a kind of force for psychedelic good and that they were generally great. Seeing them again though served to highlight the fact that the printed word doesn’t really do them much justice. It’s impossible, or just pointlessly hard, to translate the kind of feeling their set conjures up, so here instead is all you need to know about Bo Ningen and what they have to say on everything from Japan to Micachu.
Formed by Kohhei and frontman Taigen after they met at a Japanese music night three years ago, the project started as a means for all of its members to experience something entirely untried. “When we started up,” says Taigen “we just wanted to do something experimental.”
“It was more a pure noise deal,” says Yuki, “more, like, improvisational. We hadn’t got any musical structure or anything, we just started jamming for hours and hours and hours, all day long. We’d meet at like 11am and stay jamming till 10pm or something in umm, Hackney at‚””
“Premises Studio,” offers Taigen. “At the time I was in a different post-rock band that used that studio and there was free time so we could use it for free.”
Over time, these epic twelve hour jam sessions were brought under some degree of control and they noticed the materialisation, according to Kohhei, of “certain musical forms, a kind of free part and a kind of structure part”, of which they “picked out very good parts” and began the task of what can, very loosely, be called songwriting. What emerged were intricately layered results, replete with riffs that Black Sabbath, The Stooges and The Minutemen could’ve all written, sunk into lengthy ambient beds, squalls of noise and twisted grooves.
This talent for making headspace-transforming music is in part due to a healthy over-consumption of kraut-rock, Japanoise, hardcore punk and acid folk records but some of the idiosyncrasies that make them so special lie in a pre-existing dialogue between rock’n’roll and Japan. Anyone interested in this particular area could do worse than reading Japrock Sampler by ex-Teardrop Explodes frontman and reluctant Great British eccentric Julian Cope.
The four of them have not been in London more than five years and, before that, all grew up in Japan. “We all come from different parts of Japan,” says Yuki. “When I started playing guitar in High School, I was into Nirvana (quite late, I know, still), but in the area where I grew up there is a really weird music scene. The band Boredoms, from Osaka, were in the 80’s and early 90’s, and lots of young musicians follow them in their musical style.”
That wave of unhinged, electronics-infused music that gave the world Masonna and Merzbow grew out of the cultural what-the-fuck that was 60’s Japan, which was populated by even more unhinged bands like Les Rallizes Denud√©s (a Bo Ningen favourite). By way of explanation, Taigen offers me a summary of the dissertation he wrote for his Sound Art and Design degree:
“We have traditional music but it’s not connected to the pop music scene. We don’t really have any roots so we misunderstand some music quite easily and then make something different, it becomes something really radical or different to music in other countries, I really like that kind of process.”
“The thing is,” says Kohhei “rock and pop music, all this kind of music came from outside of Japan from bands in The West and this was before the internet in the 60’s and 70’s so Japan was kind of isolated and many people misunderstood.”
The creative confluence of East and West is the idea behind their Monthly club night, ‘Far East Psychedelic Electric’, with which, like all conscientious bands, they offer a platform to other musicians and give something back to the gig circuit. Though they’ve yet to get round to it they’re keen on the idea of collaboration and are talking to Brighton’s fantastic Drum! Eyes? with whom they and Damo Suzuki played with in March. A London promoter is looking at recreating that gig for August, which, if it happens, would be one to put in your diary with a permanent marker.
The energy of their show later is enough to inspire gaping disbelief, ecstatic grins and an impossible stage dive from one fan in a quarter-full and previously very sober Macbeth. Kohhei pummels the ceiling with his guitar and slides across the stage in a two-footed tackle aimed at Yuki, taking out pedals and bottles as he goes. The rocking-out is refreshingly sincere and the pairing of vicious technique with an unmatched aura of reckless abandonment is one of many things that make them such a thrill to watch. When asked about what this psychedelic heritage of onstage freak-outs and fried sonic voyaging means to them, they’re equally sincere.
“Being psychedelic,” answers Mon-chan flatly.
“We define the word psychedelic,” says Kohhei. “It’s not just about, you know, 60’s and Kraut Rock, everything can be psychedelic.”
“Recently though,” says Taigen “I saw so many lines for bands use the word psychedelic but then I didn’t really hear that psychedelic, especially in London.”
“Yeah,” agrees Kohhei “they sound only like the history of psychedelic, you know?”
“And we don’t need any drugs,” says Yuki. “I want to go to somewhere else, but I don’t want to rely on alcohol or drugs. It’s nothing to do with being psychedelic in my opinion”.
What did they do with their psychedelic selves last night?
Taigen: “We played Wilmington Arms, it was really cool, we played with Micachu and she did an acoustic set. Actually, she was quite psychedelic”.
“Yeah we haven’t seen her proper set with electronic things,” says Yuki “but still the acoustic set was really good.”
“And she looks just like Lou Reed,” adds Kohhei.
In the months ahead they have a release, sadly shaping up to be a digital download, with Stolen Recordings, but they admit that presently they don’t have the money or time to replicate what they can achieve live. Even with the correct resources it would be some feat as they are, almost definitely, the best live band in London. Go and see them as soon as possible, several times.
By Edgar Smith
Originally published in issue 8 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2009