Sporting chest-length, jet-black hair that obscures each of the four members’ facial features, Bo Ningen look like what might have happened if Sadako from “The Ring” had crawled out of the well and found herself on stage fronting a psych-rock band. Add in song titles such as “Koroshitai Kimochi,” which features both on their 2008 debut EP release and on last November’s self-titled album (the translation declares murderous intent for a feeling deep inside), as well a reputation for visceral live shows that frequently end in the near-destruction of instruments and band-members alike, and you’d be forgiven for being somewhat scared off the prospect of going to see Bo Ningen for the first time.
The East London-based quartet is made up of Taigen Kawabe (vocals / bass), Kohhei Matsuda (guitar), Yuki Tsujii (guitar) and Mon-chan (drums). Influenced by prog-heavyweights such as Faust and Can, their the brand of surrealist, fuzz-drenched psychedelic rock updates and reinvents the genre, just as the forward-thinking attitude of their forerunners would have demanded. It is, however, the band’s incendiary live shows that have really caught the eye — hypnotizing audiences with the complexity of their improvized jams before exploding in a frenzy of demolition that has more in common with Fugazi and At the Drive-In than any Krautrock act.
As well as several show-stealing performances in front of large audiences (including some famous tent-climbing acrobatics at Offset 2009 in England that led to them being invited back the following year, promoted to the main stage alongside the likes of Mystery Jets), they are also popular among club-goers who normally wouldn’t give a guitar-based act the time of day, having impressed at several of London’s hippest club nights, including dollop and Off Modern.
In many ways that is a testament to Bo Ningen’s dedication to putting on a memorable show, but it also highlights the massive disparity in tastes between the music scenes in England and Japan.
That’s because, as Akiko Matsuura, drummer in The Big Pink and close friend of the band, recently told The Japan Times, Japanese music fans prefer “the safer option,” whereas, “even though Bo Ningen sing in Japanese, they can succeed in England because they have the right attitude and great music.”
Unless Japan wants more of its most unique and interesting homegrown acts emigrating abroad, music lovers will need to step out of their safety zones. Bo Ningen could well be the band to provide a much-needed shock to the system.
Bo Ningen play Club Shaft in Sendai on Jan. 23; Lush in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Jan. 29; Fandango in Osaka on Feb. 4; and Apollo Theater in Nagoya on Feb. 5. For details, visit www.hostess.co.jp/mogwai/index.html