Macmanaman step up to bat for the live show

by Ian Martin

Special To The Japan Times

“Instrumental post-rock” is probably the worst way to introduce a band, and by this point 90 percent of this article’s readers will have probably fled to the sports section.

Many of the most celebrated Japanese instrumental post-rock bands have carved a niche for themselves as purveyors of intricate, metronomically precise, jazz-influenced compositions, with the likes of toe and Mouse On The Keys being prime examples. It’s all terribly well done, but the excitement is slow building, allowing the music to be sipped and appreciated like a fine wine.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, is Macmanaman, a Fukuoka-based quartet whose music rampages at breakneck pace from the get-go, the band members hurling themselves around — and often off — the stage.

Taking their name from a misspelling of the former Liverpool and Real Madrid soccer player Steve McManaman, the band members are sports maniacs and huge fans of the local Softbank Hawks baseball team. Indeed, their enthusiasm is such that Macmanaman’s blog has a tendency to bury actual band news under an avalanche of Hawks news.

The band’s baseball fixation collides with a less wholesome image in the title of its new live album “DrunkenDesignatedHitter,” which follows a theme from 2012′s “DrugOrBaseball” of sports mixed with various forms of intoxication.

“The title is really down to our drummer, Sota Setoguchi, who’s the leader of the band and a massive baseball fan,” explains bassist Takeshi Yamamoto. “It comes from a comic called ‘Abu-san’ about a baseball player who is always drunk.”

The fictional Abu-san character (whose name is a Japanese homophone for the notoriously potent liqueur Absinthe) has played for the Hawks since the comic began in 1977 when the team were still based in Osaka, and his squad number, 90, holds a cherished position on the team’s roster. It’s also a fitting image for a band who are notoriously heavy hitters at the bar, while swinging for the fences on stage.

The band, whose lineup is completed by guitarists Eijiro Minagawa and Wataru Fujise, takes its music very seriously though, enforcing a strict no-drinks-before-playing policy and crafting music of dizzying complexity delivered with devastating intensity — think Mogwai trying to race through a two-hour live set in a quarter of the time.

“We’re always trying to create rhythms and melodies that nobody has done before,” Yamamoto says. “We’ve evolved and expanded our sound so much over the years, and we’re trying hard to develop new, more detailed arrangements and new ways of constructing songs, always with the goal of creating music that makes us excited, that gets us high.”

Their biggest opportunity so far came when they performed at Fuji Rock’s Rookie A Go-Go showcase for new bands in July 2012, which Yamamoto credits as having helped Macmanaman a lot with bookings, record sales and being a big factor in keeping the band ticking since — especially considering the diminished profile their home town of Fukuoka enjoys compared to the past.

Fifteen years ago, Fukuoka was famous as the home of some of the most influential artists of a generation in punk rockers Number Girl and offbeat singer-songwriter Shiina Ringo, and around them other groups such as Mo’some Tonebender and Panicsmile had an impact. As those bands moved to Tokyo, though, very few new bands have followed them in flying the standard for Fukuoka.

“There are still lots of great artists in Fukuoka,” Yamamoto contends, “but the market itself and the bands’ stances have changed, and of course it all depends on what the media chooses to pick up. It used to be that the market provided music to the listeners; listeners were passive. Now the Internet has changed the world and listeners are active, not just waiting. The bands are able to influence listeners directly. They don’t need to follow the market’s preference. The market itself looks to have shrunk but maybe it’s becoming diversified.”

He concedes, however, that changes like these might not always be to the benefit of a band like Macmanaman, a large part of whose appeal has so far rested on the power and intensity of their live performances, but he remains positive.

“It is now hard to find what you might call a ‘big band,’ ” he says of the Fukuoka scene. “And even though we play as a band, what we feel is that the next big thing won’t be a band: something big will arise from electronic music, DJs or hip-hop. Money-wise, the value of being a live band is possibly decreasing, but quality-wise it’s still valuable.”

With that in mind, the decision to release “DrunkenDesignatedHitter” as a live album, recorded on their home turf — Fukuoka live house Utero — is both a brave play against prevailing trends and perhaps an idea right in Macmanaman’s wheelhouse, putting all their strengths on display. With the album out May 14, a release party at Utero on June 22 and a visit to Tokyo scheduled for later in the summer, there’s never been a better time to get into their particular brand of screwball experimental rock.

“DrunkenDesignatedHitter” is in stores now. Macmanaman play Utero in Fukuoka on June 22 and Motion in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on Aug. 9. For more information, visit http://d.hatena.ne.jp/macmanaman.