Avengers in Sci-Fi talk about Zeppelin and the problem with festivals

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

You don’t usually hear Led Zeppelin and science fiction mentioned in the same breath. But for Taro Kohata, who plays guitar and synthesizer, and sings for rock band Avengers In Sci-Fi, the two go hand in hand.

“We made our album as if we were a robotic Led Zeppelin. That was one of the starting points for it,” he says to me at the offices of Hip Land Music, his band’s management company in Tokyo’s Gaienmae neighborhood. “Hip-hop artists sample Led Zeppelin and Nirvana and make dance music, and I wanted to do something like that in a rock band.”

He’s referring to the science-fiction-loving band’s fifth studio album, “Unknown Tokyo Blues,” which was released last month from Victor Entertainment. It’s another fine display of Kohata and his bandmates’ — bass player Yoshihiko Inami, who also sings and plays synthesizer, and drummer Masanori Hasegawa — signature spacey dance rock, filled with disco beats, funky guitar riffs, synthesizers and futuristic effects. The second song on the record, “Citizen Song,” begins with a familiar, charging drum beat and equally aggressive guitar riff that connoisseurs of classic rock will immediately recognize as a homage to the Zeppelin classic, “Immigrant Song.”

Punk, electronica and rock are mixed together and peppered with sonic tributes to classic rock, resulting in a band who is conscious of its own moment in music history and trying to progress.

“We’re conscious about advancing rock music,” Kohata says. “We reference Led Zeppelin riffs, but if whole songs just copied Zeppelin it wouldn’t be advancing anything, it would just be nostalgia.

“We make music with history in mind, though. We’ll take the good parts and twist them into something different (on the album) . . . but in a way that’s easy to understand.”

The emphasis on rock history and musicality is also an attempt at rebelling against what Kohata sees as the Japanese music scene’s shift toward becoming too festival-centric.

“I don’t think there’s much musicality in the current Japanese rock scene,” he says. “Playing rock music at a festival has about as much impact as making a joke at a drinking party, but it’s shouldn’t be that way.

“The current scene is too focused on music festivals. It’s all about how bands can get people pumped up at festivals, but it’s not about making a musical impact anymore.”

Avengers In Sci-Fi has played both Fuji Rock Festival and Summer Sonic, two of the largest music festivals in the country. The band is set to play at two domestic-artist-only festivals this year: Rock In Japan and Rising Sun.

“Bands who have come up in the last few years seem to think that simply appearing at a festival is the gateway to success. There’s a big difference in an unknown band saying (to festival organizers), ‘You won’t ask us to play? Screw you!’ and, ‘We really want to play at festivals, pleeease let us play.’ Indie acts from my generation were most definitely like the former,” he adds with a chuckle. “We all had this weird sense of rebellion. Lately, bands don’t seem to have that rebelliousness as a driving force, so their music ends up simply giving festival-goers basic party songs.

“It’s like a service job (that just aims to pander to the customer). The reality of the Japanese rock scene today is that something that isn’t rock music is being presented as rock.”

Kohata says that his band has an opportunity to present something with more depth to the festival crowd, and is planning an aggressive and progressive set list.

“We play our sets like we’re charging full force into the place,” he says.

Avengers in Sci-Fi play Rock In Japan Fes. 2014 in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Pref., on Aug. 2 (rijfes.jp); and Rising Sun Rock Festival 2014 in Ezo in Ishikari, Hokkaido, on Aug. 16 (rsr.wess.co.jp).