On the surface, you might think British techno animal Aphex Twin and Tokyo rock anarchists Bossston Cruising Mania have little in common. I mean, the one twiddles knobs while the other bunch plucks strings. But you’d be wrong. Take these four things off the top of my head: 1) they have no respect for musical conventions; 2) they make a lot of noise; 3) they occupy the borderline territory between genius and insanity where most great artists emerge; and 4) they’re damn ugly and dress like bums. All in all, a wonderful steaming caldron of nonconformity. And nonconformists shape the future of music and always will. Sitting on the fence rarely makes great records; diving headfirst over the edge does.
But the best reason for me dragging Aphex Twin into this Bossston Cruising Mania story is because I wanna tell two amusing stories that sum up both these artists’ reckless experimental attitude to their art.
You may have heard the one about Aphex Twin: A few years back a record company executive came round to his house to collect a remix of a Lemonheads track he was contracted to do. Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) had forgotten all about it so he reached into a stack of DATS of original recordings he’d made, randomly pulled one out and handed it to the dude. He was paid handsomely even though the track had absolutely nothing to do with the original song.
You definitely haven’t heard the one about Bossston Cruising Mania: Tokyo-based P-Vine Records asked the band to contribute a cover version to a compilation album titled “Spirit of the Blues.” They promptly delivered a version of “Kind-Hearted Woman Blues,” originally sung by blues godfather Robert Johnson and, quite frankly, it’s probably the most brilliant cover version I’ve ever heard. And while downing beer with the Bossston crew at an Asagaya izakaya I’m heaping praise on this track for being so original, and then singer Eshiro Kashima stops me in my frothing tracks by revealing: “Well, it’s not like we’re a blues band or anything so, erm, to be honest, it’s an original Bossston song. The only thing it’s got to do with Robert Johnson is that when I got to do the vocals, I stuck headphones on and listened to the Robert Johnson track and just sang along as best I could.”
“I’ve never even listened to the Robert Johnson version,” adds guitarist Akimon. “In fact, I don’t even listen to music. I just play it.”
This, folks, is genius talking, and the story is a good example of BCM have developed a unique sound. It’s not so much that they don’t play by the rules; they haven’t even read the rule book.
Whereas most bands these days seem to — yawn — enjoy ending their songs in a barrage of atonal Sonic Youth-like feedback to go out with a bang, BCM turn that trend on its head. They start their songs with a devastating bombardment of noise and then after a few minutes of a track, the two bassists, Shinkou Futta and Makoto Kashima (on a six-string bass), and their John Lennon-lookalike drummer, Bachiken, hit upon a groove that they pursue relentlessly until the song’s close, while guitarist Akimon unleashes one bizarre guitar motif after another. It’s like they’re carrying out post mortems on each song: Starting with the chaos of destruction and rewinding backward to see how it all started. (BCM would have been perfect for the “Memento” soundtrack.)
I guess “groovetastic noise experimentalists” might sum them up. Can you imagine Can, Suicide, PIL and Happy Mondays being played all at the same time? No? Thought not. And on top of all that you get something like a drunken, pilled-up Tom Waits on vocal.
At gigs Shinkou and Akimon jump about, while Eshiro hangs on to his mike stand at the back next to the drums. Shyness?
“No. It’s just that we used to be a hardcore band many years ago and I was very aggressive and in the audience’s face,” explains Eshiro. “But now we play a kind of minimalist music and it’s not suited for a lead vocal. The band may play for five minutes before even giving me a chance to sing, just building up a groove, so I’d look pretty dumb standing at the front doing nothing.”
And with his mumbled delivery you’d be excused for thinking BCM’s actual singer had gone AWOL and they’d just dragged in a drunken Bukowski-like bum off the street and promised him a free six-pack if he got up onstage.
Lyrics, for Eshiro, are a newly found concept.
“For our first two albums I didn’t even write lyrics. I just screamed whatever came into my head. A bit like the style of singer Eye [Yamataka] from The Boredoms. But now, for our third album [‘Comic/Saisei (Rebirth)/Cynicism’], I’ve started writing.
“I was like a lot of Japanese kids when I wrote the words. I wanted to stay at home and not interact with other people or go to parties. I’d stare at the computer and come up with ironic stream-of-consciousness stuff.
“I’d be thinking that I hated someone and at the same time watching some hilarious comedian on TV and while ‘hate’ and ‘funny’ don’t quite connect, the contradictions would come out in my lyrics. It’s not poetry. It’s prose. And it’s, erm, not normal.”
Finding fault with BCM is pretty tough. OK, some of the tracks on the album are a little samey, but, hell, you get that with almost every band: It’s called “individual style.” And, at shows, they often seem not to know how to end a song and it gradually fizzles out. But that’s amusingly quaint.
Normality, as I’ve explained, is the antithesis of Bossston Cruising Mania. They’re genreless, and all the better for it. And if you feel compelled to label them “noise merchants” or what-have-you, then, well, just like Aphex Twin, you can lay down, chill and get wasted to this “noise,” or you can get up and cut loose. And few bands are capable of achieving that.
BCM play May 10 at Sangenjaya Heaven’s Door; May 23 at Akihabara Goodman; June 1 at Shimokitazawa Cave-Be. Check www.bekkoame.ne.jp/~bosston for further info and beg for a burned copy of “Comic/Saisei/Cynicism.”
I used to count myself lucky if I stumble across a previously unknown venue once every six months, but a week back I hit two right next to each other in a Roppongi basement. Rosa Fiesta and Sonora are a bit of a walk from Roppongi Station, but that’s cool as it takes you out of the territory of your usual boorish Roppongi-types.
On April 25, the Tokyo Rockers monthly event at Sonora saw a bunch of DJs play punk and garage-rock, and organizer Yu-suke invited Fuzzy Logic to DJ this month. Beware!
Tokyo punk-rockabilly band Red Hots then dragged us down to Rosa Fiesta three days later to see their pals Rosy Cat Baby and five other garage-rockabilly acts. It’s one of the best live spaces in Tokyo; not only has it got a large lounge area, but also a semicircular stage, which enables you to surround the band who then effectively play in the middle of the mosh pit. Rosa Fiesta could be the perfect rock venue; unfortunately, at the moment, most of the events are Latin, disco or R&B.
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