Music

Where the rock girls are . . . By SIMON BARTZ

by Simon Bartz

In “Kill Bill,” Japanese garage-rockers The 5.6.7.8’s dripped cool as the blood splashed. But that was just a scratch on the surface of a thriving girl-band scene. Here we dig deeper to give you the chick picks of 2004.

Pebbles

Who: Etsuko (bass/vocal), Nana (guitar/v), Ono-rong (drums)

Why: Pebbles might sound a little nervous live; they might not be note perfect. And that’s why we love them. They personify the ’60s garage concept — that beauty lies in imperfection — and maybe that’s why they get the same kind of respect in the Japanese garage-rock scene as The 5.6.7.8’s. If only Pebbles had been on the stereo when Tarantino strolled into that thrift store in Ebisu.

Inspiration: “I wanted to be in a band as a teenager, but I lacked technique,” says Etsuko. “Then I discovered the underground ’60s compilation ‘Girls in the Garage’ and I realized, ‘Hey, screw technique. Anybody can play rock ‘n’ roll.’ So at first we did it for fun, but now I do try to write great songs with good messages.”

Songs: “When you rush around blindly things pass you by. If you just step back and take a look you can see the beautiful things in life,” says Etsuko. “That’s what our songs focus on.”

2004: “I had three career choices: a cook, wrestler or musician,” says cuddlesome Nana. “I opted for the latter, but I’m still fussy about food because I love it so much. But this year I’m going to lose weight and we’re going to make a new album.”

More info: www.lds66.com/pebbles/

Nisennenmondai

Who: Himeno (d), Takada (g), Zaikawa (b)

Why: They upstaged the mighty Anadorei at a recent event, and Melt-Banana are on their next guest list. In Japan’s underground “noise” scene everyone is talking about a new band called Nisennenmondai (Year 2000 Computer-Bug Problem). As they sound like the end of the world, this isn’t surprising. The blitzkrieg starts with Takada issuing three deafening shrieks like a pterodactyl with a tummyache, but it’s Himeno who leads the sonic assault with an apocalyptic barrage of jungle-punk percussion. It’s so intense that the vocal-less 25-minute set often ends with Himeno wiping away tears. “They’re not tears — I’m wiping sweat from my eyes. Honest,” she says, a little embarrassed.

2004: “Our CD release party is at Higashi-Koenji UFO Club on Feb. 21, and we plan a new album in May and a tour of the States in the summer.”

More info: www.cmo.jp/users/2000nen/

Zukunashi

Who: Emi (g,v), Mariko (b), Rie (keyboards), Akane (d)

Why: They mix psychedelic pop with groove-tastic Showa dancehall-style tunes and it’s a potent cocktail.

Songs: “I draw a picture of the emotion I want a song to convey and I stick it on the wall during rehearsal,” says Emi. “Last night, for instance, I drew a picture of a woman alone in total darkness smoking a cigarette. And it works because before I did this everybody was pulling in different directions. Now we get the songs fixed more smoothly.”

2004: “Zukunashi might mean lazy in Nagano dialect and I am a classic ‘futon potato,’ ” says Emi. “But this year we’ll play lots of shows and rerecord our homemade album in March.”

More info: members.tripod.co.jp/zukunashi_z

Mama Guitar

Who: Jun (g,v), Iris (b,v), Yoko (d)

Why: They make the kind of sweet melodic ’60s guitar-pop that reminds you of your first kiss under the bleachers, and when you listen to their two albums you want to fall in love all over again.

Style: “Iris’ mum made our clothes for our first album,” says Yoko. “Now we look at old ’60s picture books, choose styles and our friend makes them. We have six different matching outfits, but Jun is getting bigger and now only the blue one fits her so we’ve been wearing that for ages. Don’t print this or she’ll kill me.”

Attitude: “We played in Germany and this punk jumped on stage, danced around, and threw a lit cigarette on to my snare drum. I screamed: “Tabako nagetenja neyo! Baka! (Don’t throw your cigarette, stupid bastard!).” Jun and Iris were stunned and stopped for a second, but then they laughed and the punk, even more stunned, ran off stage!”

2004: “We’re taking a few months off to write new songs and recharge our batteries. We don’t want to play with frowns on our faces. We want to smile every time. Oh, and we’re a little lazy.”

More info: www.diana.dti.ne.jp/~h-kame/ma.htm

Prambath

Who: Chihiro Isadora (b,v), Mar (g), Captain (g)

Why: OK, Prambath might have two guys in the band, but “Mar wears hotpants and Captain looks like Michael Jackson,” says self-styled “Punk Queen” Chihiro. And besides, how could we exclude rock ‘n’ roll royalty from this list? Especially as Chihiro writes the killer tunes that make her the natural heiress to Osaka’s celebrated punk-pop throne previously occupied by legends like Shonen Knife and mummy the peepshow.

Attitude: “I terrified Koga Records’ president at a show with my angry face and my blunt Osaka dialect,” says Chihiro. “But then we played and blew his brains out, and he instantly signed us.”

Attitude 2: “Am I angry? Yes, very. Look at the state the world is in. I’ve been angry since I left my mother’s womb. Maybe that’s why everyone calls me the Punk Queen. Or maybe it’s because I was born with the perfect punk face. The first time we came to Tokyo this mama-san took one look at me, thought I was a whore and tried to kidnap me for her pub. These things happen to me.”

2004: “We’ll record our followup to ‘Sweet and Hot!!’ in the summer.”

More info: www.kh.rim.or.jp/~uu-mike/pb/prambath.html

Belters

Who: Kayo (g,v), Izumi (b), Sachi (d)

Why: Belters bury melodic pop songs in a barrage of dense guitars and emotionally charged vocals, and then toss in loops and samples to give the whole thing an experimental edge. At times you think of U2, at others Nirvana, and maybe that’s why they’ve got a great chance of selling a ton of records. Buffalo Daughter, Melt-Banana and Supersnazz were among the underground illuminati present at their packed release party for album “Sound Game Booth” at Shimokitazawa Shelter last Sunday.

2004: “Last year we played in Melbourne and that was a dream come true,” says Sachi. “This year we want to conquer Japan.”

More info: www.belters.biz

Six

Who: Chelio (b,v), Lora (g), Michi (k), Sayako (d)

Why: Hiroshima-born Chelio moved to Tokyo with one thing in mind: to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. And if you check out their shows you’ll see she’s halfway there — and the band, unbelievably, was formed a mere six months ago. Not only does Chelio look like a ’60s idol, she also writes Group Sounds-style tunes imbued with such melody and soul they’re impossible not to dance to.

Inspiration: “We’re called Six because when inspiration hits you to create a song it’s like a sixth sense,” says Chelio, “but the other week someone came up and said they couldn’t wait to see us the following week at this other venue. We weren’t playing and I checked and realized there’s lots of bands called Six. So check our Web site for the dates or you might end up watching an awful visual kei band.”

2004: “Constant shows and a record.”

More info: www.kit.hi-ho.ne.jp/jun55z/six/

Diesel Ann

Who: Taeko (g,v), Tomomi (b), Sakakki (d)

Why: Diminutive Taeko might look like a cute hobbit but she sounds like a drunken troll that’s just been given a bullhorn for its birthday. Her hoarse howl makes Guitar Wolf’s Seiji sound like a wimp and it imbues Diesel Ann’s demented Showa-folk/garage songs with a punk-rock ferocity. “I used to be in a Jimi Hendrix copy band as a teenager and I’ve sung like this ever since. I’m also a big fan of Suzi Quattro,” explains Taeko.

Songs: “A diesel engine uses cheap fuel and stinks but it’s noisy and moves fast. And that’s our music — dirty, stinky, loud and fast. And the Ann is a symbol of the band’s femininity because Raggedy Ann is my best friend and I collect her memorabilia.”

2004: “I want to slowly write one song at a time to ensure each one is special.”

More info: dieselann.cool.ne.jp

Thee 50s High Teens

Who: Tomo (b, v), Honey (g, scream), Kei (organ, s)

Why: They may look cute but they play speedy garage-rock, and never smile.

Attitude: The key feature of a High Teens show is Kei’s sado-masochistic love affair with her organ. She batters it with her fists, looks to be head-butting it, and all the time she’s screeching like a banshee on bad acid.

2004: A self-titled debut album was released last September, and this year their songs will appear on two compilations.

More info: sound.jp/50s/