Visitors to Roppongi’s SuperDeluxe last Friday arrived to find the basement venue decked out with tatami mats and a polite sign at the door asking them to remove their shoes on the way in. This was the setting for Wails to Whispers, one of the more conceptually ambitious events held during Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo, in which an evening of aural extremity featuring some of Japan’s most abrasive underground icons gave way to an all-night ambient slumber party.
Many in the audience were still sitting on the floor as Masonna prepared to take the stage, though thankfully they were on their feet by the time he hurled his microphone stand — and soon after, himself — into the throng. A concentrated burst of sonic and physical violence, this one-man onslaught couldn’t have lasted more than 90 seconds, though the crowd’s confusion lingered for far longer. “Does he always do that?” one woman asked (short answer: yes).
Would that Violent Onsen Geisha had exercised similar restraint. Hunched over a table strewn with effect boxes and electronic gizmos, noise veteran Masaya Nakahara started promisingly with a scorched-earth techno throb, but the intensity soon dissipated amid a rambling, fumbling set full of missed opportunities. It was an easy act for Melt-Banana to follow, and the electro speedpunk duo triumphed, channeling the kind of buoyant energy you’d expect from an idol-pop group.
Then it was over to the night’s biggest star, Keiji Haino, fronting yet another new incarnation of his long-running Fushitsusha trio. The group’s latest drummer (tattooed, topless, bleached hair, bandana) looked like he’d been recruited from a 1980s thrash-metal act, and the music followed suit. Over a bed of high-velocity blast beats, Haino and his ebullient, shaven-headed bassist unleashed a maelstrom of frazzled avant-rock that sent more than a few people scuttling for the exit. It was the most ferocious Fushitsusha show I’ve ever seen — and also the shortest.
Haino returned an hour later, this time for a solo hurdy-gurdy performance in which he used loop and effect pedals to create a series of rich, rather lovely drones. It was an ideal introduction to Robert Rich’s “sleep concert.” Most musicians would be aghast at making their audiences doze off, but the American ambient artist specializes in it, using a palette of hushed, slowly shifting tones to lull his listeners into a state of half-sleep. These marathon gigs have become the stuff of muso legend, said to induce an effect similar to lucid dreaming, though scheduling constraints meant that Rich could only deliver a truncated version here — which is to say, a mere four hours or so. To be honest, it didn’t induce the hallucinatory states I’d been expecting, but it was awfully nice to snooze to all the same.
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