For many music fans, getting up early at multiday music outings is no easy task. But the few thousand folks who mustered the energy to get to the Red Marquee stage for the start of Fuji Rock 2013’s final day were treated to one of that summer’s festival highlights, Bo Ningen.
Playing at 10:20 a.m., the England-based, Japanese psychedelic quartet quickly awoke groggy attendees with a powerful performance of face-melting acid punk that was nothing short of awesome. Speaking to The Japan Times at Fuji Rock, Jehnny Beth from British post-punk critical darlings Savages said, “I just had Bo Ningen at breakfast, and that was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.”
“Without a doubt, that was the biggest gig we’ve played in Japan,” says Bo Ningen guitarist Yuki Tsujii. “It was magical. There’s no other way to describe how much we enjoyed playing at Fuji Rock. It was a killer experience.”
This year has seen Bo Ningen performing at an increasing number of high-profile events around the globe. In January and early February the band toured Australia as part of Big Day Out. And spring saw it making stateside visits to play at South by Southwest and Coachella.
“Our Australia and U.S. tours were good memories as those two big countries were totally new to me,” says guitarist Kohhei Matsuda. “They were huge in many good ways. They have both had a huge influence on the history of music, especially contemporary music. And they both have huge portions of food and huge cans of beer!”
The band was back in North America in the fall to appear at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon and open dates for British rock band Kasabian. Bo Ningen and Kasabian bonded in Seattle over their shared loved of the Beatles.
“After our concert at The Showbox, Tom (Meighan) from Kasabian invited us into their band room and we got very drunk and sang a medley of about 10 Beatles’ songs,” says Matsuda. “The only song I can remember is ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ but the whole thing was good fun.”
While Bo Ningen seemed to like the guys in Kasabian, the same can’t be said for the tour manager of an act it toured with in early November. And while the band doesn’t reveal who that group was, a quick check of Bo Ningen’s recent schedule implies it was English rockers Band of Skulls. That jaunt serves as a reminder that one pitfall of becoming bigger is dealing with more music industry staff who you may not always agree with.
“The tour manager of this band we supported in the U.K. over the last couple of weeks had no knowledge of music,” Matsuda says. “I’m not talking about her taste in music. I mean how sound engineers work and things like that.
“She told us off for being louder than the main act. She tried to stop us from selling our own merch because she wasn’t confident in selling the main act’s. She also told us not to come to the venues before 4 p.m., saying we leave our backline everywhere and that we’d been in their way. Of course, ‘everywhere’ here means a discreet 4-sq.-meter corner in a 1,500- to 2,000-capacity venue.”
Luckily, after that tour Bo Ningen teamed up with people the members get along quite well with, their mates in the aforementioned Savages. The two groups put out a collaborative album on Nov. 17 titled “Words to the Blind” and performed together in London on Nov. 19 and at the Netherlands’ Le Guess Who? festival on Nov. 22 to celebrate its release.
“Words to the Blind” consists of one, 37-minute-long track recorded during a London show in May 2013. That concert pairing was inspired by Dadaist artists who experimented with things like simultaneous poetry — people reading poems with different languages and rhythms at the same time.
“We’d been talking about playing together for so long — literally ‘together’ on the same stage at the same time,” Matsuda says. “(Savages’) Gemma (Thompson) came up with the idea of translating the Dadaist idea of a simultaneous poem into a more musical form.
“We wanted to work with Savages on this because they have great vision, passion and energy. They aren’t the same as us in terms of musical direction, but that just means we can both expand our sound even wider.”
“Words to the Blind” opens with overlapping whispered lyrics in Japanese from Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe and French from Beth who also later sings in English. From there, the track builds into an experimental sonic collage that criss-crosses between noise, post-punk, punk, psychedelic music and metal.
Tsujii would love to tour more behind “Words to the Blind.” Matsuda, on the other hand, dreams of putting even more of an avant-garde spin on the song.
“We actually talked about the idea of writing a score for the track and giving it to friends or other people to perform,” he says. “It could be really fun or disastrous to see.”
“Words to the Blind” is Bo Ningen’s second release this year. In June, the group issued its third full-length in Japan, “III.” On “III” the band’s heavy, Black Sabbath-influenced riffs are still present, but the album also has the members trying other things. “Maki-Modoshi” morphs from a sludgy number into a dizzying noise-funk mishmash. “Ogosokana Ao” and “Mukaeni Ikenai” both head into spacey terrains with the hushed latter being the most beautiful piece of music Bo Ningen has crafted.
“The songs grew through shows, but we tried to write some parts in the studio too,” says Matsuda. “I think that gave the record a more expansive feel.
“The songs also have more of a ‘song’ form in a sense. There are verses and choruses, whereas our previous songs were structured around riffs — lots and lots of riffs.”
Bo Ningen plays Unit in Tokyo on Nov. 29 (6 p.m.; 03-5459-8630); The Voodoo Lounge in Fukuoka on Dec. 6 (6 p.m.; 092-732-4662); Pangea in Osaka on Dec. 8 (7 p.m.; 06-4708-0061); Club Upset in Nagoya on Dec. 9 (7 p.m.; 052-763-5439); Park Square in Sendai on Dec. 14 (6:30 p.m.; 022-267-0433). Shows are ¥3,500 in advance. For more information, visit www.boningen.info.
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