Dark sounds for dark times from avant-garde group Goat

by Erik Luebs

Special To The Japan Times

It’s at a showcase for Berlin’s Pan record label, where I first stumble on Osaka band Goat. As I walk down the concrete steps of Shinsaibashi venue Conpass, I can already hear the music. The gradually increasing reverberations of sound grow ever more tight and mechanical, but it’s not until I open the door to the main room that I fully realize the intensity emanating from the stage is coming from four men, each huddled stoically over their equipment.

What unfolds is a sight to behold.

Drummer Tetsushi Nishikawa hammers out machine rhythms, never once deviating from the metric of a straight, brutal pulse. Without the organic timbres of the snare and bass drum, I could have mistakenly attributed the rhythms to a drum machine or sequencer.

On the left side of the stage is Akihiko Ando, whose body has practically contorted into the shape of his saxophone, the sound of which is being muted with a plastic bottle and run through a delay. He plays free, atonal drones, the high frequencies squeezing their way between the pockets of the pounding bass drum.

The remaining two musicians, Atsumi Tagami and Koshiro Hino, are playing bass and guitar respectively and they radically deviate from the typical tropes of their instruments. Together they synchronize muted harmonic picking, syncopating with the drums to create an atonal rhythmic assault.

It’s minimal techno without the electronics, performed with jaw-dropping precision, and this is Goat.

At the heart of the group is the 30-year-old Hino, who is an established staple in Osaka’s experimental music scene. In addition to Goat, he spearheads another avant-garde act called Bonanzas and has a side project called YPY in which he produces techno. He’s also a touring member of internationally known noise act Boredoms.

He starts off our chat by explaining the process that goes into creating Goat’s sound.

“For percussion, we use only a bass drum, snare and hi-hat. And the bass is muted so every string hits with a bang,” he says. “When making a track, I compose just the drums and bass on a PC at first. The basic bass drum and muted bass create a simple punching sound.”

The result is a hybrid of the experimental rock of U.S. group Battles interpreted through the purist aesthetics of German techno.

Hino’s is an approach that stresses the importance of the arrangement of timbre and rhythm over the melodic and harmonic content. The overall effect of this approach conjures up a state that is stoic and unsympathetic, stripping away the subjectivity of the human emotional experience while attempting to reveal a grittier realism. In fact, the track titles on Goat’s most recent album, “Rhythm & Sound” — which include “On Fire,” “Solid Eye” and “Ghosts Part 1” — are the only linguistic glimpse a listener gets into the inspiration behind the music.

When asked about the meaning behind his music, Hino shares his somewhat pessimistic opinions on Japanese society .

“I feel a large amount of dissatisfaction and uncertainty facing Japan currently,” he says. “I think we need more than basic improvements, we need to implement drastic reforms.”

Hino adds that he doesn’t normally consider himself the type of person to make emotional or direct statements, but lately he has felt the need to express himself more publicly.

“There’s no doubt that the rage and uncertainty I feel toward the current state of society influences my music,” he says. “I can’t put it concretely, but it’s possible that moving forward my style and methods will start to reflect these thoughts more clearly.”

Hino’s vague uncertainty mirrors the same ambiguous and inconclusive emotions exuded in his music — there’s a foreboding vibe during Goat’s performances, but it’s not explicit or too obvious. And it’s one of the most exciting things happening in Osaka’s underground music scene at the moment.

“Rhythm & Sound” by Goat and “Visions” by YPY are now on sale. YPY will perform with Oneohtrix Point Never at Fan-J Twice in Osaka on Dec. 4 (7 p.m. start; ¥5,500 in advance; 06-6535-5569.